One Size Fits All Practices
One-Size-Fits-All Practices? A Conversation with a Cynical Coach
“What’s this one-size-fits-all stuff?”
A Thoughtful Soccer practice is a great way to train high school or even college soccer players. With a few adjustments, it also works with new players on their first day of soccer. The key parts of soccer are addressed in every practice. The same basic practice can be used week after week, season after season. So one size does fit all.
“You’ve got to be kidding. My players will be overwhelmed if I squeeze too much into one practice. And they’ll be bored if I run the same practice over and over.”
The next time a Thoughtful Soccer practice overwhelms or bores someone will be the first time. Here’s the secret. First, break soccer into a manageable number of parts. Then, manage the time carefully so that each of those parts can be addressed. And use competitive, enjoyable activities so your players will stay focused.
“But each practice should develop one major theme, using a logical progression of activities!”
That’s the approach taught in most coaching courses, but it’s not the only approach. There’s something to be said for strengthening the key parts of soccer in every practice. Suppose you spend an entire practice on shooting. Your next few practices will probably have to address a different theme. Your players might not get back to shooting until much later in the season, if at all. Spend a little time on several different skills . . . in every practice . . . and your players will improve more quickly.
“But soccer players must progress through several developmental stages: U-6, U-8, U-10, and so on. Each stage requires a different coaching approach. So much for your one-size-fits-all!”
It’s great to appreciate the differences between age groups and ability levels. But needing different coaching approaches would not be so great, particularly if you’re a new coach. Thoughtful Soccer focuses on what new and experienced players have in common. They all like to compete and have fun, and they all need many repetitions. That’s why the same coaching approach can work with everyone. The one exception is players in the U-5 and U-6 age groups. While their practices can be organized in a similar way, they’ll need activities that are simpler and that create stepping stones to the later activities.
“In any event, new players should work more on the skills while experienced players should work more on the tactics. Skill must come before thought!”
That’s a widely-held belief but it’s flawed. Players should be introduced to the thought side of soccer as soon as possible. Here’s why:
Once they begin competing, players can’t not think. They might as well learn to think effectively.
Thinking can help less gifted players hold their own.
Thinking in soccer isn’t all that difficult. It’s easier than dribbling past a defender or playing computer games.
Players who can think effectively are less likely to give up soccer for other things like computer games.
“But it takes time to help players with the body mechanics of passing, chipping, and shooting. Certainly, a coach who doesn’t have those skills can’t teach them to others.”
Coaches who understand the body mechanics can help players improve more quickly. But High Impact Skill Activities can have the same effect. When players attempt a skill over and over, they eventually stumble upon effective body mechanics . . . even if the coach doesn’t have a clue.
“You’re just rationalizing your weak soccer background and giving new coaches an excuse to ignore body mechanics. A coach’s soccer background is a ceiling beyond which players can’t progress!”
Let’s not get personal here! New coaches should play soccer and they should learn the body mechanics. But soccer players improve primarily by doing things and doing them repeatedly. . . not by admiring the coach! Your players will zoom past your own soccer background if you get them competing at the right activities. And sometimes, players end up with more flare and creativity when they figure things out on their own!
“If Thoughtful Soccer is so smart, why didn’t the soccer experts already think of it?”
Well, much of Thoughtful Soccer isn’t really unique. For example, many soccer coaches favor activities that let players learn on their own. Most coaches break soccer into parts in some way, and try to practice those parts frequently. And the Coachable Moment teaching style is a staple of most coaching courses.
But the one-size-fits-all practice does run counter to many established beliefs. And people usually won’t consider things that are outside their belief systems.
“I give up! Where’s that link to Reedswain!”