Coach Kids & Learn Everything You Need to Succeed in Business

Just over a year ago, on the brink of the junior soccer season, our coach quit in a shock  move.  Our first game was a week away and we had too few kids, no real plan and now no coach. I was the one left standing out the front when the club president asked which parent wants to coach the team from here on. I barely heard the question but the result was overwhelming, I didn’t step back quick enough!

With a whistle around my neck and eyes wide shut, the chip on my shoulder was substantial;  I know soccer, I AM a coach – how hard can this be! The next 18 weeks became a mix of disappointing loses, close losses and demoralising losses. We scraped for a couple valiant draws and two triumphant victories. Despite there being no official score or ladder at this level, we all knew exactly what the scoreboard read – we weren’t doing that great…initially.

The first half of the season was comical, and after a reset, the second half was purposeful. A few things about coaching 8 year olds was teaching me everything about coaching and managing adults:

Be clear on the objective – Bin your Ego: Skill acquisition and enjoyment is the primary objective of junior soccer programs the world over. As much as my ego wanted us to win every week, it wasn’t the aim. Regardless of what the score was, our kids were loving every minute of being part of the team. When I became unmoored from the primary purpose, my frustration reduced the engagement, thus enjoyment levels. Imagine the impact on the skills acquisition environment as a result.

Understand your team & their motivations: Having team members with an eye on playing for the Socceroos mixed with some who were merely interested in soccer and others whose parents were making them play, made for a mixed bag of focus and application on the training track. We developed team rules and behaviours that levelled the focus regardless of the motivation. They allowed the kids to show up as they are without judgement and with complete freedom to chase their dream.

Keep things simple: Tactics, strategy, formations and any other over-complicated things I could throw at them were a complete waste of time. Skills, skills, skills! The kids had an innate desire to compete and win and I didn’t need to complicate that. With rookie players, focusing on building deep technical skill paved the way for the other stuff to seep in as the season progressed.

Speak their language: Too often I got caught using what I believed are common soccer terms in explaining stuff. The blank looks would tell me otherwise. I shifted to using simpler language and gaining confirmation of what I was asking them to do.

Embrace creativity: Kids aren’t robots and often they want to emulate the move they saw their idol perform on the weekend – Let them. Set the objective of the way you want the team to play then get out of the way and let them implement! I am continually blown away by how aware these children are at solving problems on the field. I ask more questions and give less instructions this season.

Coach, don’t play: Being a relatively competent player, I thought it valuable to take part in their training session and demonstrate the task I had set them. This does nothing for their confidence, understanding or development. It also does nothing for my coaching. Imagine Michaelangelo taking your child’s art class and saying “See! That’s how you paint. Now go and do it.” Bin that ego, Chris. For 12 weeks now, I am yet to set foot into a training drill and everything is improving faster than I imagined.

Seek feedback: When the chips were down in the first part of last season it would have been easy to go into a hole and starting thinking I wasn’t doing the best for the team. By asking the kids, parents and club committee for feedback and insight, it gave me the confidence to change direction as needed and pursue a path.

Invest in yourself – expand your comfort zone: After finishing last season with a sense of direction and purpose for the years ahead in our junior program, I enrolled in the Football Federation Australia junior coaching course. The shift in my style with the kids was immediate. It was an immeasurable benefit in having professional coaches take you through world-class methods to develop and engage the children at every training session and game. I was on display in front of the others in the course and it had every chance of being unsettling. It was; for the better.

Hold your nerve, results will come: By sticking to developing key skill sets, behaviours and patterns of play and by nuancing my approach depending on the personality of the child, the growth of my team has been exponential. It has taught me to keep an eye only on the ‘source’ activities as the ‘outcomes’ will look after themselves. It’s not a linear relationship, pot-holes do get hit, however the pattern is trending in the right direction.

This season I am coaching largely the same group of kids, we are playing in a harder division against children who are often a full year older from better-funded premier league clubs. I’m pleased to say that the engagement levels have gone up and the skills improve by the session. What I notice as well is that they have the ability to take on more complex patterns of play and their decision-making still blows me away every week.

The kids know exactly what the scoreboard says. I couldn’t care less.

Chris Pezzimenti