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Coaching youth sports, I operate with a handful of “All the Time” principles: have fun, never quit, and do no harm. These principles apply whether I’m coaching teenage girls in a competitive soccer match or managing elementary schoolers in a recreational softball game. They apply during the most unpleasant weather, during early morning games at faraway fields, and even during times of great stress and uncertainty.
Over the past week, my email inbox has gone from trickle to flood with announcements of precautionary measures, postponements, and cancellations, as schools, sports leagues, and local attractions first labored to find the best course of action amid the pandemic and inevitably then opted to shut down. Within this necessary abundance of caution, the missing piece in the last wave of cancellation messages has been proposed alternatives.
And for those in leadership positions, that’s the responsibility—to assess a given situation and say “Okay, here’s what’s next.”
Among other teams, I currently coach the Girls 2009 Flex soccer team for the DMCV Sharks soccer club in San Diego. We have 14 multisport athletes on this team, girls who also play softball, baseball (you got that right), basketball, flag football (damn straight), and even one starting to run cross country. For this group of high-energy girls, cancel everything means an awful lot of cancelling.To stem the tide of shutdown and postponements, I’m launching a YES, Informed Continuity program to keep the team active, motivated, connected, and, above-all, safe, explains @CoachsVision. Click To Tweet
To stem the tide of shutdowns and postponements, I chose this team to launch a YES IC (Yes, Informed Continuity) program to keep the girls active, motivated, engaged, connected, and, above-all, safe during the coming weeks and/or months. It follows a simple progression:
- Active Anywhere (home-based independent activities)
- Own the Game (structured, partner-based games and challenges)
- Different Formation, Same Team (small group sessions)
This program is a road map for what coaches are tasked to do in the first place: provide structure and strategy where there was none. As the managing editor for the blog here at SimpliFaster, I’m hoping we can use our platform and community as a hub for coaches to inspire one another to continue leading our athletes through this major disruption in play.
Yes, Informed Continuity
With young athletes, one of the simplest coaching tools is teaching them to change self-talk from what they did wrong (or didn’t do at all) into what they will do right the next time. It is a 180-degree shift in mindset and intent, changing “I pulled my head on that swing” or “I turned toward pressure with the ball” into “I will keep my nose on the ball” or “I will play the way I’m facing.”In a wave of cancellations and NO’S, this program starts with a YES. It starts with declaring what you can and will do. You don’t suddenly need to be an online coaching expert, says @CoachsVision. Click To Tweet
Importantly, in a wave of cancellations and NO’S, this program starts with a YES. It starts with declaring what you can and will do. You don’t suddenly need to be an online coaching expert or pretend to be that which you are not. Follow the simple principles: have fun, never quit, do no harm.
Phase 1 – Active Anywhere
During this initial period of nebulous, near-quarantine for my team, I promised to provide at least two structured weekly activities that the players can do at home (or anywhere). Are we looking for amazing individual athletic gains? No—we are simply adding something where suddenly there was nothing.
Continuity. Kids need it—when you’re small, continuity is what gives the world shape.
Like most teams, we have a team scheduling app with a calendar, messaging, and player availability features. Rather than using the “Availability” tab to confirm the intent to attend a team activity, for my ’09 Flex team we will begin using our Team Snap account to show that they have independently completed our planned team activity. The “Yes” tab becomes “I have done it.”
In addition to marking completion via our scheduling app, I will encourage my players to connect with their teammates via FaceTime, text, or any medium of their choosing before and after each planned activity. This is crucial. Practice, games, and tournaments may be stricken from the calendar, but the team and LTAD carry on. Never quit.
What does this look like? Again, you don’t need to become an online coaching savant. For the 9- and 10-year-old girls on my soccer team, here’s what we’ll be doing this coming week in our two planned sessions:
Session 1: Movement Basics
WARM-UP (Standing or Walking):
- 10 x Frankenstein Toe Touches
- 5 x each leg RDL Toe Touches
- 10 x Knee-to-Chest Hugs
- 10 x Open & Close the Gate
- 10 x Flamingo Lunges
- 10 x Grass/Carpet Pickers (or substitute “Runners” Wall Stretch)
- 10 x Side Lunges
LEGS & JUMPS
- 2 x 10 Walking or Standing Lunges (BONUS: add ~3 lb. barbells in each hand)
- 3 x 20 Jumping Jacks
- 2 x 10 Tuck Jumps
- 3 x 10 Bodyweight Squats
- 2 x 10 Star Jumps
- 2 x 5 Squats holding to a count of 10 at the bottom range of each
- 2 x 10 Skater Jumps
ARMS & CORE
- 5 x 2 Push-Ups (quality over quantity!)
- 3 x 30-second Planks
- 3 x 30-second “Farmer’s Carry” (For this they can use light dumbbells, 5 lb. bags of flour in grocery bags, books in handled bags… Just keep each side relatively equal.)
- 2 x 10 Reverse Crunches
- 2 x 20-second Single-Leg Planks (each leg)
- 5 Stick and Land Stair Jumps (Jump from stair to wide landing with safe two-leg landing)
- Banded Shuffles (If you have resistance bands. If not, regular shuffling can substitute.)
- Standing Broad Jumps (three jumps out, three jumps back, space providing)
- Pull-Ups or Chin-Ups
Session 2: Individual Ball Skills
BASIC SKILLS & FITNESS
- 3 x 25 Toe Taps
- 3 x 25 Bells
- 3 x 25 Sole Rollovers
- 3 x 10 Squats holding ball overhead
- 2 x 10 Hand Walks
- 3 x 10 Star Jumps
ADVANCED SKILLS (Watch full three-minute demo by Yael Averbuch first. Then, replay going through each skill individually, pausing the clip and executing for two minutes before moving forward to the next skill.)
- Single Foot Cuts
- Roll to Cut
- 2-Footed Cuts
- Tap-Tap Roll
- 4-Touch “Tab Ramos” Combo
- “Pulling” Sole-V Inside
- “Pulling” Sole-V Outside
- “Pulling” Sole-V Behind the Back
- Not-A-Soccer-Ball-Juggling. Using a tennis ball, racquet ball, whiffle ball, or any ball of choice, set a baseline number in your first three juggling attempts and then continue juggling until you beat that number by three.
These Phase 1 activities are the types of things I forward to my players during rainy weeks or stretches when field access is limited. Ideally, this initial phase will be one of weeks and not months, but plan in a way that is sustainable and be prepared to move directly to Phase 2 as soon as doing so falls within your club/league/community guidelines.
Phase 2 – Own the Game
At this point, we begin regaining control of what has been taken away and move out of solo, home-based activities and into sessions that can be conducted with a teammate, sibling, or friend. For my soccer players, this will take the form of planned wall skills and games they can play on school/park handball walls, soccer “tennis” volleying games on grass or blacktop, and non-contact shooting games on local fields.
Because kids have opportunities to play year-round, they’ve had fewer opportunities to adapt the game on their own, so in this phase they will need explicit instructions in order for these sessions to resemble a true team activity and not a playdate. (This is not to denigrate pick-up games and informal, sports-based play—those are vital and necessary for kids, but simply fall into a different category.)
For these sessions, I’ll be sending the partner-based activity to my team with a warm-up, progression, rules, and approximate times so there is a plan to follow.
Session 1: Soccer H-O-R-S-E
WARM-UP (10 minutes)
- Team Dynamic Stretching Routine (3 minutes)
- Mobility Warm-Up. Mark ~20 linear yards for: Skips, Carioca Runs, Side Shuffles, Backpedal, 3 Steps-Forward 2 Steps-Back, Full Sprint (5 minutes)
SKILL (20 minutes)
- Dribble Vectors. Begin at middle of marked 20 yards and dribble for 6–7 touches in any direction, then perform one of the 10 Advanced Skills. Continue pattern without expanding beyond a reasonable diameter of space (2 minutes on, 30 seconds off, for 10 minutes total).
- Partner Passing. Two-touch passing, either foot. Two-touch passing, same foot (do right, then left). One-touch passing. Throw-in, trap, return pass. (2 minutes each, 10 minutes total).
PLAY: Soccer H-O-R-S-E (30 minutes)
- There are nine “Zones” the players can shoot for: Lower Left, Middle Left, Upper Left, Lower Center, Mid-Center, Upper Center, Lower Right, Middle Right, Upper Right.
- Player #1 selects the spot they will be shooting from and announces the target zone they will be shooting for. If their shot hits that zone, Player #2 must execute the same shot. If Player #2 fails to execute the made shot, they have the letter “H.” If Player #1 does not make their initial shot, Player #2 can then select any spot to shoot from and any target zone for their own shot.
- If Player #1 makes their shot and Player #2 also makes the shot, Player #1 selects a new spot to shoot from and a new target zone. Players cannot repeat a made shot during the same game.
- Alternate in this manner until a player has the letters H-O-R-S-E. Try to complete three full games in 30 minutes.
CHALLENGE (10–15 minutes)
- Alphabet Juggling: Juggle ball with partner announcing a letter (A, B, C, D) for each successful exchange from partner to partner in the air. See how far in the alphabet you and your partner can go without the ball hitting the ground.
Phase 3 – Different Formation, Same Team
Whatever the timeline presented as each community moves through the crisis, this final stage is a transition toward the resumption of regular team activities. Each step represents defined progress, which is again key when coaching young athletes—they respond to forward movement and understand where they’re going based on where they’ve been.Defined progress is key when coaching young athletes—they respond to forward movement and understand where they’re going based on where they’ve been, says @CoachsVision. Click To Tweet
So, when circumstances safely allow it, I’ll resume modified in-person coaching for my Flex team and plan small group and non-contact team activities, such as a range of fitness-based activities (beach, trail, and hill runs) to accompany partial or full groups for skills, drills, and games. Whether this phase is four weeks or four months out, it is difficult to be predictive in terms of what “best practices” for one of these sessions might look like…. Are small-sided games advisable or inadvisable? Should a team of 14 come out as a full group, two groups of 7, or three groups of 5-5-4? Those are specific details every coach can adjust to within the phase—the important thing is having the confidence and a plan to get here.
On this path, assign your athletes an activity journal to keep them motivated, competitive, and accountable within the team. Many SimpliFaster followers have adopted Tony Holler’s “Record, Rank, Publish” ethos for speed and weight room training, and the same simple concept applies even in uncommon circumstances. For years, I’ve used the sheet below for my multisport athletes to track their activities and track/reward their efforts across a range of fields. We hold occasional one- or two-week competitions with prizes, while also encouraging the kids to consistently track their progress in a self-directed manner.
As you’ve been reading this, hopefully you’ve come up with better ideas than these for remote sessions; or perhaps you already had those better ideas but didn’t have the platform to send them.
This program is a simple outline, waiting to be filled in. We’ll be following and sharing #YesIC on our social media pages, where coaches can ideally offer their own ideas for workouts, team communication strategies, and safe best practices—providing the Informed element of Informed Continuity that SimpliFaster’s community of coaches and performance professionals is uniquely able to contribute. The floor is open. You can also send ideas, workout plans, and video clips to me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org and we will make every effort to continue supporting coaches and athletes regardless of the challenges our current moment in time presents.
You got this. Remember: have fun, never quit, and do no harm.