I ran three meetings back to back last night. They were for various groups but all were about our Evaluation process for forming teams at U11 to U14. The first was for current U10 Age Group Coordinators and coaches. They are the ones heading into tiered soccer for the first time. They will also be the front line for questions from parents and players so it was important they got clear information. The middle meeting was for U11 to U13 Age Group Coordinators and coaches. For the most part, they have already been through our process, have bought in and it was just a matter of bringing them up to speed on some relatively minor changes we’ve made this year.
The last meeting was with the parents of U10 players. This was the group that I had to be address most carefully. I’d already had several emails, discussions and phone calls from people in this age group letting me know about rumours circulating “through the grape vine.” Misinformation is common each year as we approach team formation time so I really wanted to get a clear message across.
Of the 60 or so parents there I’d guess from the questions asked and my knowledge of the people there that 80% were there to find out more about the highest level of play, U11 Gold.
So I started with this gem. “The level you plan next year does not matter. It really does not matter. What’s more we really do not care how many games your teams win.” My immediate survey of reactions around the room ran the gamut from amused to bemused to dismayed verging on gravely disappointed.
Most of these parents were quite happy to put the U6 to U10 House league years behind them and embrace and more competitive, more involved soccer experience at U11. I fully understand that House league can be a frustrating experience for some but this hypnotic effect that particular levels of play have on parents continues to baffle me. If parents invested as much time and energy in learning about what makes a good coach rather than positioning their kids for levels of play they would be doing a better service for their kids.
It’s about coaching.
It’s about parents being demanding that coaching continues to get better and that clubs commit to coach development so that more players end up getting, at the very least, decent coaching whether they are playing at the lowest or the highest level. As I’ve said before the next wave of professionalization is going to be private coach development. There are so many kids playing and so few knowledgeable coaches capable of working effectively with younger players that someone is going to step into that market to help the motivated parent coach become a much more complete coach.
Until that happens though, parents need to do their homework and that has to extend beyond asking their kids who they think is a good coach. I don’t know of many areas in life where a parent’s views and opinions are shaped, sometimes exclusively, by what their 10 year old tells them. My ten year old doesn’t tell me what car I should buy (though he may try) or who I should vote for but somehow they have become important arbiters when it comes to the quality of soccer coaches. It is up to parents, if they want to make a personal investment in the quality of the experience of their child’s soccer years to learn what makes someone a good coach. Just because a coach gives out candy to the players after practice does not make them a good coach. Just because they have a European accent does not make them a good coach. Even having a high level of certification is not a guarantee of coaching nous. And most definitely, someone who points to a record of many more wins than losses is not necessarily what you want.
Going back to the meeting last night, I thought about qualifying my statement about winning not mattering by saying, as I’ve said here and on Twitter, that I do think teaching kids how to win and how to manage games to increase the chances of wining is important but that it should really only come in to play around U15/16 but I didn’t.
The message has to start changing from “the best level of play is the highest one you can possibly attain regardless of other factors and good coaches can be measured by wins” to “if your kid enjoys soccer find a development environment that facilitates their continued progress and that means focusing on quality coaching over levels”.
There are three critical assumptions in what I’m saying that I admit could be a stretch:
- There’s loads of good coaches out there for parents to find
- The best coaches are working in environments that are appealing to motivated players
- The ‘best’ coaches are also the ‘most suited’ to working with younger players.
Let’s address these.
Here in Canada, no, there are not nearly enough good coaches to work with the high participation rate we have in the game. It’s a serious, long term problem.
We do generally, and increasingly, have some of the better coaches working in good developmental environments. Pretenders are increasingly found out and pushed aside as good, young coaches take their place and get established. Competition among coaches for good team environments to run or well paid gigs is good. It’s getting close to the stage where I can say that overmatched, or simply poor, coaches in higher level environments are becoming an anomaly but not entirely. There is still a need for parents to focus on who their coach is going to be in a particular environment and sometimes make tough decisions about where to play based on what is offered in terms of coaching and support provided to coaches by clubs.
Lastly, defining the ‘best’ coaches is highly subjective and the qualities that make someone a great coach at one age/level does not necessarily make them a great coach at another age/level. Parents need to know that the qualities they should desire in a coach at U11 gold are very different from what they should be looking for in a U16 BCPL coach.
Clubs are increasingly committed to the development principles laid out in the LTPD model established by the CSA. That dedication to developing quality players over collecting league titles and trophies at U11 to U14 needs to be supported by parents and the best way they can support that is to ask questions about coaching, learn what a good coach looks like at the various ages and levels and make decisions based on what coaching is available rather than just looking at the labels attached to levels of play. It will force clubs to help develop better coaches and force coaches themselves to be better at what they do. Plus once coaches know that parents truly support development over results at these ages they will embrace teaching first touch, passing and support over short term tactics designed to score goals that will work well at U11 and fail miserably at U14.