Ahhhhh coaching high school soccer this year is going to be fun, but now what? So much to do, get to know the players, hold tryouts, decide what formation you're going to play and what drills you're going to run. The good news is you know there is a lot to do, the bad news is you don't know where to start.
You need to sit down and have a look at the team you're working with, the amount of time you have before the season starts and develop a plan for selecting the team and how exactly you're going to get them in shape and cohesive for the season to come.
Lucky for you you will have your own coach (me) helping you coach your high school team, you're welcome.
1. Team Meeting - When it comes to coaching high school soccer your first team meeting may be the most important thing you do. This is their first impression of you and will set the stage for how things will work moving forward. Set the expectations that you have for everything the team does in this meeting from the way we want to play, the way we want to act, what their academics should be, how they should treat each other etc.
2. Choose Your Staff - Look to surround yourself and team with staff members both internal and external that are different but complimentary to what you bring to the table (both in temperament and skills). If you're an extremely tough and demanding coach you may want to bring someone in who they can confide in, if you are really strong at motivating players or the defensive side of the ball perhaps you bring someone in who is quieter and that does individual training very well.
3. Talk to Team Seniors/Leaders - Be sure to touch base with 3-5 senior leaders on the team during the process of many big decisions. It doesn't not mean you have to do exactly as they say but this does two things. It creates buy-in and trust amongst the leaders and yourself and it will give you a different perspective to think about you may not have previously considered. You can create a leadership group/council that you meet with for 10 to 15 minutes a week or it can be more informal than that, either way it's great to lean on people who are interacting with the team when you're not there. Remember coaching high school soccer is a group effort and you need some allies.
4. Establish the Culture You Want - Now that you've communicated to the team how you want them to act, play etc. It is time for you and your staff (and hopefully your leadership group) to live these expectations on a daily basis. If your expectations include being committed to training and games then you need to show that by being early, having practice set up before they arrive and being organized. Perhaps one of your expectations is to treat everyone with respect or that academics are important, when these things get questioned whether someone makes fun of someone or someone fails a test your job is to reinforce the culture by sitting that person out or calling the person out who is bullying a teammate. It's one things to say it in a meeting and it's totally another to enforce and live the culture. Who said coaching high school soccer was going to be easy?
5. Meet With Each Player - It's important to understand the team culture that existed on the team before you got there. By speaking to every player and asking them important questions to gather all the data about how the team operated both on and off the field is vital. Some questions in your 1on1 meetings may include, how has the overall experience been of the team? What are some things that need to improve on the team? Are there any people that aren't good for the culture of the team? What role do you see yourself playing on the team? What's the one big thing that needs to change/improve to take this team to the next level? Obviously you can add your own to get an overall impression of where the teams thoughts are. After you've asked these questions and taken notes start to gather the answers and themes you hear most to see where the real issues are both good and bad. If you hear something more than 3 or 4 times red flags should start to go off in your mind as an issue that needs addressing.
1. Transparent - Be open and clear both in one on one conversations and team conversations. The last thing you want when coaching high school soccer is for your players to think that they have no idea what you are thinking and where they stand. Be clear and don't beat around the bush with your messaging both positive and critical.
2. Constant Communicator - They may not like everything that comes out of your mouth but never be the coach that is mistaken for someone who never tells his players what is on their mind, their role and how they fit into what you are building. Players love feedback and over communication so give them what they want for better or for worse.
3. Organized - Be prepared for training, games and start anticipating all types of situations both on the field and especially off the field. You should be thinking what if this player gets hurt, or if we go up or down a goal or this person can't make training etc etc. Always have a plan a, b and c.
4. Demanding - Push them past where they think they can go and always expect and demand more from each and every player. Secretly every player wants to be pushed beyond their limits, create a unique environment that isn't for everyone by making it tough day in and day out. Coaching high school soccer has it's challenges and you need keep what you demand of the team at a high level at all times.
5. Treats Everyone Fairly Not Equally - Each player will come from different situations both at home and in life. Understand what they have to deal with to be at training and games everyday and treat each player based on their situation not one blanket expectation for all.
1. Hands Off Coaching - Thinking the group will coach and mold themselves because they have played the sport growing up or if they seem to be a very talented group. Constant teaching and culture reinforcement is not a one time job but a constant day in and day out responsibility of the coach.
2. Special Treatment - Everyone knows there are a few players that are a bit better than the rest, essentially the stars of your respective team. The way you treat these players is a strong cultural indication to the rest of the group. If you are hardest on them with regards to the expectations of the team both in the way they play and act everyone else will fall in line. If you let them operate outside of the rules because of their on field ability you send a clear message to people that the only value you have as a member of this team is on the field. Treat your best players toughest to keep the discipline of the group.
3. Dishonest - Avoid promising players playing time or anything else you are not sure could one day change. Losing a players trust especially early in the relationship of player and coach. Be sure to be very clear and transparent and keep the communication channels open.
4. Disorganized - If you show up to games or practices and players can tell you didn't plan anything and are just winging it you start to lose the respect of the group
5. Friend not Coach - You need to draw a clear line between coach and friend. You are not their friend or buddy, you are there to push and develop them as athletes and people. This is one of the biggest mistakes a coach can make, be sure to be very clear about a line that exists between player and coach.
This is where you need to take a long hard look at the qualities of your players and match that with a formation that suits those qualities. Without complicating it too much you want to find a way to get your best players on the field, even if they have to play slightly out of position or if you are heavy in the midfield, defence or forward line, find a way to get them all on.
For example if you have a tall, defensive oriented team with not too much speed you may want to play into a target striker who holds the ball up and take your chances on the counter attack by playing defensively deep in your own end and capitalize on set pieces. A 4-5-1 would be perfect for this type of team.
Maybe you have a very athletic team that sitting back and defending wont' serve them well, so you high press and make the game a track race and let your athletes pin the opponents close to their own goals. A 4-3-3 formation could suit this type of team well.
If you're looking for more information about creating a great practice environment specifically feel free to read this article about Traits of Successful Youth Coaches.
When it comes to coaching high school soccer and selecting the team leave no stone unturned. Meaning do everything you can to cast a large web to try and at least see every interested player in a practice setting. Invite players back from last year, hold open tryouts and let anyone that has some interest have a run so you can see everything you're working with before making your choices. Even if you decide not to select someone for the team this year if you ever get in a bind with injuries or whatever else you have one more player in your pool you can always call back to the team.
While coaching high school soccer think about how many games there are in a season and how many players are allowed on a game day roster. Typically 18 are allowed to dress so it is always nice to hand a handful more than that due to injury and players not being able to make certain games for whatever reason. Anywhere between 22-25 is a good number so you have a bit of a safety net and a competitive training environment.
Well you, your staff and players need to decide what type of team and experience you want to have this season. If it's all about inclusivity and camaraderie and having the high school sports experience and winning is secondary then playing time can be even and everyone gets a good experience.
Now if you're looking at more of a high performance environment where all the above exist but winning and doing what is best for the team to win takes precedence then playing time will not be even and people need to know their roles going in to this type of season and be willing to except their roles.
Of course you can do something in between which makes most sense but this is where coaching high school soccer can be tricky and you need to be clear and upfront with your team so they know what to expect, transparency is everything and once you decide what path you want to take this team on there is no looking back.
Tough one. What if there is a younger player who is more capable? But the senior has been a loyal servant to the team for years and has earned the spot for his commitment even though he may not be as good. All great ethical questions that they don't teach you in any coaching courses or books. What you need to do is always return to your guiding light above when making tough ethical decisions, and that is are we a team that is here for equal time and a great experience or are you pushing for a high performance environment and expectations. While coaching high school soccer you will be faced with these types of dilemmas constantly, always go back to the team culture expectations and what's in the best interest of the team.