I mentioned a while back that I was going to go and get my ‘D’ soccer coaching license (Links to the course manual – BIG FILE). Of course with everything going on I never got a chance to write about it.

The course was spread across two weekends, with short 3 hour sessions on Friday night and full day sessions on Saturday and Sunday for a total of 38 hours. A friend of mine also took the course, so we carpooled and bounced ideas off each other throughout the course which made it much easier to handle.

In short, it was a fantastic course. Despite common perceptions that it was only good for 11v11 coaches, I found it to be perfect for any coach U10 and above. There was very little 11v11 specific material covered. Instead the bulk of the course was spent on how to coach. How to build a lesson plan and how to execute it.

US Soccer has developed a new practice plan template that concentrates on using small sided activities to teach. You start with a warmup to introduce the basic skills/moves that will be used. Next you move to small sided activities which put the players in 1v1, 1v2, 2v2 situations. Then you move to an expanded small sided activity which can range from 3v3 to 5v5. Finally you wrap up with a small sided 6v6 scrimmage. I found it a much easier template to use that the older ‘Restricted/Unrestricted/Match Situation’ template. It’s focus on small sided play ment you could use it from 6v6 on up through 11v11 without modification.

Here’s what I sent our league’s coaches afterward, encouraging more of them to take it:

Coaches,

Congrats to all the coaches who took coaching classes this summer! For many of you who have now taken Youth I and/or II, I wanted to share some thoughts on the next level of coaching courses and why they are an excellent next step.

Chris and I recently completed our USSF ‘D’ License Course in Raleigh and I wanted to share some of our experiences with you about this excellent coaching course and others available to you.

For those of you unfamiliar with the US Soccer coaching course structure, there are three ‘levels’ of courses available. The courses are designed to be somewhat sequential. The entry level courses, designed for coaches who coach kids younger than 12, are Youth I (U5-U8) and Youth II (U10-U12). These single day courses are excellent for any small sided (less than 11v11) soccer coach. The MYSA requires that all Recreation coaches have their Youth I or II license within one year of starting to coach. Challenge head coaches need to have their ‘E’ license. That rule will be enforced starting this fall, so if you coached last year and don’t have Youth I or II, you need to get it ASAP. You can take Youth II without having Youth I. Take the one appropriate to your team’s age. The next level of licenses are the state ‘F’, ‘E’, and ‘D’ licenses, which are taken in order (F then E then D). Full descriptions of these can be found at http://ncsoccer.org/Education/education%20home.shtml

One thing we’ve found is that the courses overlap a bit. The descriptions all talk about them being designed for 11v11 coaching, however I’ve found this not to be the case. While it may not make sense for a U5 coach to take the E or D classes, any serious coach that wants to learn how to be a better coach should consider getting their E and even their D license if they already have their Youth I/II license.

We spent two solid weekends in Raleigh (38 hours total), and 11v11 concepts came up for *maybe* 2 hours. Even then they were fairly generic. The rest of the course was dedicated to things like team management, basic tactics, and how to develop practice plans, which are ALL modeled around small sided activities (up to 6v6) The activities we saw demonstrated were simple enough to use with a U10 team. The core focus was not necessarily on the game itself – but how to coach it and coach it well. A sizable majority of coaches in our class were coaching U8 up through U12 – small sided teams.

My point in sharing all this with you is to strongly encourage any of you who enjoy coaching and think that you’ll coach teams at U10 and above for a while, to consider taking a state level course. They will absolutely help you become a better coach. The USSF has developed a new practice plan methodology that is designed to progress from a simple warmup (individual players), to small sided activities (1v1 up to 3v3), then expanded small sided activities (4v4), and finally a 6v6 scrimmage with goal keepers. The idea is that all practice activities should be teaching ‘the game’ – not just a specific move or technique. The thought is that you can design a practice that focuses on a specific technique (passing, dribble, defense, shooting, finishing, etc.), and still have the activities modeled after the game itself because the players are learning the topic in game like situations the entire practice. Both the ‘E’ and ‘D’ courses have been updated to reflect this new methodology.

So if you have your Youth I/II certificate and plan to coach U10 or higher – go get your F or E license. Once you have your E license – if you think you’ll want to coach a travel team at some point – take the time to get your ‘D’ license. It is a very intense course, spread across two solid weekends (Fri evening, Saturday and Sunday 8-5) You spend the bulk of your time outside playing soccer as the instructors demonstrate example practices, or as course candidates practice coaching using the techniques taught in the class. You get two ‘topics’ that you must create practice plans for (one each weekend) and the instructors evaluate you and provide feedback. Then on the final day, you develop a third plan and are officially graded.

I’m not going to gloss it over. The E and D classes are intense courses where you play a lot. While not a requirement, the best way to learn about the things you’ll be teaching is to do them (or in my case TRY to do them). And the ‘D’ class requires that you ‘pass’ your final coaching evaluation – you get graded. The ‘E’ class practical session is evaluated and you receive feedback, but it’s not graded. But even for someone like me who didn’t play soccer when I was younger – both the E and D classes were invaluable in what they taught me about coaching. If you can’t actively participate for whatever reason, don’t let that stop you as it is NOT a requirement. I sprained my ankle badly the first morning of my ‘E’ class and completed the course on crutches!

I’ll admit I was a little bit intimidated to take my ‘D’ Class, and for no particular reason beyond wondering if I was ready – if I had coached long enough. But once you get going and realize most of your classmates are coaches just like you with a wide variety of backgrounds (I bet 30-40% of the candidates there hadn’t played soccer as kids), it’s not so bad. It definitely was weird being ‘graded’ again, but by the time the final exam rolled around, I was more relieved to know the class was just about over (its fun but exhausting) than worried about the exam. If you can find another coach to go with you, that helps too. Chris and I could compare notes, recall various drills we saw that the other forgot, and carpool. D classes get canceled a lot due to insufficient signups, so you’ll likely travel 1-2 hours to get to one and may have to signup for 2-3 before you get one that actually happens (this was my third try to take it in the past 6 months – they kept getting canceled)

Don’t forget – the latest coaching class calender can always be found at http://ncsoccer.org/Education/school%20schedule.shtml and let me note that it has NEVER been this packed. Our new state DOC is really working hard to setup as many courses as he can – this current list is at least 2-3 times the number of courses normally offered by the NCYSA in past years. So take advantage of it!

See you all on the fields

So what was it like? In a word – intense. The temperatures were in the low 90′s for much of the course, so the instructors scheduled the lecture sessions for the hottest parts of the day – we thankfully had an air conditioned classroom. However, we only spent 4 to 6 hours total in the classroom. The rest was spent out on the field learning how to coach. Of course, in order to coach, you need players, and that’s where the intense part comes in. Everyone plays. Thankfully one of the coaches taking the course invited his U13 girls to come out and play as well, which gave us all a much needed break on the weekends. These girls played SO hard and we were all very thankful for the rest! It also helped because you could observe other candidates and the feedback they were getting when you weren’t always on the field playing. So if you take the course and can lineup some older players to play, it will be a huge help.

The ‘D’ course is the first course in the series where you are graded. The course is all leading up to your final evaluation coaching the rest of the candidates. However, you get plenty of time to practice. The first weekend is primarily field sessions demonstrating various drills and techniques. Then you get your first topic to create a practice plan for and demonstrate on Sunday. These topics are not simple like ‘dribbling’ or ‘passing’ but more specific things like ‘Help your team take advantage of width on the attack’. And yes, goalkeeping topics are given out, so be prepared.

During the practice sessions, you are given cones, pinnies, and players to put on your practice. The evaluators will ask you to start at various points of your plan, be it warmup, small sided, expanded small sided, or the full side scrimmage. The evaluators will give you advice and hints and even sometimes stop things to demonstrate something themselves. Be prepared for frank and honest feedback. But the best thing by far is observing the other coaches, how they handle things, and what type of feedback they get. This helps a lot.

As the weekend progresses, the coaches bond a bit and it really is a lot of fun. You also find that some of the coaches will start to purposefully make mistakes to help create coaching moments for whoever is under the microscope. Of course there are always people like me who didn’t play as kids that create those coaching moments all the time! But still, it can be helpful.

Finally, on the last day, you are evaluated for real on one last topic. There are a dozen or so topics and they’re assigned at random. During the evaluation, you go out, do your thing, the evaluator asks you to move on from one activity to the next, and you’re done. Then you get to wait for the results in the mail. See Page 119 of the D Manual for the grading sheet. To earn your State D, you must satisfy a number of general criteria, which almost all participants will. In our class, everyone ‘passed’ and received their ‘State D’. However, in order to move on and take your National C course, you have to receive your ‘National D’ license.

In order to get your national D license, you have to receiving passing marks for the following criteria:

  • Lesson Plan (Outline/Organization/Progression)
  • Teaching Ability
  • Knowledge/Content/Clarity
  • Recognizes tactical teaching moments
  • Recognizes technical teaching moments

That may seem simple enough, but they really want to see it all. On average 30-40% of the candidates receive their national D certificate. If you don’t and want to try again, you come for the last two days of the course to practice once, get your topic, and then get evaluated the next day.

So what hints do I have if you’re going to take it?

  1. Read the manual. It’s packed with info that you don’t cover in the lecture sessions
  2. Know the coaching points inside and out
  3. Avoid buzzwords – you’re coaching kids – they want to see the concepts taught, not the manual
  4. Don’t talk too much – get started quickly. If you talk more than 60 seconds to start a practice, you’re going to get dinged
  5. Observe the evaluators – you’ll find part of this is doing what THEY want to see and most will tell you. We had two evaluators and I probably would have coached slightly differently had I been evaluated by the other one
  6. Bring lots of water and sunscreen! Bring spare clothes/socks because you WILL be soaked at the end of the day if you take it during the summer
  7. Bring a note pad. Any time I had a chance, I scribbled down all the various drills and activities other candidates were using. Great way to build up a collection of new stuff to try
  8. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, of both the evaluators and the other coaches

And just have fun. I was nervous because of the impending ‘exam’, but honestly the course was so intense, by the end of it I found myself happy that the exam meant the end was near and I was a lot less nervous than I thought I would be. I was happy to be through, figured I’d get my State D anyway, and that was good enough. Imagine my surprise when I opened my envelope and I had my National D. I was floored since I knew I had probably messed up in ONE of those five areas.

Overall – a great course. If you coach U10 or above and expect to do it for a while, make getting your D license a goal. It’s worth it.