The off season is a great time to provide much needed feedback to the players. Often, the more informal nature of the game this time of year lends itself to the chance to talk directly with players about their progress. This can often be done by meeting with a few players before and after each game, and having a discussion about their “progress”.
Towards this end, might I suggest the S.W.O.T. approach.
S – “Strengths”. Those things that the player does well.
W – “Weaknesses”. Those things that the player can improve on.
O – “Opportunities”. Those things that the player can do to improve.
T – “Threats”. Those things that threaten the player from improving.
The proper identification of these things can lead to allowing the player to make confident strides and improvements.
With players from 8-10 years old, this can just be done by writing them down on a postcard for the player. Make sure that these things are worded positively. Place a heavy emphasis on their attitude, and not necessarily on the outcomes that they are seeing at this time. Give them a few simple things to work on (e.g. kicking with their weaker foot, going after the ball). Praise their enthusiasm. Invite them attend the Express clinics at the “Tech” as a way of an “opportunity” to help them get better. Or have them set a goal for the next game such as, “see how many times you can make a pass to a teammate!”
With players 11 years old and older, it is best for them to go home first and write down what they feel are the answers for their “SWOT” categories. Then, during your meeting with them, use these as a starting point. You can use their answers to engage them in the solution. Tell them if you agree or disagree with their assessment. Be specific with them as far as “opportunities” they can take to work on their weaknesses. If you can back up your observations with actual examples that happened in a game, this is most helpful! (e.g. “Do you remember when you got that defender all by herself on the wing, and you aggressively took her on and tried to beat her with a dribble? That is what I think you could do more of!”
It is most essential to engage the player in the process. Ask them to take it seriously. Encourage them to do most of the work on this themselves as a way of ensuring that they get the most out of the games and their experience. Give them a real life example of someone you know of that has benefited by evaluating themselves and setting goals for themselves.
This simple exercise is quite effective for the players and can have a lasting impact on their improvement and thus how much they end up enjoying the game. Putting much of the emphasis on having them complete the evaluation first, allows them to do so in a less threatening manner, and internalizes the process for them.
I have ALWAYS found this to be a useful exercise. I find that I learn quite a bit about the players, and they in turn learn quite a bit about themselves.