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.
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.