What are the guiding beliefs and ‘soccer thinking’ that we as a coaching staff make our top priorities? Do we want our teams to WIN? Or is it only about individual PLAYER DEVELOPMENT? Are they mutually exclusive? How does Bend FC Timbers define ‘SUCCESS’ and ‘VICTORY?’
Soccer is such a simple game. Two goals. One ball. No stopping. Then why can describing a coaching philosophy for a competitive youth soccer program be so complex? First, we can unnecessarily complicate our approach to coaching the world’s best game. After all, it’s not really a sport for us coaches, is it? It is a game for the players. However, without true leadership no team or program can be successful. The best soccer coaches, in my opinion, are those who operate as much as mentors as they do instructors. They are partners with their players as often as they are superiors. They are engaged educators as much as they are clinical tacticians.
HERE ARE THE KEY COMPONENTS OF THE BFCT U11-U19 COACHING PHILOSOPHY:
TECHNICAL INSTRUCTION AND REPETITION
Many people in our game believe the possibility of dramatic technical improvement in a player begins to fade by the time they turn 13 or 14 years old. In other words, if they aren’t skilled with the ball by then, they will struggle to ever be. NOT ALWAYS TRUE. Every squad, including the most celebrated professional sides on the planet, must put in ‘the work.’ Almost every BFCT training session should include skill work, such as passing, receiving, turning, defending and finishing. All players can improve. Mastery is the objective. For without proper technical ability a team can’t ever properly apply its tactics.
TACTICAL EDUCATION AND AWARENESS
A baseball game stops every six seconds. Football players receive page after page of specific movements they must execute robotically. Soccer is unique in its flowing and improvisational nature. Therefore, players must be presented with all possible tactical scenarios in training. How do two forwards find the ball against four defenders? Why would our team want to pass the ball horizontally across the field when it appears we can move straight ahead? When does a defender not try to immediately go win the ball from the opponent who has it? Every player on team must know the answers to all these questions. Better yet, the best BFCT teams must have a squad of players who can identify these moments and make the proper decisions without the coach barking orders.
ATTRACTIVE AND ATTACKING ‘FOOTBALL’
Can a team win its share of soccer matches with a direct, ‘route one’ system of play? Sure. Is there a tendency in the youth club game to emphasize and capitalize on physical mismatches and a singular player’s explosive pace, power and size? Absolutely. To defend against a youth team with those physically developed ‘outliers,’ could a tactic be to adopt a ‘ten behind the ball’ bunker mentality and hope to score a game’s lone goal on the break? Yes. However, in most BFCT match environments, NONE OF THE ABOVE is the type of soccer our teams will try to play. ‘Team football’ that emphasizes technical ability, sound individual defending and the willingness to pass the ball is the goal. The objective should always be to go forward and do so in an attractive and creative manner. First, can our team keep the ball? Second, how many different ways are there to score a goal? Third, can we build our possession from the back, through the midfielders and on to a forward without the ball ever coming off the grass? An attacking mindset not only puts the opponents on their heels,itinstillsourplayerswithconfidenceandenthusiasm. L et’stakeOURgameto THEM. A creative and dynamic offense is indeed the best defense. And a 43 victory is always sweeter than a nilnil draw.
DEVELOPING VERSATILE PLAYERS
This philosophy is very important to the club and can be achieved with a simple approach that, while easily explained, can be difficult for some coaches to prioritize. V ersatile players are developed by exposing them to multiple positions, even in high level/competitive match environments. Sure, each BFCT team has a ‘set up’ with specific players in familiar systems of play that they might use most often or in matches they areplayingtowin. ButallBFCTcoachesshouldstriveto‘rotatetheirsquad’throughoutthe year, allowing a normal center back to play left wing, a target forward spend time at outside back, and so on. A lso, the club does NOT dictate a specific system of play (442 or 4231)foritsteams. Thisnotonlyallowsforeachcoachtoidentifythestrengthsof a team’s roster and make the system fit them (rather than vice versa), but it should garner opportunity for each team and its players to work in multiple formations. No BFCT player should have a concretely set position in a singular system of play until they are nearing the end of their amateur career. If then.
FITNESS AND INJURY PREVENTION
In a high level U13 soccer match a midfielder can easily run six miles. Very rarely are matches won in the first half of play. These are all reasons that stamina and fitness are crucial factors in separating one good team from another. BFCT players will be in the best possible aerobic (VO2 max) condition at the most important times of the year. Many coaches and players like to say their team will be in the best shape but very few actually do the work necessary to make that true. And no matter how disciplined a certain group of players may be, the reality is that individually assigned ‘homework’ is not 100% adhered. Team training sessions should usually include AGE APPROPRIATE P.A.S.S. (plyometrics, aerobics, speed and strength) exercises. It doesn’t have to just be boring or repetitive long runs, nor should it be. V aried P.A.S.S. fitness work, including interval, speed, agility and strength exercises should be a regular component of any BFCT training program. Additionally, it is crucial to make sure players are doing the proper PEP and ‘core’ work to prevent injury ( especially females). Just about every training session should include knee ligament strengthening and other soccer specific exercises.
OWNERSHIP OF THE GAME TO ITS PLAYERS
While a BFCT coach must provide the proper technical and tactical instruction, in addition to structure and discipline, h e or she must also ‘release’ the game to its players. Whenever possible we should try to allow those on the field to solve the problems presented tothem. Inthesportofsoccercoachescanandshouldallbeconstantly‘readingthegame’ and helping our players do the same. But, BFCT teams should have players who feel like they are coowners of their team’s success and are therefore more motivated than those players who are simply following a coach’s instructions.
WINS AND SUCCESS ARE IMPORTANT.. BUT ARE CONSEQUENTIAL
All competitive BFCT teams do want to win. We must strive for success at all times. Victory is indeed the goal on a given match day. However, we do not always define VICTORY or SUCCESS by the score or a singular game. True victory and success for BFCT teams comes in sticking to the philosophies described above. We define ‘winning’ as a performance by our team that reaches a S TANDARD OF PLAY that is challenging but attainable for each collection of players. It just so happens, that when that standard of play is met on a consistent basis...
WE WILL BE CHAMPIONS!
IF... BFCT teams work together to become a more skilled technically. IF... BFCT teams explore the various tactics of the game in training. IF... BFCT teams don’t just say they want to be fit.. they do the work. IF... BFCT teams regularly do preventative exercises to avoid injury. IF... BFCT teams commit to playing attractive, possession oriented soccer. IF ... BFCT teams expose players to multiple positions, roles and systems. IF... BFCT teams have players who solve problems and coown the team.