How to keep players on the bench happy?

Why keep players on the bench?

If you run any sort of team, you will know that not all players can play all the minutes, as players miss games because of other commitments (yes, in non-professional sports that’s the most common reason), illness, or injuries. So, players sit on the bench but get subbed in. With unlimited substitutions in most cases of youth soccer, they all play equal time across the team. Doesn’t matter how soccer players differentiate from one another, they all play. Having happy players on the bench is easy then because nobody sits for too long.

However, if you run a competitive team, the mindset changes. If everybody gets equal playing time, you lose more often and your best players leave. But if you play only your best players, the other players will quickly become unhappy and leave the team. Furthermore, you are running the risk of injuries to your soccer players, either by overplaying or underplaying them. How do you handle that? It’s more of an art than science, so mastery comes with experience, but there are steps that you should always follow.

Steps to handle rotating players

Communicate expectations early

You want the players to communicate well, so you have to be the role model. If you don’t tell players and parents that not everybody gets equal playing time, they will expect and even demand that. Tell them before joining the club, especially if you see the player’s current ability below the average. You don’t want to attract players that want to sit on the bench. However, if you find soccer players that get motivated to practice better when they compete for a spot, you are on to something great.

Reward effort, not just performance

I often give more playing time to players who practice well even if they are not performing as well as others who don’t practice. It will only be a matter of time before the player with more effort will surpass the other one. Your playing time decision will hopefully encourage both players to improve their effort during practice. Make sure you don’t use the word punishment and you say that playing time is a prize that anybody can win if they practice well. It is important to keep players on the bench happy, so they give their maximum in case they get in.

Only invite players to a match if they can play any minutes

My team played against another team at U11 level, so we were playing 9v9. The other team had 16 players on the team, which was the maximum for that cup. Both teams played well and the game was tight until the last 5 min. So, the other coach didn’t play the 3 of the subs until then. I assume he wouldn’t have played them at all if there was a chance for them to come back. I can imagine how those three players felt. They were sitting on the bench for the entire game and then were asked to do a miracle. If you can’t guarantee them minutes, don’t invite them to the game at all. It’s a much easier conversation to have before the game than after not giving them any playing time.

Find other playing time opportunities

“Finished games”, when you are winning by a large margin or losing by a large margin, are always possibilities for players to get playing time. Your best players will understand why you are doing that. Similarly, your bench players will be happy with the minutes. Another opportunity is to organize a friendly game and give everybody equal time. It can even be an excellent opportunity for your assistant to lead the team while you just provide support.

Don’t offer spots to players if you don’t believe in them

I’ve seen it many times when coaches after tryouts give spots to players just to make the numbers. Don’t do it – the players will be unhappy, both those players that won’t get the playing time and the other players that are objectively better. Finances can play a role here, where each player pays and you cannot fund the team to the fullest without the numbers. However, if the team is solid and your work is solid, have faith that the right players will join the team over time. Consequently, you will do a better job than the other clubs and players will see that. When that happens, you want to have spots on your team and a few months of reduced revenue won’t cause a big problem.

How to become a soccer coach? [STEP-BY-STEP Guide]

Why do you want to become a soccer coach?

Before you start coaching, you should do some soul-searching. You should think about the impact you will have on these young people if you see them every week, but also if you end up leaving and stopping your commitment to be their coach. If your reason to be a coach is not correct, then both the quality (how much effort you put in) and the quantity (how long you will keep coaching) will be less than your potential. I have seen many bad reasons for becoming a soccer coach. For amusement, let me list out my favorite 3:

  1. “I love soccer and this also pays me”. The money is worse than almost anything else, but if you are not okay with that, then you are probably in the wrong niche. Soccer coaches are teachers and mentors first, then soccer people. You will get gifts by your soccer players that have huge sentimental and very small monetary value. If you are doing it for the money, switch to being a referee, it’s much better.
  2. “I have seen my daughter’s/son’s coach and I can definitely do better”. Are you going to become their dentist if you are not happy with their latest teeth cleaning? No, just take them to another club where the quality is higher.
  3. “It is so fun to play with the kids”. At best, you play with them, they love soccer more and they might learn something by looking at you. At worst, you have a need to show your power and dominance. Either way, it has nothing to do with coaching. Just play with them outside of practice and let other coaches do their work.

The real reason why somebody should become a soccer coach is because they want to transmit the values and the skills to their players, through the game of soccer. Obviously, I am focusing on coaching younger players, not peers.

Coaching path

I will focus on becoming a soccer coach in the US, which always start at the grassroots level.

  1. Find a local club to volunteer in as an assistant coach. All clubs would like to have a passionate assistant coach that doesn’t cost them anything. They will usually get you a basic coaching license which is very simple and cheap, consisting of a background check and a simple safety training. They might even give you basic gear.
  2. Start your education with US Soccer. It’s a non-profit organization that provides education and license badging for both coaches and referees. See the big picture of license badges that you can get and how they progress over time. As you get higher licenses, there are higher requirements to qualify for the next badge.
  3. Find a good mentor, ideally the head coach of the team you are assisting with. If you are doing this voluntarily, then you might have the leverage to pick virtually any team in that club. So figure out who you want to emulate and be a learning machine by observing them regularly. When I was starting my coaching career, I would hold practices of the U10 boys times a week, which would allow me at least 4 days a week to shadow practices of other teams (older and younger, boys and girls). Sometimes I would help out and run a drill when the head coach of that team would need me, or even if I needed to make up the numbers and be an extra player or just a ball boy.
  4. Consume anything about soccer coaching you can find. Much of the content is in written form, sites like this one, or books. There is ample content through videos, but it is not easy to find quality ones. I have gone through an ungodly amount of material to find the quality, both in written and in video formats, and will share them over time. Note that much of it is subjective and is often too context-dependent.
  5. Never stop learning. There are so many aspects of soccer coaching and it’s a never-ending process of improving yourself. Ask for feedback and evaluations from players, parents, and fellow coaches. To be a good soccer coach, you need to experience winning double digits and losing double digits, working with great potential and commitment players and with low potential and commitment players, experience losing your best player to another club, experience releasing players that don’t behave well or don’t perform well, learn better recruiting, learn better communication with players and their families.

How to run successful soccer tryouts?

Why do some teams gain and others lose at tryouts?

For coaches, the ability to run soccer tryouts is crucial for building a competitive and cohesive team. A tryout is a chance for coaches to evaluate potential players and determine which ones will fit best with the team’s needs and goals. However, running a successful tryout is not an easy task. It requires careful planning, organization, and attention to detail. People have biases and just picking the soccer player that is memorable because of appearance or noise is a common mistake. Whether you’re a seasoned coach or new to the game, these tips will help you to make the most of your tryout experience and select the best players for your team. From setting clear goals to creating a fair and objective evaluation process, we’ll cover all the steps necessary to run a successful soccer tryout.

The Anatomy of soccer tryouts

Tryouts happen on one or two days, players show up and play small-sided games and coaches select the best players to form the team and that’s it, right? Wrong!

The tryouts are the only time you can improve your team without actually coaching. It is time to recruit new players, let players go, and build stronger team spirit. The structure can be super formal, or it can have some flexibility depending on the club. However, this is not something for experimenting without a structure. The tryouts have 5 phases and each of them is important – if done correctly it will bring more benefit than any tactics you can come up with for your team.

Phase 1: Posting and promoting soccer tryouts

The hardest thing is not to run soccer tryouts; it is to find high-quality players that are not already taken. First of all, you want to post early, preferably earlier than any other team that might be your competition or rival. It makes you look organized. If your team wins a game against another team, there is a good chance the other team comes and checks out your website. I had a player in October signing up for tryouts in May. They wanted to finish the year with their current team then they made the team and played until graduation.

Your best recruiters are your players and their parents, so include them at this stage already. In addition to the legal and ethical limitations of approaching players that play for other teams, I don’t actually hang out with families that have kids in the age of my players. On the other hand, my players know more than half of the players of the other team from other activities – school, neighborhood, other sports, music classes… They would want to recruit other players because they want to play with their friends. At this stage, we want to get the number of signups as high as possible, so the only instruction is “invite your friends for tryouts”.

Phase 2: Preparing your team, your coaches, and soccer moms/dads for the tryouts

Your team

You have to talk to your team about tryouts about two things, preferably at the last two practices before the tryouts. The first message is to take tryouts seriously. That means that they need to be leaders in behavior and performance if they want to keep their spot. The second message is to make sure that it’s up to them and not others to set the tone for the tryouts. Convince them, and not you, that they run the soccer tryouts. Each day is an opportunity to coach something and taking responsibility is the lesson at this point.

Soccer moms and soccer dads

The messages are the same as the players, but if the parents reinforce the message to them, then it’s going to work better. You want to show the expectation to the parents that they need to create a positive atmosphere at tryouts for newcomers. At this stage, some parents will have enough hints that they should be exploring other clubs. Some of them might even approach you before the tryouts to chat. Always have that chat no matter how painful it might be. Furthermore, there is a possibility that one of your best players will express interest in tryout for another team. I always allow them to do so while stating the reasons why they should stay for their development and that I want them to stay. Haven’t lost a player I wanted to keep that way.

Your coaches

If you’ve done phase 1 correctly, then you will be overwhelmed with new players that you don’t know much about and you will want to have other coaches help you with evaluating them. Also, you will want to ask them to come and assess because you want an objective eye and you don’t have it, as you have been to coach too many of the players on the pitch. Ask many coaches to help you, meet each coach, and give them clear guidance with forms of evaluation. Even if the quality of some of those evaluations is not great, it will likely be covered by other coaches and it will be a great experience for the less experienced coaches.

Phase 3: Run soccer tryouts – everybody has a role to play

Your role

If you’ve done phase 2 correctly, you will not evaluate players at tryouts. In the same way, presidents don’t actually write international agreements at summits, you shouldn’t evaluate players at tryouts. Your job is to network and create real connections with the players and the parents. If you are a shy introvert, try chatting individually in smaller groups. What you cannot do is be unapproachable for any reason, including spending your time on the pitch. Be positive regardless if you see that the player has great potential or no chance to make the team, this is not the time to announce those decisions in public.

Parents role

Their role is the same as yours, to create a positive atmosphere and network. Hopefully, they have good things to say about the club, but even if they do small talk, or chat about their own interests outside of soccer, you don’t want silence on the sidelines and piercing eyes at the tryouts. There will be mistakes and some players (old or new) will misbehave – you want that to happen in a relaxed atmosphere.

Coaches role

Once the teams are split into small-sided games (4v4 to 6v6 in size), then I like to assign at least two coaches for each game. For the day, you actually need them to run the soccer tryouts. I select the coaches and they usually have two characteristics I am looking for – animator and assessor. The animator is the one that can bring players together, get their attention, excite them, and communicate what we are doing. One important caveat that is they need to vary the positions of the players if possible – you can’t have only strikers on the soccer team. The assessor is the one that analyzes and writes down a lot of things, including behavior when the ball is on the other side of the pitch. As players get older, the role of the animator is less important, but not when they are young. However, very few coaches excel in both and it’s up to you to figure out what you have before the tryouts. Having great accessors and bad animators tryouts of pre-teen players will result in players not accepting your offers.

Players role

One year we had one player whom we weren’t sure if we should offer a spot or not. His performance was solid, was outspoken and polite to the coaches, but something seemed off. Luckily we had a friendly game during the weekend and I asked individually some of my players what they thought of the tryouts – almost all of them singled out this player as a disruptor, not only at tryouts but also in school and other activities. He would always get into trouble and the only player who liked him was a player that was leaving the club because he refused any structure, including coming to practices on time, if at all. Your players don’t have the experience you have, but you also don’t have the information that they have – talk to them and use it.

Phase 4: Selecting and extending the offer

At this time you need to switch to a different mode – gathering information and making decisions. Gather all the information you can from your coaches and talk to them. There is a good chance that they will not be happy to write down everything. Especially, if it’s something that can make them look biased, usually in a negative way. So, making them talk through them can give you information even through their facial expressions.

At the end of the day, you need to make decisions about your team, because you, not the other coaches, will be with those players every week for hours. Decide what is the number of the full roster. Then target to leave 2-3 spot open. Finally, extend the offers within 24h after the tryouts with 48h deadline. Some of the players will get offers from other teams and you do want them to make the choice.

Phase 5: Following up on the players that will not be part of the team – the club’s decision or the player’s decision

Player’s decision to join another club

Don’t take it personally, it often doesn’t reflect your ability to run soccer tryouts. Sooner or later, a player will inform you of a decision not to join the team. You should switch gears from recruiting to wishing them well in their development. Otherwise, you will either appear too needy. Even if you succeed in recruiting them, it will likely create a relationship as you own them something and they are a superstar. However, if you maintain a good relationship, they will always have in the back of their mind the idea that you want them but don’t need them. They might have the “grass is always greener on the other side” thought when they face a challenge. At that moment, you will be that other side in their mind. We recruited excellent players 3-6 months after tryouts because they didn’t like whichever team they initially decided to join.

Club’s decision to release a player

If anybody is shocked by this decision, you have failed. You should release a player if you believe that they will never reach the level of your starting lineup. This can be because of their potential or because of their attitude. If the issue is their ability or potential, the steps to release a player start at phase 2 where they are aware that performance is important. Then, phase 3 will show them well below the best players. By phases 4 and 5, it will not be a surprise. If the issue is their attitude, they will be aware throughout the year.

How to get selected at soccer tryouts?

What makes players get selected at tryouts?

Soccer tryouts can be a nerve-wracking experience. However, they’re also an important opportunity for young players to showcase their skills and potentially earn a spot on a competitive team. With so many players vying for limited spots, it can be challenging to stand out from the crowd and impress the coaches. However, there are steps that you can take to increase your chances of being selected at soccer tryouts. In this article, we will explore the strategies and techniques that can help players improve their performance and increase their likelihood of being selected at soccer tryouts. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced player, these steps will help you to make the most of your tryout experience and hopefully earn a spot on the team.

1. Communicate early

For new players, tryouts don’t start on the date and time listed on the website, they start when the schedule is posted. Let’s assume that there are two players that are similar in quality. The first one registered on the same day when the registration was open. The other one registered on the day before the tryouts. Which one do you think has a better chance of being selected? Furthermore, assume this is not a new team. You will likely be asked to come to a few practices to meet the coaches and potential future teammates. It has nothing to do with skills, so no excuses here.

2. Come prepared physically

One time a player came to tryouts straight from long weekend camping. He looked bad, smelled bad, and played bad. His family was just laughing that they had a great time camping. We knew the player from playing against his team in the past. So, we knew he was much better than he showed and probably would have made the team based on skill. Nevertheless, it was a unanimous decision not to offer him a spot. It’s so important to show motivation for soccer at every practice and tryouts are just the beginning.

3. Come prepared mentally

Know that you are there to show everything you have and are, most importantly your attitude. Don’t worry if you are too good or too bad for the team. One time there was a player that came and it was simply too good for the team and we could see that after 5 minutes. He was polite and supportive of his teammates but didn’t talk much, so we wanted to test his attitude. We tried everything during tryouts to test his personality. We moved him down with the B team, played him on an obviously worse team, or didn’t call several bad tackles from our bulldog midfielder (ok, that wasn’t instructed, it just happened), but nothing tripped him. At the end of tryouts, we simply asked him to come and try out with the older team the next day – he became the captain of that team two seasons later.

4. Wear the team gear, but stand out

It’s not always easy and it can cost money. However, if you come dressed in an FC Barcelona jersey while trying out for a team that wears black and white like Real Madrid, you look like an imposter. Even worse, come with a jersey from your current club that is the biggest rival of the club you are trying out for. You should try to fit in with the team, but also wear some soccer gear that is bold, either very bright colors (orange, green, yellow, red…) to be easily identifiable, either your cleats or some bandana. You don’t want coaches talking about you after the tryouts and getting frustrated about who you are.

5. Go out of your way to be supportive

No coach (that you want to be coached by) keeps score at tryouts. So, neither should you. Make a run in space and thumbs up if your teammate tries to pass the ball to you. Especially encourage them if it doesn’t work. When your teammate scores or misses, give applause even if they don’t see you, because good coaches/assessors will. Do a hard tackle, but help lift your opponent (hopefully teammate after the tryouts) up. High-five others when they do a good move, especially if it’s the opponent while you are defending them. It shows that you are humble and you are a team player.

6. Have fun and learn!

If the team is not a good match at the moment for whatever reason, it doesn’t mean that it has to be a bad experience. If you don’t make the team, you can use that as motivation to try to practice better or ask for feedback on where to improve. At the same time, you do not know that the other team that you end up joining is not better for you at this stage or overall. Making the team or not, make sure you try to learn something new from the coaches and the players.

7. Bonus

If you want to understand how clubs think when running tryouts, check out this post!