As the training environment has become more competitive and technical, we as a coaching staff must think of ways to keep our programs enjoyable. When players enjoy training they have a natural focus, with an emphasis on players remaining confident. And competitiveness in a player is a byproduct of confidence.
We are constantly being asked, how do we keep our players playing at a high level of energy? The old school approach has gone, thank goodness, where players were berated, threatened, etc. If players feel confident in themselves, if they support the game plan and are enjoying the environment, they typically give you their all.
I have found that when players are young they just have to like you to do well. As they mature into the sport and decide it’s what they want to do, they just want you, as a coach, to make them better. This switch in player mindset is why every year you see coaches fail at 11 v 11 after having just coached youngers. The transition is hard.
With that in mind, players respond more to competition for places as motivation, than the mind game approach, which again is redundant. We have spent many hours in Manchester, England watching top players at top Academies train, and talking to Coaching Directors — it was there that I realized that we are light years behind here — and we are changing our approach. When I watch those training sessions it is very apparent that there are more players and coaches on the field than, say, fifteen to one.
We have applied the multi-team training approach to one of our age groups and it is beginning to pay dividends. The one aspect that has improved is tactical, and patterns of play. Already the two teams are playing to the same system. The point is that if you have an eighteen player roster and you want to go over patterns etc., you are limited to nine versus nine. When training with two teams, we can now practice eleven versus eleven on a full field and we can pay attention to those details.
Sceptics may say “so what?” But the real benefit is when we issue a club pass to our players, they know what they are doing. The next comment from the non-believers is, “can you provide full fields at practice?” And my answer is yes we must provide that, and we do.
So many clubs have optimized their resources, forcing parents to become suspicious of anything new. I have heard the comment “I am paying for my son to train with his team not some other team”. I understand the skepticism, but to think training sessions have a magic equation of fifteen to one, again is outdated.
I strongly believe we have the players in this area — all they need is the information. And that comes from qualified coaching and a progressive environment. If we do not challenge ourselves to find ways to improve, nothing will change. Certainly the old Southern California way of recruiting and poaching players will not provide a platform for our players to grow. It may produce “winning” teams but that’s it. Also with the increased numbers, coaches have to earn their money coaching, not strolling around with arms behind their backs barking orders, solely designed to entertain the parents rather than teach the players the game.
Change is always a bumpy road but we have to try new ideas and think out of the box. We have to provide an environment where our players can grow, with the better ones able to play up and not be stuck in their age group. To succeed at this, it is all about preparation and attention to detail, and always challenging our players.