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Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

11.05.15For Coaches: The Hidden Value of Steve Covino’s Start and Stop Routines

I’ve been working with US Soccer to develop some training tools on principles of teaching for coaches.  As part of this work I’ve been developing short videos of an outstanding young coach, Steve Covino, working with a group of U8 players.

In the next week or so I’m going to share two especially useful videos of Steve.  The first one, today, shows something  relatively simple that Steve does with immense skill to achieve tremendous results.  That something is the “start and stop” systems he uses in his sessions to ensure that he gets the most out of every minute of training- both by being efficient with time and by building a culture of attentiveness among his players.

Before I show you the video and discuss it a bit more I just want to emphasize the power of a simple idea executed with immense skill and diligence.  Sometimes we think we need very complex tools to solve the challenges of teaching, but in fact the problem isn’t so much that we don’t have the tools to solve a challenge but that we don’t implement with fidelity and intentionality.  There’s a grace, almost a beauty, to how Steve implements two very simple ideas in this clip: 1) that when he says stop his players will put their foot on the ball and look at him, and 2) that they will listen very carefully for and react quickly to his “go” signal–in fact to everything he tells them. He almost seems to find joy in reinforcing the system in a way that’s both fun and beneficial for players.  He makes it a game to see who is always listening intently to his words.  The power of A+ execution of a simple idea should never be ignored.

One result of Steve’s start and stop systems, which you will notice right away, is how efficient his session is.  He uses every second. A break in play that might take 40 seconds for another coach takes him 20.  Thus: more time playing, more touches on the ball, and more skill.   A second result is the culture in Steve’s session: his kids are focused, positive and attentive.  Always.  Not only does he get more minutes of play in a typical practice session by using his time more efficiently, but his players learn more because they are so attentive to his words—not just his start and stop cues but his feedback and coaching points. In fact these two ideas are connected: because they listen so well, Steve can talk less and they can play more.  He implicitly rewards them for their focus with more time doing what they love.

So, the routine is.  “Foot on the ball and [sometimes said explicitly and sometimes unstated] eyes on me.” Notice that there’s visible piece to the routine–foot on the ball.  This both eliminates distractions (no soccer balls rolling around and being kicked or chased or squabbled over) but also reminds players to be focused.  It’s a physical cue to a mental state of concentration.  Plus, since he’s asked them to do something observable, he can manage their follow though easily, which you’ll him do, positively and even playfully in the clip.

To show how he reinforces and maintains his system, I broke the clip into two parts.  The first, where you can see the basic routine and the second, where you can see how he continuously reinforces his expectations for efficiency and attentiveness in a positive way.  Again also notice that Steve rewards attentiveness by making sure to keep his talking brief. The result is, he wastes almost no time and players are highly focused.

This may seem like a trivial point, but if you’ve ever coached young players you know how much time can be lost to inattention and small disruptions.  To be able to be 10%, 20%, 40% more efficient with time and attentiveness in practice means getting 10%, 20% 40% more growth out of every session.  Over the course of a year that’s a game changer.

A bit more about Steve: He’s an assistant coach with Siena College, a youth coach with the Albany (NY) Alleycats and a former USL professional player.  You can follow him on twitter at @covino11.

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