The idea of using a curriculum to develop youth soccer players has been debated for some time now. When the U.S. Soccer youth coaching curriculum was unveiled in 2011, Bruce Arena said, “a curriculum’s not going to make us any better.” Since then, anyone that has had a stake in youth soccer has an opinion on the subject.
Over these last six years, more and more people are warming to the idea of a curriculum. More clubs are adapting some sort of philosophy to separate from themselves from the competition. Though the naysayers are getting quieter, there are still doubters in the industry.
Recently, our own Alex Weaver took a coaching position with the Little Kickers Soccer School, teaching the fundamentals and fun of soccer to three to six year olds. We’re documenting and showcasing her story in this five part series. Alex found that a curriculum does indeed help youth soccer athletes develop individually in a team atmosphere. Even more so, it helps a new club coach optimize training and individual development
In today’s interview, Alex reviews her first practice with the Little Kickers from a new coach perspective and how a structured curriculum made the transition on the field easy.
So, how was the first practice?
Well, it really starts about five to six days ahead of scheduled practice. Tom Hatton sends out an email with a curriculum to the coaches. It’s defined and really structured with a sharp focus on the development of the kids. Everything is planned to prepare the kids to move to the next level, so it’s all part of a short and long term plan. It’s all a part of teaching structure to the kids at a young age.
Tom also includes the Little Kickers Development Pyramid. It’s basically an easy-to-read image, which of course is pyramid shaped, and shows where each player will be during the 9 week course and how development will unfold. He lays it all out in a very simple way for everyone to understand, so it definitely helps my preparation.
The practices contain a handful of players, about five or six. That’s so each player can receive a good amount of individual time with the coach, but still work in a group and team atmosphere.
How does the development pyramid and curriculum factor into short and long term planning?
As coaches of the Little Kickers, our main long-term goal is to develop each player individually so that they can advance at each level of the club as they grow older. In order to do that, we have to ensure that each of the players have shown marked improvement over the nine week course. Their curriculum helps us with our goals.
The curriculum is a proven strategy that builds the individual skills of each player in a team environment. Not only does it improve the player fundamentally, but it gives me and the other coaches a blueprint to guide the direction of each practice. It’s broken down by themes and each theme, or fundamental, is a part of the pyramid. So, when we work on drills or sessions in week one, I know it will help with another drill in week eight.
The short term goals are geared to developing the here and now at each drill, each session, each practice. The long term goals are clearly evident at the end of the nine-week course.
This is all thanks to the development pyramid and the curriculum. I feel that it not only helps the players, but it actually develops the coaches as well. It’s given me a structure and plan to work off of to build my professional coaching career. And the parents are happy in knowing that their child is clearly improving. Tom and his staff have definitely found a secret sauce.
— LeagueApps (@leagueapps) October 7, 2017
Did practice go as planned?
My first practices were at Peck Slip School and Chelsea Waterside Park. They started as planned. Each session begins with a warm up to help the players develop balance, coordination, and agility. Our first theme from the curriculum was based around stopping and pushing the ball. Remember these are three to six year olds.
The coaches are notified ahead of time by Tom’s email on what the drills will be taught for the week. There’s usually about five or six drills. So, everything started as planned. But, there’s bound to be some drills that the kids aren’t going to get. So you have to be flexible.
What’s the atmosphere like?
It’s really one big family. There’s no other way to describe it. A lot of the players I coach have older brothers or sisters in the academy, so some of the parents already have a clear relationship with Tom. They have the utmost trust in the academy and what Tom is doing that they’re almost not too concerned with practice.
There’s a big difference between three and four year olds, and the five and six year olds. The younger kids were a bit timid. About a third of them were apprehensive and afraid of the field. I found myself asking, “where do I draw the line? Do I encourage them on the field or is it the parent’s responsibility?” The five and six year olds were completely different. They were so full of energy and unafraid of the field or me.
The positivity is contagious. It starts with Tom and the staff. They’re so structured and well organized. Everything from the jerseys to equipment to time on the calendar is taken care of. It gives the parents ease of mind and they have complete trust in Tom and the staff. It really makes it as easy as possible for coaches like me to just focus on the drills and sessions for the kids.
Any surprises on your first day?
David Villa was there! It was pretty cool to have one of the world’s most recognizable stars on the field with you. His son is in the Little Kickers school. To see that he trusts the Manhattan Kickers FC to shape his son’s future, it’s really a special feeling and makes me proud to be working them. Not only are we partners with the Kickers, but I’m working in their academy as well.
I can also say I was completely surprised at how tired I was at the end of the day. I’m in my young 20s, have played soccer my entire life, I’m in very good shape, and I was exhausted. The five and six year olds have so much energy and are just running everywhere. So I have to keep up!
Any advice to a future coach on the first day?
Come to sessions with as much energy as possible because everyone feeds off that. Players, other coaches, parents, admins, everyone follows your energy. Be engaged and fully committed to it.