As the country adjusts to the limitations placed by COVID-19, more commonly known as the coronavirus, many have not let this restrictive moment in time deter them from continuing with their normal lives. This means turning to the technologies offered in 21st-century living, to forge new innovative methods of communication, education and everyday tasks from the confines of their home.
One of the many ways coaches in the soccer space are adjusting and continuing training, as seasons and practices remain temporarily on hold, is the use of Virtual Training as a tool to help ease these issues and keep players active, engaged and participating, even from their own homes.
“What we’re trying to do first and foremost, we’re trying to get kids to touches on the ball,” states Michael Turtle, Director of Coaching of Wall Soccer Club.
“Different families have different situations at home. Some live with mom and some live with dad, and others live with both. Some have a basement they can use and the luckiest might even have a soccer field in their backyard. Some might have a wall and some people don’t. Obviously, with the fields being closed, that restricts what people can do as well. What we’re aiming for is for the kids to be able to do the sessions regardless of what’s going on. While we understand situations and circumstances are different, we’ve got to cover our basis to what they have access to. Say for example tomorrow if there’s a session requiring a wall, we can’t not do a session with a wall, just because some might not have access to one. The same for kids who may or may not have access to a goal. We understand everyone’s situation varies and were just trying to get out as much as we can. It’s challenging trying to keep the content fresh. It’s just one of those things that people don’t want to tune into things they’ve already seen before. From the technique work, it’s all about the equipment you have. Do you have you got a wall? Do you have a goal? Do you have a rebounder? Have you got access to a backyard? That sort of thing and varying the content to cover all grounds.”
Turtle is not the only coach using Virtual Training as a tool during the quartine and home confinements to continue reaching players and keeping them active during quarantines.
Steve Wacker, Girls Technical Director at South Jersey Elite Barons has a different approach, but the application and execution of using the internet to train his players remain the same. He says, “I just kept mine very simple, very individualized ball work. All the players need is a ball and a few yards of space, just to get a bunch of touches on it. I know I did this all the time as a kid growing up. I kept it very simple. You don’t even need to be outside, you can do it in your house. You can do it anywhere, as long as you have a soccer ball and a few yards of space. You don’t even need to have shoes or spikes on. I’ve had people send me videos of them barefoot just in their living room. Any way we can get as many people as possible participating is what we want.
Wacker continues, “I try to start with the basic skills and increase and progress in difficulty. I do it so any age group can participate. I know I did this at every level from the youth level to high school and college, as well as when I played pro too. I did this all the time. To me, it comes down getting a lot of touches and if it’s easy, start doing it faster or slow down the rhythm and try to get as many touches as you can. It’s implemented for anyone ages 8 and up who can benefit from this training.”
Patrick Colgan, National Director Of Coaching at Soccer Stars United, is another coach using the power of the internet to connect with his players as well.
“There’s a couple of things that we’re doing. We’ve changed everything we’re doing based on the situation. We’re doing Soccer Stars at home for younger kids. A lot of our coaches are running, actual virtual classes at home stuff. Things like, make a goal out of a cardboard box or set up two cones or two chairs. We’re embracing what everyone has at home to make everyone feel included and take soccer and be active. Our coaches are doing that several times a day all over the nation. Everyone can sign up for their virtual class. We’re also doing live classes on Instagram for our travel programming. They’re doing technical work that could be done in your living room. Stuff we’ve been doing for our club. We’ve been doing a lot of live stream classes in general. If you’re apart of Super Soccer Stars, you can log into a private Facebook page and see as many classes as you want. We also use Famer App, which is more geared towards the younger kids and includes all different skills they can do at home.”
While these men have taken different approaches to solving the same problems created by COVID-19, all three have found great success in connecting with their players and beyond using Virtual Training as a tool.
Turtle explains, “Our numbers have fluctuated. When we started on Facebook Live, they were big, but we’re in a transition from Facebook to YouTube because of technical difficulties. I think we’ve lost quite a few along the way. We’re just getting the kids to the challenges and training at home, videotape themselves and send it into us. We’ve been giving them a challenge every day, whether it be a foot skills challenge or flick the ball up sort of thing. I think yesterday we went and did the tried and true rainbow. We’ve been doing some other stuff like balancing the ball on your head for ten seconds, juggles while seated. We’re encouraging feedback. We’ve had feedback where some of the sessions were a little too remedial so to speak. So, were trying to cover all of our basis,” Turtle continues, “It’s crazy the first Facebook Live we did, it was a little foot skills thing and we got a video from like literally, the North Pole. We got one from North Carolina. We got one from California. So, the reach is kind of crazy. We’re getting them from all over the United States.”
Wacker, says even without knowing much about social media or technology, that he has still found success through Facebook Live to connect with his players. He tells EDP, “I just log onto Facebook Live and do kind of like a 20-minute ball mastery session. I started doing it just because, with everything happening and all of soccer being shut down, I have two kids of my own and they’ve been missing their teammates and soccer altogether. I figured, why not try Facebook Live two nights a week around 6 pm, that’s when most kids were training, just to keep some familiar routines going. That’s how that got started.”
Waker goes on to say, “It’s been great so far, with a lot of good feedback. The biggest thing is parents reaching out saying thank you, my son or daughter, they needed this. We look forward to this. It’s been great. I’m not that tech-savvy. All I have is Facebook. I don’t have a Twitter or Instagram or anything like that and I barely ever use Facebook. So, everything for me is brand new. My niece is in college and I brought her over to help me set it up. I went out and bought a tripod for my cell phone. Everything is brand new for me. To be honest, I didn’t know how it was going to go, I didn’t have high expectations. I’m just trying to get the kids some touches and bring a little bit of normalcy to them with everyone going on. It’s going pretty well and it’s been a great response.”
While Colgan states, “We’ve been finding a lot of success using these virtual programs with our players. We’re going to be working with a league in California, trying to reach out to their players virtually from New York. A lot of their players have been struggling with training. We’ve been doing well with a lot of classes in the city, where people were thinking, what are we going to do now? We just enrolled them into a few classes and we’ve been finding a lot of success with those who have joined. It’s been a really big hit considering what everyone is going through and pivoting to do the best they can with the current situation. The coaches can interact with the players and the players can interact with the coach. It’s been a great environment and a lot of our coaches also use Zoom, to help with the activities and get feedback. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from kids who have signed up for it and who are using our virtual platforms in general.”
Founded in 1999, Elite Development Program Soccer (EDP) is one of the largest organizers of youth soccer leagues and tournaments in the U.S. EDP operates youth leagues for boys and girls ages 9-19, conducts a Futures program for players ages 7-11, and operates U20/23 men’s and women’s leagues. EDP also runs over 20 tournaments each year. The key emphasis for EDP’s leagues and tournaments is its Pathway to College™ programming which enables soccer players to reach their full potential with an emphasis on attending college. More than 3,500 teams participate in EDP’s leagues and more than 170,000 players compete in EDP tournaments annually. For more information on EDP, visit www.edpsoccer.com.