By: Cody Elliot, Staff Writer
Whether it be a quick trip to Smiley’s Ice Cream after a late-afternoon match or those mid-practice chats on the sideline with parents, volunteer coaching provides an opportunity for folks to get involved with their community in a personal way.
Shenandoah Valley United Soccer Club (SVU) is an organization that focuses on developing soccer skills and teamwork for youth in the Harrisonburg and Rockingham County area in an intensive training environment and it is seeking coaches yearly.
Whether it be with a travel team, which are offered for ages 11-19, or with a recreation program that is operated by SVU, there is a need for volunteer coaches to step up.
Horizons Edge soccer manager/club director Shawn Parker, a former four-year player at Northern Kentucky who now oversees all the soccer leagues, clinics and SVU programming at the facility, said it is a unique opportunity for folks in the community.
“I always talk about ways to enhance the experience for the children,” Parker said. “For a volunteer who doesn’t know as much about the sport, a lot of those conversations are more personal. It’s a unique experience that volunteers naturally get in the program.”
The SVU recreation programs are offered in the fall and spring and provide an opportunity for boys and girls to develop basic soccer skills and teamwork.
Although the program is coordinated by SVU staff, such as Parker, it relies heavily on volunteers who are needed to oversee age divisions, prepare schedules, coach, support parents and help with other game-day roles throughout the course of the program.
Parker says while soccer may draw a volunteer into helping initially, a person’s involvement becomes much more personal as they begin to get invested.
“We have some volunteers who just enjoy doing it,” Parker said. “From a community perspective, there’s a variety of people of all ages that get involved. Families get together and there’s an opportunity to help kids and it is a bonding experience.”
If interested in volunteering to coach with SVU, there’s a number of questions you may have but there’s an experienced and knowledgeable staff on hand ready to help.
Here are some helpful tips on how to be a successful volunteer coach:
1. How To Volunteer
The first question most folks are going to have when deciding whether or not to volunteer as a coach is exactly what the process looks like to get started.
For most leagues, it’s not as simple as stepping on the field with a whistle and immediately leading the team through various drills you’ve cooked up.
For SVU, volunteers can go to ShenValleySoccer.com and register an account. From there, they’ll decide which program they want to opt into and fit best with.
“They can either say, ‘Hey, I really want to sign my kid up for this program.’ Or they say, ‘I don’t have a kid, but I really want to volunteer,’” Parker said. “We can sort of help them through that entire process. We can try to find them that fit.”
2. Time Commitment
Finding that work-life balance is always important, but especially as a coach.
Coaches obviously have personal lives, too, and whether that is spending time with family, taking care of business in their professional life or simply having some free time to relax, making sure you aren’t wearing yourself thin is key to volunteering.
With SVU, that commitment is made possible by a simple schedule that requires less than two total hours of commitment per week, depending on the league.
“They practice once per week — a 50-minute practice,” Parker said. “It’s running from 5-6 or 6-7, so it’s not a full hour and they usually warm up a little. They have one practice and one game, so you’re looking at roughly two hours per week.”
If you’re going to be a volunteer coach for a sport, you want to have knowledge.
But while some may envision being an expert or former player in a sport in order to be a successful coach, longtime volunteer Jim Higgs said that isn’t necessary.
Higgs had previous experience coaching baseball and other various sports with his kids before his daughter showed interest in soccer and her team lacked coaches.
As a result, Higgs, who has never played soccer in his life, opted to volunteer.
A few years later, he said he’s now developed not only a knowledge for the game but a certain passion that he never would have envisioned before getting involved.
“I had experience coaching baseball and stuff in the past, but never tackled soccer,” Higgs said. “I volunteered and I’ve learned a lot as I’ve gone along. I picked up a passion for the sport. I’ve kind of grown up with the kids. It’s been fun.”
4. Be Prepared/Have A Plan
To be a successful coach, being organized and having a plan goes a long way.
While there’s a certain sense of chaos that comes with coaching youth sports, coming into practices and games with structure helps keep things in check.
At SVU, longtime volunteer coach Chris Quinn works with the Challenge program and said that the plan changes for each kid depending upon their development.
“You want it to be fun,” Quinn said. “If it’s not fun, they’re not going to want to come back. In that fun, you can look at the age group you’re working with and develop different types of games, where everything has a purpose and you’re developing some type of skill. In the end, it’s competitive and that’s what the kids want to do.”
5. Establish Goals
As Quinn noted, setting goals for individual kids can vary at the youth level.
Some athletes may require a little more one-on-one attention to improve their game while others are advanced enough that they’re able to work well on their own.
Whatever the case may be, establishing goals early on in the season with the athletes and the team as a whole will go a long way in improving the players.
“Every kid is unique, every kid is different,” Quinn said. “You want to make sure all the kids can have fun and do well, but try to individualize things for each player so you’re spending time with each of them. Each kid has a different way of learning.”
6. Be Fair
One of the most important things to do as a volunteer coach is to be fair.
Treating each athlete with the same respect and compassion as the other goes a long way in earning credibility as a coach and your effectiveness in teaching.
Ultimately, it also will help make the entire experience memorable for the athlete.
“In the end, if they’re smiling and they’ve left and they’re telling their parents how much fun they had and they want to come back to practice next time, that’s more than half the battle right there,” Quinn said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
7. Be Flexible
Staying on your toes and being flexible is another key to volunteering as a coach.
Whether it is weather-related issues or simply missing players on a key night, there is an element of surprise that can come with coaching youth sports.
With SVU and Horizons Edge, the staff in place will do their best to help assist you as any last-minute changes come up and adjustments are needed to be made.
“The club provides support if you ever need anything,” Quinn said. “They do a nice job. If you have a conflict with a schedule, they’re more than happy to try to work it out and see if you want to do it at another time or try to organize it so you can participate as much as you want and not be limited by your job either.”
8. Keep It Simple/Visual Learning
When coaching as a volunteer, there’s no reason to make things difficult.
Keeping things simple and using visual learning tools to teach various methods is the biggest key to effectively coaching at the youth level, according to coaches.
Currently, Parker sends out weekly tips with videos, articles and other suggestions to his coaches to use with new methods of coaching they can try to implement.
He said he’s hopeful that will help volunteers develop as they get involved.
“We could do more, definitely want to do more to connect outside of the field,” Parker said. “I always talk about ways to enhance the experience for the children.”
9. Have Fun
Arguably, the most important role for any volunteer coach is to have fun.
That’s what it’s about, right? The whole reason most folks get involved is to have fun and if that element of the assignment gets taken away, the purpose is gone.
While improving skills and winning games is key, having fun remains vital.
“I always have that conversation with the kids,” Higgs said. “I want to have fun, first and foremost. They have to listen, work through the drills. They know I’m strict, but we’re going to have a good time. I’ve had several kids over the years who say, ‘I’ll play again if you’re going to be the coach.’ And it’s just like, ‘Man, that says something. Right?’ It has happened for two or three years, so I’ve felt like, ‘OK. Guess I need to keep coaching. It’s all made for a really fun experience.”
10. Communicate With Parents
Communicating with parents about goals and expectations will be especially key.
You don’t want parents being left in the dark about what the program is aiming to do and being upfront and honest about expectations early will eliminate questions.
“We try to make the parents part of the process,” Quinn said. “We have parent meetings and try to make sure they know what the coaches are doing, what the expectations are. The parents feel attached to what’s going on. We want them to look forward to coming back with us for practice, a game or whatever it might be.”