Volunteer coaches are the backbone of youth soccer. Without the time commitment of youth soccer coaches, our programs would cease to exist. Coaches need assistance, they need practice plan ideas, and they need support. Coaches also need to take the time to engage in self-reflection. We reflect all the time in our professional lives; in fact many times we get evaluated on our workplace performance. It makes sense that as coaches we take the time to evaluate ourselves in order to create the best training sessions we can for our players.
What makes a practice effective?
Goal setting: Each practice plan should start off with a simple goal in mind. Coaches can think about what the team and individual players should accomplish from participating in all of the pre-planned activities created for the practice.
Grade yourself: Did you think about an end result when you are preparing your practice? Did the practice work and achieve your goal?
Progression: Each practice activity should have a systematic flow so that you utilize activities that build off of each other. Warm-ups can be a lead in activity to set the stage for the other skill builders you plan to use to reach the goal of the practice session.
Grade yourself: Did you start off with a dynamic warm-up that introduces the concepts for this practice? Do your soccer skills go from easy to challenging or from little pressure to game like pressure?
Terminology: Soccer players will listen to the words and terms we use throughout the practice. When developing your practice plan highlight key terms you would like to explain during your activities. Consider how the words you use to describe the concepts will resonate with your players. Perhaps you may need to explain these terms in simple ways so your players can truly comprehend your explanations.
Grade yourself: Are you linking concepts with the terms you use? Do the players really understand the words you are using to describe a skill, tactic, or technique? Did you double check?
Ask questions: Collecting feedback from players can help you evaluate their acquisition of the soccer specific knowledge stemming from your practice session. We, as coaches, may think we effectively explained and thoroughly reviewed all of the practice areas. The only way to determine if we reached the team and the individual athletes is to watch them perform or execute the concepts or ask for feedback.
Grade yourself: Did you build in activities that assess players' acquisition of knowledge or create activities where the players can show you what they learned?
Wrapping it all up: A review of the topic covered in practice is a meaningful way to end a practice session. Re-capping the session allows the team to come together and share what they learned and the improvements they exhibited. Ending on a positive note makes all players feel worthy and gives them a sense of significance on the team.
Grade yourself: Did you use a closing activity to connect the dots of the practice plan with your team? Do you build in time to ask players what they learned in the activity and if anything still remains a bit confusing? Do you end on a team cheer to create a positive ending to a practice?
Use these simple rating categories to assist in creating dynamic and educational training sessions. Practice is our time to teach. As a player reminded me over the weekend, we spend 90% of our time practicing and 10% of our time playing games so we need to pay attention to our coaches. Coaches also need to recognize that they are spending 90% of their time as educators and 10% watching the team perform all of the skills and tactics learned in games from well-created practice plans.
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. Dr. Gentile has also coached the Endicott College Soccer Team for 11 years. Gentile is 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. She is the Pre- Kindergarten and Kindergarten Coordinator for Beverly Youth Soccer Association. This season she is the proud coach of her daughters 1st Grade team in the Wilmington Youth Soccer Association.