Most coaches say “I want to teach my players to love the game.” That’s an awesome goal, but how do you do that?
First, you must know that you can’t “make” your players love soccer. Just like you can’t “make” someone love anything. As the coach, it may be better to think of the process as “opening doors” or “sharing secrets” to the genius of the game. You must also share your passion with enthusiastic responses to the wonderful minutiae that separate mediocre and good or good and great. A properly-weighted pass to the correct foot is difficult to do, but when your players pull it off, make a big deal about it to let them know how special it is.
If you want players to love soccer, it’s best to let the players own the game. To let them own their game. To let them express themselves. To encourage them to improvise, to be creative, to be problem solvers. If you are a “Joystick” coach, one of those coaches that dictate the game to your players, telling when to “switch fields,” “take ‘em on,” “shoot it,” etc., you are robbing your players of the chance to truly fall in love with the game. Imagine for a moment that, while you’re coaching the game, someone was dictating TO YOU, exactly how you should coach the players on the field. That they were telling you exactly what to say to your players at all times. Although you may gain technical proficiency at pronouncing the words and saying the right phrases, you’d eventually just start going through the motions and probably lose your passion for coaching.
You can also help your players understand that the game and all that surrounds it, is bigger than they are. But also to understand that they can take from the game those things that bring them joy. To remind them that the game is always there for them with it’s unconditional love.
Many people say that we lose too many kids from soccer at too young of an age. Part of this is natural because as kids experiment with different activities they finally begin to figure out which things really get them excited. Not every Little League baseball player plays in high school or college. Attrition is normal.
Part of this attrition, though, is due to coaches that aren’t able to help the players gain the necessary insight into the game. They are unable to enlighten players and show them the difference between a good-enough pass and a great pass. They don’t help the players learn the many subtleties that make a seamingly simple game come alive over and over throughout a match.
Part is also due to the over-emphasis on winning which causes young players to lose control over their game. Young players want to improve and want to know how they played that day. If all they get from the coach and/or their parents is whether they won or lost, the player misses the opportunity to learn how THEY played and how they can improve their own performance.
Another way to help players enjoy and respect the game is by helping them learn what it is to play Good Soccer. By setting standards (always changing as they get older and more experienced) of the “ideal” way to pass, shoot, move, etc. By helping them learn the details that go into Good Soccer. By showing them the difference between playing soccer and playing the game well. As they learn the differences and begin to be able to execute them, they learn to respect the process and the game. It is very difficult to play soccer well and as kids learn the game they begin to develop an appreciation of what it takes to dribble, pass, shoot and defend well.
Maybe that’s why, as we get older, many former soccer players feel compelled to give back. We know, at least subconsciously, that the game has allowed us to take away so many things. The game has given us so many beautiful moments on and off the field that in order for us to keep the cosmos in balance, we have to give something back.
Help your players learn about those beautiful moments and you’ll have helped them to learn to love the game of soccer.
– Mark Zimmerman, Co-Founder, Dutch Soccer Vision