ECNL Announces Coaches Code of Conduct
RICHMOND, VA (September 1, 2015) – Over the past few years, the mission of the ECNL has been shortened to 3 simple but powerful words: RAISE THE GAME. These three short words represent the league’s very large ambition to change and improve the daily development environment of youth female soccer players across the United States. It is a mission that will never fully end, as new opportunities to raise standards will always present themselves, and the constant challenge to improve drives us on.Fundamentally, to RAISE THE GAME requires impacting every aspect of American female youth soccer – competition structures, training activities, coaching methodology, referee performance, field quality, organizational professionalism – the list goes on. From 2009 to 2015, the ECNL has made changes and introduced new programs and initiatives to impact as many of these aspects as possible: league competition structure and conference membership has been adjusted to best balance meaningful games, travel demands, and top competition; nearly 600 players are now annually involved in league-funded PDPs and the Nike National Training Camp; the branding, atmosphere, and professionalism of the ECNL National Events is without comparison; investments in referee development and education attract the country’s best referees to ECNL matches; and coaching education events bring world-renowned experts directly to our coaches. The list goes on.
In each of these areas, the ECNL identified the need or opportunity for change and improvement, analyzed the best way to make a positive impact, and then acted. In countless ways, great and small, the leadership of the ECNL combined with the support and commitment of club leaders and great league partners, resulted in a transformation of female youth soccer.
For the 2015-16 season, the attention of the ECNL now turns inward – to RAISE THE GAME in what it means to be a coach in the ECNL, and to be a professional developer of talent.
On any given Saturday, at far too many soccer fields across the country, a youth soccer coach will be stalking the sidelines constantly challenging the referee, and incessantly yelling instructions at players to micro-manage every decision and moment in the game. Too often this picture will also include an individual berating the players, referees, and administrators that make the game possible. Ultimately, the cacophony of noise makes the entire environment unnecessarily loud, and unavoidably hostile, unpleasant, and unfortunate for everyone involved.
This image of a youth coach has been created through a collection of inappropriate incentives and misguided but commonly held perceptions. To name only a few, there is an unhealthy and inappropriate pressure to making winning games in youth sports a priority, coaches are often inaccurately evaluated based on these same scores, and there is a giant lack of understanding by most about what long-term athlete development actually is. Together, these pressures and others create a race to the bottom for both the athlete’s performance and the sideline behavior of coaches and parents.
This needs to change.
The same expectation for constant improvement that top coaches place on their players, and the ever-increasing standard of performance that these same coaches require from their players, must also be placed on the coaches themselves. It is well past the time to expect that the sideline stalker be replaced with the professional developer of talent – a coach who is an expert in teaching and understanding how players learn, with years of continuing study and education, and a wealth of experience and history of developing talent.
In 2015, the ECNL will take a lead in helping to establish what it means to be a professional developer of talent by establishing what it means to be a professional coach in the ECNL. In many ways, this change will require years – of education, learning, and new understanding of methods and pedagogy – and the ECNL will continue to invest in bringing resources and experts to the league to facilitate this. But in one key way, change can and should be very quick, without the need for investment and time; professional behavior is a choice. In that regard, in 2015-16 the new ECNL Coaches Code of Conduct will be a requirement for every coach in the league.
Being a coach who is a professional developer of talent does not mean reducing standards and lowering expectations, and it doesn’t mean that everyone gets a trophy. Coaching and developing elite athletes is not always a rosy process; there is adversity, frustration, tough messages and lessons, consequences for choices or behavior, and moments of significant introspection from the athlete about their goals, actions, and expectations. In this regard, creating standards for professionalism does not mean that criticism disappears, that volume is never high, or that occasional clashes do not occur between coach and athlete. Creating standards for professional coaching behavior does mean, however, that tough messages can be delivered without vitriol, that criticism can be given without personal attacks, and that respect must be the foundation of the coach-player and coach-referee relationship. In fact, staying on the “right” side of this line is one of the core requirements of being a professional.
While every coach, parent, and player may have slightly different opinions regarding the best way to teach, motivate, and encourage youth athletes – most of us would ultimately draw similar lines on right and wrong behavior. The ECNL Coaches Code of Conduct is created to highlight those lines, and to insure that there are consequences if they are crossed. It is our belief that, by doing so, we not only create a better environment for players, but we also create a better profession for coaches. To facilitate this change, the ECNL Coaches Code of Conduct will be enforced by a Disciplinary Committee with the authority to suspend coaches, deduct points from teams and clubs, and impose fines and other sanctions for violations.
Great opportunity requires great responsibility. The opportunity to develop the next generation of college and national team stars requires coaches that embrace the responsibility to be professionals – in every sense of the word. We are excited to have that opportunity, and even more excited to begin to change the sideline in youth soccer.
To view the ECNL Coaches Code of Conduct, click here.
About Elite Clubs National League: The Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) was founded in 2009 to enhance the developmental experience of female youth soccer players in the United States through: (i) improving the competitive environment through creation of a true national competitive league; (ii) improving the process for identifying elite female soccer players for college and youth national teams through a systematic scouting and identification program based on national competitions; and (iii) improving the daily training environment at top female youth soccer clubs through developing best practices and training and organizational guidelines for its member clubs. The ECNL is sanctioned by US Club Soccer and is sponsored by Nike Soccer.