Today I was asked to support a new coach who was trialing with us. This guy probably has coached for shorter than I have been, but on paper he has a higher level of coaching qualification than I do. He was generally good with the kids, got them listening and organized. But one of the things that really bugged me was that there was no more than one ball on the pitch throughout the entire session. And there were a dozen kids.
When I attended the USSF national coaching course a year ago, the instructor was crazy about our session plans ensuring players get as many touches on the ball as possible. And that is one of the most useful things I have learned as a coach. A ball and a field is essentially a pen and a notebook. You can't teach a class a new concept when they only have one pen and a notebook between all of them. How are they supposed to take notes, to remember what they learned when they spend most of the class fighting over who gets the pen and notebook to write and take notes?
The same concept applies in soccer coaching. Kids can only learn when they have a ball at their feet exploring what they can do with it, learning from actually attempting whatever concept we are trying to get them to understand. As Confucius as said, "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand". You can't expect kids to grab onto the concept when all they are trying to do is win the ball back from their other 11 mates. Good coaches, in my opinion, know how to facilitate and create opportunities for players to explore different things with a ball at their feet, emphasizing on the PLAY aspect. Are we really creating that opportunity at all with one ball to be shared between a team?
My entire coaching curriculum that I'm building in my new role as summer camp director of coaching revolves around the concept of individual play and touches on the ball. No kids should ever have to wait for their turn to practice that new skill they were shown, or to make that perfect pass that they're desperate to pull off. We as coaches need to ensure they are given that opportunity in every training session. And no other way to do that than with a ball at their feet.
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.