By: Dr. Colleen Hacker, NSCAA National Academy Staff Coach
and Professor of Sports Psychology at Pacific Lutheran University;
This is Part 2 in a two-part series dealing with the
psychology of coaching children. Part 1 dealt with
understanding why children participate in soccer.
Know the Factors That May be Stressful for Youth Players
Coaches and parents can do a great service to children by helping each
athlete develop self-confidence, a sense of personal worth and mastery,
and a constructive attitude toward failure and adversity. Behavior that
adults view as encouraging can often be perceived by athletes as stress
producing and pressure-filled. Kids will freely choose to participate in
activities that they view as worthwhile, enjoyable and fun. The
challenge for adults is to maximize the inherent joy of what Pele calls
"the beautiful game of soccer" and minimize experiences that
increase children's anxiety and likelihood of burnout.
Practical suggestions for coaches:
- Avoid a "win at all cost" attitude.
- Transform parental pressure into parental interest, support and
- Avoid over training, long, repetitive practices and
excessive time and travel demands.
- Avoid using perfection as the standard for judging an
- Don't associate a player's worth or value as a person with
their performance and ability on the soccer field (i.e. winning or a
great performance means that I like you more).
- Make sure that your non-verbal behaviors are congruent with your
words and that the coaching is consistent across situations (i.e.
sulking after a loss even though the team played well or being happy
following a poor performance by a winning team).
Realize That Effective Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions
The familiar coaching adage that "what you do speaks so
loudly that no one can hear what your saying" is especially
important to remember when dealing with athletes. Players benefit most
from coaches whose actions reflect both their implied and stated values.
The ability to observe, analyze and communicate are three of a coaches
most valuable assets. A word of caution, however, is that the beneficial
effects of verbal instruction decrease in direct proportion to the
amount given. Remember: Keep it Short and Simple. Take time to videotape
yourself coaching, not only at practice but also in games. Observe
yourself as others see you. Frequently there is significant difference
between how coaches think they are talking, acting and communicating and
what athletes perceive.
Practical suggestions for coaches:
- Give specific, performance-contingent feedback to athletes rather
than general comments lacking performance-related information.
- Be liberal with praise. Most athletes prefer coaches who shout
praise and whisper criticism rather than visa versa.
- Tell athletes what improvements need to be made, why and most
importantly, how to make those corrections successfully and
- Observe and provide meaningful feedback to every athlete at least
once each training session and game.
- Combine verbal praise with consistent non-verbal forms of
encouragement (i.e. a pat on the back, smile, a high five, etc.).
- Maintain your credibility as a coach by being accurate and sincere
in your feedback and praise. Ignoring errors, giving excessive
praise for mediocre performance or excessive praise for performance
on simple tasks conveys to the athlete that either you don't know
what you're talking about or else you have very low expectations of
them as performers.
- Correct performance errors in non-threatening and non-punitive
ways. Finding problems is the role of a critic not a competent
soccer coach. Good coaching requires the ability to not only
recognize problems but also to solve them through effective,
practical and successful solutions.
- Reward effort as much as outcome. Repeated effort, especially in
the face of failure and adversity, is one of the most important
ingredients for future success.
- Use the "feedback sandwich" when correcting youngsters.
Find something the player did well and praise it. Next tell the
athlete what they did incorrectly, what they need to do to improve
and why. Finish with a positive, encouraging or motivational
- Foster an environment that allows for trying new skills,
approaches and strategies without the fear of reprimand and
punishment. Mistakes are integral to sport improvement. Ridicule,
sarcasm and fear are impediments to both immediate and future
Putting it All Together
Athletes learn the game of soccer not only through the directed
learning experiences that coaches provide in practice and game play but
also through indirect means by observation and imitation. As a sport
leader, you are a powerful and lasting role model for athletes by your
thought, word and deed. Parents and coaches can serve as a playerís
greatest ally or worst nightmare depending on the attitude, behavior and
motivation adopted for sport involvement. Remember, the game is for the
kids. It is not for the ego or bragging rights of adults. Our role, as
coaches, is to provide an opportunity for participation for all
interested youngsters, access to appropriate and safe environments for
instruction and competition, exposure to caring and competent leaders,
holistic consideration of the child's entire development (physical,
cognitive, social and psychological) and an unwavering belief in the
worth and ability of children to succeed at their own unique level of
accomplishment. When coaches expect every athlete to succeed, it's
amazing how many of them really do.
Rather than measuring success in terms of numbers in the win/loss
columns, perhaps the ultimate standard of our success as coaches should
be judged by our ability to teach children to love and enjoy the game of
soccer, to feel more confident and self-assured in their abilities and
knowledge of the game, to experience mutual respect from both teammates
and coaches, and most importantly, to feel appreciation and pride in the
opportunity they had to play a sport they love under your direction as
Perhaps the most appropriate summary can be found in the "Bill
of Rights for Young Athletes" (NASPE, 1977) written by medical,
physical education and recreation experts in the hope of creating
guidelines to maximize the beneficial effects of athletic participation
Bill of Rights for Young Athletes
- Right of the opportunity to participate in sport regardless of
- Right to participate at a level that is commensurate with each
child's developmental level
- Right to have qualified adult leadership
- Right to participate in safe and healthy environments
- Right of each child to share the leadership and decision-making of
their sport participation
- Right to play as a child, not as an adult
- Right to proper preparation
- Right to equal opportunity to strive for success
- Right to be treated with dignity by all involved
- Right to have fun through sport
Editorís Note: The Philosophy of Coaching Soccer is taken
from Appendix A of the NSCAA State Diploma Course. Contact the NSCAA at
800-458-0678 for more information about the Coaching Academy or for
details on scheduling a course in your area.