Soccer for Your Brain or How American Coaches Get it Wrong

I don’t think I’ve ever used this space to write about a program for kids that you have to pay for. I don’t plan to start. But there’s a soccer camp next week during spring break that I feel parents (and coaches) may want to know about. Maybe it’s the desire to be a gracious host to people who have come to our city from other countries to work with kids that compels me to let you about this particular program. Maybe it’s because I’ve observed youth sports, and I’ve seen kids get yelled at (by parents and coaches), left out of play and treated like military hostages that makes me want to share what is different about the philosophy of coaching children will be exposed to if they attend these workshops.

Next week at Turning Point Soccer in Jenks, Horst Wein, creator of “Youth Soccer Development Model,” author of 34 sports textbooks, a multimedia soccer coaching course, three videos, and a DVD about developing game intelligence in youth soccer, will be coaching kids ages 8-16. Wein is German and currently lives in Barcelona, Spain. He has worked with coaches and players all over the world, and has developed a successful, unique coaching philosophy. Wein says, “Soccer for children should be like their shoes – it should fit them perfectly.” He will be joined by Chuy Vera from South America, who has been a professional player for 20 years as well as a professional coach, including training players on teams such as Barcelona FC, Atletico de Madrid, Real Zaragoza and others. He also follows Wein’s developmental coaching model.

Bringing in high-caliber coaches for children and teens to be exposed to is reason enough to consider investing in the week, but when I sat down and talked with these men, I was struck by Wein’s assertion that “America doesn’t do it right” when it comes to coaching soccer. Vera pointed out that Americans have great physicality – Americans are bigger, more athletic than players in other parts of the world. We also have more players. So, America should be winning World Cup Soccer, but we don’t. Why?

Both Vera and Wein assert that American coaching has it wrong. Vera said that he was coached using Wein’s method, which is systematic, incremental and developmental. And, above all, it starts with the player’s brain.

Wein said that American coaches tend to be too militaristic and authoritarian, ordering the players around the field like an army. Wein believes that a player’s potential “should be unlocked systematically. In Europe, we select players because of intellect and knowledge. The brain has not been developed in the U.S. Kids become too coach dependent. We want to change that tradition. They (the U.S. coaches) have failed in 30 years [of coaching in that way].”

​Wein believes that being a good coach is much the same as being a good teacher. “In teaching, we want the child to be involved,” Wein said. “We give them problems to solve instead of giving them solutions.” When students or players must use their brains to figure out how to problem solve, either in the classroom or on the field, then the child will be more invested in learning. He or she will learn more, and will enjoy it more.

“We start simple, as in math,” Wein said. “Learning must be a progression. Everything builds on what comes before. And I promise you, the kids say this is much more enjoyable because they are highly involved.”

For example, when Wein is teaching children, he uses more than one soccer goal, pointing out that when a child is learning to play soccer, the child want to score. Having more than one goal encourages the child to look around the field, to go to the goal that is less guarded and to ultimately score, which increases confidence.

“When we build the brain, build the decision-making, we build confidence,” Wein said. “We don’t want to limit children’s potential by being too authoritarian.” He said that young children should be exposed to a variety of sports, allowing their passion to rise organically rather than being forced down a certain path.

Unlike many American coaches who focus on skills and drills, Wein’s method is more holistic, working to develop the player’s intellect, passion and athletic skill. He puts the player or the child at the center of the learning process, using an inquiry-based approach rather than a coach-centered approach. The coach presents the problems and possible alternatives to solve the problem, but the player develops the responsibility to find the solution. The player, therefore, is not a passive learner, but a participant in his or her own development. And isn’t that what good teaching is all about?

If you are interested in learning more about the camps next week, go to  Horst Wein and Chuy Vera will only be in Jenks for one week.

Categories: Editor’s Blog