Arriving in JFK International Airport in New York, on the 3rd July, 2014 for the first time, I had a vague understanding of what “Summer Coaching” or “Summer Camps” required. I tried too gather as much information and knowledge from those that were familiar with such experience, so I could attempt to prepare somewhat. But I knew personally that regardless of my own thoughts or others, I couldn’t really prepare for what lay head personally and/or professionally. I was informed during my first introduction weekend, that the summer would comprise of travelling to different communities and states on the East Cost, (USA) over a period of 8-10weeks. Every camp could be delivered to ages from 3-18 years old, and participants of different abilities. I was very fortunate during both occasions (2014 & 2015) that I completed the summer seasons to have travelled across three different states Massachusetts (MA), Connecticut (CT) and New York (NY). Below are topics that I found most challenging during my first summer camp experience:
Preparing for my first camp in MA as a cluster (Group of coaches) and individually I actually found it difficult, in terms of lack of knowledge of players, uncertain about number of players, abilities, personalities etc. Yes, I had experienced coaching at various levels and abilities with “Go to” activities I could use within my coaching environment. I knew after the first day, my knowledge of the players would most certainty improve, yet I had to work through the first day of camp and make it fun. As I arrived in MA, having travelled from a central location in CT, I fully prepared for two days of camps (Camps are typically 3 hours per day). I don’t care how many professionals or organisations that say they can fully prepare you for such experiences, they can’t! YOU must embrace such experiences and then you’ll learn from it.
I remember clearly standing on the allocated field already set-up, waiting for the participants to appear and camp to begin. For a moment, I totally forgot how to present myself as being approachable, especially to 6-8 year olds. We all know how much our body language determines the responses of others regardless of their age. For a second I had my arms crossed, then down by my side, behind me, I concluded that If I messed around with the soccer ball and attempted some keep ups, these young participants would want to watch and/or take part, the latter was successful. As the boys and girls arrived and walked across, they were aware of my name (Coach Rich) from the staff member guiding everyone to their respective areas. I clearly remember my first interaction with a very exited female soccer player:
Me: “Hello, what’s your name?”
Young Girl: “You sound funny”
And off she went with a soccer ball to try some keep ups.
You may be thinking; how did I begin the camp with our group. Very simplistic, before they arrived I had set-up multiple miniature soccer fields for players to participate within a 3 players v 3 players competition. With every individual that arrived they would be given a team and asked to participate and directed to score within a certain Net (Goal) and not to score within the other. Sort and concise instructions and then I allowed them to play. Eventually when everyone arrived and allocated a field a team, it provided me with an opportunity to individually pull participants aside and interact and ask the following questions:
How excited they were for camp?
Name (Coaching and Registration Process)
Ever played soccer before
Always ended the discussion with “How excited I was to coach them and have fun.”
Short, concise, individual interactions to which I gathered information on how to improve the current environment and moving towards other activities. Imagine if I stopped the whole competition and ask each participant individually every questions (Listed previously). Very time consuming and more importantly less playing time and ball contact for those young participants. When I took the opportunity to pull them aside, others players continued participating and having FUN.
Level of excitement:
Not every young participant wants to actually attend a soccer camp; You might be thinking well why as he/she attended. Think of parents working during the summer season, all they may require is “Time off” and an environment where the child is safe and looked after. In contrast, these types of camps, some young boys and girls wait endlessly only to attend, play, have fun and learn. It’s important that we introduce some to the sport and allow them to embrace it with other we need to foster their love for the game. It’s all about knowing and understanding your players.
I’ve personally found this process of “Pulling players aside” for a brief discussion aids my memory in terms of remembering names and building relationships with the players. Each player feels special that you’ve taken time out to individually listen, discuss and learn about them.
It’s always important to recognise age, especially under such hot conditions to be aware of the physical capabilities of the younger ones.
- Playing Experience:
This allowed me to gauge an understanding of soccer knowledge and abilities as most players in the US play within three categories (Recreational, Travel and Premier). For example, if a player said they participated within a Travel team and others never played before, it would offer insight into their knowledge and ability. Of course you cannot fully define an ability by their playing experience without actually observing them over a period of time, but within such scenario it helped me move on after the 3v3 competition.
You may think why I chose the temperature as an element to discuss, during the summer the high temperature was an external factor that I couldn’t control yet had to adapt my sessions around it. The temperature impacted the players mentally and physically, it was important that I catered around it. To begin with, I never experienced water breaks so often within practices, in Wales as funny as it may seem we don’t experience high temperature problems. Hydration was high priority within these sessions.
The summer really taught me about the importance of the small things that influence myself as a coach and the performance of the individuals, because they interlink. I realised the small things have the biggest impact on both players, coach and the environment.
The first week of coaching really was fun but also challenging at the same time. Every day I was trying to understand my players better, yet the most challenging aspect was the use of language/terminology and the welsh accent I have.
The children in the first camp educated me a lot in regards the US soccer terminology, honestly they have a whole dictionary of words they use. At first, I felt strange using words that I wasn’t familiar with, having used the same terminology for a number of years. I knew adjusting to the terminology was something I could control and change that would have an effect on the effectiveness of my coaching. In my mind I kept asking myself, if they don’t understand me (Accent and US Soccer Terminology) how do you expect them to understand the activity and instruction? I took great pride in learning something new and adjusting.
Learn something new everyday
No matter the level of ability (Rec, Travel, Premier) of individuals participating within my sessions, I always wanted players to leave having tried a new skill(s) or learn something new. Throughout the summer I kept an observant eye on what other coaches were coaching, trying to learn from those around me. I continued to improvise with my coaching and trying to teach something in a fun and interactive manner. For example during the first week I had a group of 6-8 year old players, and every coach knows that every players enjoys scoring goals yet there’s nothing worse than witnessing an activity with one straight line with players waiting for their turn. The equipment at the facility allowed me to use 8 nets (goals) allowing everyone to have multiple opportunities to shoot at goal unopposed and opposed. Without intervening the whole group, I could speak individually to players from the side and allow the others to continue. I think it’s important that players learn something whilst attending these camps through a fun environment. After the summer finished, I received a very nice compliment (through a host family) from a fellow coach, “He’s so passionate and enthusiastic about wanting players to learn during the summer, imagine how he’ll coach in the fall”.
Fall – Is when a coach heads into a program (club) and coach’s a number of travel or premier teams full time during their season (Sep – Nov).
The same process occurred every single week, as we approached another camp, with new participants. I sincerely hope you’ve captured and resonated with my first experience of a summer camp in the US and a great example of an environment where small things count. If you have any further question concerning the summer camps, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
The Sporting Influencer