This morning wraps up our third season with the Gaston YMCA Rovers soccer team, another successul one in my book. How did I measure success? There were less flowers picked on the field, zero kids physically removed for biting others, and three players learned what defense meant.
Mostly through experience, including a few failed attempts, here are ten practical tips I can give a new coach:
1.) Find help. Ask for a team parent to organize snacks, picture day, and calling others when changes are made. Recruit two or three other coaches to assist at practice, hang out with the kids on the bench, and feel comfortable taking over when you have that all important fishing trip.
2.) Create a consistent warm up routine. Adult may be bored with routine, but kids thrive. The warm up doesn’t even have to do with soccer. Our drill consists of eight jumping jacks, followed by eight arm rolls, backwards arm rolls, head rolls, body spins, crazy eights, and then running to the other side of the field and back.
3.) Keep the kids moving at ALL times during practice. Play games constantly. The goal here is for kids to want to be at practice. Hook them with fun times, and then try to teach a new skill or two somewhere in between. Our favorites include red light, green light (with and without a ball), finding nemo (AKA sharks and minnows), steal the bacon, volano kick, and of course, duck duck goose.
4.) Focus on one new skill at each game. First one – direction. If they know which way to kick that first game, you’ve succeeded. Next game – not tackling others. By the end of the season, you can teach bicycle kicks and offsides strategies for defense.
5.) Speaking of defense, it took me years before I realized that the concept of defense is perfect for this age. Explain their job is to stay behind the center line. When the ball comes to them kick it as hard as they can and run back towards the goal. This is great, especially for your more experienced players because it gives them a new skill, opens up the field, and allow others to try to score.
6.) Have a system for substituing players. Realize this system will fail. Plan to organize your lineups so everyone gets the chance to play. Start children who need all the motivation possible to get out on the field versus hanging with mom on the sidelines. Explain the importance of breaks and that everyone needs to refuel and refresh. Then have a plan B when all but three players have to go to the bathroom at the same time.
7.) Teach them the fall down, get up drill. Three and four year olds will fall down an average of 116 times per game. To protect them from getting hurt, practice falling and getting up real fast. We drill them by running laterally left and right, then telling them all to fall down and get back up. Fal down . . . get back up. Over and over. It then becomes habit.
8.) Develop traditions, but keep it simple. Circle prayer before every game and devotion time after each practice is important character building time. Duck duck goose at halftime has been a huge hit (even our kids’ simblings join us) Last season was the year of the silly band awards. This year we’re all going to a pizza buffet restuarant following the final game. Most importantly, we put one hand together in a circle and cheer “go Rovers!’ whenever we wrap up.
9.) Connect and interact with the parents. This is a great opportunity for parents to build connections, especially with families from other schools, parts of the community, and backgrounds. We have fostered this by creating a Facebook Fan Page as a communication tool, avenue for other announcements, and opportunity for them to get to know each other better.
10.) Have fun. Don’t take a single second serious. Your team will never qualify for the World Cup, your players are more interested in the bugs flying around, and ESPN will not make mention of your score on SportsCenter. So relax, laugh a lot, and make some lasting memories.