Term Paper: United States Soccer Remains a Relatively Minor

Pages: 5 (1788 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Sports  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … United States soccer remains a relatively minor sport but, throughout the rest of the world, soccer (football to most of the world) is by far the most popular sport and is played with earnest in every nation (Metzi, 1998). A sport that was formalized in the mid-19th century enjoys a rich history and culminates every four years with the World Cup competition that is sponsored by the world's governing authority, the Federation of the International Football Association (FIFA). As popular as the World Cup competition is, the true success of the sport is its appeal to the millions of children and young adults who play the sport at the local level.

Like any sport, physical conditioning, skill development, and proper practice technique are fundamental in determining how successful any soccer player may become but success in soccer, unlike any other sport, is highly dependent on psychological factors. The strongest, best conditioned, and swiftest soccer player may be able to be quite competent as a player but without the proper psychological attitude and personality such player will be only ordinary. What is required of the exceptional soccer player is rugged determination and a relentless will to win. As a coach, therefore, having the ability to recognize these features in the players you coach and having the ability to develop them is the key to becoming a great coach, teacher and mentor.

As any good coach recognizes, every player is unique and there is a variety of personalities on any team. Assessing these personalities is not as easy as watching and evaluating the team members as they interact before, during, or after practice (Stoeber, 2008). A full evaluation of any player's soccer personality must be done by carefully watching that player as he or she participates in real game situations. Nevertheless, even careful observation may not reveal any particular personality characteristic that is an accurate predictor of a player's success and ability to perform at the highest levels.

There are some psychological studies, however, that indicate a player's anxiety level, his confidence level, and his personal perception of his ability may provide some insight into predicting the player's potential success. The biggest problem that many coaches face when coaching young soccer players is the lack of confidence that most such players have in their own ability (Boixados, 2004). This lack of confidence transcends the mere shyness that young children often demonstrate but can grow into a much more serious problem unless an aware coach or parent steps in and works to assist the player with his confidence.

Lack of confidence can be a problem that besets not only the individual player but it can also cause problems for the team (Lemyre, 2002). One of the best methods available for a coach to overcome confidence problems with his team is to set goals for the team (Turman, 2003). By setting goals a coach is able to improve the commitment level of his team and, in the process, motivate the team. The setting of goals helps the team stay focused on what needs to be accomplished over the course of the season and stimulates the players to gain confidence in their strengths and develop an awareness of their weaknesses.

Goal setting can take all forms and how and what the goals might be depend heavily upon the playing level of the team involved and the expectations of the parents, the players, and perhaps, the organization. Take for example, the difference between setting goals for an elite travel team composed of very competitive and skilled players with a recreational team composed of players just beginning to play the game. For the elite team, winning and maintaining a competitive advantage will be a priority. Both the parents and players will have high expectations as to the performance of the team. Setting goals for such team will focus on team achievement and not on the achievements of individual team members. On the recreational team the focus will likely be much different. The recreational team is comprised of players whose skills are just developing and whose interest in playing the game is only marginally related to winning or losing. Such players are more directed toward enjoying themselves and learning the game. Setting goals for such teams are more related to individual progress and coaches of such teams must bear this in mind when setting goals.

Setting goals alone is not enough. The goals that are set must be realistic and they must not place undue pressure on the players. Not putting undue pressure on the players requires that the coach make sure that the goals that are set are not presented as expectations but as true goals.

As important as setting goals for the team and the team members may be it is more important that a good coach set goals for himself. Few youth soccer coaches in America possess much experience either playing or coaching the game. They begin their coaching experience as volunteers in their own child's recreational program learning the game by trial and error, perhaps reading a rudimentary book or two on coaching technique, and moving up through the coaching hierarchy as their own child's skills improve. Unfortunately, along the way all coaches must fight the urge to lose the altruistic goal of being a teacher of the game and begin to focus their efforts toward winning the game. It is human nature or at least it is human nature in America.

To be a successful coach it is essential that one's goal is something beyond the desire to win. The goal of any good coach, regardless of the skill level of the players, is to teach individual skills and to reinforce the development of these skills to the point that they become instinctive to the player.

The goal of developing technical skills is easy when the players are young and most coaches are still learning the game. However, as time passes too many coaches lose sight of this goal and begin spending valuable practice time concentrating on tactical matters and sacrificing time spent on skill development. Winning becomes the goal and the goal of teaching becomes secondary. The reasons why so many coaches lose sight of the goal of teaching are several. First, there is the parent factor. Too many parents fail to recognize that individual development is the most important part of their child's involvement in the game of soccer. Instead, they place a higher priority on their child's being part of winning team and place undue pressure on the coach to post wins. Whether their own child's skills are improving is not their concern, rather, their concern is the scoreboard. Second, Americans are preoccupied with the concept of winning, and often, winning at all costs. The corollary to this preoccupation is that a successful coach is one that wins. Whether said coach is a good teacher is of little concern. Win and a coach retains his job and is viewed as a success. Teaching skills are afforded little or no consideration. Thirdly, too many coaches fail to communicate that their goal is teaching and not winning. As a result, parents and others fail to enter the season with the understanding that teaching will be the goal and the human nature aspect takes over and the only recognizable goal is to win.

The goal of all youth soccer coaches should be to teach and not to teach game tactics but to teach technical skills (Fraser-Thomas, 2006). There is plenty of time for teaching tactical skills and, in the larger picture, few of the young boys and girls that come through most recreational soccer programs will ever need to learn the tactics of soccer but learning the basic skills of dribbling, passing, and proper positioning will help all participants progress toward developing into capable players. All the tactics in the world will not help if the basic skills are lacking. In the course of a season, as the pressure to win increases, good coaches must fight the urge to spend time on tactics, scrimmages, and game preparation and continue to work on developing skills. In the long run, the developing of skills will pay bigger dividends.

The desire to win is not, in itself, a bad thing but for a coach of young players who have not developed even rudimentary skills it is not the proper goal. Such coaches, even if they win, are just bad coaches. What these coaches need to do is redefine what it means to be successful as a coach. Until such time as teaching becomes the goal of all youth soccer coaches, it will be the players that will suffer. What defines success for the young player must be defined outside the confines of winning or else the American youth soccer program is destined for failure.

This refocusing cannot be done through the coaches alone. It requires that everyone involved, parents, coaches, players, and league sponsors and officials all work toward developing a philosophy that establishes… [END OF PREVIEW]

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