In September, with the summer being almost nine months away, a relatively new camp contacted me about a recently vacated position. They were interested in having me to fill in, so we exchanged emails, had a couple of phone calls to discuss ideas and it turned out we clicked. Three weeks later, I'm beyond delighted to announce that I have agreed to join Camp Micah for Summer 2017 as the new Director of Soccer.
For the past three years I've been lucky enough to be coaching for programs in Vietnam, the US and now England. Last summer was an extraordinary experience at Camp Towanda under the guidance of the one and only Coach Lee Nikolaidis who I had the honor of shadowing and learning from. It was at Towanda that I learned what the camp life is about and just how amazing it is to be able to spend the summer coaching the game I live and breathe while also making friends with so many new people. Most importantly though, I got to mentor some of the best kids in the world through seven weeks full of surprises and suspense.
I would have loved to return for more of the same next summer, but the opportunity to create, implement and direct a 270-strong soccer program at just 20 years of age is too good to pass. This has been a dream job I've had since I started coaching as a schoolboy, and I'm already counting down the days till I can get started.
I wish everyone at Towanda the best of luck and if you are returning to camp for Summer 2017, I know you will have a blast. Thank you for a memorable summer of 2016.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't (still am) guilty of sideline coaching. Any coach at some point in their career will have had the urge to give instructions and try to win games. However, as I progress through the early stages of my career I have come to realize that giving players freedom to play their game is the best thing a coach can do, and it can yield magnificent results.
I coach for an accredited youth club in England, working with 7 year old boys who are part of the club's foundation phase set up. This is officially one month into the season for me, and because these boys are only 7 I've adopted a much more laid back style of coaching since the beginning. And I'm seeing some terrific results.
As there is no competitive soccer at this age group, the boys often play against their mates in intrasquad friendlies. Today, in one of those games, two of my boys combined for the best goal I have ever seen in my coaching career. Tom, a player I considered to be a bit more skillful than others, backheaded a bouncing ball onto the path of Max, another more technical player of mine, and set him on a clear path to goal. With a first time volley, Max sent the ball past the goalkeeper and straight into the bottom corner. I was completely blown away by what I saw, and had to personally come out and give each of them a high five for that brilliant piece of art. Was there a hint of luck to the goal, to Tom's backheader or to Max's crisp first time finish? Maybe. But I'd like to think that these kids are playing with the sort of freedom that only exist at youth level, and because they know they're free to go out, express themselves and have fun, they produce sensational moments like that.
It might sound shallow of me to use a goal scored in training as illustration for the positive effects of giving my players the freedom to play, but I have seen small moments in training where they are using skill moves that I've taught them weeks ago without me having to tell them to. I'm seeing little dragbacks, "Ronaldo chops" and "Cruyff turns" or at least attempts at performing the move even in small sided games. Coaches who fall victims to sideline coaching might credit their shouting of instructions as the reason why their players are doing skill moves and such, but in fact if we just all take a step back and just watch the fruits of our hard work coming up with lesson plans and teaching these players how and when to do certain things, we might just be blown away by how much they actually know without us yelling instructions at them all the time. Best thing to do on the sideline? Give them high fives, hugs and congratulate them on their performance no matter if you're winning or losing.
I can't remember who came up with this quote to credit them with, but it sums up my entire blog post: "the game is already decided after the last training session". There is nothing more you can do during a game, other than sit back, relax and watch your players put on a show.
As I prepare for my first senior coaching role as director of soccer for a summer camp in America, giving my players freedom to play and express themselves will be the focal point of my entire curriculum and programming, and I'm already counting down the days when the camp season starts so that I can meet hundreds of new players and provide them with an environment where they can have as much fun playing soccer with just enough guidance to ensure they are on the right path of development.
Football Manager, Tony Carr and love for the game: the story of how I became a coach with zero playing experience
It's funny to think that I became a coach without playing a single game until I was 15 years old, considering that my players these days are as young as three! American clubs and camps are crazy about playing experiences, and will often give the job to a player with college playing experiences rather than someone with actual coaching experiences, so for me to defy the odds and earn myself a full time coaching job in a market dominated by college players with no formal coaching experiences is quite something.
When I picked up my first coaching book, How to Coach a Soccer Team by West Ham academy director Tony Carr, I was laughed at and made fun of by my schoolmates because I was an absolutely terrible player (still am!). Little did they know, that 9th grade boy they made fun of would five years later be a qualified coach who has worked with well over 200 players across three continents.
It all began just under six years ago, when my mom bought me a video game called Football Manager. Having been an avid fan of Chelsea and the game, I was immediately hooked by FM's focus on fine details and realistic depiction of coaching and managing a professional football club. FM brought my attention to coaching, and I started to seriously explore a possible career in being a football coach. Quite bizarre how a video game can have such a profound impact on you!
I started out by asking to help the school with the U14 team by organizing training and accompanying the team in matches. My first year being a "coach" was a bumpy one with a few clashes wirh the then athletics director but it well prepared me for my first proper role with Arsenal Soccer Schools a couple of years later, one that I earned after impressing their director of coaching with my work organizing an international U16 football tournament. After once again clashing with management I moved on to become an assistant coach at SSA Sports. It was this job that set me well on my way as I got to work with great bosses who allowed me the space to learn and grow as a coach. After bits and pieces here and there in America I landed my first full time coaching job last summer. Currently working with an FA Charter Standard club in England, I'm faced with two choices next summer: either going back to the camp I worked with and continue coaching the boys I got to know and bonded with, or take the next step in my career and become director of soccer at another camp. I'm grateful to be in a position with many choices, so to reflect on the path I have been on that brought me here today is quite special to think of.
Long may this continue.,
About the Author
Bao "Terry" Cao is currently a coach at Manchester United Foundation and the FA Development Centre for girls. Terry is licensed by both the FA and USSF. He shares his personal experience of being involved in youth soccer as both a coach and an outside viewer.