Coaching a soccer team of any age group or competitive level requires human resources. Typically one thinks of only the coach as she/he is the most visible on the field and in the media. And when young volunteer parents start out coaching their children, they are often the sole coach of the team.
In my opinion, one coach is not enough to effectively guide a team through a season, regardless of the roster size, age of the players, or level of competition. I will walk through progressive scenarios of soccer teams and outline the ideal team staff requirements.
Recreational Children/Youth Teams
In quite a few areas of the world organized children’s soccer starts at U3. And even for this age group we recommend two coaches. It is always a good idea to name one person as head coach and the other as assistant coach. This isn’t to create a hierarchy or make one look more important than the other. Rather it designates who the key contact person for the team is when it comes to communicating with parents, game officials, and club/league administrations.
So why two coaches? The most important reason is for back up. When one coach cannot make a practice/game, then the second coach is available and it is a person who understands the direction of the team and/or the program. The children will have seen the person on the field and should be comfortable with them. It provides more consistency than turning practices or games over to well meaning parents. It is also possible that a coach will be required to provide first aid for an injured player or deal with a child in case the parent/guardian has stepped away. Again, a second knowledgeable person can take charge of the team at that time.
I advocate that soccer practice drills are run with small groups. So even if you only have 8 players on the team, you may want to run drills in groups of four. With two coaches each group will have the undivided attention of one coach. The younger the children the more attention, instruction, and organization they require.
Lastly, in recreational soccer the principle of equal playing time during games is paramount. This requires frequent substitutions to ensure all players get the proper amount of time. At the same time players need a lot of help while on the field. Most common in-game instructions are around tactical issues. With very young players it could be constant encouragement not to bunch up. As teams mature positional instructions are added as well as reminders such as passing the ball, shooting, movng up, etc. It is difficult for one person to watch the game and instruct the team while trying to manage substitution requirements, including looking for kids who have wandered off (bathroom, parents, friends, playground, etc.). I have always advocated that one coach manages the on-field game and the other all off-field activities.
Competitive Youth Soccer
Competitive soccer, also known as rep or travel team soccer, typically starts at ages U8 to U10. The key differences to recreational soccer are:
- typically competitive teams train and play together for twelve months, vs spring/summer for recreational teams
- with practices and games teams may be together 4-6 times a week (vs 1-2)
- teams travel outside the immediate city/town (vs playing locally)
- it costs more to run a team, needing to pay for team wear, equipment, tournament costs, travel costs, etc.
- parents invest more time and money and expect more from the coaching staff
- coaches should develop a season plan to develop each player and continually improve team play. Scouting opposition, game analysis, etc. are additional demands on the coaches.
The two coach scenario still applies and it is important that the coaches work together to develop the season plan. I reviewed season planning in previous posts and you can search for them on our site Soccer Coaching Insights.
Most coaches are not trained goalkeepers, never mind trained goalkeeper coaches. This makes sense since only 10% of soccer players on a team are goalies. Some coaches try to develop their keepers by involving them in drills and that is good for training game situations or reaction/reflexes, if the drills are in a small area. But that isn’t sufficient to develop technique or to correct problems observed in a game or practice. So I recommend to add a goalkeeper coach, at least on a part time basis. The goalie coach can take your keepers for part of the practice or before/after practice to develop all goalie skills. We have an excellent book full of goalie soccer drills and practices to help: Soccer Goalkeeper Practices. Remember that goalkeepers require their own unique pre-practice/game warm-up routines.
Most coaches do know and have learned about physical fitness training, which includes speed, endurance, flexibility, strength, etc. I recommend to incorporate physical fitness exercises with a ball into your practice, which is what we have done in our books. And just like goalkeeper training, if you’re not expert in fitness training, have a fitness trainer on your team staff. They are also an excellent resource for injury management.
Because of travel requirements and increased equipment needs, competitive teams require more funding, travel planning, and administration. Some even require purchasing expertise and have team bank accounts. Coaches don’t want to be distracted from player and team development and I have found a team manager quite helpful.
So here is the team staff I recommend (and have personally assembled) for competitive youth teams:
- head coach
- assistant coach
- goalkeeper coach
- fitness trainer
- team manager
When individuals work well together team staff develops into its own little team and lots of joy and fun can be had. It typically depends on the leadership skills of the head coach, who ultimately is in charge.
I have seen other models in which specialists are added to work with particular functions, such as strikers, defenders. Some teams have a fundamental skills coach for all players. The key is to decide what can’t be covered easily or competently by the coach and assistant coach and add that skill to the staff.
I lump university and professional environments together because the competitive requirements and pressures are similar. Also coaching staff is typically paid and therefore is subjected to performance measurements. In both cases the specific team is part of a larger organization whose goal it is to win and to be publicly recognized for success (or failure). These larger organizations can offer shared resources or provide dedicated resources to the team.
Once again the minimum of coach and assistant coach is dedicated to the team. Goalkeeper coaches, fitness trainers, team administration could be a shared resource. Additional services are often required in these environments:
- video technicians
- medical staff (therapists, doctors, psychologists, chiropractors)
- nutrition experts
- media & community relations
In these cases leadership/decision making requirements of the coach are much higher and in professional soccer and some university situations coaches and assistant coaches are full time employees.
I encourage you to assess your future coaching situation and determine who the right people might be to help you along the way.