At the recent Sprocket Sports conference (July 16, 2022) where Satori Soccer presented, there were several other interesting speakers. In the two minute video below, Rich Gallon (CEO of Sprocket Sports) and Ryan French (Executive Director of Team Evanston Soccer Club) explain the importance of customer feedback. Ryan continues on to explain how he uses customer feedback to grow his club and coaches.
In the video below, Adam Kuhn from Satori Soccer shares research at Sprocket Sports annual conference about the predictive power of Net Promoter Score (NPS) on retention. Satori’s research shows that while the lowest NPS ratings (ex. 0-4) share similar retention percentages, every increase in NPS value between 4 and 8 shows substantial improvement in retention.
Team Standards, Relationships, and Dedication to Your Craft
Rapids Youth, Junior Development Academy, Tom Poole
As youth soccer players age, they have several options available to them. If they enjoy a lower commitment environment that’s more focused on the social aspects of the game, they can play recreationally. If they’re interested in investing more time into their craft, they can move into the Competitive divisions for an extra challenge. And for the small number of kids who are deeply passionate about the game and have developed a more finely tuned skillset, they may have a chance to play at the top levels of competition. Within the Rapids Youth Soccer Club, these elite levels include the Junior Development Academy and ECNL.
Looking across all teams that competed at these elite levels over the past two seasons, there was one coach who led his team to the highest Coach Score (a measure that combines all the parent survey questions). This team was the 2008 Boys Junior Development Academy team coached by Tom Poole in the Fall of 2019. While there were many coaches at this level who scored well, Tom managed to lead his team to the highest parent survey scores for both player enjoyment and improvement.
The purpose of this coach profile is to attempt to uncover what Tom may be doing that makes these exceptional results possible.
Tom, thanks for joining us today and being open to sharing your thoughts. When you look back on your Fall season with your 2008 boys, what were some key factors that may have made your parent survey scores possible?
Thanks Adam. Firstly, I had a very good group of players who were brought into putting the needs of the team before themselves. As a group, we sat down and identified some team expectations and standards and those were used throughout the season and players held each other accountable to the standards we all had set.
We committed to being better every day and that was communicated regularly to parents. I pride myself on keeping parents in the loop on the club’s plan for their child and their team. When parents feel informed and understand there is a plan, and the coach is prepared and organized, good things will happen.
We had success on the field and those successes reinforced the standards and expectations we set. This is the second year I have had most of these boys and they’re fully aware of the standards I have for them. It certainly helps I have a group of players who all want to play at an elite level.
Can you explain more about your process for identifying the team expectations and standards? I think it might also be helpful to explain what you’ve done to uphold those standards and how you’ve guided the players to hold each other accountable.
We sat down at the start of the season (The players and I) and we spoke about behaviors that were and were not acceptable and characteristics that we wanted to define us. Of course, the players being 11-12 years old they needed some guidance but we fell on a collective set of behaviors we all agreed upon. From there, the players felt part of that decision-making process and in turn, that created a little more buy in and accountability. I started as the enforcer of those standards but over time, players started to hold each other to the standards we have set which was great to see.
In the Fall, your team achieved exceptional player enjoyment scores on the parent survey (nearly all parents scored a 5 out of 5 on this question). While I’m guessing the work you put into building the team’s culture and standards play an important role in that, are there any other things you do that might have positively influenced player enjoyment?
Kids want to play games, be engaged, learn, compete and feel a sense of camaraderie with their teammates. I think the game playing nature within our curriculum and game methodology allows kids plenty of opportunities to play games in a structured training session. We aim to pull topics out within game-like environments in training rather than having kids stand in line where they lack engagement, lose interest and fun often disappears.
All of this starts and ends with my relationship with each player as an individual. The more trust created between myself and the player, the easier it is for me to develop sessions geared towards their development. The more a player trusts I have their best interests at heart, the easier it is for me to sell my message as a coach. The way I sell that message is different for every player.
I do think regardless of level (Pro all the way to Rec) players who truly love the game and have fun are the ones who will be lifelong participants and the ones who develop at an accelerated rate. Of course, at the higher levels winning becomes more important but if a coach can allow a kid or athlete to fall in love with the day-to-day hard work, grind, and process, results will often take care of themselves.
Your team uses the pool system, correct? First, would you describe to readers what a pool is? Second, is there anything you do differently as a coach of a pool than a coach of a single team?
The pool system is used in our 9v9 format where we roster 20-26 players for a given level of team, in this case the Academy Youth level. This is also done across all our Competitive teams at these 9v9 ages. On a weekend, those 20-26 players are split into an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ team. Sometimes, the coaches make an even ‘A’ and ‘B’, and sometimes the ‘A’ is stronger than the ‘B’ but that is up to the coach’s discretion. We trained as a big pool, so we rarely split into ‘A’ and ‘B’ during training, however, there were times I would get players together in training to develop a relationship which could help on the weekend. For example, I would often pair my GK with my starting center backs in training ahead of the weekend’s games. The pool system allows us a club to better use our coach’s resources and it provides a platform for all players of all levels to develop.
In regard to doing things differently between a pool and a team, there is more week-to-week management with the pool system. Regardless of where players fit in the pool, your job as a coach is to make every player feel valued, appreciated and worthy. That can become a challenge when you split the ‘A’ and ‘B’ by ability. Managing the expectations of those ‘B’ players can be a challenge but when the coach is prepared, has a plan for each player’s development and can justify their reason for placing a certain player on a certain roster, parents often understand the reasoning.
Given that parents are the ones who complete the end-of-season surveys, how would you describe your relationship with your team’s parents? What do you do that might be helping build the trust and commitment you’ve seen with your team?
Regular communication about my plan for the week ahead, debriefing the week prior, explaining ‘why’, being open to communicating and being genuine and honest. This is a special group of parents because many traveled with me and the team to England this past summer so we managed to spend 10 days on the road which really helped me develop a relationship off the field which in turn, helps them better understand some of the decisions I make.
Thanks Tom. It’s exciting to see coaches this dedicated to building great teams and great individuals. It’s obvious that much of what you do isn’t by accident. We appreciate you sharing your time and thoughts on these subjects. To wrap things up, do you have any parting thoughts to other coaches who might be able to learn from your experiences?
Thanks Adam. Development takes time, consistency and patience. Do not expect to see miracles overnight and dedicate yourselves as coaches to making your players better every day. Build relationships, be open to feedback, find coaching mentors and practice your craft as often as possible.
Show Up and Care
Colorado Rapids Youth, Central Region, Sebastian North
You know those surveys you do at the end of each season? They’re actually quite useful! One of the things we do with it is calculate an overall coach satisfaction score, called the ‘Coach Score’, that provides coaches and staff feedback on the season. Given the correlation between wins and ‘Coach Score’, we also calculate a ‘Results-Adjusted Coach Score’ that controls for game results so all teams are compared fairly regardless of their record.
In the past two seasons, there have been 204 competitive team entries (the same team can have one entry for each season) with a ‘Results-Adjust Coach Score’. When we sort from highest to lowest, there is one coach who stands out. Of the top 19 scores, one coach held three of those spots. No other coach had more than one spot in the top 19.
This coach is Sebastian North of the Central Region. In the past two seasons, he has coached the 2005 Girls Burgundy 2 and the 2006 Boys Burgundy teams.
The purpose of this profile is to attempt to uncover what Sebastian may be doing that makes these exceptional results possible.
Sebastian, what is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about what may be enabling your coach scores?
I think it’s important to know the history of your team. For example, on one of my teams had three coaches over the two seasons before I arrived due to unexpected circumstances. I was told by my team manager that these kids need someone who’s going to “show up and care and make them feel like you’re going to stick around.” At the end of every season players have asked, “you’re going to be our coach next season, right? You’re not leaving are you?”. Of course I’ll be here! I signed a contract for a full year, then renewed it for a second, and I’m committed to coaching these players.
Can you provide an example of something you do to “show up and care”?
I’m very optimistic about every player I coach. They all have something to offer. I never say to other coaches, “nah, that kid’s not good” or write kids off just because they aren’t playing as well as others on the team. I think it’s important to truly believe in each player because even if a coach never says that outright, it’s going to come out in some way or another. For example, in a game you’ll need to make a substitution and look at the bench thinking, “who can I put in?” and you won’t confidently choose a player. Instead, you hesitate or cringe for a second debating who won’t mess it all up. Think about the effect that moment can have on their confidence. Inside, you have to view the players in a positive light and accept what happens when they play.
Now that we have some background on how you think about your players, how would you describe how you interact with them?
One thing that’s big for me is not treating players like little kids. I don’t forget what it was like for me and what kind of role model I looked up to. I think they want a coach who’s fun, edgy, and not the same as their parents. I think there’s a better chance of becoming a mentor when you bring something different. This includes being different from a school teacher where they spend all day and there tends to be more rules. When kids are not at school, and they’re not at home, this is an opportunity to provide a special experience. I try not to control the players and encourage them to play free.
Whenever I see players overthinking or trying to robotically do what I said, as if it was a hard rule, that’s when I know we’ve missed the point and I need to try a new approach—an approach that allows them to experiment more. As coaches, we already have a lot of control without needing to press on the individual. At practice, for example, we make the boundaries about what the game is, what the space is, and how the game is scored. That’s enough in my opinion.
Another thing I do is emphasize “playing free”: That’s what soccer is, play, and they have to explore the game to have fun and build confidence. Our minds should be in the moment and excited about trying things. Learn how to play the game but also GO FOR IT. I think there should be no holding back in the ways kids express themselves when they play, as long as they have the team’s interest in mind.
What about game days? How does “show up and care” translate to those situations?
I probably have more playing time parity than most other teams. I do not have a fixed starting lineup for any team I coach and I sub pretty fast. If you have 16 kids and they all know what your starting 11 is, the other five… we love to think that gives them friction for motivation but not everyone works like that. I may lose games by removing stronger players to give time to ones that are struggling but winning is not my job.
The kids themselves know who the best players on the team are so they don’t need me to emphasize it. I think showing equal opportunity from the beginning helps them feel like they belong. If a player is on the team I should use them. Confidence is crucial and when you play significantly less than others you tend to make far more errors that affect the team.
You’re obviously a coach that believes in positivity. That said, are there ever times where you believe you should be more strict?
I think the key to giving lots of freedom is you have to lay out clear guidelines—a clear standard. I told my players there are three rules:
- Do not talk and have side conversations while we’re in a huddle and follow instructions promptly. I want them to know that when things take longer than needed they are wasting THEIR time.
- Respect your teammates; no bickering. For example, during an activity the ball will be on the line and one kid will say it’s out, the other keeps playing and scores. Next thing you know there’s an argument going on. This is one of my biggest challenges. And it’s a problem because players start blaming the outcome on one small piece. That’s shirking responsibility—not what I’m trying to teach.
- Don’t cheat the game. Cheating the game would include things like not trying, using your hands, over fouling, etc. Work hard, play by the rules, and show respect to your teammates and the game.
Someone is bound to test your rules. They’re going to give you an opportunity and you have to show that the standard matters. Just by sitting a player here or there for a few minutes, I’ve been able to make a difference in the whole team. They have a bigger fear of missing out than being punished (doing sprints), a really important distinction. I also encourage leaders on the team to start policing these behaviors for everyone’s benefit.
What about your interactions with parents?
I keep very close with my team managers and make sure they know how important it is for us to collaborate. They’re an important bridge. If the team manager sees you as a professional, reliable person, that message can be spread down the sideline.
I communicate with the rest of the group primarily through my game recaps and highly encourage them to read it with the players. This gives everyone an opportunity to have a small soccer chat and share their thoughts. There is a maximum 4,000 character limit on TeamConnect messages and I’m hitting 3,800 each time. First, I share my general feeling of the game. Then I write 2-3 things that were positive and 2-3 things we can improve. I almost never mention players by name or single players out for praise or malaise. Everything is framed in “we” so everyone is included and collectively responsible.
Sebastian, thank you for your time and willingness to share. Any final thoughts before we wrap up?
Somebody once told me that 90% of being a mentor is showing up. I’m not sure about the percentage but I can attest to the power of being present in every way for the players. Winning definitely matters to them but I can assure you it is not their top priority. They want to enjoy this.
Rapids Youth North, Recreational, Lance Griego
For all 208 recreational teams in the last two seasons who had at least a 50% parent survey response rate, there is one coach who achieved two of the top seven overall Coach Scores.
This coach is Lance Griego of the Rapids Youth North Region. In the past two seasons, Lance has coached his son’s 2012 Raptors team in addition to his younger son’s soccer start group.
The purpose of this profile is to attempt to uncover what Lance may be doing that makes these exceptional results possible.
Lance, what is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about what may be enabling your coach scores?
Fortunately, I’ve had the chance to coach some of these boys for a few seasons now. I started coaching them when my son was five. At that age I just said to myself, “They’re five. They’re not learning all the tricks, just let them have fun. Get them excited.” You know how five years olds are—I just try to go out there and get goofy with them, have fun, and help them get interested in the game.
Can you provide an example of something you do to make it fun?
One thing I’ve really tried to get them to do is get excited and celebrate together as a team when they score a goal; Really make sure they know it’s okay to get a little goofy and have fun. And if they sometimes get distracted chasing butterflies, that’s fine too. For me, the most important thing is trying to get them excited about being there and wanting to come back.
To give a specific example of helping kids enjoy the game, we just had a kid start in our 2012 team in the Fall. He’s on the younger end of the team and you can tell he’s still trying to figure out how he feels about soccer. Maybe because he’s younger, it can sometimes be difficult during games to get him motivated. However, I’ve found there’s usually a way to connect with kids. For example, he was wearing a Spiderman hoodie under his jersey. So I asked, “What would Spiderman do in this game? I bet he’d go out there and get that ball!”. I enjoy getting creative to find motivations for each player.
What are some actions you’ve found get them excited and wanting to come back?
To me, it all comes back to the fun. Since I’ve coached under Clint, the Rec Director in the North region, I’ve learned from him a lot. I see how he is with the kids—he’s goofy and the kids love it. They play a game where they chase him around, kick him with the ball—they love it. So it’s been easy for me to carry on with that especially when he is out there giving such a great example on how to engage the kiddos.
Sometimes I wonder, ‘If I was a kid, what type of team would I want to play on?’ I’d want to be on a team that has fun. We don’t care about the score too much at this age, we just go out there and enjoy playing.
When you stay with a team for a couple years, how do things change over time?
As the players get older, I feel like there is a change. I don’t know if I’d say there’s a shift in not being as goofy, but I have added more technical focus into training. You can see the players expectations grow in what they want to do—they want to improve. So as a coach, I still focus on fun but I also start holding them to higher standards in how they play the game.
As a parent volunteer coach, how do you interact with your son compared to the other kids?
I remember one bad experience growing up where the coach of one of my teams had a son on the team. It was frustrating. That coach clearly gave more attention and opportunities to his son than the rest of us. I think that experience has made me hyper aware to not be like that. During games, I depend on my wife to be the enthusiastic parent cheering on our son and I try to be the coach and treat every player as equals. I’m sure I’m not perfect at staying unbiased, but I try.
I try to separate soccer coaching time from parent time. On the car ride home, for example, I don’t say “man, you didn’t work hard today” or things like that. When we’re walking off the field, I might ask, “How’d you feel today? How do you think you did?”. Then based on his response, I’ll also share my thoughts on what he did well and what can be improved. But once we get in the car, it’s “all right man, what are we eating for dinner?!” or “what else do we want to do today?!”. I want him to know that he’s not constantly under coach dad’s scrutiny and soccer is just one part of our family.
Another thing I do is I often ask kids before training how school was or small talk with them about the other things that may be going on in their life. I feel like if I can show that I care about them just as much as my kid and as more than a soccer player, they’ll feel like they belong.
How would you describe your relationship with the other parents on the team?
I don’t know if there’s anything special or intentional I do beyond trying to be helpful and communicate well. As a parent, I know how busy things get with school and my own work so soccer specifics like practices and games aren’t always top of mind for parents. Given that, I try to overcommunicate to make things easy and help with a lot of the thinking or remembering that goes with being a soccer parent. For example, I send a reminder before each game with the time, location, jersey color, and who’s bringing snacks. I’ll keep my eye on the weather and keep them updated as needed. And I think parents feel comfortable texting or calling me if they can’t make it, have a question, or need anything. Having good communication both ways seems to be helpful.
Is there anything special you do in training regarding with your activities or technical advice?
I don’t know if there’s anything out of the ordinary about my trainings. Everything is pretty similarly structured across our rec teams in the North. For example, we have the same 15 minute warmup. Then we have 30 minutes to work on team stuff with the final 15 minutes reserved for scrimmaging.
During that 30 minute time and at their age, I would say our big focus is mostly on dribbling and technical skills—trying to make them better players. I tell the boys, “In this time period, we’re working on you.” We’ll work on their moves, passing technique, and shooting. And again, Clint has the trainings for that day planned so I just try to give them the best tips I can to develop those skills.
We work on passing as well, but often it’s more about reminding them to spread out and look up. Sometimes I find it helpful to tell them “spread out and score a goal” and then let them try. Over time, they’ve started putting more of the pieces together and passing more and improving their overall game.
Do you ever have behavior issues? If so, how do you respond?
First, I try to understand and adapt to each kid to lessen the chance of that happening. But it’s true, one of the hardest parts of coaching is that it is like herding cats. While some players seem to more naturally be focused, others find it harder to focus and that’s ok. Sometimes I think it’s helpful to be stern with them—maybe making them sit for a few minutes or threatening to do so—to help them understand what is expected. Soccer is supposed to be fun, but we also need to make sure we’re working and not getting in the way of other kids working. I’ve only had to sit a kid once, but I think it helped show I was serious. It’s very tough on kids at that age to have to sit while the other kids are playing, but it’s only for a couple minutes and I think it helps them refocus.
Another thing I tried that worked was talking with players before training about “Can you give me one good hour? An hour of focus and then you can be goofy and do whatever you want”. Then when they agreed and gave me a fist bump, it was like we had a pact. Then if he started to mess around during training, I’d say, “Hey, you promised man!” And he’d be “oh, oh yeah” and then refocus.
Lance, this all sounds so simple. Prioritize the fun, communicate with parents, and things will go well.
I don’t know, I just try to keep it simple. But it doesn’t happen automatically. For me, I have to switch my work schedule around to be there, and sometimes it can be difficult to do so. I figure if I’m doing all that work to be there, I’m going to make it worth it. I want to try my best when I’m out there.
Lance, thank you for your time and willingness to share. Your love of the game and joy for each player is obvious and inspiring. Any final thoughts or advice to others before we wrap up?
My main advice is to have fun. In my opinion, the number one priority is to have fun. It’s not to be the best or to score the most goals. Yeah, the kids do have fun when doing those things, but prioritize having fun in general. With that perspective, the kids can enjoy the game when they’re winning 10-0, losing 0-10, and everything in between. Don’t be afraid to get a little goofy and try to imagine what would be fun for kids that age.
In the end, when I think about my team, I just want to see them having fun and growing into soccer players with a deep love of the sport like I have. That’s my favorite part.