I’ve been coaching soccer for almost six years. To some I am still a naive rookie, while to others, I’m expected to have ‘seen it all’ and am an expert. It’s not surprising at all – it just depends on a person’s own experience and perspective. I’m definitely closer to the former than the latter! As outlined in an excellent article by Steve Jordan at Coaches Notebook, youth coaches go through an evolution, and Steve highlights many of the evolutionary steps:

I believe head coaches (for any level team) go through an evolutionary philosophical process if they continue to work with kids. You learn all kinds of lessons and make many important observations along the way. If you accept the fact that most coaches change with time, it gives you a different perspective when you see them behave in certain ways. When you see a coach do something that seems reprehensible, there is a temptation to assign a label, such as “he’s a hothead” or “he’s way too competitive to be coaching that age group”, and overlook the good work that has been done.

He then goes on to list a variety of stages youth coaches go through if they coach for a significant period of time. From validation up through realization and implementation, youth coaches can go through many phases as they mature and learn. What phase are you at?

I’ll never forget the first time I took a coaching course. I knew I was ‘new’ but had had some success with my soccer teams and the kids seemed to be learning and doing well (My U6 team was undefeated baby! Yeah!!!! :) ) I took the E License course with a number of other coaches, and when we all walked out of the room after the first day, someone blurted out ‘Oh my God! What have we been doing to our kids!’ You felt like such an idiot for some of the things you had done or had been doing. But from that grew a desire to get better and develop better players. its spooky reading that article and looking back over the past six years.

Steve’s section on Realization is excellent:

Realization of their true mission as a coach, that’s the next phase. Something happens for the better and the coach realizes what happens on the court changes a player off the court. The coach starts emphasizing character traits as well as skills, rethinks playing time, develops the bottom of the bench. The coach sees his/her team as a waypoint for journeying players rather than a one time seasonal event.

Remember that coaches are very competitive people. Winning is still important, but now it is done through developing people instead of players; teaching fundamental skills, not trick plays; motivating through discipline, not emotional speeches. Developing people means training and conditioning the mind as well as the body, and considering both the spiritual and physical aspects of the person. Once a coach realizes and accepts this mission, coaching becomes much more than a job, much more than a won/loss record.

Coaching youth soccer is the best job I’ve ever had and it doesn’t pay a red cent. I’m cool with that…

H/T ­Sam Snow @ US Youth Soccer

ADDING: One point I meant to touch on in this article was the part about understanding that coaches, even ‘hot-headed ones’, can change. One of the biggest arguments I ever had with a Director of Coaching was over utilizing a coach who was excellent at teaching kids footwork and soccer moves, but was very vocal on the sidelines. The DOC refused to consider utilizing them in clinics because it might ‘send the wrong message’. I found that very short sighted. Coaches CAN change, some faster than others. But holding someones early transgressions against them forever just means you’ll likely drive away a coach from the sport who could very well help hundreds of kids learn. But it takes work.