Maybe it’s the drills

As I refereed a college soccer game last weekend, I heard a coach speaking to his bench:

(Paraphrased from memory) “How many bad passes have we made? How many simple balls have we not controlled? When we do these basic drills and you look at me, this is why.” Read more

Coach Education, Coaching Clinics, and Development

Every so often, a Twitter storm erupts about the need for mandatory coach education. There is a belief that coach education will solve every ill in basketball in the U.S.

U.S. Soccer requires coaching licenses at various levels, including the Development Academy. Their coach education programs are further along than USA Basketball’s, but every complaint about youth basketball coaches can be found in youth soccer, even with licensed coaches.

Last week, I refereed an u14 Development Academy game for one of the better DA programs in the region, if not the country. The “coach” of this program:

  • Refused to listen to the referee and leave the field to be ready to kick off at game time.
  • Complained about previous games when admonished for not being ready at kick off.
  • Continued to ignore the referee as he attempted to give last minute tactical instructions, after the game was supposed to have begun, and when his team did not know the lineup.
  • Refused to stay in his technical area (coaching box).
  • Complained about virtually every call.

Thus far, the description suggests a disorganized coach and maybe a bad attitude, but nothing about his actual coaching acumen. Many good coaches complain about referee decisions, almost every soccer coach ignores the technical area, and rarely are soccer teams ready to play at game time. As a referee, his behaviors were annoying, and unprofessional, but not uncommon.

Can coach education remedy these behaviors? Are his behaviors due to a lack of knowledge? Was he unaware of the kick-off time or the location of his technical area? I doubt it. These behaviors are indicative of his personality, I believe, and coach education certificates or licenses will not change a coach’s personality.

More problematic was his behavior toward his own players. He spent 80 minutes ridiculing and criticizing his own team. He continually used sarcasm to mock his own players. He screamed at his right midfielder, the player closest to the bench, for the entire 27 minutes that he played before substituting for him. Prior to the substitute, he told the player not to kick the ball, just to defend, after the player mis-timed a pass. At half-time, with a 2-0 lead, he whined and complained at his team.

His vastly superior team surrendered three second-half goals, all of which he blamed on me of course.

Coach education is not a panacea for all issues in youth sports. This coach had to obtain a license from U.S. Soccer, yet he embodied every possible negative in youth coaching:

  • He set a poor example for his young players with his dissent toward the referees before, during and after the game.
  • His primary feedback was negative and probably abusive toward some players.
  • He cared only about the outcome (based on his behaviors and feedback).
  • He attempted to control his players at every moment through constant feedback and instruction: playstation coaching.
  • He embarrassed his own players publicly (early substitution and yelling criticisms).
  • He demeaned the opposition (to his players in their pregame and halftime huddles).

How good or influential is a license and the coach education that it represents when these behaviors continue with a licensed coach? What does the license mean? Do we have any standards or ability to evaluate coaches when he has a paid position with a DA club and a coaching license? Are we that desperate for anyone with content knowledge that we are willing to overlook the behaviors and the poor coaching practices?

After the game, I asked about the curriculum’s content to complete the license that he possesses and did not receive much information. It appears that the focus is technical and tactical. A coach education program that does not focus on how to coach will have little impact. Do the tactics matter when the coach is a playstation coach? Does any technical wizardry matter in such a negative learning environment?

I spoke at a USA Basketball coaching clinic last year, and that was my question, from a coach education standpoint. The majority of speakers, as with most basketball clinics, spoke about progression of drills, offensive plays, defensive systems, etc. To my knowledge, coaching and pedagogy received little attention: How and when to give feedback; how to create a good learning environment; how to motivate; how to develop the right mindset in players; the effect of demonstrations; and more. Clinics tend to focus on what to do, and we leave the how and why up for interpretation. We expect adults to behave correctly and with the best interests of their players, but do not address these standards.

The coach in question was particularly disturbing to me because the DA is set up to develop players. How can a player develop in that environment? Rather than attempt to control every action and criticize every mistake, here is Pep Guardiola talking about young players:

There is a huge disconnect between Guardiola’s words and the coach’s actions, but this coach is not an outlier. The previous week, I refereed a local youth tournament. This tournament had specific rules that coaches were to sit on the bench unless they stood to give a brief tactical instruction. At half-time, I asked a coach to sit down. He argued that he was in his technical area. I explained the rules. He said that he was giving tactical instructions. I replied that yelling “That was a terrible pass” or “Stop doing that” at an 11-year-old is not a tactical instruction. He complained further and I told him to feel free to speak to the tournament organizer who was about 20 yards away. Instead, he sat down, stopped yelling at his players, and his team played better in the second half and won.

Somehow, we have an idea that coaching means constantly telling players what to do, and silence means that the coach is not doing anything. We have the idea that a coach standing and pacing is coaching, but one sitting down does not care enough about winning. I hear these comments from parents at high school games, and have seen coaching hiring/firing decisions based on these perceptions of coaching.

Players have been indoctrinated into these behaviors. I had a player who had never played on a basketball team, but was forced to play varsity basketball because the school only had 6 girls come out for the team, tell me that I needed to yell at the team more and that would make the team win. I asked her if she tried her best. She said yes. I asked her if she played hard. She said yes. I asked her what she wanted me to yell about. I asked her if she wanted me to yell at her because opponents were bigger and better and had played basketball for longer. She said, “Yeah, you’re right coach.” Why would I yell at a girl who had the guts to come out for a high school basketball team and who never lost her enthusiasm as her team was blown out repeatedly? Because other players are better than her? Is yelling and ridiculing her somehow going to improve her jump shot?

Unfortunately, that is often the expectations that we have for coaches, and a reason that nobody questions this DA coach. After all, he has a license. He probably was a good player. Of course he is a good coach, that is why a top club hired him.

Now, maybe I caught him on a bad day. Who knows? The larger point is that he is not too different than a vast majority of youth coaches. This, of course, is why people believe that we need more coach education; we ned to educate these coaches. Does it work? He has a license. At least on this day, it did not work. Despite his license, he embodied the worst of youth coaching.

Rather than emphasizing coach education, we should emphasize finding the right type of person to coach children. Once we find the right people, educate, develop, and mentor these people. Our emphasis should be coach development, not coach education. We should focus on the why and how more than the what. The what is easy to find on YouTube; there are drills for everything, plays to beat any type of defense, etc. But, how to instruct? How to demonstrate? How to give feedback? How to respond to a mistake? Why use a specific drill? Why stop the action to speak? This is the knowledge that we tend to leave up to experience to accrue, which is why we have wildly different impressions on the proper way to coach. These questions are far more important than answering whether we should do a three-man weave or run the Flex or a three-out motion offense.

How do we develop talented players?

The NBA is not a development league; it is a competition, and most teams strive to win as many games as possible to reach the playoffs and ultimately win an NBA Championship. However, few players are finished products, and many players enter the NBA barely out of their teens, which means that continued player development is imperative for continued team success. Therefore, coaches not on the 76ers have a balancing act: Win games and develop young players to continue to win games.  Read more

Appropriate time for feedback and criticism

During the State Cup, I was the assistant referee on an u13 boys game. The final was 12-1. The head coach of the losing team spent most of his time venting to an assistant coach directly behind me.  Read more

Parents and post-game feedback

This weekend was State Cup for soccer. Today, I was the assistant referee for an u15 girls soccer game, and I was in front of the parents. I have had both teams several times during the spring league, and I am familiar with the players. Early in the game, the better team scored a soft goal. Read more

Making practices game-like and training skills

The big discussion in practice design is transfer. What transfers from practice to games? In making practices game-like, do coaches create sufficient repetitions for skill development? If NBA players practice in isolation, should children do the same drills?  Read more

The ultimate cliche: We need to play harder

With a two-goal lead, Southhampton had a corner kick against Everton. After a poor clearance, and a loose ball, Steven Davis crossed the ball from the left side outside the penalty area toward the center of the six-yard box. As the ball was crossed, Southhampton’s defender Maya Yoshida ran straight toward the goal, in between two defenders who did not see or react to him, and headed in the third goal in a 3-0 win. The television analyst’s lazy, cliched explanation for the goal was that Yoshida “wanted it more.”  Read more

The overeager sports parent

Originally published by Los Angeles Sports & Fitness, October 2014.

Early on a beautiful Saturday morning, I walked to the park to watch my friend’s six-year-old son play his Little League teeball game. Nobody kept score, and every player played in the field, changing positions in the field and the batting order in every inning. Half of the team batted in every inning regardless of the number of players who reached base or the outs recorded. The coach emphasized fun, and nobody yelled at the children. When the energy seemed low, the coaches led their teams in a call-and-response cheer. As long as children this young were going to play baseball, this appeared to be a league that kept everything in its proper perspective.  Read more

Coaching a European Club – Week 21

I started this week by having a talk with another of my young players. Late in last week’s game, he passed up an open three-pointer and committed a turnover. I explained to him that in the stats that I have (there are no official stats for our games, and nobody from our club travels to away games), he is shooting over 40% from the three-point line. I explained that 40% three-point shooting equals 1.2 points per shot, which is, at worst, our third best possible shot. He passed up the shot in a game in which he tied his career high with 20 points and missed only one shot. I implored him to shoot more, and that we needed him to take 6-8 three-point shots per game and 10-15 total shots.  Read more

The Predictability and Perfection Traps: Stifling Creativity

There are two general ways to improve performance: decrease negative plays and increase positive plays. In Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insight, Gary Klein used the equation:

Performance Improvements = Reduce Errors and Uncertainty + Increase Insights 

Klein’s focus was improving the creativity or insights of organizations, but many of his thoughts apply to basketball players, coaches, and teams. Klein argued that organizations fall into two traps (predictability and perfection) that stifle insights or original thinking.  Read more

Next Page »

  • What Is A Playmaker?

    Who decided that a point guard has to be small? More importantly, what is a point guard? We expect a point guard to be a leader and have a high basketball I.Q. Why don’t we expect or challenge all players to develop this game awareness? Why rely on only one player? Read more →
  • The PBDL Concept

    English soccer academies wait until players are 11 to play full 11v11 soccer; in Italy, youth basketball players participate in skill-oriented clinics at 6-years-old, but start competitive games at 12. In the United States, kids play 5v5 full court games and compete for national championships when they are 8-years-old.

    Read more →

  • Starting A PBDL

    The PBDL emphasizes learning and development. Presently, players and parents have numerous recreation options - leagues based on fun and equal participation, typically for beginners - and numerous competitive opportunities - teams focused on strategy, game preparation and winning. There are few true development leagues - until now.

    Read more →