Observation, a key to understanding your team

Recently, I have been working more in the new U.S. Soccer courses and the importance of observation has stood out to me.

First, when I say the “new” U.S. Soccer coaching courses, this means the grassroots courses which include 4v4, 7v7, 9v9, 11v11 and D courses. I am also in the developmental period of the grassroots instructors course, which is now required to teach the courses. The grassroots courses use a session plan that is in the Play-Practice-Play model. This P-P-P model, in general, begins with playing small sided games then a practice phase, followed by a larger game to end the session. The structure of the session allows the players to play while the coach uses different techniques, including guided questions, throughout to “lead” the players to understand key words and the player actions required, based on the session objective.

As a coach, anytime that I can try a different technique to increase the understanding of the game to players, I’m in! Before I dive too deep, I do want to point out that this model is only one way to structure a training session. I often use different organizational structures for training sessions.

Often times, as a coach you don’t “feel” like your coaching if you are “just observing.” Coaching is shouting and giving the players information throughout the training session, correct? Throughout periods in my training sessions I find myself controlling the players like FIFA 19. I had organized the training session with an overall objective, the training session was designed for the players to “solve” the situation. Throughout the training session, my constant coaching would give the players all of the answers. Then the game would arrive, I would take a seat on the sideline and wonder why the players are struggling to solve the same problems we covered in training. The game was missing one crucial piece, I wasn’t standing on the field giving them the answers.

This is when I realized something else needed to happen. Observation! The definition of the word is literally, “the action or process of observing something or someone carefully or in order to gain information.” The key for me in this definition is, “in order to gain information.” I have been using observation more and more in my training sessions and allowing the players to “play” for longer periods throughout training sessions, the result has been eye opening! The training session is still organized with a specific topic and objective. Now, instead of giving the players the answers, I observe as they try to solve the problem and pay attention to how they try to solve the problem. These periods of observation give me great insight into what the players understand in relation to the topic. After the observation period, I am able to provide more specific coaching points through questions to guide the players but allow them to solve the situation. Also, key in these moments of observation, is the ability of the players to communicate with each other! Often times, coaches say the following lines: “I need more communication!, Why am I the only one talking?” Possibly, the players have no ¨space” to communicate.

In conclusion, my action plan for coaching is to use more time observing in training sessions. This will give the coach more insight into what the players understand. Then, after observation, the guided questions and coaching points can be more specific and impactful. After all, isn’t the goal of the training session to prepare the players for the game?