August 13, 2012
Planning in order to deliver solid soccer experiences for volunteer coaches and youth players may seem simple. It is important to consider models that work which can build a core of parent coaches who will continue to volunteer as their children progress through the program.
Probably my most rewarding development program was the creation of an enriching Pre K and K League. I learned so much in ten years about what it takes to build not only a soccer program, but also a soccer community. When I first had the chance to take over a town K program, I was asked to replicate how the other soccer company delivered the instruction where the Professional Coach would be in a central spot on the field, and the volunteer coaches would be asked to mirror or replicate the activities. I tried this approach and then I quickly adapted the way we ask volunteer coaches to teach in order to create a positive experience for our youngest soccer assets.
I really wanted to get into the mind of the volunteer coach (my dissertation was on Volunteerism in Youth Sport) and the motives of why parents want to coach (even with little or no knowledge). Volunteer coaches want support, they want to know if there is a bump in the road someone will be there to aid them and provide assistance.
From the start, I decided to recruit as many volunteer parent-coaches as possible. Why? I wanted to get a critical mass of interested parents with a wide range of coaching knowledge. When you get a solid group, the hope is that they will persist and continue with the town program as a coach or even in another capacity. Once we get interested parents, we can create links and bonds with our soccer families. The goal for me was to have at least 2 parent-coaches for each team and sometimes we had three. We would also make sure team sizes were between 8 and 10 players to ensure appropriate engagement levels and playing attention.
Email has been my friend in my endeavor to create beneficial Pre K and K programs. Parents love information and our volunteer coaches want as much direction as possible. I always tell my students who want to be Athletic Directors that their top priority is to make everyone else’s job operationally easier and that is what age group coordinators can do as well.
Once parents signed on to coach, I would send out rosters and practice plans (weekly). In addition, I would provide support to teams if a coach needed to miss a session for work or if they had some concerns regarding the team performance or level of interest. So, instead of demonstrating all of the techniques and telling the coaches exactly how to teach, I provided a framework. The framework was in the form of the practice plan (which contained my terms, coaching points, set up details) along with the chance to empower volunteer coaches to learn from their own experiences of being in charge of a team. I would always be a shout away for help or assistance. I would walk around and interject and provide suggestions as needed, but I would always let the coach – coach! The key here is that these volunteer-coaches understood that they were accountable for the success of the session. The volunteer-coaches realized that the practice plans did need to be reviewed before the session and that they needed to improvise on the spot if one activity was not successful. At the end of the season, the coaches had a toolbox filled with practice plans and I always would leave the last session open for the coaches to devise their own activities or to select the activities their players enjoyed the most.
I have always believed that we (soccer administrators) can develop all of the programs “behind the scenes” in the most effective manner, so that the on the field work would be easier. The “behind the scenes” could include hiring appropriate directors of coaching, selecting useful age group coordinators, and determining how to allocate and utilize the field space at your disposal. When I started with just the K program, I wanted to use one open field and have all of the teams play at one time. I eventually added a Pre K program to the mix and I felt the importance of having the Pre K and K groups to play at the same site at the same time. It worked. The energy was fantastic. The Pre K parents could watch what was going to happen when their children moved up to the K fields. The parking lot was always filled with cars and I was fortunate to have a large elementary field to use to fit 20 or more mini-fields.
The importance of the Pre K and K level programs is to try to infect these children with the desire to play soccer. I really wanted to create activities that involved movement, fun games, and team camaraderie. The instruction would start at 9am on each Saturday morning. I would arrive at the field sometime before 7am to organize the mini-fields using cones as boundaries and setting up pop up goals. The teams would use the same mini-field each Saturday in order to help the parents find their way each session and alleviate any confusion for the coaches. The coaches all had equipment bags with cones and pinnies. All they had to prepare for was the teaching aspects and I handled the “behind the scenes”.
We would start at 9am and end an hour later. Each coach would be instructed the same activities. It was great to wander around and watch 15 or 20 fields of players doing the same exact things and having fun. Some coaches had their practice plans printed out and would refer to it during the session. Parents lined the field with their chairs and coffees in hand. Two rules for any in attendance were to celebrate all good plays (regardless of team) and to never keep score!
After 30 or 40 minutes of instruction we would play mini-games. So, with 8 players on a team we would make sure all players were in the game (no subs!). I am not a fan of subs for Pre K or K programs. Like I have said before, it is up to soccer administration to create programs to include all. No one likes to sit out and this is especially true of our youngest players who could lose interest. So, I created home and travel teams! One half of the team would stay at their designated mini-field with one coach, and the other 4 players would travel (a few fields away) to another mini-field. All of the games/challenge match ups were provided to the coaches in the emailed practice plan so moving from one field was not an issue. At the end of the session, all players would return to the home field ending on a team cheer.
At the end of the Pre K and K practices, I would collect all of the cones and mini nets and store them until next session. To me, that was a fulfilling and enriching Saturday. That Monday, another practice plan would be delivered to the coaches.