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Coaching at the Game

The style of coaching a soccer game 
is different from that of most sports.
 This page outlines the official FIFA position 
and the AYSO policy.

Soccer Culture
The essence of the soccer culture is that soccer is the "player's game". What this means is that once the game is underway the players are expected to make their own decisions as to the right thing to do in any situation, without interference from coaches or spectators. In a youth soccer game with only a handful of spectators, loudly-voiced opinions and "suggestions" are all too easily heard and are STRONGLY DISCOURAGED.

This soccer culture is different from most sports, in which the coach is effectively a part of the team, controlling plays, using a timeout to stop the other team's momentum, instructing a player to run or stay on base and so on.  Irrespective of whether you think this is good or bad, it is not the soccer way.  Once the whistle blows there are no practical mechanisms provided by the laws of the game for a coach to influence the outcome, other than choosing the players to put on the field.  The players make individual decisions, good or bad, and collectively have to react as a team to the strategy and tactics of their opponent.  They learn to do this in two ways, first at training, where the coach does have control, and second and, ultimately more importantly, by experience at the games.  This is the origin of the soccer coaching adage "the game is the teacher".  It takes a lot of games to get the experience, but there really is no short cut, much as coaches might wish there were!

Many coaches find this situation frustrating, especially if they also coach a sport in which they do have more control.  A common reaction is for the coach to become a "shouter".  This style of coaching at the game is STRONGLY DISCOURAGED.

What's the Law? 
FIFA law states that a "coach may convey tactical instructions to his players during the match and must return to his position immediately after giving these instructions. The coach and the other officials must remain within the confines of the technical area, where such an area is provided, and they must behave in a responsible manner". AYSO defines the technical area as ten yards either side of the half-way line, the font and back edges being one yard and three yards, respectively, from the touch line. AYSO also limits coach participation to positive instruction and encouragement.

The spirit of the FIFA law is that coaches convey only occasional instructions to players and these are limited to "tactical", that is "off the ball" instructions.  The expectation is that coaches use the game to observe their players in action and use what they see as feedback into the practice situation.

Many veteran coaches have followed the humbling path from micro-coaching to being an observer and cheerleader at games. Sometimes coaches lapse into bad habits under stress. But we believe in the soccer culture and strive always to be good role models.

1: Instructions get through to the player on the ball.
It's hard to accept if you have never played a team sport that instructing the player on the ball will help. The truth is that, when concentrating on handling the ball, it is impossible to process instructions. Players shut out extraneous inputs; all they hear is a general background noise.  Of course, if they are close and you shout really, really loud, they'll hear you, but in doing so they will probably lose focus on what they are doing and lose the ball.

Do not shout instructions to the players on the ball. 

2: Players like being shouted at [told what to do]
Even if they do it isn't helping them make their own decisions,  and they'll never become good soccer players if they do.  Some coaches justify their behavior on the grounds that the kids need the instructions and that it helps them become better players.  Again, it's hard to appreciate if you haven't played a sport with a "coach", but most adults would find it irritating and unsettling to be the subject of constant verbal instructions.

Keep direct orders in check.  Encouragement to look for open players is different than, "Pass to Johnny".
3: I only ever provide positive instruction and encouragement.
This is said a lot and surely some coaches actually believe it. However, a shouter will inevitably get seriously involved in what's happening on the field, and eventually will let his guard slip and some not-quite-positive remark will emerge.  It's practically impossible to keep the brain properly engaged when in verbal torrent mode.  As an example, the impact on players of a shout of "Wake up, defense!" immediately after a goal is scored.  This belittles the players and simply expresses the coach's dissatisfaction with their play.  It is not positive coaching and it is unlikely to improve performance on the field.  Other tell-tale phrases are those containing "you should have..." or "you need to ...".  While well-intentioned, these remarks will be perceived as criticism by the players.  Just remember, the players only "need" to have fun.  Finally, panic shouts of "Get it out of there!", "Shoot!", "Boot it!" just overload the players with noise.  They rarely have any useful effect, except to make players feel more nervous and unsure of themselves.  Great performances are not made in a mental state of panic.

Instruction is for practice, not games, and encouragement does not come in the form of a directive.

4: The parents expect me to instruct the kids at games.  No parent has ever complained about my coaching style.
Many parents are equally unaware of the soccer culture, and simply transfer their expectations from other sports.  Others are intimidated by a coach who is a shouter.  Some might even believe that AYSO teaches coaches to micro-coach at our coaching clinics and classes.  Some, seeing progress in their child's soccer development, may put up with the shouting because "my child is learning a lot this season".  Many shouter coaches are indeed good at teaching soccer at training.

Your coaching is not about the parent's expectations, do what is right.  The game is for the players to learn by playing.  Coach at the training.

5. It's ok to complain to the referee if they make a call you don't agree with.
The referee in soccer control's the game, makes the calls and the decisions.  The referee is not required to explain his calls.  The referee's judgement is not only final, it is not to be questioned.  Micro-coaching often goes hand-in-hand with complaining about the refereeing.  Again, if you are involved with the game at the micro-level, you are going to react deeply to every call, just as if you were actually out there on the field.  And if you're verbalising, you'll find it very hard not to say something critical.  

There is no margin for discussion on this one: public questioning or complaining about the refereeing is not acceptable, period.  If you transgress this policy repeatedly, the referee should ask you to leave the field, whereupon you will thank the referee gracefully and leave.

If the refereeing is not up to your standards, remember we are all volunteers.  If you believe the game and the players experience of the game is being jeopardized by the referee, email the Regional Referee Administrator with your observations.

6: It's very important to me that my team wins the game.
A lot of micro-coaching has its roots in the coach being too personally invested in the success of the team.  This is dangerous ground that can lead to some truly bad behavior by coaches.  And, yes, it happens every season.  Just remember the game is for the kids to have fun and learn.  Winning is not the goal.  You are a teacher not a player.  Read "Positive Coaching" by Jim Thompson for a more detailed look at this and other aspects of coaching.  

Winning IS NOT the goal!  Players having fun and learning is the goal.

7: Should coaches be silent at games?
 The opposite extreme of a shouter is the truly silent coach, which is easily mistaken for indifference.  Players do like to be praised when they do well.  Praise and affirmation are the "Say" of the "See, Show and Say" coaching style that is taught at AYSO coaching clinics.  There are plenty of opportunities at a game to provide praise and positive encouragement to your players.  It's also perfectly ok to communicate tactical suggestions just so long as you don't do it continuously.  For example, instructions to your defence to move up with play, and occasional positional advice. What you should not do is try to teach positional play at a game by constant instruction.

If while reading this you recognised some of your own behavior at games, try to examine your reasons for micro-coaching. Hopefully some of the comments above will persuade you that there is another way that will achieve good results and, in the process let the kids play their game in as natural a way as possible.