QOTW: Core Competencies

I’m still polishing the QOTW post I intended to publish last week, however this recently came up in discussion among our coaches so I figured I’d leap frog it.

As I’ve touched on before, our league is fielding Challenge level travel teams for the first time this season. One of the hardest things for coaches in a Recreation only league is judging how your teams are doing in their development compared to other teams in other leagues. Sure, you can see improvement in their skills and play over time, but how does it compare to kids from other leagues, coaching styles and ability, and so on. Unless your recreation league organizes inter-league friendlies at the recreation level – you just don’t know.

When our Challenge teams finally started their season this fall, many of the coaches were interested to see where kids from other leagues were in terms of ability and how our kids stacked up. Not from some ego trip angle – just to see if what we were doing was working and if not, what areas we needed to work on more to develop well rounded soccer players, even if they never advanced out of recreational soccer.

Now that we’ve gotten a few matches under our belts and gotten a chance to see teams from other leagues in action, our coaches have started to talk about this in more detail. What we found was that while our top players can play step for step with most of the other teams we’ve faced, the problem is depth. Other teams seem to have broader skill sets in their middle players. That’s not to disparage our kids in any way – they’re working hard and improving with every single match. This is mostly an academic exercise to figure out how we can better develop a broader segment of our players moving forward.

Some of our Challenge coaches have spent time watching many recreational matches at the U8/U10 level as well. What they’ve noticed is a disparity among our own kid’s core competencies and it seems to be aligning with the experience of their recreational coaches when they were younger. Kids from rec teams coached by experienced coaches tend to have more developed core skills.

Yes, I realize that’s profound. :) Most of you are saying "Well d’uh!" However, what is coming to light and surprising us is the amount of disparity between the kids from experienced coaches and new coaches. In a recent coaching class many of us took, one of the instructors made an excellent point. Your #1 priority as a youth coach should be player development. Regardless of wins and losses, etc., your job is to give all your players the skills they need to advance to the next level if they choose in a fun and safe environment.

The Catch-22 is this: The teams that need some of the best coaches are the U5/U6 teams when kids are just getting started. The catch is that those teams are usually coached by the newest coaches while more experienced coaches are in the upper age brackets.

With that in mind, our coaches have been talking about how we can better develop our players as a league. One of the ideas being thrown around is to develop a ‘curriculum’ for each age level. Nothing overly complex. Just a short list of ‘core skills’ that players should have as they move up from one age group to the next. Many new coaches are so overwhelmed once matches start, even after participating in a clinic or two, that they lose focus on what they should be teaching.

This is still in the discussion stage in our league. But the idea is to develop a coaches ‘manual’ for our league that includes core competencies players in each age level should have, a compilation of drills to help teach these skills, and combine that with hands on training by our more experienced coaches to show them both what a given move is if they don’t know and how to run some of the drill sin an exciting and interesting manner. Obviously we’ll still stress coaching education, taking USYS coaching courses, etc. But this would go beyond that.

This does not mean we want to structure the training of every team. We aren’t going to tell coaches ‘you must do this and only this’ All we want to do is say ‘this is what your kids should be able to do when the season ends’ and give the coaches some tools to accomplish that. If they have other ideas to teach those competencies – great.

So how does this lead into a Question of the Week? Simple. If you were asked to list four core competencies a soccer player should have learned in a given age group – what would they be? U5/U6, U8, U10, and U12.

Here’s an example for U6:

  • Dribble the ball forward for 10 yards
  • Pass the ball reliably 5 yards
  • Kick the ball into a goal from 4 yards
  • Execute one ‘move’ such as a pull back

The idea is coaches are free to develop their teams as they see fit. However, there are some core skills that their kids should have no matter what.

Don’t misinterpret this as our coaches wanting to turn our Rec program into a soccer factory. We’re not trying to tell coaches "You all must do this drill and that drill, etc" Instead it’s meant to give new coaches an idea of where their kids should be when they’re done coaching them. How they get there is up to them, while we’re happy to provide some ideas and training to help them get there. In other words, we don’t want to ‘Teach the test’ like so many of our secondary schools are doing. The beauty of soccer is having kids discover innovative ways to do things. This is why many coaching education experts are advocating more free play/scrimmaging and less drilling. But letting your coaches know that the kids should be able to master a few core skills while still having a good time and discovering the beauty of the game would be a good thing.

Finally, I’m not writing about this like it’s some profound idea. I’m sure many other established leagues have done similar things and I’d be very curious to hear about them. Like many things on this blog, I write about our discovery and growth as a league, sometimes highlighting lessons we’ve learned that other leagues learned long ago. I’m always interested to hear what other leagues have done. Comment away!

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