For five days in November, over 30 Washington Youth Soccer coaches gathered on the fields and in the classrooms at Starfire Sports for the National Youth License, one of the premier coaching courses offered by U.S. Soccer.
The National Youth License is designed to provide club directors of coaching, youth coaches, physical education teachers and soccer administrators with the knowledge to successfully structure soccer environments for children aged 4-12. In addition to developing soccer skills, coaches are taught how to successfully communicate strategies and ideas to their players.
Understanding how a young player thinks is necessary to understand how to teach them; thus, a primary focus of the National Youth License is the psychological development and emotional needs of players in the younger age range.
"The focus of the NYL course is for coaches to learn how to coach those younger, entry-level age groups and how to do things that are age-appropriate, that are player-centered, to understand the characteristics of that age group so they can adapt their coaching," says U.S. Youth Soccer Director of Coaching Sam Snow, who led the five-day session at Starfire. "Additionally, we are working on their coaching methodology, in the way that we design our training sessions and run our matches, but also the use of guided-discovery as a coaching tool. The idea of guided-discovery as a coaching method is to get the players problem-solving and thinking, which is obviously a huge part of playing soccer well as you get older."
Snow says that many coaches of teams in the 6-12 age group measure their players’ development by wins and losses. While winning is good, he says, the National Youth License teaches coaches to build fundamental skills that will lead to better players in the long term, as opposed to zeroing in on short-term goals. An example, he says, would be asking goalkeepers to throw the ball out to the defenders as opposed to punting it up the field — by forcing the team to play the ball out from the back, they may be more prone to defensive mistakes in the short-term, but will, over time, develop better teamwork, dribbling, passing and off-ball movement.
"We do want to try to win, but… it’s about development first and striving always to play your best," Snow says. "[We’re] helping the adult coaches and adult supporters of those youth teams to understand and overcome the fear of losing and just letting the kids develop."
While the focus of the National Youth License is on the younger age groups, the course continues to attract many of the nation’s most experienced coaches, who routinely come away with a fresh perspective on working with players of all ages.
Spokane Shadow Technical Director Abbas Faridnia, who holds a prestigious USSF "A" License, says the course held significant value for him as the director of coaching development at his club.
"I got a lot out of it and the cognitive part was huge," he says. "I thought Sam was great and the number of ideas and information that he brought was fantastic. As our club focuses on those age groups, it’s good to be educated on the newest information and update my knowledge to in turn bring it back to my club."
Faridnia echoes his last point when he says that no matter what license a coach holds, it’s important to continue to develop your coaching skills, and ensure that your growth as a coach matches that of the players you teach.
"If you’re really trying to give back to the game and improve players, nobody knows it all. So, how are you improving yourself if you also want to improve the players?" he says. "Coaching education provides that, and if you’re not part of the evolution of the game, how are you actually giving back to the game? Whether it’s through coaching courses or seminars or anything you can get your hands on, it’s important to always bring back something everyone can use."
Washington Youth Soccer administers numerous coaching education courses throughout the year, at sites around the state. The 2014 coaching education schedule will be announced in January. To request a course in your area or at your Club or Association, click here, or visit the "Coaching Education" link under the "Coaches" tab at the top of this page.