Game Day. Coach, you’ve done all you can do throughout the week to get your team ready for Saturday’s game. I have a few tips that might make Game Day go a bit more smoothly.
A) Prepare your line-ups in advance. In planning, there is freedom.
- When you have the line-up done ahead of time, you know you have met your league’s participation guidelines.
- You can concentrate on your team’s needs and the game situation.
B) What to Bring?
- Bring a small pocket size notebook. Rather than shout instructions during the game, I find it far more useful to make a few notes during the quarter or half, and then coach in the huddle during the game breaks.
- Bring scrimmage jerseys. Many leagues order uniforms in a limited number of colors. You will meet a team wearing the same uniform as your team. With scrimmage jerseys, you avoid the hassle of turning a team’s jerseys inside-out to differentiate between teams.
- Goalie gear. You already know to choose your keepers of the week ahead of time so they get GK training during the week prior to the game. You keep the jerseys and gloves and helmet. If your league doesn’t mandate a soft sided GK helmet, you should consider providing one for your GK. I’ve worn one for 20 years. Chelsea’s star keeper Petr Cech wears one. Goalmouths and goalposts are unforgiving. Kids will kick at the keeper. Bring a baseball cap, which fits under the helmet, for sunny days. Most leagues allow a keeper to wear a cap.
C) Bring extra everything.
- Bring a spare jersey. I’m always amazed at how a parent and kid can both misplace a game jersey come game day, but they do.
- Spare whistle, yellow & red cards, watch w/stopwatch feature. Coaches are occasionally pressed into service, in all-volunteer leagues, as referees. It happens. Be ready.
- Bring a spare game ball. Typically, the day’s referee is responsible for the game ball but see (b) above on that.
- Bring a spare water bottle, full of ice and water. One of your players will thank you.
ON the SIDELINE
Most of your coaching should be done during the week. I once heard basketball great Bill Walton tell this story about his days with UCLA coach John Wooden. He was trotting back down the court and turned to the famous coach.
“Coach, what do you me to do [in this situation]?”
“William, we went over that during practice earlier this week.”
“Yeah, but Coach…”
“William, I work during the week. You work on Saturdays.”
Coaching younger athletes is only slightly different. Unless something terribly grievous is going on, most of your coaching should be during game breaks. Why?
1) Even on smaller youth–sized fields, a soccer field is really big. With sixty parents cheering, unless you are shouting at the top of your lungs, the kids at the periphery of the field can’t hear you clearly.
2) Why do want to be shouting at the top of your lungs at a bunch of little kids? Don’t be that guy.
3) If you are hell-bent to be that guy, let’s change this up. You’re at work, sitting in your cube, working on your TPS reports. You think you know what’s up. Suddenly, over the office PA, a booming voice comes from above, for all your peers to hear, “HEY GIBBONS, YOU’RE DOING THOSE TPS REPORTS WRONG!!” You really want to work for that guy now, don’t you?
4) Be Positive. Offer encouragement. Offer support. DO is much more powerful than DON’T.
5) Model the behaviors you want your team, and the parents, to emulate.
The game breaks are your time, Coach. Have your assistant herd the kids to their drinks. You need to step away for a moment and collect your thoughts. Consult your notes. I always star the two (and no more) that I specifically need to address. As you huddle, insist on everyone’s closest attention. Work on this behavior during practice. If you don’t do it during practice, don’t expect it to happen during the excitement of game day. A general rule: each year of age equals one minute of attention.
In the huddle, everything needs to be addressed in the team context. Even if Janey is the only kid who is having trouble trapping the ball, it needs to be framed as a team issue. Remember the OREO [Praise-Correct-Praise].
“We’re really hustling after the 50/50 balls. I see we’re having a few trapping problems out there. (Quick review of trapping basics). Keep fighting for the loose balls, that’s great stuff, girls!”
Two items, well and truly understood, is plenty. (This is true even at the upper age levels-you make a marked turnaround in two key areas of a U17 game at the half and you’ve done something game-changing.) Just as in the classroom, I like to hear the kids to verbalize our new goals as we head back out onto the field.
COACH: “Okay, kids, what are working on for the next half?”
TEAM: “Coach, we’re going to relax our foot like a pillow when we trap.”
COACH: “Great! What else you got?”
TEAM: “We’re gonna pass to the empty space!!”
COACH: “Terrific!! Feet like a pillow!! Pass to Mr. Nobody! (That’s my expression with young teams for playing the ball into space.) Go have some fun, kids. LET’S GO!”
Yep, it’s game day.