Child-Centered vs Coach-Centered Approach to Soccer


Compared to most sports in the US, soccer is very different. The game is fast flowing, positions are fluid (especially in small sided games) and anyone can score. There are multiple ways and styles to play the game. This is why the game is so popular!

In terms of development, DUSC pursues and encourages a child-centered approach to coaching soccer. This means that we aim to create an environment in which our players feel safe and comfortable to explore the game at their own pace. In practice or games, we give guidance to players. However, we avoid simply giving them the answer, or worse “telling” them the answer. This is done through discovery-led questions (what, who, where, when,which, how) and allowing players to learn from their mistakes whilst they enjoy the learning process. Sometimes it’s done by not saying anything at all and asking questions later (ideally away from the field).

Child-centered coaches understand that all players learn in different ways. They appreciate that children are all at varying levels cognitively, physically and emotionally. They understand the process is more important that any scoreline. Taking this into account they create an environment that provides structure, but — more importantly — provides space for exploration. They focus on the child’s effort and praise positive behavior rather than a specific end result. Ultimately, this way, players are more engaged, more excited and have a blast as they learn. (Obviously, as players get older we can increase the amount of coach direction relative to the situation and level of soccer they are playing)

A coach-centered approach is one where the child is told what to do. They are not given options, simply instructions, therefore their decision-making skills are not challenged or developed. Sure, we might get the players to do what we want them to do, but at what cost? Is that really learning? 

By developing the whole child we build vital character traits — self esteem, effort, perseverance, mental toughness, decision making, teamwork, etc. —whilst improving their knowledge of the game. So we are not just creating good quality soccer players, we are building well-rounded young people. It’s a win-win. 

So I'd like to encourage you to avoid the urge, this weekend, of telling your son/daughter/grandson/granddaughter what they should do whilst playing in every situation. Of course, they will need a little direction — especially our younger players. However, on the whole, let them think and make their own decisions rather than reacting to voices on the side of the field. Regardless of the final result, the by-products of this approach are far more valuable.

Pivotal to DUSC's mission is empowering our players with the required character to succeed on and off the field. As parents and coaches, our role is to let our players know that they have the power to determine and shape their own character. Our desire is to educate our players that character is simply just another word for habits and that everyone has the power to create and form positive, success-bearing habits. So as the season draws into the final few weeks let’s keep this is mind as we encourage all players to focus on teamwork, effort, perseverance, “bouncebackability”, humility and class. Whether a parent or coach, having an opportunity to use soccer to discuss these is the great privilege of being involved in youth sports!