Weekends that make you evaluate the "if's and but's"... The one's we learn the most from as a coach.
As Sunday evening comes towards its end, I have just returned home after watching our u18 girls team bing the curtain down for Brevard Soccer Alliance this weekend by representing the club well in a hard fought defeat to Florida Institute of Technology (NCAA D2 program). After coaching 3 games and taking in another 3, this 6 game weekend has been a long, and tough reflective few days on a personal note.
As coaches, we will ultimately come across these weekends where, after a positive week of training, and players showing an upward development curve over a sustained period of time, we witness a sudden 'crash' type performance, where everything goes against the grain. This weekend for my u12's was somewhat reflective of this in many ways. First of all, 'I've come to the conclusion my kids don't play well with early morning kick off's, 8am just isn't a time that suits our kids. They're 11 years old.. Did they sleep enough last night? Did they eat breakfast? Are they tired? - Are just some of the questions I ask when performances like this occur every now and again. I'm not a parent, and I'm not the 11 year old boy I once was, but I am young enough to understand the factors that affect kids and soccer performance at this age level. I like to think I know my players quite well, I enjoy getting to know them personally, I feel like generating relationships is massive with children. But it also means I get to know what makes each of them "tick"..
For example, after seeing my team miss 3 glaring opportunities to potentially take a 1, 2, or even a 3 nil lead in yesterdays game, I found myself scratching my head as to why we were 2-0 down at half-time. I could see the obvious stimuli to our downfall - little communication, lower urgency in our energy of play, lower levels of focus in the way they carried themselves... But as youth coaches are we at fault for not correcting these factors prior to an 8am game? Well, these are questions I like to challenge my brain with to seek our solutions and answers... (1) We can't control their sleep patterns, but do 11 year old kids play playstation until 3am on weekends? I would guess that in today's era, they do... (2) Do 11 year old's eat breakfast on a morning? If I was guessing I would say some don't, as at this age kids go through the phases of not eating in patterns, or eating the wrong foods at the wrong times. These factors can be huge in the baring of performance levels at this young age, and as coaches, I feel we may miss the boat on communicating this towards players and parents more often. Now obviously these kids are not professional or college athletes, but, they are so young that performance fluctuations can happen so easily if player management isn't considered somewhat by coaches and parents alike. I have seen my u12's play very well in almost every afternoon game we have had all year, so clearly we have an early morning issue that is affecting our groups performance levels, and this is something I am looking into more deeply to try and address and generate a more consistent platform for the group to build on.
With regards to college coaches, and certainly in the professional Soccer world, we expect our coaches to lay a platform and structure for our players to follow, especially including diet plans, nutritional routines and habits to follow etc. But can we be expected to do this in Youth Soccer? I would say no, that's not really in our contracts, nor what we are paid for when coaching young children. But, can we help educate the kids and parents to begin getting on the right path early enough? Can we show our young players and their parents the positive effects of eating at the right times, eating the right things, and sleeping enough to play "well" right from the first whistle in games? Yes, we definitely can. I've started talking to my players more, incorporating the words "breakfast, "sleep", "diets" into our conversations at practice more often, because I really think it's the small details at youth level that can affect performance level in games and training. Ultimately, our job as coaches is to improve these kids as players and people, and although games aren't all about winning, if our players are more knowledgable about the things that help them be successful on the field, they may just actively pursue better habits on a consistent basis.