Lloyd Biggs on The Pursuit of Excellence in Youth Soccer Coaching
SoccerToday’s columnist Lloyd Biggs is an outstanding coach whose passion and dedication for player development is well known. Biggs is technical director for one.Soccer Schools which trains 3,000 youth soccer players all across the USA. Also a youth coach for Real So Cal, Lloyd holds his UEFA ‘A,’ USSF ‘A’ and NSCAA Premier licenses, as well as a degree in sports science.
As article for coaches ….
Coaches spend most of our time discussing what ingredients are required to create great players and teams. We have numerous discussions on the strengths and weakness of our players. However do we truly spend enough time looking at the skills that make great coaches? Following on from my last article where I asked the player if they truly brought enough to the table to support their development, this article challenges the coach and hopefully will provoke some thought, discussion and action around the topic of continuing personal development for the youth coach.
The ‘great’ coach is a person who has developed a multitude of skills all of which come together in the making of who he/she is and their ability to create the optimal environment for their players. The question is for the coach, especially the young coach, what are those skills, can you prioritize the skills you need to work on, and where and how do you seek out those skills.
Knowledge of the game
I hope we all agree that the coach’s knowledge and ability to pass that knowledge on to his/her players is one of the most important factors in coaching success.
Knowledge of the game and teaching the game are two separate fields, and I believe as coaches we must remember to separate these topics. A coach’s knowledge of the game is developed via a multitude of variables.
Coaches that have played the game at the higher levels will generally have experienced good coaching and will be able to draw from those experiences when they embark on their coaching career. It is fair to say that coaches that have a good playing background enter the door of coaching with more experience to draw from. Thus, will have an advantage when it comes to game knowledge, as well as an immediate respect from their players (due to their playing expertise). However, the teaching skills necessary to share their knowledge to their players, in my opinion, has not yet been acquired and must be developed.
Coaching licenses play a major role in the development of coaches, and those that are looking to make coaching a long term career should be striving to gain the highest qualifications on offer to them via the relevant governing bodies. I highly recommend both the USSF and NSCAA courses.
The courses are important as they allow coaches to gain knowledge while also learning how to teach that knowledge. For a period of time you are immersing yourself in coaching the game, not only on the tactics of the game but also how sports science and leadership plays a huge role in success as a coach! The tutors come from many different backgrounds and all have a vast amount of experience and knowledge to give.
Not only will you learn from them but you will learn much from your peers, who are in the trenches with you for that week, a great experience and all coaches should set targets for gaining the highest license available to them over a given period of time.
In addition to coaching licenses it is the responsibility of the coach to observe as many other coaches possible. No matter how experienced you are as a coach, there is always something you will take away from observing your peers, both in training sessions and game coaching.
I cannot stress enough to the young coach to seek out as many mentors as he/she can and steal as much as you can from them. Remember as coaches this is what we do, we see something we like, maybe a drill or way of explaining a certain formation, take the bits out we don’t care for, and introduce that knowledge gained into our philosophy. I strongly recommend all coaches (especially the young coach) to find someone they respect and can learn from, and ask them to be their mentor!
“It is not only what we teach, but how we teach”
When we discuss teaching methods we must understand how a person learns. Not all players are the same and will all learn and thrive differently under different teaching methods. We should be aware that a person learns via his/her three senses, audio, visual and kinesthetic.
With this in mind, it would seem appropriate to create a teaching environment whereby you are allowing players to learn using all senses. For example within your session you may explain the drill, demonstrate the drill and then allow players to practice the drill.
I challenge coaches to always be aware of how they teach and find the balance between correction and the ‘stop, stand still’ approach compared to the ‘question and answer’ or ‘guided discovery’ approach. In addition to ask at the end of every session, “Did I find the right balance of teaching and playing, and if I were a player, would I have enjoyed that session?”
Positive or Negative reinforcement
When teaching it is not only how you guide your players to solve the problems, as coaches we must be aware of the positive and negative feedback we give.
As coaches we must be mindful of who, when and how much negative feedback we are giving the player, and when we give constructive criticism we must look for the next opportunity to pick that player up with a positive comment.
Personally I like to be conscious of this aspect of my teaching as too much negativity and correction, even through constructive feedback, can hinder confidence not within just the individual but the team, having a negative effect on performance. In addition to the feedback we give it is important to recognize how we give it, in both training and games.
In an old article (2002) from Insight (the FA associations Journal), titled ‘The art of the modern coach’, Roy Hodgson (current England Manager) stated, “Work on controlling your emotions because extroverts are often drawn to coaching and people with an extrovert personality are often outwardly over-emotional”, when discussing the ‘ideal’ coach. I agree that our personality plays a role in this, if we are intense, competitive and a little bit of an extrovert, then we have to work harder to express our feedback in a positive and controlled manner. Young players do not want to be screamed at and berated every time they make a mistake.
There is no doubt that knowledge of the game and the ability to teach that knowledge is a key ingredient in effective coaching. That said a coaches leadership and management skills in my opinion are as important if not more important, as without them the environment that will be created will not allow players to fulfill their potential. We see this first hand at the highest levels of the game, coaches contracts get terminated, a new coach comes in, and finds a way to get the best out of the same group of players, changing the fortunes of the team.
Would it be fair to say that a major reason for this change in fortune is the difference in leadership and management styles?
The ‘ideal’ coach is a natural leader, someone who has that innate gift to motivate and inspire those around them. I know many coaches that have this gift, and I am always inspired when I spend time with them. Leadership and management skills are key tools in the coach’s armory and must be honed. To an extent our personality is what defines our style of leadership. Ask yourself what kind of leader you are?
Are you the authoritarian (autocratic) who always makes the decisions, or is your style more democratic, allowing the group more opportunities to make decisions? In my opinion the best coaches are those that have found a way to blend both styles. Why I ask is that for the most part as coaches we must be the one in charge, the ‘decision maker’. We make and enforce the team rules and ethics. We create and lead the training sessions (based on what we are working on and our philosophy). However we must have the ability to change our style when the whistle blows, we must set the players free, passing over the decision making process, creating the environment which allows them to play freely and express themselves, guiding them along the way but without controlling them and making the decisions for them. I hope you agree!
Is coaching just about what you do on the field? The answer to that is no! The great coach will have excellent management skills. Communication is so important when coaching. Coaches must be competent not only in the arena of face-to-face communicating with parents and players, but also need to understand the importance of communication via email and social media. Feedback is such a useful tool, how many of us get home after a weekend of games and send a quick email to the team giving our thoughts on the weekends play, or inform the team of our current training goals and targets (what we are working on currently and what to look for in the competitive game). This type of communication can be very effective in bringing the team (Players, parents and coach) together in a striving for a common goal.
The coach’s ability to organize and plan will also support his/her role in making them more of an effective leader. The ability to use technology is a key area now and one where I believe the younger coach may actually have the upper hand. There is an untold amount of literature on the subject of both leadership and management and the coach will need to continue to be aware of his/her strengths and weaknesses and continue their professional development around this topic.
The Sports Sciences
It is imperative for the modern day coach to have a basic understanding of the sports sciences and how they can support player development. I challenge coaches to learn about the physiology of an athlete. Seek out other aspects of physical training, such as how to improve speed, or train for injury prevention. As coaches we are all aware how important nutrition is, however how much time do we spend reading up on sports nutrition. Do not misunderstand me, I am not stating that all coaches need to be undertaking masters degrees In these subjects (although if you have the time and means it can only enhance you as a coach), I am simply asking you to ask yourself, how much do I really know about such topics as physiology, psychology, and nutrition, food for thought perhaps?
Concluding the Pursuit of Excellence!
I wrote the article with the goal to hopefully get coach (especially the young coach) to truly evaluate themselves in their quest to become a ‘great’ coach.
When we look at the skills we require, there are so many, all of which are important ingredients on the road to creating the successful environment for players and teams.
Knowledge of the game and the sport sciences, teaching, leadership and management skills are all key areas whereby weaknesses in any will hinder the ability of the coach to develop his/players allowing them to become the best they can be!
With our modern day lifestyles so hectic and stressful it is hard to find time to research the web, pick up that coaching book or the latest NSCAA journal. Even harder (both cost and time) is our ability to undertake the next license or course. That said, everyday we ask our players to strive for excellence, to be the best they can be. I ask the question to us, and challenge us to continue our own professional development, and find that extra time in the pursuit of greatness!
Related Articles: Lloyd Biggs’ Column on Youth Soccer
Lloyd Biggs is the current technical director for one.Soccer Schools, which currently coaches over three thousand players across eleven different states. At one.Soccer Schools, Biggs and co-owner Jeff Johnson have developed a unique set of residential and soccer camp programs that take place around the country. Biggs also coaches for Real So Cal in Southern California. Formerly a youth coach for Charlton FC, Lloyd came to the states eight years ago. Lloyd holds his UEFA ‘A’, USSF ‘A’ and NSCAA Premier licenses, as well as a degree in sports science.