Youth Soccer News: “Players, Give Me Your Best Effort!”
Dr. Dina Gentile on why it is important for coaches to teach youth soccer players to always give their best in practice and in games.
There are numerous debates and articles relating to the importance of player development over the scoreboard results. Unfortunately, winning is celebrated and actually becomes part of your legacy via the win-loss records we value so much. Player development and winning can co-exist if coaches understand that winning at all costs is never the goal of youth sport. Winning is an outcome of well-rounded, confident, skilled, tactically aware, motivated and supported players. Athletes who get support from coaches, teammates, and parents will find it much easier to stay focused while playing soccer and more comfortable as they build their skill set.
One important ingredient in player development and winning is effort. If players are unwilling (or unsupported) to try a new technique how will they improve? If players feel paralyzed when they make a mistake (due to sideline pressure from parents or the coach), how can they possibly overcome that adversity to continuing playing? If coaches do not support their athletes taking chances at practice and then trying to execute those skills at games, then how will these athletes improve? If players cannot master soccer’s most used skills at practice, how can we expect them to perform them under pressure in front of their friends and family?
Younger players who are exposed to soccer activities that teach the understanding of how to dribble or pass will demonstrate effort by trying to outlast the rest of the team in knockout, or be the player who can retrieve the most balls from the middle and dribble them back to their teammate. Effort erupts from the fun they are having when they are involved with activities that are dynamic and even competitive.
Players who have coaches who are energetic in their teaching will naturally create a team full of players who want to play at a high level all practice and game long. These players want to show their coach what they have learned through their efforts.
As coaches, we recognize that effort is one’s ability to give the very best when involved in an activity. Effort involves concentration on the task at hand. Effort pouring out from one player can serve to motivate the rest of the team to exceed their own expectations. Coaches always praise those athletes who gave 110% or that extra effort at practice and at games.
What separates that player from the rest is that they kept chipping away at getting better. The athletes who will come early to practice or stay late after practice serving a ball with their less dominate foot will always improve upon their personal best. They will always get better because of the emphasis on getting better.
How to create the team culture where athletes believe that effort does matter:
1. Celebrate not just the successful execution of a play, but also praise the attempt. “Quinn, I saw you make that great run. We will find you next time, keep moving.”
2. Use your words to teach that effort is a major aspect of becoming a better soccer player.
“Great effort Laine, you will get another chance at that shot”
“Kathy you know what, you did not get it this time, but I cannot wait to see you in that situation next game. You will nail it! Keep up the good work”
“I knew you would make that save Joe.! All of the practice and extra effort paid off; good for you”.
3. Encourage all players to get out of their comfort zone and try to learn a new aspect of the game. For instance, younger players naturally want to go forward with the ball. In your practices you can create activities that force players to play the ball back before going forward. When you establish restrictions in a scrimmage where players cannot pass a ball forward on the same side of the field and have to go back (toward their own goal) and switch to the other side of the field, you provide teaching moments.
Games force players into making decisions under pressure. If your practices can simulate game like scenarios, players will feel more comfortable when playing opponents and you will see that extra effort stemming from confidence on the field.
Most coaches recognize the powerful life lessons that athletes can grow from due to sport. Effort is one of those lessons. Through extra repetition serving balls, a player will get better. When a player is trying to master a new move through trial and error on the field, they will continually aim to overcome that challenge. After many attempts in their backyard or after many hours on the practice field athletes will develop their skills – perseverance is a great trait for any athlete or adult.
When we face a team that is better in all areas of the game, we still motivate our players to face adversity head on and focus on one small series of team goals at a time. These same players will have to write a term paper in college and will need the resolve to come up with small plans in order to assist them in getting the full paper completed.
Player development is about getting the most out of our players through the learning activities we use at practice. Effort from one athlete and from the entire team promotes taking chances and learning by doing. As coaches we can get the most out of our players by supporting their attempts and encouraging them to believe that effort does make a difference on and off the soccer field.
SoccerToday columnist Dr. Dina Gentile is a Professor of Sport Management at Endicott College. A volunteer youth coach herself, Dr. Gentile understands from both practical and theoretical experience what happens on the soccer field. Gentile has also coached the Endicott College Soccer Team for 11 years. Gentile is also the owner/director of Precision Soccer, LLC, which operates camps, clinics, and coach education training throughout the year. She is a former All-American and Academic All-American at Adelphi University. Gentile has been inducted into the Adelphi University and Endicott College Halls of Fame. In addition, she is a trainer with Positive Coaching Alliance and the Girls Program Director with New England Premiership Club – Benfica USA. She is the proud coach of her daughter’s and son’s soccer teams in Massachusetts.