Every season my goal is to build a team-focused environment. Here is how I do it.
10% of life is what happens to you and 90% is how you react. – Coach Steve
Today is a bitter-sweet day for me as a youth soccer coach. Over the last 5 years, I have coached a handful of amazing young soccer players. This core group of Future Champions has been with me since they were youngsters just learning how to dribble, pass, and shoot. I also want to make it clear that I am not the best soccer coach out there. In fact, I still consider myself a baseball player. However, I started this journey to spend more time with my daughter (who loves soccer and I did play keeper in high school earning all-region honors) and to be part of something she loved. Oh yeah, I also love watching youngsters grow through the years.
The other day, I was notified that 6 of my core players had accepted positions on the club soccer team. Including my daughter.
I am sad to see them leaving me as a coach but I am so excited that they have been able to advance in their skills to play at the next level. These 6 Future Champions will do great things, they will become better, and I am so excited to watch them grow.
As I look back at the last few years of coaching these amazing youngsters, I tried to determine what I believe has helped them become amazing players. I have determined the one thing that I believe has helped them achieve their goals, building a team-focused environment.
What Is a Team-Focused Environment
Before we really get into it, let’s define a team-focused environment. To me, a team-focused environment is a place where we come together to have fun, grow our skills, and build a team with a common goal. We come together to work hard and achieve these team and individual goals.
A team-focused environment helps us all move the ball to the same place, puts our egos aside, and helps us do what is best for the team versus the individual. It also helps us stay accountable for our individual growth, ensuring we are doing our best to help the team win. This is important as we move onto the next level.
My hope in building a team-focused environment is that all my players will take this mentality to life because not all of us are going to be professional athletes, we will have to go into the real world.
Tips to Achieve a Team-Focused Environment
The team-focused environment is easier said than done, especially with the younger players. However, the sooner that they learn this concept, the better. Remember, the younger the players, the more they are there for fun, not growth. This being the case here are a few things that I have learned over the years to help increase team focus, even in the youngsters.
Develop Goals at the beginning of the Season
Every season I bring my team together. We grab a pizza, get to know the new players, and hang out, but most importantly we set our goals for the upcoming season. For the girls on the team last year, we reflect a little on what worked and what we need to improve upon. Then we set our goals for the season.
Note: for the younger kids, it is about what did we do to have fun? What did we do to enjoy our time on the pitch? Typically, the feedback is things like snacks, running, and hanging with our friends. So, keep this in mind. Sometimes the goal of the team is to have the team want to play again next season. The older they get, the more it will be on winning and improving.
We always have one team goal. Something like scoring 2 goals a game or having 5 shutouts, goals that are game-specific that we know will lead to more wins. I want to make something clear here, we do not talk about how many wins we are going to have or winning the championship. We talk about the goals that will help us get there. The main goal is always to win the last game of the season.
Next, every player has one individual goal for the season. Something that will help them become a better player and be able to contribute to the team. I write these down and ask my future champions about these goals every practice. Typically in warmups or in between drills.
I believe that if you are going to build a team-focused environment, you have to start with your goals. This must happen before the first practice.
Refocus at Halftime
In my past, I have had many halftimes where the players come over, grab their water, and lose focus on what they are doing. You get back into the match and give up a quick goal or two.
Halftime is not for messing around, it is for getting your player’s head back into the game. It is a time to adjust what is not working and more importantly what is working. Give the team a minute or two to get water and rest for a minute. Then bring them in a tell them what you are loving about their play and how they are playing well. That is then a time to make adjustments, not criticize the performance on the field.
I tend to stay away from the bad of the match unless it is a glaring problem that needs to be assessed. Focus on the good, and get them back out there with their heads held high.
Use halftime to refocus on what your team is doing well, your game goals, and the strengths of the team. Do not let your players run halftime, as a coach you control it.
Have Fun During Your Drills
This point is extremely important for the youngsters and as your Future Champions get older.
I want to call this section, do not run drills. However, that is not reasonable. What I really mean here is that you can run your practice, get the results you are looking for, and still have a good time. Try to stay away from lines as this give your players downtime and the opportunity to lose focus. Keep them moving as much as you can.
My favorite way to get better results from your drills is to build in a little competition. You can build in a little competition in individual drills and team-based drills. One of the things I like to do to start the session is to see how many juggles each player can do. The top two players get the opportunity to go first in 1v1 drills.
Having fun while doing drills is the best way to get more out of your team and the limited time you have with them. It really helps them focus on the drills and improve.
Work With Your Team
At the end of the season, we always do players versus parents. I have noticed that this is the time when the players work their hardest. The entire team is focused on winning and beating their parents.
This goes for you as a coach. Your players want you to play with them. If you are going to make them do sprints, get in there and push the team to run faster. I have found that when you as a coach or a coaching staff get involved in the training session, your players will respond. It makes them work harder.
I believe that this does three things.
- It shows your players how to do the drill, how to work together, and how to execute by example. This cuts down on the time explaining the drill and gets more time focused on improving and running the drills.
- It keeps the drills moving. Hopefully, you are able to execute a little bit better than your team. If nothing else, you can keep the energy up. If you are playing and running with the team, they are not going to let you down.
- It shows your team that you are part of the team, not just the coach. It shows them that you are there to support them no matter what. You are there to help them. You are in this for the long haul.
Side benefit. During the season I will consistently drop 10 pounds. That is right, I will get back into playing shape. Playing sports is a great exercise and as a coach, it is important to stay in shape.
Coaches, there is nothing more valuable than getting involved in your drills. This is the very best way for your team to keep focused for the 60 minutes per week you get with them. You are not too cool to play sports, you are not too old. Get in there with your team.
The Team-Focused Environment Conclusion
Building a team-focused environment starts at the first interaction and lasts the entire season. Even if things do not go your way, you can always come back to the individual goals and help your players improve. This does not matter what sport you coach or what level you coach you can always help your players become Future Champions.
Now that you know what I think has helped my Future Champions succeed, I could not be happier for my girls (all my players are my kids, just the way I see things). Yes, I may never be their coach again, but for many, I will always be their first coach, and this is why I coach youth sports.
Good Luck Girls! I will always be rooting for you.