Using Self Organized Learning Environments For Youth Soccer Development

It seems like it was just yesterday that my brother and I were running around the field playing soccer pretending to be in the World Cup. We would play this made-up game that instantly transformed us into famous soccer players scoring glorious goals. I would literally play for hours with a big smile on my face. The joy I got from playing further increased my motivation to improve and play more and more and more! However, the difficult thing for me was the lack of talented players and coaches for me to learn from. Without access to experienced coaches and talented players, I decided to try and educate myself. At the time there was no internet access and soccer on television was scarce to say the least. The only feasible thing I could think of was to buy some soccer books. By pure chance the first book I bought was one of the best soccer books I could have ever purchased, it was called “Soccer Fundamentals For Players and Coaches” by Wiel Coerver. The book was written to increase the technical ability of soccer players. Sequenced photographs broke down every technique, so players could follow them and learn the techniques. I took this book into the backyard and started practicing. I practiced not for days and months but for years. I literally gained most of my soccer technical ability by following the pictures in a book. My skill level went from very low to playing at some of highest levels in the country at the time. The story sounds very simple and almost untrue, but the reality is I was motivated and trained every single day for hours and hours. I enjoyed training and my own improvement provided me with further motivation to keep going. Even when I went to college to play I never stopped trying to learn. I would pull some of the better players aside and ask them to show me certain things. I would then practice what they showed me and then move on to the next skill. I would eventually figure out that specialization was important in my development as well. I wasn’t the fastest sprinter so learning more 1 v 1 moves that relied on changes of pace wasn’t so useful to me. Instead I focused on skills that would benefit my body type and physical attributes. At that point I was getting very good at the process of learning without even realizing it. I was asking myself the right questions and looking for the answers so I could improve. My self-belief and self-esteem were very high due to the fact that I had come so far in soccer. I really felt I could succeed at any job or any task because I progressed so far in the game of soccer. However, there was another factor that I credit for my personal and soccer development. It was the encouragement from my dad and others that served as motivation and validation for my efforts. It was the small things they said like “you really have improved”, “you looked sharp today” or “your effort was very good”. It might not sound like a lot, but encouragement is a major component to learning. Without encouragement, guidance and people who care, learning will be stifled.

The reason I wrote the book “Inspire” was to change the way we think about coaching and developing youth soccer players. One of the major coaching issues in youth soccer is our desire to coach kids the same as adults. Parents and coaches want their U8 or U10 teams playing travel ball. They get all involved in the league standings and focus far too much on winning. Winning starts to become the main emphasis as we lose sight of player development and the simple enjoyment of the game. Another common obstacle in youth soccer is something called “Over Coaching”. Over Coaching is when coaches tell the players exactly what to do every second of a game or in training. How many times have you seen coaches calling out where to hit every pass or constantly telling players where to be on the field? This type of authoritarian or dictator type of coaching prevents kids from freely making their own choices and really learning the game. Over-Coaching will bring about a counter productive effect on learning. I propose a better way of teaching would be to have coaches set up conditions & rules in small-sided games and allow the game to be the teacher. This would help eliminate over-coaching and let the kids learn by playing while having fun! The next important step in the process would be the asking of the “Big Questions” to guide the learning process. The big questions are questions that lead players down a path to explore and learn without fear on their own. Players will feel empowered because they will actually be in control of their own learning. This concept is part of an educational method called a S.O.L.E or Self Organized Learning Environment. I personally believe using S.O.L.E’s will open up a brand new and exciting approach to coaching youth soccer. S.O.L.E’s involve having players work together in various small groups (each with a leader) in order to answer the big questions the coach has asked. The kids will need access to the Internet in order to research and come up with answers to the questions asked. The role of the Coach is to encourage the players and praise their efforts as they come up with the answers. The questions the coach will be asking the players will coincide with the soccer curriculum. The younger players might be asked to “explain two ways to pass the soccer ball and demonstrate the technique”, while an older group may be asked “how can a team break down a team that sits”? The book covers in detail my suggestions for setting up a S.O.L.E’s in youth soccer. The purpose of this book is to share new ideas on youth soccer development in a simple but highly effective way that is easy to understand and implement. If you are novice with no coaching experience or a seasoned veteran coach, I believe you will find the information extremely beneficial.

I am asking coaches who decide to implement S.O.L.E’s with their team after reading this book to let me know how their teams are progressing over the months. I am interested in hearing how the methods are working for you. I am happy to read your emails and give you my thoughts. Enjoy the book!