Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice


A weekend off…

What do you do when you’re faced with a weekend and no touchline to pace? “Fantastic – a free weekend,” my wifenew-image-dave-clarke.jpg exclaimed when I told her next weekend was soccer-free. But I’m beginning to get edgy just thinking about it.

“Arrange a friendly,” my colleagues at Better Soccer Coaching suggest. But I’ve been there before trying to arrange friendlies when only half the team want to play – or, in reality, only half the parents want to get out of bed early on a Saturday morning.

So I guess I’ll just hang around the kitchen drumming my fingers on the worktops, and end up taking my sons to the park to play a game between the three of us. Try out the latest drills I’ve been writing for Better Soccer Coaching, run around the pitch checking the lines have been drawn straight and the goalposts are in good condition.

In fact I’ve just found out, I’m on duty taking my five-year-old daughter to drama – “It’s about time you found out where I was”, much to my boys’ dismay. “What will we do?” Looks like it’s the park in the afternoon, get the Leeds Utd score then a bit of Sky Sports in the evening… Now where did I put my daughter’s pink soccer kit?

Dave Clarke, Better Soccer Coaching editor



Top ten soccer-isms on match day

I’m sitting in the Better Soccer Coaching offices thinking about the ten things you most like to see in a young soccer playernew-image-dave-clarke.jpg during a match. It’s one way of finding out whether your training sessions are achieving what you hope.

When I think up coaching drills to be published in Better Soccer Coaching I’m constantly making sure they can relate to match days. If you cannot see a benefit during a match from using exercises in training, either in the individual or in the team, then they are not much use.

So here are my top ten things I look for during a match in each individual player:

1. Making forward passes through the opposition defence
2. Taking chances in the attacking third – try a backheel
3. Passing the ball and moving in support
4. Working hard to win the ball back
5. Communication – calling out names; asking for the ball
6. Making runs off the ball
7. Forgetting mistakes and getting on with the game – keeping their heads up
8. Enjoying the game; having fun
9. Playing until the final whistle – winning or losing
10. Knowing their position on the field (especially for defenders) so they can recover quickly if the team lose the ball

Do you agree or disagree? Or do you have a better top ten? Let us know at Better Soccer Coaching by commenting below…

Dave Clarke, Better Soccer Coaching editor



What Does Better Soccer Coaching Do?

What we’re all about?dwyer-2.jpg

You’ll have noticed a great many references to Better Soccer Coaching in the posts on this blog site. Better Soccer Coaching is the name of the free weekly coaching guide published by the company we all work for.

If you’ve been wondering what Better Soccer Coaching is all about, I’ve included a recent article below. This one is about the core skills of passing and receiving. We also cover areas such as tactics, fitness, communication, running a good session and lots more.

We like to think we’re good at taking these tips from our panel of expert coaches and presenting them in a way which makes it easy to take on to the training pitch.

Head on over to Better Soccer Coaching and have a look at our archive of over 100 tips and maybe sign up to receive a new issue each week. Either way, I’d love to hear what you think of how we do things.

Dwyer Scullion, publisher and youth team coach

A Great Way to Coach Passing and Receiving

Constant passing using match-like situations and a bit of competition to give it an edge is the best way to coach your players to be ready for soccer matches. And it should be fun too, says David Clarke.

Great for passing, agility and building fitness.

We’ve covered passing and first touch a lot in Soccer Coach Weekly, and it is indeed one of the most important things you can teach a young soccer player. I came across a little exercise recently that I just had to share with you. It is great for passing and agility but it also has a little bit of fitness in there too.

diagram.jpg

Run, pass, receive, control, pass

Use two players and four cones. In the diagram the player at the bottom runs left to right and gives a square pass to the player on the opposite side. The top player does the same thing from right to left. Both players must keep up with play to receive, then pass. So it is a constantly moving exercise with first touch and good passing vital to its effectiveness.

It has proper soccer-like situations

If your player makes a bad touch, he will have to work a little bit harder to get it back which is exactly what he would have to do in a game.

Making the exercise competitive

You can move this exercise on by bringing a bit of competition into it by combining skills with fitness and whenever you can do that in an exercise it adds to its value.

After 10 touches get your players to sprint to the 18 yard line and see who can get back to their positions first.

You will see that by adding a little bit of competitiveness to it, the pace picks up and the skill level goes up a notch because they are doing it in competition with each other, so you’ve created a skill building exercise.

Key coaching tip: First touch is vital coupled with a good inside foot pass.



Is there anything worse than being linesman?

How popular are you when you walk over with the linesman flag and look for a willing dad to run the line? Funny how thedavidclarke1.gif mobile phones start ringing, the pulled muscles start playing up, the dogs need walking, all in the desperate urge to escape having to run the line. It’s something we’ve never covered in Better Soccer Coaching, the skills of being linesman, but perhaps we should.

As a coach of course you don’t have to do it, I’ve always had a right hand man who runs the line every week come rain or shine. The one who can stand up to the shouting and ridicule, not just from the opponents parents but from his friends and other parents who he normally stands with and moans about… well you guessed it the linesman. You’re right there in front of everyone, not even the pitch to hide on like the referee. Tripping over the siblings that are sitting by the pitch tutting as you knock over their bottles of diet coke.

I ran the line last week as a favour at a boys under 14 game. The referee was chairman of the club and pretty well qualified having been a ref for 15 years. I raised the flag twice in the first ten minutes both times he failed to spot me so I sheepishly put it down. “Does he know you’re there?” quipped one of the opposition parents. Up my arm went again as the opposition started another attack. “NEVER!” shouted their manager who was standing half way down the pitch obviously in a better position than myself.

In the second half during an attack – with at least three “phases” as the experts call them – the ball was put in the net by a boy standing clearly offside. “I’ve given it,” shouted the referee to much cheering from the opposition players and parents. “Are you blind?” one of the 13-year-olds shouted. I was adamant he was offside and strode over to the referee. “Look,” he said, “I’ve given it, you were too slow.” Too slow! I am not a professional linesman, I was about to say, but the game was going on around me and the players were running past gesticulating.

Two minutes later I had slipped and went crashing to the floor. Imagine the commotion on the opposition side of the pitch, the cheering, the whooping.

I might start a section in Better Soccer Coaching so you can send in photos of the linesman in action. Come to think of it I will do a ten point guide to being the linesman for Better Soccer Coaching. One point will be to wear non-slip shoes. I don’t mind be a coach or a referee, but do me a favour, don’t ever ask me to run the line again.



Players Coaching Each Other

My Under 8s side have been doing extremely well lately, but regular readers of Better Soccer Coaching will know that wedwyerscullion.jpg started our season back in September with humble ambitions.

We didn’t have any outstanding players. You know, the kind that you can rely on to score regularly. As a coach I simply wanted to do what I could to help them progress as players and to have as much fun as is humanly possible on a freezing cold English Saturday morning. My stated ambition was for the team to score a goal before Christmas, and maybe push on to win a match by the end of the season.

Well, as things panned out, we actually got our first few goals in October but we were still a long way off winning a game. However, our fortunes took a dramatic turn when we managed to acquire the registration of a local boy who started training with us in the new year.

Now, this boy is really something special. He’s fast, skillful, smart, he looks up, and he has a left foot that Liverpool FC could certainly be doing with at the moment. Best of all, he is an absolutely delightful young boy. He supports his team mates at every opportunity. He’s always smiling. He’s never rude and he’s keen to learn as much as he can about the game.

Now we can’t stop winning. We’ve beaten the two strongest teams in our local area 4-0 and 6-0. We’re in danger of actually winning the Cup! Talk about Bad News Bears done good!

But here’s the thing. This weekend just gone by we had to make do without our star player, and quite a few others, and our squad was down to bare bones. We lost 2-0 but the message to the boys who played was that it was far and away our best ever performance. I saw cute little drag-backs, step-overs, passing into space, one-twos. I heard players pointing to each other to cover different areas of the pitch. I saw real determination to play “proper” passing, attractive football – not the kick-and-rush style that so many of us were brought up on.

So where did this all come from? I think our new star player has had an immeasurable influence on his peers, and not just in the way he plays. Sure, they all want to be able to dribble and shoot like young Ben and that aspiration has clearly raised their individual skill levels.

But I think it’s as much to do with the way he supports his team mates. I think they see him being attentive and respectful to the coaches. They respond to his encouragement and the fact that he never berates his team mates. They hear they way he communicates with the other players and, because, he’s such a great player, they can’t help but want to copy him.

In that regard he’s possibly a more effective coach than I could ever be.

Dwyer Scullion, Better Soccer Coaching publisher



Winning at all costs

It’s a strange feeling watching my youngest son play for another coach. He’s played in my teams since the under 4s ran outdavidclarke1.gif in their bright yellow Nike kit in 1999, won their first game and never looked back. A lot of the values at Better Soccer Coaching come from watching young players develop and the joy they experience with a ball at their feet.

This Saturday one of my son’s friends had asked him to play for their team in a “friendly” match against another local village team. Straight from kick off our team were attacking the goal and my son got the ball just outside the penalty area beat a player and shot into the goalkeeper’s arms. I was about to shout well played to my son but our coach got there before me. “What did you shoot for?” he bellowed, “Mark was open!” And down the line he marched gesticulating and muttering.

In the second half again my son won the ball in midfield beat a couple of players and was surging towards their goal. Our coach was nearly apoplectic with rage. “Keep it simple” and then “You’re not bloody Ronaldo!” The big number 5 at the back put a stop to my son’s charge and he lost the ball. “Pass, pass, you should have passed!”

One of the other coaches standing next to me expressed his surprise at this shouting. “Why did he shout at your son, who did he have to pass to? He should be shouting at the support players who were just watching instead of running outside him to allow him to pass.”

I guess this is one of the problems of the win-at-all-costs mentality. In general creative players are discouraged in a lot of matches. What you see is plenty of crunching tackles, brave headers and long punts upfield. What the coach wanted my son to do was blast the ball down the pitch and charge after it.

What would happen if the authorities changed the emphasis and we did away with cups, medals and prizes for winning teams? There must be something we could do instead? Better Soccer Coaching wants to see players develop, but when I write about developing players in Better Soccer Coaching a lot of coaches say to me: “ah yes developing players, the excuse for losing.”

But I like developing players. It gives me great pleasure to see, over the seasons, how different players develop, and not just the ones with a big kick and a sliding tackle. This is what Better Soccer Coaching is all about.

Are flair players the future? I think so…



Soccer loses out to love
February 15, 2008, 4:36 pm
Filed under: Dave Clarke, Soccer Training | Tags: ,

What age does youth soccer lose out to love? We’ve puzzled over this one in the Better Soccer Coaching offices all day. Atdavidclarke1.gif training last night – Valentine’s Day – the under 12 girls were well represented, the under 13 boys and even the under 14 boys were well represented. But the under 15s had only four boys turn up.

When I asked the loyal ones where their team mates were they shuffled about a bit and muttered something about a Valentine’s School party. That was the first I had heard about it, and none of their parents sent me the usual contrite email to say their son couldn’t make training that evening.

So, making a mental note to cancel plans for cheerleaders at the under 16 games, I will not be running training for under 15 and above next season.

But if anyone has any other tales of soccer losing out to love Better Soccer Coaching would love to hear about it.

Dave Clarke, Better Soccer Coaching editor



What is Coaching Really About?

Should a coach be an expert or a teacher? Or both?andrew_griffiths.jpg

I was surprised to read recently that up until the 1970s most people’s understanding of the role of a coach was as an expert.

The coach instructed his or her players from a position of superior knowledge, or put more simply, perhaps they just knew more about the particular game than the people they were instructing.

That was all fine. The drawback with this approach however is that development is restricted by the limits of the coach’s knowledge.

So the absence of certain expertise in the coach could actually hold back players, who were reliant on their coach as their single, trusted source of skills and advice.

Once this was realised, a school of thought emerged that for coaching to be effective and achieve measurable improved performance the coach need NOT be an expert, although, of course, it helps.

However to be successful, they must:

1) Believe in the potential of the coachee to achieve superior performance.
2) Have credibility in the eyes of the coachee in order to build the relationship.

So it turned out that the coach doesn’t need to be an expert, but should be at least skilled in the process of coaching to make progress.

I’m indebted for this insight to Roger Jones, a coach at AFC Holmer Green, based at The Misbourne School in Great Missenden, England, who sent me the fruits of some of his research into the origins of coaching.

Roger referred me to the following rather neat definition of coaching from the Defence Leadership Centre, part of the British government’s Ministry of Defence, which I think sums up the true nature of the concept.

“Coaching is the art of releasing the potential in another in order to improve performance”

I’m conscious that I’ve managed to take up a whole entry on Soccer Coaching Blog without (until now) mentioning the word soccer, and some of you may be wondering how relevant these thoughts are to you.

I think they are, but what do you think?

I’d be grateful if you’d let me know. Are you an expert at soccer or an expert at coaching? And does it matter?

I look forward to your feedback and will return to this subject in a later post.

Andrew Griffiths
Managing Director, Better Soccer Coaching



The problem with training on astro turf…

I came in from training last night feeling a slight annoyance at the session. We were running the “turn 3v2 into 2v1” passingdavidclarke1.gif drill from Better Soccer Coaching (Soccer Coach Weekly, 25 July 2007, page 3) and it was going perfectly. Bang, bang, bang the passes were drilled to feet, controlled and drilled back. My Better Soccer Coaching colleagues would have looked on with a mixture of admiration and jealousy!

But at the back of my mind I know that come Sunday the boys will be on pitches that resemble ploughed fields and the ball will stick in the mud. You see, the problem is we train on astro turf. Outstanding if you play at Stamford Bridge or the Nou Camp every week, but on grassroots English pitches it doesn’t quite go hand in hand. When I write about training sessions in Better Soccer Coaching I am often tempted to give drills purely for astro turf and explain how you translate that onto the pitch on a rainy weekend.

Of course the best answer is to get your players to the match at least half an hour early so you can push them through some intense passing practice. One of the best ones is to get your players into fours and make a triangle with one player trying to win the ball off the other three, featured in our warm-ups in Better Soccer Coaching (Soccer Coach Weekly, 1 August 2007, page 2). Get them on the pitch and get that ball moving between the players. This is the best way to get the players used to the pitch before a match.

Astro turf is a great all-weather solution to training in rainy countries, and it is great for games like soccer tennis. It allows the ball to move around quickly for your passing drills – you just have to beware the stick-in-the-mud factor and take heed of what we say in Better Soccer Coaching: warm-ups work!

I looked at the pitch last night and wondered if David Beckham was to hit a crossfield pass to Ronaldo who beats a player then turns it inside to Lionel Messi, quick turn and on to Didier Drogba and bang into the net, would it work in the mud? I have my doubts, so why should I expect my players to do it?

David Clarke, Better Soccer Coaching editor



Who’s the female in the black?

How appropriate is it on Valentine’s Day to talk about referees? Not at all you say… well not according to our under 12s.davidclarke1.gif The team has been hosting a referee that has got them all in a spin. They all take great note of what the referee says and never answer back. Even the dads on the touchline have been quiet of late. The referee is 19 and female. She has refereed the last three home games and is likely to referee more of them. The thing is I don’t think she has made one single bad decision in any game. But maybe I’ve got that wrong because one of the mums told me she thought the ref was hopeless. Then she said her son had a crush on her and talked more about the referee on the way home than the match, something to do with knee length socks and black shorts… or was it one of the dads that said that.

Anyway that got me thinking. Maybe here at Better Soccer Coaching we should be championing female referees to keep the shouting at youth soccer games to a minimum rather than the Don’t Cross The Line campaign.

Imagine it. Women in uniform running the game, mums running the line. Who would start shouting about offsides and cheats when the rather alarming mum with sunglasses perched on her head, lipstick clad mouth wide open “OFFSIDE REF” has the flag held high in her hand even though there were two defenders between the opposition striker and the goal. Dads watching the referee rather than the game. No swearing or shouting, no one threatening to “deck that cheating referee”. Just the odd wolf whistle.

There is a serious point in all this. Saturday mornings have been much better without the usual shouts at the referee and that’s not just because my head is heavy from the Guinness of the night before. You can think clearer, you can get your message across to the boys better and the whole general atmosphere is a lot more friendly. And the boys have shown the confidence to run and dribble with the ball more. Is it coincidence? Has anyone else experienced this phenomenon?

It might not work for the Manchester Uniteds or Real Madrids but at grass roots level there might be something in it.




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