Coaching courses can be intimidating. Expecting to be scrutinized and judged by their peers, soccer coaching candidates enter a new environment unsure of what to expect. But for those who have chosen coaching as their profession, or even those who simply want to be better at what has become their hobby, attending a coaching education course, is crucial and necessary step. So the candidate pays the fee, as well as the travel and lodging costs, packs up a lifetime of soccer knowledge and joins a collection of strangers hoping to become a better coach.
Roy Dunshee, the head men’s soccer coach at Washington College in Chestertown, MD., and has worked for the National Soccer Coaches Association of America since 2007 in a variety of roles, including as a National Academy staff coach. Dunshee has taught license courses from the USSF E license to the NSCAA Premier Diploma and everything in between.
“It’s an uncomfortable environment when there is someone with a clipboard evaluating your every word,” he says. “It’s out of your comfort zone, so it’s a necessary process. The only path to growth is getting out of your comfort zone.”
Dunshee has seen a wide variety of candidates pushed out of that comfort zone and has some advice.
“The No. 1 thing a coach has to bring is an open mind,” says Dunshee. “They are going to be exposed to new ideas and they are going to get exposed to multiple perspectives on the game.
“The coach also has to be open to getting feedback because that’s the only way they are going to get better,” says Dunshee, who in 2011 was named the NSCAA’s Associate Staff Coach of the Year. “They are going to get ideas on how they coach. What we frequently see is coaches who are not open to feedback or new ideas, which begs the question – if you are in the business of coaching where all you do is give feedback, why aren’t you willing to accept feedback and be coachable? That’s how you grow.”
Criticism, constructive or otherwise, can be rare for coaches. In their daily routine, coaches give sessions and assume it was either productive or unproductive. The opportunity to have a training session critiqued takes the assumption out of it and should be welcomed. At a coaching school, the feedback candidates receive from instructors is, after all, the whole point.
“I always tell them no one is going to get out of here with the instructor saying ‘Well done, good session, next,’ Then you’re not getting your money’s worth,” Dunshee says. “If the feedback you get is very nit-picky, that means they had a really good session. If the feedback is quite substantive, that usually means they have not learned to apply the principles of play to live action. They have not learned to get their information out in an efficient way.”
Once coaches understand that entering a learning environment and being unwilling to learn is not the best use of time, is when they start to benefit from the course and the information available to them. Dunshee has found the NSCAA schools to very effective in helping coaches learn and improve.
“At the NSCAA, our mandate is to educate our members to the extent that we can,” he says. “The NSCAA is very collaborative. It’s not competitive. Your grade is not dependent on what someone else does. It’s strictly on you. We are fostering camaraderie and cooperative. Our constituents are our members so we are serving our members. Other organizations have a mandate to test and eliminate coaches who aren’t good enough and identify coaches who are good.”
Here are some of the areas in which Dunshee has observed coaches struggling.
Trying to Do Too Much
“One of the things coaches typically get wrong in the coaching school environment is over-coaching,” says Dunshee. “Because they have to do a coaching session in a compressed amount of time, coaches sometimes try to show how much they know to the instructors and other candidates. What happens a lot is when a coach steps out to do a 20-minute coaching session, he or she will start coaching before anyone has started playing soccer.
“We always encourage them to relax, let the game happen and then coach what they see, instead of coaching what they have written down as a lesson plan.
“If it’s not happening in the game, you don’t need to coach it. If it’s going well, you don’t need to fix it. We want them to read the game in a real way in an artificial environment. That’s tough on everyone. We encourage them to relax, read the game and coach the topic they have been assigned to coach.”
Seeing the Bigger Picture
“The candidates who generally do very well are the one who are able to read not just what their team is doing but what the opposition is doing,” Dunshee explains. “Can they give their team information on what their opposition is doing?
“Don’t just tell them to do an overlap. Tell them, ‘This is an opportunity for an overlap because of the way the defense is shaped right now. Show them the visual cues for the overlap.’ It’s just how to do the overlap, it’s the where the when and the why.
“What we frequently see is coaches get better throughout the week. They see the game in a broader way and that’s when we know we are doing our jobs as instructors.”
Talking Too Much
“If you can successfully step on the field and deliver your information in seconds rather than minutes then get back off the field, you will do well with your teams,” Dunshee says. “The last thing your players want to do is stand around while you’re talking. They want to play and they need to play.
“We always tell them to search for nuggets. We define nuggets as a lot of information in just a few words. If you can find the right nugget, a great coaching point, that is very concise and clear and find the right moment to use that nugget you can get a lot out of every training session. Less is more when it comes to coaching, but especially in a coaching school environment.
“We want coaches to accumulate nuggets. When I’m demonstrating a session or giving a lecture, I always tell coaches, “Here’s a nugget.” Then you have to pick and choose from your own personality and coaching style.
“We help them edit down what they say. We generally do that during feedback, which is a critical part of what goes on after the session. We always ask coaches to self-assess and give their thoughts on how they felt the session went.
“It always comes back to knowing the principles of attack and the principles of defending, which are pretty much universal all over the world. Until those principles are not at your fingertips, you can’t really coach at a high level. If they are, you can coach at any level.”