Sideline Coaching Behavior - Do's and Don'ts
As the Sun Sets . . .
So you thought you'd heard the last of me, the outgoing (not to mention verbose) Coach Administrator for Region 76? No such luck. As long as I still have the floor, I intend to make the most of it to write this, my final (promise!) article for this site.
We have at times spoken about parent behavior and player conduct on the soccer field; it is time to focus on the behavior of coaches as well.
As Coach Administrator for our region, I try to observe as many of our coaches as possible. I find it interesting to note the differences in style, personality, and approach. There are almost as many kinds of styles as there are coaches, and it makes no sense to advocate one style over any other. However one issue has always puzzled me from the start.
We are fortunate to have, among the coaches in our region, some of the most proper, educated, polite, and academically qualified people in the area. We have lawyers, doctors, businessmen, teachers and salesmen, people who are generous, charitable, kind, likeable and sociable. What is it that turns some of these kind and gentle souls, once the whistle is blown, into ranting, raving and yelling maniacs on the field? I am not simply talking about coaches who yell at kids --everyone knows that is not acceptable, don't they? I am speaking about coaches who, from the opening whistle, cannot stop themselves from engaging in non-stop instruction (often at the tops of their voices) to their players on the field.
In many of the divisions in our region, parents are strategically placed on one side of the field, while the coaches occupy locations side-by-side on the opposite side. What invariably happens is that the more bellicose of the coaches, engaging in non-stop prattle, ends up drowning out his quieter, more thoughtful counterpart. Is that the way to coach a game?
From a coaching perspective, it is interesting to hear what Anson Dorrance has to say on this issue. (Who, you might ask, is Anson Dorrance? For a start, he coaches the University of North Carolina women's soccer team, and his teams have won more than a dozen national championships in the last 15 years. Do the names Mia Hamm, April Heinrichs, Siri Mullinix, Cindy Parlow, Carrin Gabarra, and Kristine Lilly mean anything to you? Enough said!) Anyway, here is what Mr. Dorrance has to say on the subject:
"There is a difference between telling somebody to do something and teaching them to do it. Telling someone to do something is what an inexperienced coach feels coaching is all about. He stands on the sideline, rants and raves, screaming: 'I can't believe it. I've told you not to clear the ball into the middle. If you don't clear it high and wide, they are going to finish that chance. How many times do I have to tell you not to clear the ball in the middle?'
"Well there's someone who doesn't coach. If you have to yell at them from the sidelines, you haven't coached them. If you have coached something into someone, guess what, they are going to do it. Coaching is about effect. Telling someone the correct way to do something is not necessarily coaching them .... Maybe the best coaches are the ones who make the game seem simple and don't complicate practice with long-winded theories on how to play... The coaches with the lackluster soccer resumes need to temper their lectures and not feel they have to prove their knowledge ..." [from Training Soccer Champions," by Anson Dorrance, pps. 42-43.]
To those coaches who insist on yelling, I have some news flashes for you.
- First, as Dorrance says, the time to instruct is during practice, not during games.
- Second, your yelling may well be counter productive, since many kids do not respond well to such stimuli in the first place.
- Third, you should understand that most of the times, your players can't even hear what you say anyway. Often, they are forty yards across the field; even if they can hear you, they may choose not to.
- Fourth, soccer is a fluid game, ever changing and moving. If you feel compelled to instruct your players on their positioning at a certain point in the game, what happens when the ball is crossed to the other side? Will you then need to re-instruct your player to move to another position? If so, you might as well install a radio receiver into your player's ear, since you will need to do this every minute of the game.
The truth is that yelling may have exactly the opposite effect. Instead of giving proper instruction, you may be overloading your players with superfluous, trivial information. A coach needs to give his players a chance to react, a chance to make their own decisions, and to learn from their mistakes. The game, as they always say, is the greatest teacher. Soccer, after all, is a game of decision-making, and yelling from the sidelines will not help your players become better decision-makers; it will only confuse and aggravate them.
To those who still insist on yelling, I have some suggestions:
- First, bring a chair. When you feel the urge to yell, sit down and force yourself to observe and analyze instead. You will make yourself a better coach by doing so.
- Second, bring a clipboard, a pad of paper and a pen. When you feel the need to yell, sit down and make a note to yourself instead. At an opportune moment (preferably during half time), let your players know what it is you wanted to say.
- Third, go watch a professional soccer game. Watch the Tony DeCicco's, April Heinrich's and Alex Fergusons [Coach of the great Manchester United team] of the world. How much yelling and screaming do they do, compared with just watching and observing the game itself? Learn from the pros.
- Fourth, make a pre-game resolution to say less, i.e. cut down what you would normally say by 50%. You will soon see that you will be far more effective as a coach. Stick to this resolution.
- Fifth, have someone videotape yourself during a game. Ask yourself whether your behavior is the kind which you would like to use as a highlight tape for your kids to watch.
- Finally, take a deep breath and remind yourself that it's only a game, and one purely and simply for the kids. Your days of serious competition are over. Have some fun with the game, enjoy yourself a bit more, and stress yourself less.
Remember, the goal is to be a better, more effective coach, not a louder one. Do it for yourself, and do it for the kids you coach.
Above all, remember to have fun -- it's a great game!
Michael Sun, Former Regional Coach Administrator