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Advice Dec 17, 2013

How much is a good coach worth?

WendyLeBolt-HeaderCan we afford not to train our coaches?

How much do you really know about that guy or gal who showed up to coach your team? With the explosion of youth soccer in the United States, many clubs are beating the bushes for coaches at the grassroots level. Thousands of well-meaning, servants of the game check the “I’ll be head coach” box.

Thank goodness. We need one in order to have a team. An assistant or two is nice, too.

But be careful. That well-intentioned individual may not come with much training. That’s OK; not many of us did when we first started. Maybe we played some rec ball or we were just athletically inclined and wanted to spend quality time with the kids. We bought a few books, watched a few DVDs and had at it.

But the times, they are a-changing. Now there are many excellent coaching resources out there. With a bit of time and dedication, you can educate yourself about coaching this game and/or sign up for a coaching course taught by an experienced coach/ instructor. State organizations offer F, E and D licenses for the coach just starting out. Here is a comprehensive listing of the ‘coaches’ corner’ information provided by the Virginia Youth Soccer Association (VYSA) and the accompanying coaching education resources. (It’s a bit convoluted in the website. Search under the “site map” tab.)

U.S. Soccer also has a comprehensive curriculum for soccer coaching education, some of it available for download and use by the responsible coach and/or administrator. The National Soccer Coaches Association has expanded into webinars, interactive video presentations and live video chats in addition to other online offerings – and even more are included with your NSCAA membership. All of this is at our keyboarding fingertips.

There is a lot of self-educating going on out there. And that’s great, as far as it takes us, as long as it moves us forward. But the wise parent does well to be observant. Don’t just drop your kid and run errands, but stick around and watch. Offer to shag balls, and just watch and listen.

On several occasions parents (who are often also coaches) have come to me asking whether the training their team’s coach did with their kid was safe. Usually, if they are wondering, it isn’t. Sometimes a coach, in his or her enthusiasm, oversteps their knowledge base or gets a bit creative in a way that is not healthy, safe or effective for the kids. This should raise red flags.

One huge-hearted gridiron football coach provides a perfect example: He told me he had solved the persistent ankle sprain problem by having the kids stand on their ankles rolled sideways. (DON’T DO THIS!!!) He thought that increasing their flexibility would be healthy and allow the rolling but without the spraining. A sort of “pre-sprain” approach. He didn’t realize that ankles were not supposed to be flexible sideways. Beware: a little bit of knowledge can be a very dangerous thing.

So, keep an eye on those volunteer coaches. You need not be critical; they volunteered, after all. Ask about the training they have received. Encourage them to get a basic license and to sift through all the great materials available, perhaps attend a state convention or join a coaching organization. Money and time well spent if they plan to continue to coach.

Check to see if your club will reimburse the cost of this training. Many do. And while you’re at it, why not get some coaching education yourself? Our kids need well-prepared coaches! It’s essential that we work together to provide a healthy and safe and effective environment for our kids’ training.

What are you buying when you pay for a coach?

Until fairly recently, these volunteer (usually parent) coaches moved up the ranks with their athletic kids. As the level of youth soccer play got stronger, the demand for paid coaches increased. Parents interviewed and hired coaches, if they didn’t already have a technically qualified parent-coach. Now, with crossover programs and academies blasting onto the scene, these parents are often enrolling their kid in a training program or an academy with paid staff. But we’re back to,“How much do you really know about that guy or gal who showed up to coach your team?”

And now, there are dollars involved.

Let me first say, there are many, many good coaches and trainers providing their services out there. But, there are also coaches and trainers who are not so good. Of course, you want a good one. The question is, how do you tell?

You can look at their bio and read about their tournament record or even their playing history, but, honestly, in this digital age you can post anything online. Which means…those of us with training must distinguish ourselves by being completely transparent in our qualifications and credentials. That should be true of anyone you pay to coach your child. And, that means it’s up to the parent or team manager to check out these credentials.

Easy, right? Not so much. The system of training and certification and licensing and diplomas for coaches in the soccer world is downright mind-boggling. And I have it on good authority, this even holds true for many of the folks who have a lot of experience coaching. I attribute this to the quite recent rise in the “professionalization” of soccer coaching. Ten years ago, my State Cup-winning, regional-team champion kid was coached by volunteers. I think we paid their expenses to away tournaments. Generous of us, eh?

Today, the professional coach is the norm. Or more likely, what I’d call the semi-professional coach, because there are very few folks who can make a full time living as a soccer coach. Generally, coaches have a day job and then they sprint to the field after work or after settling the homefront (which is certainly work!) to run practices. On weekends, they juggle multiple teams at multiple venues and may be fielding work emails or participating in a conference call on the road. Smart phones…have they really made us any smarter? Anyway…

My point is, what used to be volunteer time with relatively low stakes has skyrocketed in terms of demand. The market has grown, and this even includes websites where you can shop for coaches. I just saw an ad where you can market your coaching services on eBay? Really…

(to be continued later this week…)


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