By Tony Earp
(If you missed part one, you may read it here)
To help with focus and attention during training, it is important the coach finds a way to move between the players and give individual attention to each player. When coaches tend to just stand in one spot, leaning up against a goal, talking to other coaches, checking their phones, and simply not fully engaged with the kids, there will be a significant lack of focus and effort among the players (on average).
Players pick up on when coaches are not really paying attention to what is going on, or seem to not particularly care. This tells the players what is currently going on is not that important. I am going to use a classroom example. Often when students are working on an activity at their desk quietly, teachers use the opportunity to sit at their desk and get work done. Understandable as free time during the day is limited, but it does send a clear message to the students about the importance of the activity. I found when I would walk around the room and stop at students’ desks to ask questions or assist, not only did the quality of the work improve, the students showed more of an interest in what they were doing. As they saw me walking around, they were more likely to raise their hand or stop and ask questions than when I would be sitting at my desk.
Same is true for coaches. As kids are training, by getting around to all the players, not only does it help significantly decrease behaviour and focus issues, but it sends a clear message that what they are doing is important. You are engaged, interacting with the players, and they will be engaged and interact with you (and each other).
The leader sets the tone of each training session. What type of tone? This is up to the coach, but demeanor and approach sets the tone for everything. As the leader, the attitude and approach that you bring to a training session will permeate through the session.
If you are expecting a very high work rate and focus on very important items in training, then starting out the session in a loose or “laid back” manner way may not be appropriate. If you are joking around with the players one second, and then try to quickly transition them into a serious issue, you may find it difficult.
Your demeanor should be similar each session. If the players do not know if a clown or a drill sergeant is going to show up to practice to coach, it makes it hard for them to understand what will be expected of them each session. The trick is:
Finding a good balance of the clown and drill sergeant (depending on age/level of team). Making your tone, approach, and demeanor synced with what you want to accomplish during the training session. This is where a teacher or coach can move skillfully along the spectrum between a clown or drill sergeant without getting too far on one side or the other.
Instead of having rules and consequences as the foundation of behavior management, have a firm set of expectations for both the players and yourself (the coach). These expectations should span the scope of how players talk to each other, to the coach, being prepared, being on time, eye contact, body language when speaking to or listening to another, and how to properly and respectfully approach others when there are disagreements.
Ask the players what they expect from you? Adhere to those expectations that align with your coaching philosophy and clearly explain to the players if some of their expectations are not possible. This process should happen in reverse as well. Ask the players what you should expect from them and what they should expect from each other.
Although this does not eliminate behavior and focus issues that can slow down or halt a training session, it can provide quick and clear actions to address and correct these issues. Often, players will begin to hold each other accountable for them, relieving the coach of some of this burden. When the coach is required to correct the action or behavior, it is more of a reminder of the agreed upon expectations than a punitive action.
This is a better process than no one knowing what the expectations are and your practice is congested with an excess of “don’t do that” or “that is not acceptable.” All coaches accept or do not tolerate certain behaviors, so do not just “expect” your players to know what your expectations are for them at each training session. Also, do not pretend to automatically know what their expectations are of you. You may be surprised to hear what your players expect from you.
The Importance of “Why”
Finally, there needs to be clear purpose in everything you do with your players throughout each training session and the entire season. It is amazing the difference in the level of “buy in” from the players when they clearly understand “why” things are done a certain way. Especially, when the “why” clearly explains the way you run training sessions, the expectations you have set, the activities you use to train your athletes, and everything else you do to help make your players better, on and off the field, you will see a dramatic change in focus and behavior. Help your players understand “why” the little things are important, “why” paying attention to the small details makes a big difference in performance and success, and “why” trusting the process will help them get to where they want to be.
Like in the classroom, when you help kids understand why doing “A” helps them get to “B” which will then allow them to have success with “C”, it is a much more powerful tool to manage focus and behavior than, “Do it because I said so.” When players clearly understand your approach and reason for your actions, they know why complying with what is asked helps them achieve their goals.
The best teachers and the best coaches, not only have tremendous content knowledge of the subject matter they are teaching, but have great command of their environment in which they teach. The mastery and artistry of their craft is not just molding the child but also building a “learning center” that is conducive to growth and development. By being deliberate in how each moment with the kids is managed to support the intended curriculum, both you and your players will have more success.
Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org