Meet: Ula Koczkodaj
Playing Experience: Point Park University, NAIA (2013 – 2015); Lincoln University, NCAA Div. II (2012); MKS Olimpia Szczecin, Polish 1st Division (2006 – 2012)
Coaching Experience: Hotspurs West, PA (2018 – PRESENT); Victory Express Soccer Club, PA (2016 – 2019); The Linsly School, WV (2018); Bethany College, WV (2016 – 2018); Youth Elite Soccer/Chicago Fire SITC (2014 – 2016)
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Sports Management (Point Park University, 2016); Master of Arts in Teaching (Bethany College 2018)
Certifications: USSF “F” Coaching License; USSF “Grassroots 11v11, 9v9, 4v4” Coaching Licenses; USSF “D” Coaching License; The Coach’s Guide to Youth Soccer Injury Recognition Certificate; SafeSport Trained Certificate
- 1) How would you define a parent(s) role within the youth sports?
From a coach’s perspective, parents play an extremely important role in youth sports. They are the ones that shape their kids into the most or the least coachable athletes. They are also the ones that either help their children fall in love with a sport or make them dislike it so much that they decide to drop out of it.
2) What are the benefits of being a positive youth sports parents?
The main benefit of being a positive sports parent is the attitude of your child that it encourages. Making mistakes is a part of the game and a great tool to learn. It also enables the child to make decisions on their own instead of being told what to do in any given time of the game. Some players lack creativity on the field simply because they had never been given the freedom to try things that are out of ordinary.
3) Tell us a bit about how your parents supported you through the journey into becoming a player/coach/teacher?
When I was a youth player, there were not very many opportunities for female soccer players in Poland. My mom had to drive me for hours at a time just to get me to a training session. She was also a huge influence on my decision to move to the United States to pursue my dream of playing college soccer. I was given the opportunity and direction without the pressure or fear, which – I believe – is the reason why I made it as far as I did.
4) What advice would you give any youth sports parents, with a talented son/daughter and ambition also drive to reach the highest level?
a) Advice to the player
Be the best teammate you can be – that should be the ultimate goal for every player. Soccer is a team sport and coaches prefer to work with athletes that care about one’s commitment to a group effort than with the ones that put their individual achievements first. Lastly, watch as much soccer on TV as possible – there are lots of aspects of the game that can only be taught by observing the professionals play the sport on the highest level.
b) Advice to the parents
Coaches know that you love your kids and you want them to be the best players they can be, but – please – let us coach them. Let’s work as a team and help them develop instead of confusing them with different instructions coming from the bench and from the stands. On the collegiate level in the United States, kids are drastically less likely to get recruited if the parents in the stands seem too critical.
5) In your experience as a coach, how can uneducated and unsupported parents, affect player(s)?
Short Term – bad decision making; frustration; fear of making a mistake
Long Term – not wanting to pursue the sport any longer; tactical underdevelopment, and lack of creativity
6) What advice would you give coaches/clubs regarding youth sports parents?
Parents want to and need to be “in the loop” when it comes to their kids’ progress and achievements. Monthly meetings are a great way of connecting with the parents; presenting plans for the weeks to come; analyzing the accomplishments and goals, etc. In my coaching career, I have found it crucial to establish a positive relationship but also set boundaries when it comes to their involvement on and off the field.
7) What advice would you give youth sports parents for the car journey to and from youth sports practices and/or games?
Let the child decide if they want to talk about it or not. They know that they shouldn’t have made that pass and that they didn’t mark the right player on that corner kick – their coach had already told them. Let the kid process it on their own terms and let them know that you support them through it all. Keep it simple by telling them that you know that they did their best, that you enjoyed watching them play, and that you hope they had fun!
8) What types of behaviours/mannerisms/comments would you encourage parents to demonstrate?
I would encourage the parents to try to let their kids go and do what they love instead of putting an unnecessary pressure on their results. It is all about their development as not only athletes but also independent human beings. Before a game, it should be a simple “have fun, listen to your coach, and do your best”. During a competition, the support should ideally consist of a positive demeanor and shouldn’t exceed a few words of encouragement when something isn’t going their way. Lastly, after the game, the goal is to let the child speak their mind but also assuring to disallow any disrespect towards the teammates, coaching staff or the officials. At the end of the day, it is just a game, and everyone makes mistakes. If we played well – great – but if not, let’s give it our best in training and try again next week!
9) What is next for you as a coach / club / organisation?
I am currently in talks with a youth soccer organization based in Pittsburgh, PA about becoming a coaching coordinator. The responsibilities for the position include not only coaching but also developing the coaching staff, reviewing the company’s curriculum, as well as some more managerial responsibilities. I am very excited about this opportunity and I hope it is finalized in the coming days!
Massive thank you, Ula for taking the time to complete the following interview questions.
The Sporting Influencer