US Soccer Coaching Education – Meet Ian Barker
Have you ever wondered what professional sports coaching is like and the world of US Soccer Coaching Education? All the glory and excitement of working with and developing some of the best athletes in the country. What struggles have these coaches had to overcome to get where they are today and what advice would somebody inside the US Soccer Coaching Education system give?
From my perspective, the most important thing is making sure that you are delivering value to the athlete, the group and the team and not just coaching to your own preference.Ian Barker
In this Meet the Coach post, we ask Ian Barker (Director of Coaching Education for United Soccer Coaches (Formerly NSCAA)) for his advice to coaches involved in sport.
Name: Ian Barker
Current Role: Director of Coaching Education for United Soccer Coaches (Formerly NSCAA). Ian is also the Regional Head Coach of Boys for US Youth Soccer Midwest Region Olympic Development and serves on the national instructional staff for United Soccer Coaches.
Previous Experience: Ian was the Men’s Soccer Coach for Macalester College in the USA. He held a number of coaching roles prior to this and was a keen amateur footballer before becoming a sports coach. Ian was also the Director of Coaching and Player Development for the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association (MYSA).
What motivated you to become a coach?
I played football/soccer in Great Britain and when I was at Warwick University (UK), they brought an FA coaching badge to the college and I completed my FA Coaching Badge whilst I was still playing.
I had a little bit of ability for coaching and I found coaching enjoyable as a player. When I came to the USA, the pay to play nature of the US, meant you could make a really good career as a grassroots coach. Part of it was vocation and interest, and part of it was a career choice.
What challenges did you come across in becoming a successful coach?
In terms of structural challenge, really none. I had good support from people and generous mentors. There were no challenges that were structurally put up against me. I would say that the challenges are more when forming your own identity as a coach. When you are young, you have a lot of enthusiasm but you (also) have a lack of experience. I would say my greatest challenge in becoming an experienced and successful coach would be more intrinsic than they were extrinsic factors (why not check out our article on strategies to improve motivation in athletes here).
The athlete wants much shorter bite size pieces of information which is more specific to them and their role.Ian Barker
What is the most important value a coach should instill in their team and why?
In a team, I would say broadly speaking, work ethic and (having) a sense of community within your team. You want a team that works hard and you want a team that has a sense of team (cohesion). Look at Leicester City Football Club from a few years ago. They are all pros and trying to extend their own careers, yet if there was an example of a group of maybe 14/15 players that really came together in one single effort (that would be it). If you can do it in the premier league, you should be able to do it Grassroots soccer.
What strategies do you use to ensure your coaching leads to success?
I think the single biggest improvement or the thing I am developing the most right now is increasing a greater empathy for the athlete. I was at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland in December 2019 and they had Darren Fletcher, Paul Scholes and Scott Brown giving presentations. They put videos of the guys on the screen and talked about the video of them and asked questions. What was really interesting is that all of them talked about their technical performances on the video and their body shape. As well as the physical demands of elite football and the psychological pressures and stresses. With a minimal expectation of Scot Brown talking about Brendon Rogers, none of them talked about X’s and O’s and tactics.
It made me think that as we get further away from our playing careers as coaches, we start to shift into separate roles. We also get further away from the mind set mentality of the athlete. A really well run 55 minute training session with a ton of energy and good flow is much more enjoyable than being out there and walking around for 2 hours.
In addition, nobody puts the whole team in front of a video for 45 minutes anymore. This is because we know that the athlete wants much shorter bite size pieces of information which is more specific to them and their role.
From my perspective, the most important thing is making sure that you are delivering value to the athlete, the group and the team and not just coaching to your own preference.
What advice would you give to a person starting their coaching career?
This is a common questions of young coaches. I believe in getting the coaching badges. Yet, the coaching badge does not talk about integrity, honesty and decency. Education is important if you are going to have career.
The number one thing I tell young coaches now is to have sense of perspective. When you are younger, you take the wins and the losses to greater extremes. You ride the highs of the wins and lows of the losses much too aggressively. It is having a sense of perspective and context as well as self-awareness, remembering that there is always another game around the corner.
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New to sports coaching? Then you may want to check out our guide to sports coaching. Here you will be able to learn techniques and strategies that will excel your coaching career. Topics include Stages of Learning, Methods of Training and Leadership Styles.
You can also read more about United Soccer Coaches and US Soccer Coaching Education here.
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