Congrats on jumping into youth soccer coaching! Your league has sent you the roster for your team and you are getting ready to take the field. This is your opportunity to set the tone for your entire season with your kids and your parents. As much a fan that I am of getting the kids onto the ball as quickly as possible and getting them playing games as much as possible, it is important to take time at the first practice to have a team meeting.
I usually run a quick warm up with the kids for 5-10min and then call them over for a discussion. It is here that I will establish my expectations, introduce all the players, and let the kids know what will happen through the season. Obviously, the detail level of these meetings is going to vary greatly by age group. You need to customize the meeting a little to meet your group.
A Typical team meeting for me for U8-U14 will look something like this…
- A round table introduction: What is your name, What do you love about soccer, what is your favorite animal that starts with the same letter as your name (this is to help me remember names).
- Discuss the importance of having fun, and playing as a team
- Discuss typical practice format and game formats
- My rules: I don’t typically use a whistle, but my rule is when the whistle blows, you freeze, don’t worry about the ball, just freeze where you are. I find this allows me to stop the practice right in place
- What happens if you don’t listen/don’t participate? Some coaches like running as a punishment, others will sit players, you need your own thing. Just make sure the kids know what the rules are what happens if they break them.
I host a short meeting every practice, we discuss what we learned at the previous game, and I introduce one rule at each meeting. If possible tie a drill/game at the practice to the rule. Anexample is describe when a throw in happens and then practice throw ins.
The other activity I do at my first practice is host a parent meeting. If I am coaching alone (which is common), my last activity will be a game for the kids to play, just soccer, no weird rules. This gives me a chance to gather the parents. When I pull the parents together I usually cover the following items
- Communication – I ask that parents let me know if kids will be late or away, it really helps in the planning
- Practice and Game schedule, I pass out paper schedules and I will have assigned snack duties (no coaches don’t have to do everything), we discuss appropriate snacks.
- I usually set the expectation that for Game Times and practice times, the kids are mine. I ask parents not to coach from the sidelines and give examples of how I may have asked a player to play back or play up, it is confusing if Mom or Dad are yelling different instructions from the sidelines.
- I discuss the playtime and position expectation. In grassroots/house league, we strive for equal play times, and I believe in players playing all positions. In travel/competitive there may be lines and positions. Just set the expectations for your team.
- I open the door for communications… feel free to talk to me before or after practice
- about anything, during practice, please let me focus on the kids.
I find that spending a bit of time with the players and the parents at the first practice will set up a great season and let us focus on having fun on the field instead of managing issues.