I came to soccer in my mid 30s, which I guess is a bit old to be starting out in a new sport, especially as a coach.
Growing up during the ’80s in North Dakota, soccer wasn’t an organized / sanctioned game. I played soccer in phy ed classes, but never outside of that. Soccer wasn’t supported by school sports programs, there were no clubs, no city rec program, no YMCA soccer. Football, basketball and wrestling were the big sports on the prairie and soccer was a game played in Europe and South America (wherever those places were). Youth soccer finally began to emerge after I had already moved on to college with the first high school state championship contested in 1995.
Fast forward a decade or so and I found myself an assistant for Grace’s U6 team (my older daughter), recruited to help by an old family friend who had grown up playing soccer and football in South Bend, IN. So started my addiction with soccer and coaching education. That first season (2006 Spring), I took the NSCAA Youth Level I course. At the time, it was called the Parent Coach Diploma and it consisted of kicking the ball around for a couple hours, playing and learning activities suitable for the youngest players. Not really tactical nor particularly technical, the games were really just fun things to do with a ball and introduced me to the idea that, as a coach, one can’t really take things too seriously or the kids will just lose interest and ask their parents to do something else. Kids (like adults), don’t want to be yelled at or ordered around all the time, especially when it’s supposed to be their fun time, a release from the rigidity of a day in school.
After a couple more years of casual rec coaching of my daughters’ teams (my younger daughter Erin began playing as a U4), various events led to my inheriting Grace’s U10 team entering the 2009 Fall. About that time, I took the NSCAA Youth Level II (fka State) Diploma and the USSF State E-Certificate. The E was my first dose of in-depth education, learning about the Four Pillars of Soccer and other common player development models. I was already a voracious reader of soccer coaching literature, so I didn’t get a ton of new information from the course, but I did learn some key fundamentals around session planning and practice session execution.
Being mixed in with a bunch of other coaches also exposed how terrible a player I actually was, leading me to seek opportunities to play more often, be it pick-up games with other parents, playing indoor in the winter or playing more often during my practice sessions (not just telling the kids what to do), all of which helped tremendously with my coaching. While being a player doesn’t necessarily mean you can coach, it’s really not possible to coach effectively without playing.
After the E, things started to click. I got organized and developed a focus. During Grace’s U10 winter, I obtained my USSF Grade 8 Referee certification (another very useful bit of education), but then it was over. Following the 2010 Spring season, Grace and her teammates went off to U11 competitive tryouts, for better or worse.
Tryouts were enlightening (but also an incredibly thoughtless and frustrating process which I will blog about in more depth later), as coming out of tryouts, every player from that team made either the first or second team at the different competitive clubs where they tried out. Perhaps I was doing okay as a coach despite my lack of a deep playing background and only a few years of coaching experience? But then I realized: it was the coaching education, stupid. Without the reading, without those introductory NSCAA courses, without the USSF State E Certificate, I would have floundered and really underserved that group of kids.
I began to look to the future and my next challenge.