This weekend, I started the classes for getting my National D License (soccer coaching.) Friday, the group of 34 candidates crammed into the small Tucker Youth Soccer Association clubhouse and started with lecture on how to structure practice, explanation on some basic soccer principles, and finally, an overview of the testing procedure and our first assignments. The practice structure wasn’t new to me since it’s how I structure practices now: pick 1 topic for practice, start with some explanation of the skill and a drill that gets players moving and practicing the skill without pressure, then expand that to include some challenge, expand it again, and finish with a scrimmage. In all drills/games, only coach to the topic.
The structure of the testing is just that: run a mini-practice and make corrections/coach as necessary. (Plus some take-home tests on the rules of the game and player first aid.)
Saturday, we tromped out in the fog onto the soaking wet field for demonstrations of coaching and, fortunately, my first topic was the second practice example of the day: team working together to pressure, cover and balance (1st, 2nd 3rd defender.) Our third topic was improving shooting and I had volunteered to goalkeep. Perhaps not my smartest move, since my gloves were still in the trunk of my car, but I figured everyone had listened to the "nobody needs to be a rock star in these practices" speech the coaching instructors had given. Ha! And Ow. Caught some of those rockets with my thigh instead of my hands because it wasn’t worth it to me to put my unprotected, cold fingers in front of a grassy, wet soccer ball going a million miles an hour. And that was in the "just pass it to the keeper" part. The shots just got worse.
After lunch, we had a proper keeper practice and that one was fantastic. It was on "improving goalkeeper distribution of the ball with hands and feet" and it was one of the best keeper practices I’ve ever attended. The whole team was involved, and the whole team had to work on giving me options so I could make the distribution decisions. It wasn’t "keeper only, need some field players to help", but an actual team practice. Very helpful, both as a player and as a coach.
After this, we went back inside (now that the sun was out, the field drying off, the wind dying down and the temperature climbing) for a great discussion of rules of the game with a referee, and a video on player development. The video showcased the difference in Brazilian and US player development, showing that the Brazilians value the creativity in play, the ability of players to make decisions (less coaching from the bench and by parents at games), and the fun in play. It definitely jives with my thought on game-time coaching: keep it to a minimum. The game is for playing, practice is for coaching.
Sunday, I played our soccer game (3-1 loss, but I scored with a shot around a defender around the pk mark, putting it in the right side of the net, knee high), then headed back to the field for our practice coaching sessions. I was really glad to be in group "D", since we weren’t first, got to hear the critiques of a few groups before us, but also got our session out of the way early: by the time I’d played in my 4th or 5th 6v6 scrimmage, I was spent. I don’t think I could have coached effectively. As it was, my coaching points on the third and fourth drills of the mini-practice were mostly on speed (make my point faster, get the game going faster, both things I’ve noticed in other practices I’ve run) but my coaching on-topic was good. So, room to improve, and I’m glad that for the next practice practice session, I have the warm-up and small-sided activity: our topic is "when to provide support behind the ball, and when to provide support in advance of the ball." At least we won’t have that topic for our exam.
I’m sore. I’ve got a lot to read this week. I keep finding bruises and cuts in weird places that I don’t remember bumping (like a long cut across the back of my elbow. And a large bruised knot on the back of my other arm. Where the heck did they come from?!) I’m hoping to get some ideas for the more difficult practice topics, so I’m not surprised at the final. I lived in my cleats all weekend. And this has all been awesome, I can’t wait to get the work started.