Coaching is More than Show

Deny the distractions by simplifying the skill.

Almost every day I am the victim of distraction. I go online to look up a website I have bookmarked.  I know what I want to do, know exactly how to get there.  All I have to do is click on the icon showing me my links, open up the proper category and select the link I want.  Problem is: Yahoo is flashing headlines and advertisements at me.  All of a sudden I am engrossed in celebrity gossip or the latest healthy nutrition fad.  Now, what was it I intended to look up?  I can’t even remember.  Flooded with information, my brain has taken me elsewhere.

This is how our developing soccer players must feel.  I have seen it: the team arrives for practice.  The coach is “studied up” on the proper form for the new move he wants to teach.  He insists on having everyone’s attention while he demonstrates it “perfectly.”  Then he says, “Okay, you try it.”  The hapless pupils do their best to reproduce the move but fail miserably.  They become hopelessly tangled in their feet while balls roll everywhere.  The coach, patience waning, calls everyone back for a second demonstration like the first.  But the players are no better trying it a second time.  Why?  Just like me on Yahoo: they are distracted by their teammates, the other balls and the complexity of the task.  They are unable to focus on what’s important to execute the skill.

This is where the coach who is a good and patient teacher does well to simplify the skill to enhance learning.  He must break it down into the basic movements and conditions necessary, identifying which ones are giving his players trouble and singling these out for re-working.  The developing player cannot do this on his own for several reasons:

1. he has too much to think about

2. he doesn’t know which parts of the movement are critical to successfully reproducing the skill and

3. he can’t see himself.  What he thinks he is doing with his body is likely quite far from what he is actually doing.

Just for the record, we coaches need to check out our own form in the mirror before supposing it is ready for prime time.  One day I could hardly hold my tongue when I saw a coach, whom I knew to be quite self-congratulatory, addressing his U13 team on the proper way to take a close range shot.  They were repeatedly attempting to strike a stationary ball head on.  Frustrated at their failed attempts the coach, time and again, rolled the ball in front of himself, touched it to his right and swung hard to loft the ball into the goal.  He became more and more exasperated as the girls continued to send weak rolling efforts.  How much happier and more successful they all would have been had he realized the important details he was not highlighting and the girls were not noticing.  A moving ball and an angled touch make lofting a ball much easier.   A stationary ball approached head on is, after all, very difficult to get air borne.

In coaching, as in all things, patience is a virtue.  Preparation paired with patience is a combination hard to beat and, all too often, hard to come by.

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