I had a discussion today with my mentor and friend Chris Smith whom I started my coaching career under. We were talking about how too many coaches treat young players as professionals and coaching as their dayjob, and end up not enjoying coaching enough. They can never put on a smile or joke around with their players, simply barking orders and making kids sit still or stand in line in the name of "instilling discipline".
What fun does that bring to the coach or the players on their team, when the players can't have a laugh with their mates, afraid of being yelled at or punished by their coach for misbehaving? How enjoyable is soccer when a player is told off for doing something true to their nature: having fun?
I'm not calling myself an excellent coach, but I do have enough belief in myself to deliver quality sessions and manage a successful program. And I put this down to how I was able to put myself in a kid's shoes, understand their thought process and empathize with them. I was often praised at the start of my career by other coaches for how well I dealt with younger kids, and I believe this has propelled me to being the coach that I am today. Sure, I have enough technical knowledge to run a highly technical session, but a session can only be as good as how enjoyable it is, and this isn't going to be achieved by a cranky angry coach treating eight year olds like professionals. I try to put on what I consider as the right image for a youth coach: fun, energetic, approachable while still maintaining a high standard of coaching. In other words, I try to be myself and not Jose Mourinho.
Chris said something very true, and I'm going to quote him here: "every person working with kids should understand two things: 1. This isn't about you and 2. Kids will be kids." Stop treating kids like professionals, and stop taking away from not just them but yourself the joy of soccer. In other words, don't treat it like a job. You have a responsibility to teach them all the right techniques of the game, but it's about the kids having fun with it. Without them, you're not a coach. Smile. Laugh. Joke around with your players. Be yourself. They won't be around forever, nor will they have the same level of energy and fun a few years down the line. Enjoy yourself and let your players enjoy themselves.
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.