'Relate to the kids' (Q&A with NSCAA's Ian Barker, Part 1)
Interview by Mike Woitalla
Ian Barker became Director of Coaching of the 30,000-member National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) in February. A longtime ODP coach, he served as Minnesota Youth Soccer Association Director of Coaching (1997-2007) and spent more than two decades coaching college ball. In Part 1 of our interview we spoke with Barker about youth coaching in America.
SOCCER AMERICA: What advice would you give to someone about to start coaching youth soccer for the first time – whether it’s a parent without soccer experience or someone with an extensive soccer background who has never coached children?
IAN BARKER: Do not force it. Instead feed off your strengths as a parent and communicator and relate to the kids. That is not to say you should not try to acquire some knowledge of content and method. To get started see if you can effectively copy someone who keeps things flowing and keeps the kids engaged. The less, despite reasonable angst, you can make it about you and more about being with kids in a sport environment the better. Do not be afraid of your "ignorance."
SA: What is a common trait of youth coaches that you would like to see less of?
IAN BARKER: I really think many youth coaches would do better with less formal structure and that includes lengthy verbal explanation or revision of the obvious. If the youth coach can manage a safe environment and find activity that reflects the "organic" nature and flow of the game I think kids can learn and enjoy.
SA: When you observe youth soccer practices at the younger ages what would make you think the coach is doing a good job?
IAN BARKER: A good job would see the kids moving, that the activity is soccer relevant and that frequency touching the ball and making decisions is very high. Certainly the coach must be engaged, but that does not mean they have to be moving or talking a great deal. Kids moving, experiencing the game with minimal, but pointed interjections from the coach is a session I would look for.
SA: Besides the NSCAA, other organizations such as U.S. Soccer and U.S. Youth Soccer, offer coaching education courses. How should youth coaches decide where to take their coaching courses?
IAN BARKER: As many of our youth coaches are parents then I think look for role models among your peer group and find out how they got to a level of proficiency you respect. Perhaps consulting a paid, experienced club director is less helpful than seeking to emulate someone "like you."
For the younger coaches, high school and college players, the same applies, observe what you like and do not like and understand how these behaviors were trained. Very often the things that impact us most as effective coaches are acquired in formal coaching schools through the presentations and the interactions with other candidates, and also outside of schools by observing good practices.
SA: How much of a problem is an emphasis on winning games in American youth soccer?
IAN BARKER: It is a real problem, but one I feel is much easier to fix than we understand. Rather than wholesale changes in the structures of competition, coach training, rules and regulations etc., I think it comes down to how adults act and how you can impact a culture by continual examples of good practice.
I believe the more coaches and parents who make the effort to keep things in a context, the more that others will see that and will follow the example. Wanting to win is not the problem; it is the overemphasis that is placed on winning and losing relative to kids playing, learning to love the sport and learning to play it effectively. The problem is placing value in winning so far ahead of a long-term development of the child, the player and the sport.