Dr. Dina Gentile To Coaches: Player Development Starts With Us!
Dr. Dina Gentile explains the role of coaches in youth soccer players development- and how coaches spread the joy of the game. Success centers on understanding that the child is first.
Over the last few weeks I have been fortunate enough to speak at many open soccer association meetings. The key element of my talks is always player development, whether talking with parents or coaches my theme is that the center of sport is the child first.
Children start and continue to play soccer because it is fun and it is a social activity.
Over coaching and parental pressure halts a player’s development and forces them to make the ultimate decision to quit and not play soccer. Coaches play a vitally important role in shaping the attitudes which players adopt regarding practice preparation, game day preparation, respect for the sport, and that “passion” to play.
How can coaches inspire players to reach to new levels of play?
Coaches need three things in their coaching toolbox; a solid plan for practice and games, a voice that commands respect and can capture the players’ attention, and a personality that can adapt to meet the ever-changing needs of the individuals that make up the team.
Planning practices and being organized all season gives the team a sense of comfort. The players will expect a routine based upon the activities you create for them each practice session. The player can rely on you from week to week to present to them challenging games that teach the soccer skills and tactics that will transfer over to game day. Organized coaches are effective coaches.
There is no substitute for establishing a soccer environment that is educational and developmental. Mid-season is not too late to institute a well thought out series of practices. In some cases teams that have issues with cohesion or learning new skills do not get enough coaching attention at practices. Unorganized coaches are too busy moving cones or clearing spaces to spend quality time on instruction. Getting to the field a few minutes early to set up your cones or boundaries is what teachers do when they set up their teaching stations for our children at school. That extra attention to planning, leads to a better learning environment.
How can you use your voice on the practice fields?
Your voice as a coach is so powerful. From the start of the season, players will automatically respect the position of coach because it does represent an important role in their sports lives. Coaches who understand how to use their voice will be able to truly engage the entire team. Your voice can be stern when needed to get the group to really listen to what you are explaining.
Your voice can be excited when a player masters a skill you have been working on for a few practice sessions. Your voice can be motivational as you try to really get that deflated player to move on from their mistakes and get make on the field to try again.
A positive coaching voice from the sidelines during game day will always get through the clutter of the rants from the opposition or sideline parents. Players hear coaches who are instructional, motivational, and compassionate. Coaches who yell or scream negative comments or who are remote control coaches will lose the effects of their voice as players will tune them out since nothing educational or helpful is ever presented to them when they need it the most.
Why should coaches have a personality that is infectious?
One thing I always tell coaches (novice and returning) is to get a personality because being serious or monotone all of the time is not exciting for youth players. Youth players respond to coaches who can be fun and not afraid to connect with players and their families throughout the season. Coaches need to command respect from the start and they need to find methods to also keep players interested when they have a bad day at school or when the weather gets colder. Players respond to interesting people who can use humor to teach, or use games that have nothing to do with soccer to get the team pumped up after a loss, or can dress up in full soccer gear to show the team they are just like them.
Coaches, at the youth level should not be dull; they should be charismatic and dynamic. Youth coaches need to get to know not only the players on the squad but the parents who will support you on the sidelines. I encourage coaches to spend time with the parents, get to understand what their goals are for their children so that you can understand more about your players.
Coaches, we are the start and the end to player development. We can create that spark in a player’s game, we can be encouraging, and most of all we need to always be positive. Youth players will remember the role you played in the season if you can just take some time to be confident in your abilities to be a positive force on that soccer field. Players respond to positive talk and to coaches that understand that soccer can be fun. Parents will also appreciate have an adult on the field with their children who is a role model and someone who will inspire them to continue playing because their best efforts are rewarded on the playing 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.