Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

David Clarke Interviews… KRISTINE LILLY exclusive

David ClarkeMy series of interviews on influential figures in the world of coaching continues with this exclusive interview with Kristine Lilly. Kristine was a member of the United States women’s national soccer team for 24 years. She is the most capped men’s or women’s soccer player in the history of the sport, gaining her 352nd and final cap against Mexico in a World Cup qualifier in November 2010. Kristine played in five World Cup Finals, winning two World Cups to add to her numerous other awards and honours.

Kristine LillyShe is now tasked with developing the next generation of female players and coaches in the USA. I caught up with her as she launched a skills partnership with Coerver coaching.

1. Can you give me a brief outline of what you will be doing in your link up with Coerver Coaching?
I have joined a partnership with Coerver Coaching to continue to make a difference in the game. We hope to promote and improve the Women’s game globally. We have an inspiring curriculum that really works; improving the player on the field and the person off it.

2. Why Coerver?
Well I have used the Coerver method throughout my career, and ever since I was a young girl. I believe in the Coerver system, the philosophy and the benefits it brings to players, coaches of any ability.
I am also hugely impressed at how the Coerver System and Brand has evolved and expanded globally, since Charlie Cooke and Alf Galustian (pictured) first started it almost 30 years ago.
Lastly Coerver works, players that go through this method improve, become better players and especially feel confident and comfortable on the ball.

3. The women’s game is huge in USA, what do you think players lack in terms of technique that your link up with Coerver can help players to step up a level?
I think US players are great athletes, wonderful competitors and have a winning mentality. However, I think we can be better with the ball; especially when and where we use it; make quicker decisions, but have the confidence if there are no passing options to keep the ball under pressure.

Also we can be more consistent, technique usually breaks down, as players get tired, so we need to continually work on improving our skills, which also has the added benefit of improving confidence. I am sure if you speak to top coaches and players they will put confidence (building) as a main priority. In a way Coerver does that by Mastery of Skills through repetition.

4. Having spent part of your career in Sweden do you think the women’s game in Europe can catch up with the USA? Are the skills/technique levels the same?
I think the level of play has advanced all over the world. I think the Europeans are improving quickly. I think they have become more technical than us in the past decade. I think the one thing that the USA has is a fighting mentality that edges out teams. However the technical side of the game has to be there to make that happen as well.

5. With regards to youth soccer in terms of both girls and boys I think repetition is one of the most vital coaching tools. But players can find doing the same old thing boring. How do you hide repetition when coaching?
As a young player I spent many hours kicking a ball against a wall practicing my shooting technique and passing. Yes I would agree doing this alone could get boring, but once you see improvement in your game all the practice, hard work makes sense; boring or not.

Also that is what is so great about the Coerver programme, you do basic drills that address the technical side of the game and then add pressure, and then make it a competitive atmosphere and it’s always challenging, progressively competitive and always fun!!!

6. You played in youth teams in the early 90s, which one factor would you say is the most important change in the way kids are coached today?
As in all countries there are excellent coaches who continually look for new, innovative ways of teaching and others who really don’t want to change from what they are used to. This is not a criticism, since in Grassroots Soccer all the coaches who give their time and effort mostly for free, need to be praised.

My main worry is that some Coaches are only interested in winning teams; winning is important, but in the formative ages Coerver and I believe the focus should be on development. If you are a young player, yes you want to win but at the same time you dream of improving to where one day you can a real difference!

We don’t have, in my opinion enough players like this. Abby Wambach (USA Women), Marta (Brazil Women, pictured), Messi (Argentina), Xavi (Spain) of course, but Soccer needs more of these Special Players. That’s another thing I learned from Alf and Coerver about teaching based on models of Great Players. It’s a great way to teach and motivate.

7. What are you coaching in your next session and how?
I like the Coerver theme sessions that Alf showed me at our last practice session together. Theme is Creating more Goal Chances individually; a session where you teach players how to can create goal chances (showing them different 1 v 1’s to create space either side of opponents to shoot, Improving Strikers first touch in the penalty box, so they have more time to shoot, Improving reaction speed for strikers.)

I pick games and drills that teach these topics.

How I would teach this or any other theme is by starting with a Coerver Ball Mastery exercise (as many touches of the ball both right and left foot. Lots of touches in 60 second bursts. I would then teach the 1 v 1 /First Touch technique in a group drill. No defenders, but just getting the technique correct, and finally I would finish with full pressure, defenders trying to win the ball

8. Can you explain one specific exercise you will coach that uses Coerver skills?
There is one drill I like a lot right now. Here is the diagram and action. This drill not only improves attackers but also defenders, defenders try and win the ball then they go for Goal; a great lesson for all defenders that once you win the ball you need to use it constructively.

Kristine pictured here with
Coerver’s Charlie Cooke.

PURPOSE: To Improve 1 v 1 & 2 v 2 under full pressure


  • Two small goals facing in opposite directions 18 yards apart.
  • Two teams one with a ball to each player facing the other across a 15 yard grid.


  • The Black Defender passes across the grid to the opponent and they play 1v1 to score on either small goal.
  • If the Defender wins the ball he can score.
  • Either player can only score from a shooting zone 4 yards from goal.


  • Play 2 v 2.
  • The receiver must pass 1st touch to his partner and overlap behind him to start the action.
  • Same scoring rules apply. Defenders can score if they win possession.

Match players evenly. Switch roles after each contest

First touch is crucial… players must go and meet the ball – don’t wait for it

Time limits work wonders

David Clarke

Children thrive on having a time limit to work to and nothing focuses them better than working against the clock.

I did an experiment recently with a squad of 12-year-old players. They did a basic passing exercise – running up a channel in groups of four passing along the line. There was no pressure and I stood back and watched.

After two minutes I noticed that none of the players were running on to the ball and taking it in their stride and the whole exercise lacked energy and accuracy.

So, I then set them a challenge: how many runs can you do in one minute? There were still one or two poor passes so players had to stop and go backwards to receive the ball, but the pace was up and you could see the concentration on their faces.

Their passing and receiving technique had also improved. Balls were being passed in front of players for them to run on to. When asked why there was such a big improvement, the overwhelming answer was that they all wanted to beat their previous score and that meant focusing so they didn’t have to wait for passes.

Dos and don’ts of timing

  • Do vary the amount of time you give the players depending on their age and the skill you are practising. Thirty seconds of work is more suitable for younger players.
  • Do tell them their score each time and challenge them to beat it.
  • Don’t worry if the skill level drops the first few times. This is normal as players are trying to do everything as quickly as possible. They will soon realise that the more accurate they are the faster they will be.
  • Don’t time everything. The novelty and effectiveness will soon wear off.

Magic moments in coaching

David Clarke

If I remember last season for only one thing, it won’t be that we finished second in the league, nor that we could have clinched the title had we played just a bit better in certain matches.

Instead, I’ll be thinking about the boy who joined us halfway through the season; a boy who had never played in a team before or attended a training session. He joined us because he loved playing football in the playground at school and some of his friends were in my team.

His mum brought him along to training one night and asked if he could join in – “he doesn’t want to join the team or play in matches,” she said. “He just wants to feel part of it”. Of course, I let him come along. “He’s not much good,” she whispered to me, as he went and joined the other boys. But who’s to know when he has never played or been coached seriously?

He worked hard in exercises but hid during the game at the end. He liked learning the skills like hook turns and step-overs, and would always watch and listen when I was showing the players how the skills work.

As he became more confident around the squad he came out of his shell more and began to talk and ask questions about what we were doing during training. He took part in some games but was still shy, and it wasn’t until last week that he really made his mark.

One of the opposition players was running towards goal with the ball and our new lad suddenly moved to block the run. He won the ball, then executed a perfect hook turn before passing to a team mate, who ran on and scored. The look on his face was a picture – you could see how thrilled he was.
He grew about 10ft in that game and I’m looking forward to seeing him at training this week.

Coaching gives you the ability to change the lives of children. Never mind winning or losing, we all do that. But to give a child the skill that helps them become more confident in the game they love is something I will always cherish.

Praise talent… or praise hard work?

David Clarke

Some of the players at my club are facing their final few weeks of revision before the exam season starts, and their parents are looking for words to help motivate them.

It is mirrored in many ways by the words you and I have to use over the course of a season to motivate our players.

But the way children learn both in sport and academia is not through praising talent but through praising effort. Dozens of studies have found that the top performers – whether in mathematics, football, or music – learn no quicker than those who reach lower levels of attainment. In essence, childrens’ talent improves at practically identical rates.

Putting it simply, if your players practise more they will become strong achievers – talent alone is not enough for them to develop into good footballers. I won’t deny that some children come to the game and are naturally better than others, but if they don’t put in the effort the others soon catch them up.
That means phrases such as these are out:
“You did that exercise really quickly, you’re such a good player”

“Wow what a clever move, you must be the next Messi!”

“Brilliant – you scored that goal without even trying!”

And phrases like these are in:
“You worked really hard at that exercise – keep it up”

“That was a great bit of skill, your practise is really paying off”

“Great goal, you must be working really hard in training”

And if you don’t believe me listen to this: A leading psychologist has recently conducted an experiment based around the praise that her students received. All 400 subjects tested were given a simple puzzle.

Half were praised for intelligence – “wow you must be really smart”. And half for the effort they put in – “wow you must be hardworking”.

They were then given a choice of whether to take a hard or easy test. 75% of the students praised for intelligence chose the easy test because they were scared of losing the smart label, but only 10% of the students praised for effort chose the easy test; the other 90% chose the tough test to prove how hardworking they were.

They then took a second test of the same difficulty and the group praised for intelligence showed a 20% drop in performance compared with a 30% increase for the hardworking group. Failure had spurred them on.

Five words can have that profound an effect on the performance of children. If you praise your players for their hard work you will get more out of them than if you praise them for their talent.

It works with my team and I bet you can make it work for yours.

The advantages of playing at home

David Clarke

Set out a weekly plan and have the players keep a diary of their daily physical activity, as other forms of exercise can add to their football development.

Some players will respond to this, others might find it a struggle. Give your players tasks to work on from session to session, just like football ‘homework’, although don’t use that word, as it may well put some players off. Perhaps you can call it “extras” or “add-ons”.

Check that the tasks you gave each player have been completed, for instance by asking them to demonstrate them at the next session.

What tasks can you give the players?

Ball control exercises

Any type of juggling, trapping, flicking will serve your players well. Ask them to make up a 30-second performance.

Movement skills

Dodging, stopping quickly, accelerating, moving backwards, or sideways. Again, have the players make up their own movement circuit and demonstrate it at the next session.

Kicking skills

Chipping, curling, or firing the ball at pace is good. Kicking accuracy games such as Football Golf are very enjoyable, and can be played by a lone player or in groups.

Observational skills

Remember, not every type of homework has to be in the practical sense. Your players should be encouraged to watch as much football on the television (or better still, live) as their parents deem appropriate. Encourage youngsters to reference and observe as much as possible. For as many who write down a spectacular overhead kick, you’ll get the same number who comment on a box-to-box midfielder’s tireless running or a goalkeeper’s instructions when lining up a wall.

Get mum and dad to help

Another thing to consider is that working on their own can be limiting for kids. Encourage the players to ask their mum or dad to help in these situations by feeding the ball to strike or being the target for the pass. You may be surprised at just how much your players can round their technique in between training sessions, and the parents will undoubtedly enjoy playing their part also.

Zidane 360 spin

Skills school: thigh control like Maicon

David Clarke

There are times when a ball comes to a youth player and they look very awkward trying to control it because it’s too low to chest or head and just too high to control with the foot.

The thigh is a good area to use when controlling high balls, because anywhere lower on the leg makes it much harder to cushion the ball.

The technique

  • When the player sees the ball coming they should get into the line of flight.
  • They must keep their eyes on the ball.
  • Keep their head steady.
  • Relax as the ball approaches.
  • They should put their thigh in the path of the ball and retract as it arrives.
  • If they don’t retract, the ball may not drop down and will bounce away.
  • The contact surface they must use is above the knee up to about halfway up their thigh.
  • The inside of the thigh is also good for stopping balls flying straight at them.
  • The ball should drop to the ground and be easy to control.

Watch Inter Milan’s Maicon use his thigh twice to score an amazing goal

2-0 up and under the cosh – how to defend a lead

David Clarke

You’re 2-0 up against your closest rivals, so how do you see out the win?

This was a question which posed itself last Saturday morning in a match my Under-10s had against the team that shared top spot in the league with us. We were level pegging in the table but they had played a game more.

We knew therefore that a win would offer us a healthy advantage at the top. Sometimes we all get too carried away with scores and results but in this instance it was a big game against a team of a similarly high standard. The only real difference was in terms of tactic – we typically pass the ball whereas they kick it long.

These occasions can be intimidating affairs for the players involved but we have such a friendly atmosphere at our club that both groups were laughing before kick-off and thoroughly enjoying the occasion. The first five minutes were very tight; no-one gave an inch. We won a corner, giving us chance to put into action something we’d been practising in training. A quick exchange worked, the ball ended up on the head of our attacker, and we were 1-0 up. A few minutes later we got another corner – same routine, same result! 2-0.

What is it about a 2-0 scoreline though that makes the team in the lead sit back?

Because sit back we did! It was frustrating for me and the players’ parents too as we watched our well oiled machine begin to choke. What I really enjoy about my side though is that they can think for themselves – for a while they worked it out, pressing the opposition, holding the ball and concentrating on their passing game.

But by the midway point in second period, the skill of the other team in spraying passes and sticking to a tactic at which they were well versed meant I needed to change things, or they’d quickly be back in the game. So I dropped a player from midfield into defence and locked it up tight. I knew this would relinquish possession in midfield but against a long ball team most of those central players were being bypassed anyway.

I also pulled a player back from the frontline and sat him in front of the defence – it was like Fort Knox. We could repel any invaders that took us on. I wouldn’t normally have gone so defensive, but we’d played a pressing game and our stamina levels were flagging. Pulling players back actually made the other team’s tactic less effective, and on a day where league points mattered more than the spectacle, a defensive ploy seemed the right thing to do.

I wouldn’t play this way every week because youth football is about so much more, but it ensured we held on to win the game.

Watch the highlights of Inter Milan winning the 2010 Champions League 2-0 against Bayern Munich

Soccer defence drills and games

Using a “plan, do, observe, review” cycle in your training sessions

David Clarke

To improve as a coach and pass on that improvement to your players, you need to reflect on your coaching and look for ways to enhance it.

I work in three-week blocks and have a particular focus for the sessions in these weeks. For instance it might be that we need to improve our defensive organisation around free kicks or corners.

I write down the key points I need to put across to my players over these three weeks. I then break it down into the objectives for each individual session and the key message for the players to take away from the session.

From that I decide which games and exercises will best introduce and reinforce the message.

Do and observe
As I coach the session, I analyse key aspects of my coaching. I focus on one or two elements of the session such as my demonstrations and questioning or organisation and work/rest ratio. I make mental notes about them and how effective they are in the session.

I am very critical of my own coaching and always striving to improve it. Immediately after the session I ask myself how well the session went. Were the elements I was focusing on as effective as I had wanted?

I always write brief notes on my session plan to remind me what went well and what could be improved upon in the next session. I also review the session within my three-week block. Did I cover everything I wanted to? Are there areas where the players need more reinforcement?

Keep to the cycle
I coach to improve my players. To improve them I need to improve myself. This is why I keep to the cycle of “plan, do, observe, review” and I keep detailed plans on which I also write my reflections.

When size is the difference – Roberto Carlos v Jan Koller

David Clarke

A cup game involving one of my Under-10s teams this week ended up giving me plenty to think about. Knockout matches can see your team coming up against all manner of sides, offering different challenges both in terms of technique and tactics. We’ve played some great teams in this cup run and learnt a lot from our opponents.

The weekend match saw us take on a side who were top of the league above us – in other words the top dogs in our age group. But watching the first 10 minutes of the game, you wouldn’t have known it. We out-passed our opponents and it was only due to some fabulous saves from their goalkeeper that the scores remained level.

That said, they had a very strong striker and a big midfielder – neither were overweight, just big for their age. Between them, the pair seemed to have the ball all of the time. They were effective with it and slowly got on top.

While they presented a formidable obstacle, if we were playing this team every week we would win more often than not, because as a unit we pride ourselves on the ability to change tactics as the game develops. And over time in the opponents’ team, the two larger players would gradually lose their advantage as other players catch them up in size.

Anyway, as the game progressed, we found that when the big midfielder ran at our defence each defender would turn sideways fearful that a powerful shot was going to hit him. The result was an easy goal against us. At the end of the game the backline all agreed that had they tried to tackle him they would have been able to win the ball, because his skill level was less than theirs.

This is a situation they will eventually get used to and big players will hold no fear for them. When we looked back at the game and analysed each half (both of which were relinquished 2-1), it seems a conclusive defeat, but it was a match we felt we could – and probably should – have won. I suppose, in a sense, we were the winners because, as a team, we learned a lot more about ourselves than our opponents did. One of the dads came up to me at the end and told me he thought the performance was encouraging considering we were playing the ‘best’ team in our age group.

And in many ways he was right, we had passed well and our tactical planning was, for the most part, thorough. And next time we play a team with bigger players, we will put our latest lesson in place, namely to stand up and not be intimidated.

Watch this video of Roberto Carlos 5ft 6in v Jan Koller 6ft 7.5in below and see who heads the ball:


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