Most of us have or have had a job, a position, a career. We are accustomed to a job description (or position profile) at any level of an organization. Typically there is a document that describes the accountabilities, responsibilities, tasks, skills, education requirements, and scope of the position. It is understood that in order to get the job, one must demonstrate competency.
Coaching a soccer team doesn’t usually come with a job description, other than “soccer coach”. We know the key responsibilities of running practices and managing games, and with any luck we know the rules of the game and of the club we play in.
I would suggest that the job of soccer coach is a complex amalgamation of many jobs one finds in the working world. Let’s look at the coaching position of a recreational youth soccer team.
As coach of a soccer team you are it’s top executive. True, there is a club structure and a league coordinator, but as far as running the team goes, you’re it. It is your job to develop the strategic plan for the team. Your team will need a vision, goals, and strategies of how to achieve them. How do you do this if you don’t know the players, league, or even club? For the vision you can say things like “At the end of the soccer season our team play will resemble soccer you see on TV. Players will work together as a unit, passing to each other, and creating scoring chances. Positions will be held and everyone knows what to do. Each child will be a better soccer player.” Or ” Everyone will be involved and have fun”. The vision really reflects your personality, your style, and what you know about the sport. You then need to communicate the vision and let your actions be aligned to it. As the leader of the “enterprise” you need to ensure that all stakeholder needs will be met – the children, parents, club, community, game officials.
It is very likely that you will need help as the season goes. The minimum team staff would have you work with a co-coach or an assistant coach. As teams are more advanced it would be common to have additional people helping you, such as a soccer goalie coach, a fitness trainer, a team manager. You are now a leader of a management team which requires interpersonal skills, planning abilities, setting the agenda, synthesizing a program, running meetings, etc. You will accept input realizing that the final decision on tactics, line-ups, substitutions, etc. is yours.
Your relationship with the young players is most closely to that of a school teacher and students. You need to learn about each player and decide which soccer skills they need to develop most. You need to know their physical abilities, social skills, and understanding of the game. You need to develop a curriculum that develops the entire team as well as each player. Then you need to implement the curriculum. These are your practice plans, the soccer drills within the practices, the season plan – stringing the right soccer practices together.
You will likely get a game schedule from the club and if you’re fortunate you will also get a practice schedule. Often you have to schedule the practice(s) yourself. Each practice and each game is a unique event (production) and needs a plan. What are we practicing next? What does the team need to work on, which soccer drills can I get to develop individuals and the team? What formation are we going to play in? Which players will play which positions? What are the planned substitutions? You also need to plan all the things you need – cones, pinnies, goalie shirts/gloves, hurdles, balls, ball pump, stop watch, etc. You need to set up the drills without wasting practice time, so plan it out.
Every team will have a mix of children and parents, all with different needs. You will get the super supportive -they will do anything you say and help you where they can. You will get the quiet ones, going along. You will get the ones that complain, no matter what you do – some do it overtly, others behind your back. The key is to know who is who and what your strategy is with each of them. You will find children who will be sad, upset, different from week to week. Take them aside and ask if you can help, encourage them, give them confidence. Joke a bit.
Things won’t go as planned. Players who said they’ll show up won’t, and vice versa. Soccer practice drills will not run as smoothly as you thought. Players get injured and need attention. So you need to be flexible, able to improvise, deal with the crisis while keeping the event going.
It is a good idea to write handouts and notes for players and parents throughout the season. Sharing your vision and goals, season schedule, nutritional tips, substitution policy, attendance expectations, club rules, etc. at the very first time you meet the team is recommended. Updates on how the season is going, explaining some key changes and decisions can be done via e-mails. A mid-season and end of season report will be appreciated. A personalized note on the accomplishment of each player will go a long way to building confidence and a passion for the sport. You can never communicate too much.
Quite often, in particular if you’re coaching by yourself, you will be confronted with injuries. The practice or game will be interrupted with a player in discomfort or pain. It helps if you have some knowledge about first aid, injury assessment and immediate treatment (ice, wrapping, etc.). It is good to have a first aid kit and be aware of how to get medical treatment if required. If the parents/guardians are there at the time, they will look after this. But what if they aren’t? You need a back-up plan because somebody has to accompany the injured child and somebody has to be with the team. That is one of the key reasons to have an assistant coach. If there is none, designate a parent/guardian to either accompany the injured or stay with the team.
There are likely many functions and skills that I missed, but it should be clear that coaching a soccer team is a complex job. We recommend to get all the help you can. Go to coaching courses, talk to experienced coaches, learn from club resources, and read our soccer practice books.