I often hear youth clubs proudly proclaim that they place their best coaches at the youngest ages. Man, talk about something that sounds really progressive and forward thinking. Surely, these are the people that get the development process! Or do they?
Why do you put your “best” coaches at the younger ages? What is the purpose? If your “best coaches” are coaching the younger ages, who is coaching at U11 and above? Or maybe U13 and above? Are these your “average” coaches? Should I assume your “bad” coaches are the ones who coach your MRL, ECNL, and Academy level teams?
After the players develop and get older, once they have passed your “best” coaches, do they leave for the club that places their “best” coaches throughout? How does that work?
The secret to a successful club is putting your “best” coaches at the level in which they are “best” at. Pep Guardiola may be the “best” coach in the world, but for all you and I know, he could be a lousy U9 coach. You have to delve deep and learn what “best” means for every coach in your club or on your staff. If you hire that successful college coach, are their skills suited for a U11 team, because they just “get” coaching and can work with any age group? Your “best” U8 coach can have a completely different knowledge base and skill set from your “best” U13 coach.
When clubs talk about how they put their “best” coaches at the youngest ages, it screams of misunderstanding. If you have an A License coach who is best suited for U16-U18, why would you put him with U8-U10? If you have a coach who excels with the U7 and U8 age groups, and does a fantastic job, do they get promoted into older age groups where they actually are less qualified for?
In fact, our licensing system with US Soccer does a great job of bringing the Peter Principle to life (Note, that is not a good thing). For those wondering, The Peter Principle is a concept in management where the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role.
Coaching placement can be difficult. It’s easy to see an A license and assume that coach fits anywhere. The college coach may not work at the youngest age groups, simply because the differences from psychological, technical, and physical standpoints between a 6 year old and a 21 year old may not be suited for that coach’s knowledge base.
We need to accept that going up the coaching ladder creates coaches who are “average” at coaching all levels, but few become masters. There are few Foundation Phase master coaches. There are few U8 master coaches, simply because our first inclination is to promote these people or put them in different roles. Mastery requires understanding the psychological, technical, social, physical, and tactical aspects of a 7 year old and how best to coach them. Or a 14 year old, or an 18 year old. Mastery requires a devotion to coaching that group, and not a “best practices” method in which we can put on a few sessions for any age group.
It is important for a coach to be well-rounded to a certain level. To have a knowledge base that allows for an understanding of the entire development spectrum, a comprehensive understanding. But, there also comes an important point where a coach must understand where they are best suited; where there passion truly lies and where they want to invest their coaching career in. On the coaching carousel, well-rounded has morphed into average at all age groups, and mastery has fallen by the wayside.
Can a coach change their mind about the area in which they feel a calling? Of course, but it is the act of deciding that will help the coach reach a new level of personal development. We have to identify the coaches who know where they make the biggest impact and let them flourish.
“Best” means absolutely nothing unless you delve deeper. Place your “best” coaches in the ages in which they are “best” suited for: The ages in which they have a passion and a deep knowledge base for working with.
Before you parade around that tried and tested statement, “Our best coaches work with our youngest players,” add some needed context and really put development at the forefront of everything you do!