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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Some Thoughts on Coaching Youth Soccer ...

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As I have written before, soccer is one of my passions.  I have played the game for many years now, and hope to be able to continue doing so for many years to come. 

Recently, I partook in a USSF National D License class, held up in Aptos High School, Aptos, CA.  Here is to put my passions in soccer and calligraphy together and to pay a tribute to all the the participants in the class:
Click on the image to see the enlarged version
I really enjoyed the class, gained quite a few insights, and enjoyed interacting with other soccer enthusiasts.  However, occasionally I got the impression that there was too much stress on coaching as a one-way information dissemination channel, from the coaches to the players (and their parents.)

Source: Mistakes, The Secret to Happiness

I feel that a great coach should be fascinated with both the sport and with transferring that fascination and passion to the players.  I also think that soccer is -- and continues to be -- more an art than a science, and I would like to stress the role that playfulness and creativity play in youth soccer coaching and in the development of mature and versatile soccer players.  In addition, it seems to me that the greatest gift that a coach or a teacher -- irrespective of the subject matter -- can offer is to inspire the student or the player and to instill in them the passion and the love to work hard to excel while having a hell of a good time doing it.   As Manfred Schellscheidt (also see this) put it:

Source: Soccer Quotes
Wouldn't it be nice for a youth soccer coach to help create an environment that would allow such love affairs to flourish and take root?  Think about this for a second.  In this day and age, the technology allows the kids to go on the web and watch from up-close, and often in high definition, some of the greatest players do their moves or show their teamwork, so masterfully.  It is much more inspiring and empowering for the kids to really study the moves that they like and try them in their own ways to master it or come up with their own versions and apply them in a playful environment, free from too much instructional pressure.  Wouldn't you think?  Instead, an average youth soccer training session is more like "shut up, listen to me, and follow my direction" ... and by who?  Someone who often enough can hardly joggle or header the ball more than 50 times in a row, or demonstrate the technique flawlessly to the kids, and yet expects the kids to respect his or her authority and knowledge ... I mean wouldn't it be nice for the coaches to demonstrate their own passion to learn something as well?  Perhaps even from the kids?  And thus encouraging the kids to feel empowered enough to learn by themselves, and teach -- and learn from -- one another, as well as the coach.

Here are some sample clips that showcase some of these players -- in no particular order, mind you :) -- and/or some very effective teamwork:
I sometime tell my kids -- who both love and play soccer -- that one effective way to get better and gain a better understanding of the game is to look for great clips of their favorite players and/or teams and watch them before going to sleep, and perhaps even dream about them ... Thus, their minds may process these images in mysterious ways ... and they may dream up new moves.  I'd rather they pick up these skills away from the pressures of organized soccer training, which is sometimes too serious to be fun or conducive to learning.  There are simply too many interesting clips and food for thought on the internet that can be explored from the freedom of one's home, and contemplated upon, to enrich one's formal experience of coaching and being coached.  Here are some of the interesting ones that I have come across, but there are many more, and new ones coming online everyday:
Note that the above cannot replace actual experience gained by playing the game, and practicing different moves against a friend or opponent.  But they can supplement, provide different perspectives and additional food for thought and imagination for developing player.  I feel what is needed is some spark and encouragement to encourage the kid to explore what is out there, and use them to improve the depth and breadth of their understanding and appreciation of the game, and what is possible.

It is instructive to stop every once is a while and ask ourselves whether we are trying to create an army of players who all feel and do the same move and apply the same technique, are so predictable and are afraid or unable to play creatively?  If not, perhaps we should focus more on encouraging the creativity of the players than on telling them repeatedly how everything needs to be done.

Source: Creativity in Soccer; It is Child's Play Really
We might as well realize that a great coach is one who helps the kid realize that in great many situations, the main limits to our true potential and abilities are very likely those we impose on ourselves, often by accepting what we are told, and closing the doors to our creative imagination.  Please note that I think much dedicated effort has gone into creating and improving the USSF youth soccer training program, and I certainly think that it could help supplement and enrich the repertoire of a coach's tips, tricks, and training program, if used appropriately.  In fact, I found the material very logical, well-thought and methodical.  However, I think it is imperative to contemplate upon the message of following wonderful quote attributed to Albert Einstein:


Finally, here are some links that I would like to share with those who might be interested in exploring this thread further, and to emphasize the importance of creativity, passion, playful participation, exploration and experimentation, as well as encouraging risk-taking and making mistakes, in any inspiring and successful training program:


Anonymous said...

Thanks for doing this! This is very cool!


Anonymous said...

Hi Amir,
How are you? nice to hear from you amigo, hope you're doing good, thank you for the cards, it is very nice, keep in touch, have a good one

Victor V.

Anonymous said...

Hey Amir,

This is good stuff!

Jay C.

Anonymous said...

Hey Amir,

I am just now getting to your card and some of the links at the bottom. I really enjoyed a couple of them and thank you for sharing. Following through a couple of links, I came across some great quotes that I plan to share with my kids' parents, particularly the ones that I have not had the chance to indoctrinate yet.

Luckily, I generally have a good group of parents that does understand that our kids need to learn how to play (just just soccer, but generally how to become more coordinated, more aware, and more creative) and that I do not need to focus on telling them exactly what to do or making them play in a certain way. They accept the potential tradeoff at the younger ages between development and winning. I hope that other coaches begin to see this need for kids to develop and experiment, especially at the younger age groups where I coach.
Good luck,


Anonymous said...

Amir, thanks for sharing your art and your observations. I always appreciate many different view points as I always believe there is no single correct answer. The best is to accumulate as much input and views as possible to challenge the mind. You are very talented artist.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for doing this. Hope all is well with you. How did Vegas go for you guys? It's a long story on our side.

Thanks again

Anonymous said...

Love it! Super creative! Thank you so much for connecting all of us. I enjoy your unique, fresh perspective.

The very best,


Anonymous said...

Some of the links don't work. Here is an alternate link for one of the articles listed, entitled:

Street Smarts: Proponents Believe Unstructured Play Will Foster Creativity in American Soccer Players

Anonymous said...

You may also be interested in the following article on the coaching philosophy of FC Barcelona's youth academy, which seems to promote a very similar spirit as the one proposed by your essay:

Talent: FC Barcelona and its Exemplary Youth Academy, La Masia