Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice


Defenders hold their line and move up after a defensive header

By David Clarke
DavidClarkeI wrote an article in Soccer Coach Weekly last year about defenders holding their line once the first attacking ball had been headed away. It’s a bit like holding lines on a battlefield. If the defenders don’t all step up following the ball, or they go at different speeds the defensive line is not as effective.

Here’s the best way to set up a practise session to get defenders to keep the line together and move as one thereby denying space to the attacking team. At 11-a-side it also means you can experiment with offsides.

How to play it
Set this up in half of the pitch – it’s a good exercise for all ages, and for 7-a-side as well as 11-a-side – use only three defenders
for 7-a-side games. Have two wide players to cross in balls and you stand in the middle to give a variety on the angle the ball will come in. All balls are aimed at the central defenders.

Defenders step up behind header
Tell the two wide defenders to push in as soon as the central defender moves forward to attack the ball so that the amount of space for the attacking team is shut down – look for co-ordination
of movement between the back four to cover the space behind the player.

david clarke diagram
© Soccer Coach Weekly

 Soccer Skills and Drills



Even Wayne Rooney gives himself targets

DavidClarkeWhen you’re a striker you need to hit areas of the goal that the goalkeeper is not going to reach. That means the four corners. Top right, bottom right, top left and bottom left.

So you need to get your strikers hitting these areas in training so they can do it in matches.

My U14s have missed two penalties this season because they hit the ball straight down the throat of the goalkeeper. They need to be making the goalkeeper work hard, because it’s a big goal and if players can hit the corners the goalkeeper is going to struggle to get there.

Watch this clip of Wayne Rooney hitting balls at the corners of the goal and get your attackers doing the same.

 Soccer Skills and Drills



Shooting is made easy with Andrés Iniesta

DavidClarkeAttackers can set up drills to practice on their own. I often like to try out drills myself before I get my players doing them. Sometimes I find that it works better if the players I am thinking about do the exercise on their own with no one watching to judge them or make them feel self conscious.

This exercise with Andrés Iniesta of Barcelona works best with just an attacker a few cones and a goal.

Why don’t you go down to your local pitch, set this one up and work out how to do it for yourself.

It makes you feel like a big kid again!

 Soccer Skills and Drills



Why Michael Owen’s last minute goal was so good

David Clarke
Michael Owen’s goal for Manchester Utd against Manchester City was an excellent goal for a number of reasons. I’m always going on about control and passing, receiving and knowing where players are. Well this goal was a great pass and finish.

With the clock showing time was indeed up a desperate ball into the box from Manchester Utd was easily cleared by the City defence. A big up and under with no real hope of a goal scoring chance. It relies on the luck of the bounce, not skill.

The next ball is played with fabulous vision and the right weight to thread it through the City defence to Owen. That was an outstanding pass under pressure by Ryan Giggs. That wasn’t relying on luck, it was a well-timed pass aimed at splitting the City defence open – and it did.

Then there is the finish. Owen controls and with the outside of his boot shoots past the goalkeeper into the net. A cool finish. And yet Owen could see a defender coming quickly at him and the goalkeeper coming towards him. Not the easy chance he makes it look.

In injury time in the first half ex Manchester Utd forward Carlos Tevez has a similar chance. He hit the post.

Here’s the goal so you judge it yourself:

 Soccer Skills and Drills



How to make your players as skilful as Joe Cole

DavidClarke1One of the things I am always telling my players is to go home get out a football and keep it at their feet until the next match or coaching session.

In a recent interview with Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp he spoke about Joe Cole and how when they were both at West Ham Joe used to develop his skills as a schoolboy.

Joe Cole was from north London, and used to play on the roads of Camden Town, where he lived from being six years old.

According to Redknapp, “ I used to say to 11-year-old Joe ‘how did you learn to control the ball so well?’”

Joe replied: “I dribble the ball to school every day.”

Redknapp can still remember when Joe Cole was 15 he came to training at Chadwell Heath, West Ham’s training ground. The team were playing Everton the next day and Joe joined in a nine-a-side game. His team won 3-2. The first team players, led by David Unsworth asked Redknapp why Joe couldn’t play in the team the next day, he was that good.

He is a great role model for you to explain to your players why practising at home is very important to their overall skills. To have a ball constantly at their feet will make them much more skilful and give them more time to think about passing.

Here are some clips of Joe Cole in action playing for Chelsea and England and also playing Brazilian soccer with some young players – check them out:



Is diving cheating or just clever trickery?
September 18, 2009, 10:10 am
Filed under: Dave Clarke, Soccer Refereeing, Soccer Skills | Tags: , , , ,

David ClarkeThe obsession over attacker’s diving in England seems to me to be getting out of hand.

In Europe it is considered part of an attacker’s skill, to go down when they are touched in the penalty area. When Arsenal’s Eduardo won the penalty that caused Uefa to overreact and ban him then subsequently overturn that ban the rest of Europe will have admired the way he did it.

What worries me is that if we brand this as cheating what do we call all the other parts of a soccer match where players claim things, like corners when you appeal even though you know the ball was last played of you or taking a throw-in yards from where the ball went out?

Think about free-kicks when players won’t go back 10 yards or the player taking the free-kick moves the ball forward. Surely we can’t call all these things cheating?

When I first started coaching I kept wondering why so many calls were going against my team. I realized once I refereed a few matches that if one team calls the ball theirs and the other doesn’t, you tend to give it to the more vocal team. It’s just human nature. So I like to see all my players call for the ball when they know it is theirs.

We played a game recently where the opposition hit a shot very close to our goal at an acute angle and he claimed it had gone in and come out through a hole in the back of the goal. The opposition claimed the goal very vocally, as did the opposition parents. The young referee after deliberating for an instance gave the goal. It was not until then that my team questioned the referee, by then too late.

The ball had in fact flashed past the post.

You have to get up and get on with the game, gamesmanship like this happens in all sports – but is it cheating?



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The simple way to dribble with both feet
September 11, 2009, 8:40 am
Filed under: Dave Clarke, Soccer Skills | Tags: , , ,

David ClarkeI have watched some great matches over the last couple of weeks, including England beating Croatia 5-1 in the World Cup 2010 and the Women’s Euro 2009 final England 2 Germany 6. What I noticed was the number of players who dribble using one foot and use their other foot to control the ball back into the path of their main foot. They don’t use their secondary foot for crossing, long passing or shooting.

Not many players are great with both feet, but if you can get your players to use their secondary foot to help them control the ball, they will be able to dribble better and quicker than if they just use one foot. Iin effect what they have to do is to move it back into the path of the foot they are going to shoot with or pass with.

You find in youth soccer that players don’t want to use their secondary foot at all and will go into the most tortuous shapes to get the ball with their main foot. So when you put into practice two footed exercises what you want to see from your players is accuracy with their secondary foot not power.

I prefer simple two footed exercises like dribbling around a cone passing the ball between each foot with every step – left-right-left-right. This gets both feet working on accuracy and gives players an insight into how professional players keep control of the ball when running at speed.

Watch this clip which show the simple two footed dribbling exercise in action.



The touch that sets your players free
September 10, 2009, 10:08 pm
Filed under: Dave Clarke, Soccer Skills | Tags: , , ,

DavidClarke1I’ve seen many skills from the obvious step overs to the less obvious flicks and touches that great players make to glide them past defenders. I can watch these over and over again because skill is so beautiful to see.

I can remember as a young boy in the days before Ronaldo and Robinho did step over after step over watching players with a sublime touch move the ball in directions you wouldn’t expect. I practiced for hours in my garden, touch here, touch there, but to do it in a match was something special.

This is why you should let your players try things out in matches because if they only work one time out of ten it will be worth it for the player, you and your team.

Here’s a few examples of what I mean from Zidane skilling up Ronaldinho, Riquelme nutmegging and one of Ronaldinho again hitting out when he gets nutmegged by Juan Pablo Sorin – outstanding examples of simple skills:

 Soccer Skills and Drills



Players who try something different
September 7, 2009, 1:30 pm
Filed under: Dave Clarke, Soccer Coaching, Soccer Skills | Tags: , , , ,

dc1Coaching the U9s last week one player stood out. Small but stocky he was constantly trying something different with his corners, free-kicks and dribbling skills.

Maybe he’d been watching Billy Wingrove and his ball skills, because something had inspired him to try flicks and tricks. At this age the opposition players find it hard not to stand and admire or have a joke when it goes wrong, but it is something you should encourage if your players try it at the right times.

The right times being in the opposition half of the pitch, not in your own penalty area! He tried to play a one-two with the corner flag, which with the new spiked flags could actually work – although on this occasion it didn’t much to the annoyance of his team mates.

It reminded me of some of the skills videos I have seen especially this one where the player does play a one-two with the corner flag. Check some of these out on my blog.




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