It’s often hard to tell how much we’re affecting our players. Judging our level of impact can be subjective, and the extent to which we positively influence our players may not be apparent until further along in their sporting journey. Player retention can be a helpful indicator; if the kids come back happy every week, we’re off to a good start. But there are additional ways we can consider our impact and strive to give our players the best possible experience while playing youth soccer.
In This Article
Build a Connection with Your Players
To understand the impact we have on our players, we must first build a connection with them. This will not only help us to be better coaches, but enable us to appreciate subtler aspects of their behavior and levels of engagement.
“If players get to training earlier, are you noticing if their energy levels are a bit higher or if they’re asking more questions?” asks James Coutts, Coaching Advisor at PDP. “Are you talking to the parents? I think we can get a good sense of where we’re at through our communication with both the players and parents, perhaps by doing it in a more informal way.”
“You can also challenge and support your players much more effectively if you create that connection,” says PDP Co-Founder Dave Wright. “The stronger the trust and the relationship, the easier it will be to have an impact.”
This also means having honest conversations with players when things aren’t going as well as we’d like. “That’s one of the big challenges in coaching,” explains Wright. “We all want to praise and encourage players, but many of them will value honesty the most.”
“I think that connection is really important. Use opportunities to talk to the players informally, and take time to build trust and create positive relationships.”
Use Individual Targets
Individual development plans enable us to personalize our approach and closely monitor the progress our players make. “They’re something I certainly endorse,” says Coutts. “With those plans in place, and then the informal chats during that period, you get a real sense of where the players are at.”
“If I see that a player has really tried to take on board what we’ve spoken about then, for me, we’re making an impact. Whatever the outcome, the intent to improve those areas is there. But we’ve got to make sure we don’t tick off their area of development after six weeks and then just move onto the next thing.”
We might also supplement this approach with additional information. For example, if GPS data suggests a player’s efforts are down and we know they have more capacity, we might have a conversation with them to understand which factors (whether at training or outside of soccer) are affecting their performance.
“It’s important to remember that this information needs to have context wrapped around it,” says Wright. “Players inevitably have dips. We’ve got to understand the full picture before we judge, and then potentially get them back to where they can be — which is making an impact.”
Remove Your Ego
To maximize the impact we have on our players, we must remember to put aside our egos. “It’s important that coaches can be vulnerable enough to ask players what they value and need, and how we can help them get to where they want as effectively as possible,” says Wright.
“Honesty is huge when we talk about building connections,” adds Coutts. “I try to use player-led conversations and have session breakdowns where I ask the players to rate the practice and discuss why they rated it that way. You’ve got to remove your ego when receiving that kind of feedback.”
Being more open-minded and inviting critiques of our coaching may seem difficult at first, but it can go a long way towards building trust with our players and also help us to tailor our approach so that we’re doing what’s best for the individuals on our team.
After all, as Coutts concludes, “We’re ultimately all there for the same reason. To help the kids become better players and provide the environment where they can do that.”
The Key Points
- Form a connection with your players and try to observe their levels of engagement and enjoyment.
- Individual development plans enable us to tailor our coaching to our players’ needs and monitor their progress more effectively.
- Build trust with your players — this will strengthen your connection and make it easier to challenge them.
- Put aside your ego. Don’t be afraid to ask your players what works best for them or what they need from you.
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