Posts Tagged ‘coaching’

Coaches: Limit Joystick Coaching

April 13, 2010

I first heard the term ‘Joystick Coaching’ a few years back. What a wonderfully descriptive term. As with video games, joystick coaches want to dictate and control the movement of all players on the field. Hence the term ‘joystick’. However, there is very little joy to be had by players when they are coached in this manner.

Joystick coaching has reaches epidemic proportions (and parents are just as guilty). Why is this happening?

  • Look at other popular youth sports such as football, baseball, and basketball. Football and baseball coaches are joystick experts. Even in basketball where the game is more fluid (like soccer) and, therefore, more difficult to control and manipulate, coaches still try their best to dictate the action. Since many soccer coaches come from these backgrounds, it is only natural that joystick coaching carries over into soccer.
  • We are a sports nation hung up on X’s and O’s. Joysticking is a natural by-product of this fascination. How many times do you see defenders standing in one spot because that is where the defenders were positioned on the dry-erase board?
  • Soccer is not an easy sport to learn. No matter how many times coaches tell young players to spread out and not play bunch-ball, they still do. As such, coaches feel compelled to ‘help’ position and move their players about.

Besides early player retirements, there are other consequences of this ‘helping’ behavior.

  • In a sport that is very fluid where the action happens so quickly, players must be able to think on their feet and solve or address problems immediately. However, the more players are told what to do, the less they will be able to think for themselves.
  • Players lose their sense of purpose. They are out there to play a game and try their best yet are constantly being told how to play.
  • Once one adult starts maneuvering players on the field, other adults feel empowered to do the same. Soon, players are being told how to play and where to stand by coaches, parents, and complete strangers. And often, the three groups are giving three completely different instructions. What is a player to do?

These are some simple tips that will help coaches curb the joystick epidemic and truly help players.

  • Lead by example. Limited joystick coaching during games as much as possible.
  • Set ground rules for your assistant coaches and parents. Explain the drawback of joystick coaching and having multiple adults ‘help’ players with conflicting instructions.
  • Rather than telling players what to do and where to play, ask them how and where they should be playing. Let them think of the answer and assist only if they don’t know the answer.

Coaches (and parents), leave your joysticks hooked up to your game consoles at home for use with FIFA ’10. If you don’t, you’ll be using the actual joystick much more since Saturday mornings will soon be free.

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Fun Practice Alternative: Chess

December 3, 2009

Chess at soccer practice? Sure, why not!

During practice, many youth soccer coaches focus on the physical component of the sport. While this is certainly important, soccer and all other sports have a huge mental component to them as well. This mental piece often gets overlooked.

So why chess?

  • To be a good chess player, you need to have a game plan, you need to have a strategy, and you need to think ahead. Many good chess players have their next 4 to 8 moves planned out. While planning that far ahead in soccer is impossible given the fluid nature of the game, knowing what you will do when you receive a ball is critical. Too many players simply focus on stopping the ball but have no idea what they will do once they receive the ball.
  • Besides developing your own strategy, chess players need to know what strategy their opponent is using. Are they defensive oriented? Do they like to attack? What is their favorite piece? Knowing what strategy the opponent is employing will undoubtedly affect how you play. Same is true in soccer. How fast is the other team? What kind of defensive formation do they play? What are the goalie’s strengths and, more importantly, his/her weaknesses? Who is their most dangerous player? It is important for soccer players to know and understand their opponents.
  • With a bird’s-eye perspective, chess players can see the entire board. While soccer players don’t have the luxury of this perspective, players must be aware of the entire field. They need to know where their teammates are at all times as well as the whereabouts of the opposing players. The only way this can be achieved is to play with the head up. Don’t just focus on the ball.
  • Not all players on a team will know how to play chess. This is a perfect opportunity for players who do play chess to teach and communicate with one another. If you are lucky, some of the quieter more reserved soccer players will be the top chess players. This will give them an opportunity to teach, coach, and be more communicative with their teammates. In soccer, all players need to constantly talk to one another.
  • Chess is definitely different. After weeks and weeks of soccer practice, getting off the field may be in everyone’s best interest. What is great about chess is that it teaches many important lessons that can be applied to soccer.

If chess is not a big hit, checkers, connect-four, backgammon, any combination of these games, or any other games that require thinking and a strategy to win will work. If you don’t want to play these games at the field, either host or have a parent host this ‘practice’. And for good measure, have a barbeque or pasta feed as well. It will certainly make for a fun and memorable practice.