Training youth…not so easy
This year I had the pleasure of training a competitive soccer team that consisted of girls 15 years of age and younger. The way I prepared for training in week 1 and the way I prepared for training in week 10, were completely different. Here is what I learned.
1. You need to explain even the simplest of concepts
In my first few training sessions, I setup multiple passing drills with the intent the girls pass, move and create space. At the end of practice I had them play a possession game and work on what we had practiced. Many girls would pass and stand still…very static. When I stopped the game to ask why this was happening, one of the girls asked (annoyed might I add) why she should move when she doesn’t have the ball.
I thought to myself, interesting. I had made the false assumption that the girls simply understood why moving to create space is important. Similar to the way we deal with kids, we tell them to wash their hands when they’re dirty. “Just do it”, we say. But why?
I then took the time to explain that moving (1) creates space for yourself, (2) creates space for your teammates, and (3) confuses defenders.
The result? Everyone was moving. Not all of the movement was productive, but that didn’t matter for the purposes of this training. I quickly realized that, more than anything, I needed to teach the girls WHY what they’re doing is important. This gave purpose to their game.
2. The 3 training process
When teaching a drill, I found that it required 3 separate trainings before it really sunk in. The first training was to try it on for size, so to speak. The second was to walk them through the WHY. The third session would be to fine tune the little things.
For example, I wanted to teach the girls the value in creating triangles when in possession of the ball, i.e., always having at least two options for a pass. The first training I setup the drill and walked them through it. I spent a little time explaining the why at a high level. The second session, I spent more time digging deeper on the why. This helped the girls understand exactly why they would create triangles throughout the field. When the girls realized this would benefit them, they took it seriously. Finally, in the third session, the girls really conducted the drill with a purpose. At this level of quality, I was able to focus on other smaller things that would help them perfect their game (e.g., positioning, other options and etc).
3. Communication is crucial
This is like the rock in our shoe that won’t go away…we’ve heard it much too often. But, communication and, more specifically, positive reinforcement is so important. When they’ve done something well, let them know. We all love to hear when we’re doing something right. When they’ve doing something wrong, tell them why and let them know how to improve. When showing them ways to improve, focus on the positive. For example, if you want your players to stop sailing the ball over the net when shooting, say “I really like when you lean forward; it helps keep that ball down. It increases your chances of scoring too!” I promise you that the player wants him/her-self to improve more than you want him/her to improve. They’ll listen.
These seem like straightforward messages, but I didn’t place enough emphasis on them when I first started and, as a result, I lost a lot of time with the girls that could have been better spent.
That being said, I strongly encourage anyone to take on a responsibility like this. The amount you learn from them is more than what you’ll taught them.