I admit it – one of my biggest regrets was not playing soccer in school. We didn’t really have an active youth soccer program that I knew of growing up. But we had a team once you hit 7th grade. I was never the most athletic kid around, but I wasn’t a shut-in either. I probably could have made the team, but no… what do I do? I end up video taping the games instead for the coach. How sad! I still did sports – but concentrated on track & field (100M Hurdles & 400M Hurdles) Plus the 400M Relay. I still remember when winter track would get underway how badly the one guy on our relay team would smoke us as we struggled to get back in shape since he’d been playing soccer all fall. His endurance was amazing.
ANYway. That makes me one of those coaches who never really played the game before. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m no master coach by any stretch, but my teams have done OK. I’ve spent lots of time watching other experienced coaches, reading, etc. Even had an undefeated U6 team once (not that anyone kept SCORE or anything! ) FEAR ME!!!
OK Not so much. There is a point here – I’m just making you wait for it.
As a coach who has never played, I found that while I could read up on the rules, watch other experienced coaches practice, watch DVDs, etc., I still felt like something was missing. I could never put my finger on it, so like always I sort of stumbled into it.
Early on, our league started a tradition where the coaches would get together on the same day as the end of season championship matches and play a coaches match. Hilarity always ensued as we placed bets on what would happen first – a goal or an ambulance arrival. But we had fun. So last year a few coaches suggested we play pickup games each Saturday instead of playing twice a year. I needed the exercise so I figured what the heck.
Needless to say my skill level (or lack of ANY appreciable soccer skill) meant I usually got picked last, but who cares. We all had fun. But as weeks went by I realized I was learning from the other coaches who had played a lot. Not only was I getting a little better at playing, I found I was gaining a much deeper understanding of the game. Not the rules. Just the flow, the field positioning, things I did to try and improve my footwork and ball handling. In short, I found I was becoming a better coach or at least a better prepared coach.
Once practices started up I found that just playing for 6 months had given me a deeper understanding of soccer and helped me plan my practices better as well as help the kids with improving their skills from a whole new outlook. Thats not to say that my studying and efforts to learn from the sidelines were wasted. This just added something new to my toolkit.
I’m not saying have to play soccer to be a good coach. But for those of us with little previous soccer experience, getting in on a steady series of pickup games can give you new insights into the game. Plus it’ll keep you in shape!