Coach Education, Coaching Clinics, and Development

Every so often, a Twitter storm erupts about the need for mandatory coach education. There is a belief that coach education will solve every ill in basketball in the U.S.

U.S. Soccer requires coaching licenses at various levels, including the Development Academy. Their coach education programs are further along than USA Basketball’s, but every complaint about youth basketball coaches can be found in youth soccer, even with licensed coaches.

Last week, I refereed an u14 Development Academy game for one of the better DA programs in the region, if not the country. The “coach” of this program:

  • Refused to listen to the referee and leave the field to be ready to kick off at game time.
  • Complained about previous games when admonished for not being ready at kick off.
  • Continued to ignore the referee as he attempted to give last minute tactical instructions, after the game was supposed to have begun, and when his team did not know the lineup.
  • Refused to stay in his technical area (coaching box).
  • Complained about virtually every call.

This far, the description suggests a disorganized coach and maybe a bad attitude, but nothing about his actual coaching acumen. Many good coaches complain about referee decisions, almost every soccer coach ignores the technical area, and rarely are soccer teams ready to play at game time. As a referee, his behaviors were annoying, and unprofessional, but not uncommon.

Can coach education remedy these behaviors? Are his behaviors due to a lack of knowledge? Was he unaware of the kick-off time or the location of his technical area? I doubt it. These behaviors are indicative of his personality, I believe, and coach education certificates or licenses will not change a coach’s personality.

More problematic was his behavior toward his own players. He spent 80 minutes ridiculing and criticizing his own team. He continually used sarcasm to mock his own players. He screamed at his right midfielder, the player closest to the bench, for the entire 27 minutes that he played before substituting for him. Prior to the substitute, he told the player not to kick the ball, just to defend, after the player mis-timed a pass. At half-time, with a 2-0 lead, he whined and complained at his team.

His vastly superior team surrendered three second-half goals, all of which he blamed on me of course.

Coach education is not a panacea for all issues in youth sports. This coach had to obtain a license from U.S. Soccer, yet he embodied every possible negative in youth coaching:

  • He set a poor example for his young players with his dissent toward the referees before, during and after the game.
  • His primary feedback was negative and probably abusive toward some players.
  • He cared only about the outcome (based on his behaviors and feedback).
  • He attempted to control his players at every moment through constant feedback and instruction: playstation coaching.
  • He embarrassed his own players publicly (early substitution and yelling criticisms).
  • He demeaned the opposition (to his players in their pregame and halftime huddles).

How good or influential is a license and the coach education that it represents when these behaviors continue with a licensed coach? What does the license mean? Do we have any standards or ability to evaluate coaches when he has a paid position with a DA club and a coaching license? Are we that desperate for anyone with content knowledge that we are willing to overlook the behaviors and the poor coaching practices?

After the game, I asked about the curriculum’s content to complete the license that he possesses and did not receive much information. It appears that the focus is technical and tactical. A coach education program that does not focus on how to coach will have little impact. Do the tactics matter when the coach is a playstation coach? Does any technical wizardry matter in such a negative learning environment?

I spoke at a USA Basketball coaching clinic last year, and that was my question, from a coach education standpoint. The majority of speakers, as with most basketball clinics, spoke about progression of drills, offensive plays, defensive systems, etc. To my knowledge, coaching and pedagogy received little attention: How and when to give feedback; how to create a good learning environment; how to motivate; how to develop the right mindset in players; the effect of demonstrations; and more. Clinics tend to focus on what to do, and we leave the how and why up for interpretation. We expect adults to behave correctly and with the best interests of their players, but do not address these standards.

The coach in question was particularly disturbing to me because the DA is set up to develop players. How can a player develop in that environment? Rather than attempt to control every action and criticize every mistake, here is Pep Guardiola talking about young players:

There is a huge disconnect between Guardiola’s words and the coach’s actions, but this coach is not an outlier. The previous week, I refereed a local youth tournament. This tournament had specific rules that coaches were to sit on the bench unless they stood to give a brief tactical instruction. At half-time, I asked a coach to sit down. He argued that he was in his technical area. I explained the rules. He said that he was giving tactical instructions. I replied that yelling “That was a terrible pass” or “Stop doing that” at an 11-year-old is not a tactical instruction. He complained further and I told him to feel free to speak to the tournament organizer who was about 20 yards away. Instead, he sat down, stopped yelling at his players, and his team played better in the second half and won.

Somehow, we have an idea that coaching means constantly telling players what to do, and silence means that the coach is not doing anything. We have the idea that a coach standing and pacing is coaching, but one sitting down does not care enough about winning. I hear these comments from parents at high school games, and have seen coaching decisions based on these perceptions of coaching.

Players have been indoctrinated into these behaviors. I had a player who had never played on a basketball team, but was forced to play varsity basketball because the school only had 6 girls come out for the team, tell me that I needed to yell at the team more and that would make the team win. I asked her if she tried her best. She said yes. I asked her if she played hard. She said yes. I asked her what she wanted me to yell about. I asked her if she wanted me to yell at her because opponents were bigger and better and had played basketball for longer. She said, “Yeah, you’re right coach.” Why would I yell at a girl who had the guts to come out for a high school basketball team and who never lost her enthusiasm as her team was blown out repeatedly? Because other players are better than her? Is yelling and ridiculing her somehow going to improve her jump shot?

Unfortunately, that is often the expectations that we have for coaches, and a reason that nobody questions this DA coach. After all, he has a license. He probably was a good player. Of course he is a good coach, that is why a top club hired him.

Now, maybe I caught him on a bad day. Who knows? The larger point is that he is not too different than a vast majority of youth coaches. This, of course, is why people believe that we need more coach education; we ned to educate these coaches. Does it work? He has a license. At least on this day, it did not work. Despite his license, he embodied the worst of youth coaching.

Rather than emphasizing coach education, we should emphasize finding the right type of person to coach children. Once we find the right people, educate, develop, and mentor these people. Our emphasis should be coach development, not coach education. We should focus on the why and how more than the what. The what is easy to find on YouTube; there are drills for everything, plays to beat any type of defense, etc. But, how to instruct? How to demonstrate? How to give feedback? How to respond to a mistake? Why use a specific drill? Why stop the action to speak? This is the knowledge that we tend to leave up to experience to accrue, which is why we have wildly different impressions on the proper way to coach. These questions are far more important than answering whether we should do a three-man weave or run the Flex or a three-out motion offense.

2 thoughts on “Coach Education, Coaching Clinics, and Development

  • Great post. Should be required reading for all youth coaches and parents.

    I think you make a great point that both parents and players see that soccer coach as examples of good coaching, whereas a coach who said very little and let the players make decisions and mistakes would be seen as a poor or lesser coach.

    If the parents stopped accepting it, then that behavior would be reduced very quickly.

  • I had a coach in college who would do exactly as you say above. He’d mock us in drills, ridicule and criticize us nearly every practice basically for the entire year. There’s a fine line between being passionate and being a negative influence and because of the way he acted with us players, no one on the team respected the guy.

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