The hardest thing about refereeing high-school soccer is divesting the coach in me. Every game, I want to help a player(s) because I see something that would help their performance. I am not a soccer expert, and my desire to help rarely centers on a soccer-specific tactic or skill. Instead, despite the difference in sports, coaching mental aspects of the game vary very little.
I have refereed one team several times now, and I have a feel for their players. I really like their centerback. He seems like a genuinely nice kid, and he is competitive. However, in his effort to be a leader, he yells at his players in a negative way (although, to his credit, when he found out he was wrong after yelling at a teammate, he did apologize to the player). With a little awareness, he could be such a more positive influence on his team.
On the other hand, I watched a goalie lay into her team when they trailed 5-0 at halftime. Her coach did not need to say a word to the team, and allowed the goalie, a junior, to do the talking. As they took the field for the second half, she continued to motivate. She was upset and frustrated, but her words to her team were uplifting and positive.
I was impressed with her leadership. After the game, I saw her as the team waited for the bus. I asked if she played basketball. She does, as I assumed. I have never seen her play basketball, but I passed along her name to a college coach based on her athleticism and leadership. I can’t help myself.
The real problem in the games, however, is not the players. It is the coaches. UCLA’s John Wooden rarely praised his players; however, he believed that he used a positive coaching style because he instructed players (Tharp & Gallimore, 1976). Most of his coaching behaviors were short instructions to help players perform better. Of course, the study observed Wooden’s behaviors during practice, and I do not observe these soccer coaches in practice, so there is a difference. However, almost everything that I hear from the coaches is a reproof with very little information or instruction.
Coaching points I’ve seen in sessions: -“Quality Passes” -“Thinking” -“Speed” -“First touch” -“Movement off the ball” NOT COACHING POINTS!
— David Foy (@feverpitch88) September 24, 2014
At least Foy’s non-coaching points are positive. I hear predominantly negative comments: “Stop doing that,” “Don’t kick it there,” “You can’t miss that opportunity,” etc. or simply yelling at a substitute to go into the game for a player who made an obvious mistake.
In yesterday’s game, one team was clearly better. I happen to know the lesser team, and they were missing 4-5 of their best players, and featured several J.V. players in their starting lineup. At one point, one of their players made a great play, did not give up on the ball, and raced past a defender. He created a half-chance on goal. He was wide of the goal at an acute angle; not the easiest shot. The goalie took away the near post, as he should, and the player kicked the ball directly into the goalie’s chest. The coach threw something on the sideline, complained to his bench, and then yelled, “Player, you can’t miss that shot!”
In my head, I thought, “Really? He made a great effort just to create a chance on goal, which was their first or second shot all game. A goal from there would have been fairly amazing given the goalie’s positioning, the angle of the shot, the inexperience of the player, and the difficulty with the fullback racing back on his hip.” The best outcome, other than the ball going through the goalie, would have been to shoot for the far post and hope that the goalie deflected it into the path of a teammate. We’re not talking about a player with a canon for a leg who could put the ball into the roof of the goal before the goalie could react. We’re talking about one of the lesser players on a team who has nobody who can kick a goal kick to midfield.
The shot attempt was probably the second best play of the game for the team, but the coach moaned and complained on the sideline, as if the player missed on purpose, as if he did not want to score because he wanted to make the coach look bad. The coach wonders aloud throughout the game why the players cannot do this or that. I wonder whether or not he actually instructs these things that he wants to see in practice.
Games are not necessarily the time for a lot of instruction. However, constant negative feedback certainly does not enhance a team’s performance. Rather than complaining about a player kicking the ball at the goalie, maybe the coach could give him an idea for the next time or ask a question about what he was trying to do. Maybe the player did aim for the far post but he was knocked slightly off-balance as he kicked the ball and miss-hit the ball slightly. Maybe he was trying to put it in the roof of the goal but he stubbed the ground a little and did not get a clean kick. Maybe he just isn’t good enough to score against a well-positioned goalie from that angle. Maybe he never practices such a situation against a well-positioned goalie in practice because his goalie twice was beaten to the near-post on similar shots.
When the season starts to turn downward, and a team starts to lose games, a coach’s constant negativity during games only makes it worse. The team tried. They played hard. They never gave up. They just were not as good as their opponent. Should they be criticized constantly by their coach because of that?
By Brian McCormick, PhD
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League