Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Come and meet me at the Grass Roots Football Show


Dave Clarke

The Grass Roots Football Show is taking place this weekend and I for one am not going to miss it. You can come and see me on the Elite Soccer stand C29a and ask me questions about youth coaching.
It’s a great place to pick up some coaching tips to take home with you and there will be some famous names running technical coaching sessions from set pieces and warm-ups to attacking, defending and finishing.
Michael Beale will be there on Friday and Saturday and it will be me on Sunday so don’t miss it.
You can also look out for sessions from managers like Peter Taylor, Iain Dowie, Chris Hughton, Graham Taylor and Chris Coleman.

The top coaches will be on hand to showcase exciting new drills, deliver top coaching tips and make sure that whether you coach an U10’s or adults team, there will be loads of great sessions to motivate and inspire you.

Here’s the type of thing you can expect: Robbie Savage talking about discipline when he was a Manchester Utd youth player:

And this is what happened last year:

Ashley Cole makes the right decisions

One of the world’s best defenders with or without the ball in 1v1 situations must be England and Chelsea superstar Ashley Cole. Most of the time he makes the right decision when faced with this situation.
Decision making is an important part of any young soccer player’s make-up. Every time they play a match, whether it’s for a team or for fun in the playground, there is a decision to be made when they get the ball.
Often they are faced with situations where there is an easy route where their team keeps the ball – a simple pass or sideways movement into space to slowly build up play – or a more difficult route with more to gain – attempting to dribble past a defender for example.
By playing this game you can help your players to see the results of their decisions. Because they keep the ball when points are scored they could quickly build up points by going to one of the easy cones. Or, if they find they are a lot of points down with only a few minutes left, they must go for the harder cone to quickly score points.
All your players – defenders, midfielders, attackers – should take part in this game. It can be used for any age group.

How to coach it

  • Tell your attackers to keep the ball moving.
  • They need to use moves and turns like stepovers, dragbacks and dummies to lose the defender.
  • Tell them to take every opportunity to score points.
  • The way to do it is to keep the ball close to their body.
  • When a player scores a point they return to the starting cone and try to score another point. They keep possession of the ball until it goes out of play or they lose the ball to the defender.

There’s more to it than what you do with the ball


Dave Clarke

One of the qualities of a good team is the ability to think and react when they are playing in matches. And I don’t just mean how they react to the ball. There are some players who can be captains on the pitch and help their team mates by communicating and showing leadership qualities.

You should encourage these players to come to the fore during matches because if they can talk to each other and encourage each other they will help the team to get through difficult periods in games and to give 100% effort and skill.

Gareth Southgate the former English international footballer and manager of Middlesborough, now is the English FA head of elite development, believes leadership and strong communication are vital at the top level of youth football. Listen to what he has to say to a group of young players in the video clip below.

How do you celebrate victory?


Dave Clarke

When my team wins cups or leagues we always celebrate with a get together where any of them or their parents can stand up and say something about how well they have done during the season.

Last season one of my players was the lead role in Billy Elliot: The Musical at our local theatre and he stood up and sang one of the songs from it. It made it a special occasion and one that everyone enjoyed. Hopefully this season someone will be able to do something similar.

I was reminded of this when I saw that AC Milan’s Kevin Prince-Boateng had kept a promise to do a Michael Jackson routine if his side won the Serie A title in Italy.

The Italian giants won their first league championship in seven years with a 0-0 draw at Roma last week, and they celebrated their title with a resounding 4-1 thrashing of Cagliari in front of their home fans on Saturday.

After the game Boateng, in his first season with the Rossoneri, stole the show by dressing up and performing Jackson’s dance moves, including the moonwalk.

what a great way to be part of a team experience and take winning in the spirit it should be taken – players showing their human side.

The best coaches know what to say at half-time


Dave Clarke

Two managers under pressure met in the semi-finals of this season’s Carling Cup. Birmingham city managed by Alex McLeish and West Ham United managed by Avram Grant showed how managers can have a profound effect on the performance of a team.

With Birmingham 3-1 ahead on aggregate at half time in the second of the two leg semi-final it was likely that Birmingham were out. McLeish had to motivate his team if he wanted to have any chance of winning the game. This is what he said to the team: "We are out… but it’s not official yet. It’s up to you if you want to come in at the end of 90 minutes and say you have regrets or you didn’t give it your all."

His talk resulted in Birmingham coming back from 3-1 to win the game in injury time 4-3. An amazing turnaround.

On the other hand Grant was quiet in the West Ham dressing room. He later confessed: "I didn’t know what to say to them at half-time."

While McLeish used a motivational approach to revive a team that looked beaten, Grant seemed to shrink from the challenge because he couldn’t cope with the pressure of winning.

This illustrates how the half time team talk is important – however you choose to do it – to inspire your team to victory.

Here are my half-time tips:

  • As soon as the first half is over, move to your players. Don’t make them move for you. Unless there is an obvious alternative, such as some shade or cover in sunny or adverse weather.

  • Be clear from obvious distractions such as the opposition.

  • Ask the players to sit down. This way communication is easier, the players are still and they are in the best position for recovery and hydration.

  • A key tip is to get players to drink moderate amounts of water at a continual rate. This means having as many water bottles available as possible. Successful recovery and hydration allows the team to absorb feedback quicker.

For the most constructive feedback time:

  • Get or wait until you know that you have everyone’s attention.

  • Provide two or three major points.

  • Be clear, positive and constructive.

  • Colourful language doesn’t necessarily motivate players.

Plan for the second half

  • Pinpoint the areas for improvement.

  • Highlight opposition weaknesses and how to take advantage of them.

  • Re-emphasise the positives and the skills from the first half and the need to stick to the game plan, particularly for the first 10 minutes of second half.

  • Before you leave the field, have a quick final word with the captain before the final huddle is formed.

Half-time summary

  • Don’t talk until everyone is listening.

  • Don’t concentrate on negatives.

  • Don’t spring any surprises.

  • Don’t allow too much player input all at once.

Top five best headers of a ball

Alan Shearer – Newcastle Utd and England

Alan Clarke – Leeds Utd and England

Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid and Portugal

Didier Drogba – Chelsea and Ivory Coast

Miroslav Klose – Bayern Munich and Germany

Soccer heading drills

Running the game without the ball

I am always going on to other coaches about coaching teams to think about how they set up when they haven’t got the ball. I don’t mind the oppposition having the ball as long as my team are in control of the positions they are playing in.

If we can identify a player low on confidence on the opposition team then my players can position themselves so the ball goes to this player. IF that player has the ball they may be forced into an error that will benefit my team.

In the match between Manchester United and Chelsea that decided the Premier League Champions the United manager Sir Alex Ferguson always plays his left winger narrow when Chelsea play Branislav Ivanovic at right-back. Ivanovic was given all ;the time on the ball he wanted because the United coaches were sure he couldn’t harm them when he had the ball.

In this case it was Ji-Sung Park on the left and he created the opening goal after only 40 seconds by sitting narrow and catching Ivanovic off his guard. The pattern of the game was shaped here with Ji-Sung Park staying narrow allowing Ryan Giggs to run at Ivanovic.

It also gave Wayne Rooney space to work in, and the Chelsea midfield were overrun for much of the game.

Choosing the right pass

Dave Clarke

We’ve all witnessed a lot of passing in the past couple of months. Barcelona with short crisp flicks and tricks, Arsenal’s through passes, Manchester United defence splitting passes and Stoke City’s more direct exorcet missile passes.

They are all aimed at getting the ball into a position to score a goal – Barcelona take a lot more passes than Stoke to get the ball up the pitch.

And for all the clever passing that Barcelona can do sometimes getting one of your players to see a long pass will have much more effect than those short passes. If you can pass to a player further up the pitch why not do so? It isn’t a sin to play a long pass it’s just as skilfull and can be far more effective.

So what makes a player choose a pass? Communication from a team mate, space, time, vision and tactics. There is a lot going on in the mind of a young player when they have the ball at their feet.

They have to practice to give them the tools to deal with these situations and that come from you. Give them the tools show them how to use them then watch as they develop through games.

This is a nice easy drill to get them playing long passes.

Move the ball before you kick it

In a soccer match the ball is moving when you receive it, so when you practice your long kicking make sure you move the ball to make your kicking practice more match like.

The technique you need to teach your players for long kicking:

  • Push the ball to the side, slightly in front of the body.
  • Put the non-kicking foot next to the ball
  • Kick through the centre of the ball.

To kick it long along the floor, you don’t need to follow through after striking the ball. Instead, strike it sharply and stop your follow through just after hitting it.

Soccer passing drills and games

Back to the future – or how to play out from the back

dave clarkePlaying out from the back is an ideal in the world of youth soccer – but it is an achievable ideal. Like any ideal though don’t make it an absolute for your team – you MUST play out from the back is wrong, play out from the back every time you get a chance to do so is much more realistic.

I spoke to a coach this week who has been working on the tactics for his team. From goalkicks he had put his tallest player wide on the wing and the idea was the goalkeeper punted the ball towards him for him to head on towards the attackers. This was his main tactic and one which would probably bore the pants off his players.

Players need to experience for themselves the right way to play the ball out from the back. IF all the defenders are marked heavily by a team pressing high up the pitch the goalkeeper can go long into the space left by the pressing opponents… it makes more sense than trying to play it to a defender deep in their own half without an outlet.

I use this overload game to get my defenders used to running the game from the back. IT is a really good exercise that allows them to make decisions and because of the overload experience their decisions working and being successful.

How it works
In the diagram you can see the defenders have a normal set up defending a penalty area with a goalkeeper and a full-size goal. The attackers are defending two small goals – use small hockey style goals or mark out small goals with cones. You stand between the small goals to coach and encourage the players.

You want the central defenders – 4, 5 and 6 – to control the game by playing the ball across the back four to the two wing backs – 2 and 3. They can then run up to the half way line where the goal is. They can play it into the goal first time from their position at the back or run past the attackers.

What to get your players to do
Your attackers must work tirelessly, encourage them to keep running and when they have the ball to try passing or use clever skills to get into a position where they can have a shot.

You need to give your defenders the confidence to use the ball by controlling and passing it to the players on either side of them. Encourage them to control the ball with their first touch rather than a panicky pass which could put their team-mate into trouble.

You must also encourage your defenders to use both wings so they have options when they are playing matches. Encourage your two attackers to ‘load’ one side and force play down the other side.

How to advance it

  • You can add two defenders to the A and B attackers who can stand in front of the two goals to make it harder for the wing backs to put the ball in the net.
  • Or you can add another attacker so there are three and try to get them putting the ball into space behind the defenders to pass the ball through them.
  • After you’ve coached this session you can move the players around so it’s 4 v 4 with one team defending two small goals without any goalkeepers and four outfield players, while the team defending the big goal has a goalkeeper and three outfield players.
  • There are some great passing from the back moves on this compilation:

    A motivational masterclass

    Dave Clarke

    Last month Javier Aguirre’s Real Zaragoza team beat Real Madrid in Madrid for the first time in 11 years and only the fourth time in their history.

    The team were seven point from saftey camped in the relegation zone when Aguirre took over at the end of last year but they have climbed to safety since then.

    The key to his success is motivational not tactical. He was described in Zaragoza as “a macho but with intelligence and conviction, vehement and direct, using language players understand. Honest and fair with his players, he has created real bonds.”

    The week before the Madrid game Aguirre constantly told his attacking winger Ángel Lafita he was better than Madrid’s defenders. Lafita returning from injury got the first and the third. “At last I can see the sun,” he said.

    Of all the stories about his amazing motivational skills this is my favourite:

    Aguirre used the wives and girlfriends of his players by secretly meeting them and making a video. The players unaware of this were gathered together the night before a big game. He put the video on, and sat back to watch their faces.

    The players wives came on camera one by one: “There’s something I have to tell you. This is important. Listen to me.” Each of them spoke to the camera and to their own particular player. “I love you. Really, I do. But there is something we have to talk about. There is something you have to do for me …

    … Go and win this match!”

    He also tells his players they’re the Indians defending their territory from the white man and whips them into a fury before big games, lining them up and telling them which player each individual faces – and that it is their job to be better than them.

    Motivation. It can count for so much when the odds are stacked against your team. It need not necessarily be as dramatic as these examples but it shows how inventive you can be if you sit down and think about motivating your players.

    Watch the video of Real Zaragoza taking Real Madrid apart:


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