The Difference a Soccer Season Makes
The Tiger Sharks season is in the books. This soccer season there was no gold trophy, there was no championship. What we did earn was a soccer season full of learning and confidence, something more valuable than a trophy. I believe that these are two things that are going to be more important to my Future Champions moving forward. These lessons learned are going to help them next soccer season, in school, or further in their future. This is why I coach.
Let me take you to the beginning of this soccer season. Before our first practice, I send out a team survey asking for a little information about the players and their playing experience. The main question I asked was, “Has your player ever played organized sports?” After receiving the survey back, I knew I was in for a season of teaching, organizing, and possibly frustration.
50% Had Never Played Organized Sports
Seeing this result was a little eye-opening for me. I always have 25 – 30% of my roster playing soccer for the first time. There is usually more experience on my teams, but 50% never playing organized sports before was a shock. From the very beginning of the soccer season, I tried to make it fun and exciting to ensure participation was high and ultimately the players would come back.
Our Soccer Season of Learning
We had a rough couple of games at the beginning, losing to a team 6-1 (remember this for later). In week five we finally started getting some wins with our best players carrying the team. As the year progressed, we got better as a team and started to settle in and learn some new concepts. We ended the season with a couple of really good wins before getting to the end-of-year tournament.
What Did We Learn this Soccer Season
The season was full of learning new skills, learning how to play soccer, and learning how to have fun on the pitch. We came together to have fun as a team, the most important aspect. When I reflect on the season, I saw a few things that helped us get there. There were a few life lessons that I hope the players take away from this season.
Coaches, if you are reading this, this is my coaching tip for the youth soccer season. Find a drill or two that help you and your team learn the game and do it every practice. This will help you and your team get more done in the 60 minutes per week you get with your players. This reduces the confusion, the time explaining a drill, and downtime in practice.
If you can, find a drill or two that you can build on every week. For example, we started the season with your standard passing to a partner. A few weeks in, we added the element of receiving the pass and turning. We then ended the season passing, turning to goal, and then placing a hard shot on goal from multiple places on the pitch.
Building a consistent practice help the team learn the skills needed to play together. It helped us build a passing system as a team. It helped us understand our positioning. It helped us maximize our short time together every week.
If you are changing your drills out every practice, you will cause confusion, not growth.
The learning here was that being consistent will help you master a skill. Every week you get better and better. This is just like any skill on the job, the more you do it, the better at whatever you are trying to achieve.
Hard work Pays Off
At the end of the soccer season, one of the players approached me and asked me what he can continue to work on this offseason. I told him, “We learned how to work hard this season. We also saw how hard work pays off. If you want to continue to improve your game, continue to work hard this summer. Practice in the backyard, find a summer soccer camp, go to the park and kick the ball, the offseason does not mean we stop working hard. It means we continue to develop our skills.”
This soccer season we preached hard work as a coaching staff. Every practice we needed to work harder than the prior week. We utilized our time together to really push ourselves as a soccer team. The boys responded well, especially as we started to get some wins under our belt.
At the end of the season our hard work paid off because we started scoring more goals, we had more clean sheets as a defensive unit, and more importantly, we left each game with our heads up and more confident in our ability to play. Our hard work produced the results we were looking for.
As a youth soccer coach, my responsibility is to teach my Future Champions how to play the game, sure. It is also important to me to teach these amazing individuals how to succeed in life.
Every training session, I write down the drills that we are going to do. I reflect on the prior game and our performance dictates what we do next week. Do we need to work on corners, throw-ins, or passing with our head up? I take 45 minutes to an hour and prepare for the next training session in hopes that I can get the most out of the 60 minutes I have with my team.
5 weeks in the kids started asking why I always have a paper with me. They noticed that I am taking notes, and writing things down. I took this as an opportunity to explain the importance of being prepared for whatever you are doing in life. I think the message got through to the majority of my players because they came to practice more prepared even getting to the point where my team started the training session without me.
You heard that right. While I set up the cones for drills, they took it upon themselves to stretch and warm up. Was it the most organized stretching circle? No. Did it get the job done and teach these boys a valuable lesson? Yes.
The point was they came prepared to practice. They came prepared to learn. They came prepared to get better. Something that I hope they all remember as they get older and head into the real world.
Building a Team
We started the season as a bunch of individuals and by the end of the year, we turned ourselves into a team. There was no more “huddle” ball. We spread the field, we passed to our open teammates, we followed shots to the goal, and we shut down opposing attacks. We even started to rotate as a defensive unit. I mean we were playing team soccer.
At the end-of-year party, before things get out of control, we will talk about how we came together as a team. We will talk about the progress we made. We will talk about how we worked hard, and how our preparation helped turn our season around.
I will take one last opportunity to drive these few learnings home with my Future Champions. I will take the time to ensure that they leave this season not only as better soccer players but set up to become better people in the future.
The Difference A Soccer Season Makes
Closing weekend is always fun. We have our end-of-year tournament with two games to close out the soccer season. If you would have asked me after receiving our survey information back and going through our first couple of practices where we would be playing, I would have told you in the consolation, bronze bracket. I would have told you that we would be playing for fun and more focused on the end-of-year swimming party.
This was not the case. My Future Champions came ready to play. They came wanting to win. They came prepared to work hard even in the 95-degree heat. They were focused and ready.
Now, we did not end up in the gold medal bracket. We did not end up playing for the championship this soccer season. We did end up playing in the silver bracket with some really good teams. We placed 5th in the season out of 15 teams.
We ended our day with a split. We won our first game 3-1. However, our second game was a true gauge of how far we had come as a team. Remember the team that we lost 6-1 early in the season. We played them.
The results this time were much different. Yes, we did take the loss, but the final outcome was 4-3. The consistency in practice, the hard work every week, and our preparation each week really turned our season around. The improvement from the first to the last game was extraordinary this soccer season.
I could not be more proud of my Future Champions.
This is why I love coaching youth sports. I love seeing a team come together. I love seeing these Future Champions learn skills that will stick with them for life. I love seeing the expressions on their faces when they do something great. I love these kids and hope that through the year they have learned to become better people because this is what sports are all about.