Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice


Talking to a group of players and getting them to listen

By David Clarke

davidscwnewTalking to a group of children can be a huge challenge for many coaches, especially those who are used to working with groups of adults.

Before starting to talk you need to consider how to make sure your players are listening. Here are some “dos” of getting and keeping children’s attention.

Make sure you have all the players’ attention before you start talking. Off the cuff questions are a good way to gain attention. Once your players get into the routine and realise you are only going to talk for a short time before they will be off and active again, they will settle more quickly.

Following the ancient Chinese proverb “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand”, the more activity and the less talking the better. Also, remember the 30-second rule: you should never spend more than 30 seconds at a time talking to your players during training.

Keep your chats short and sharp. “Little and often” is an excellent motto. Tell the players one or two things at a time between activities. During a 10-minute exercise you might bring the players in for four 30-second chats which repeat variations of the same one or two points.

Whether in rain, wind or bright sunshine, make sure the players are protected from the weather conditions and can see you clearly. If necessary, that may mean you will have to talk to them facing into the weather.

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Filling the emotional tank of young players

By David Clarke
davidscwnewAs coaches we need to recognise that every young person has an “emotional tank” that fills up and drains.

  • A young player with a low emotional tank is irritable, less coachable, and unable to deal well with tough situations.
  • A young player whose tank is filled is cheerful, more coachable, and better able to deal with tough situations.

Research has also shown that a plus/minus ratio of praise to criticism of 5:1 or better is ideal for children’s learning. When the ratio drops below 5:1, children become discouraged (their tanks become drained!).

So it’s a simple fact. More praise, less criticism.

When fans are cheering for a team, those players experience their tanks filling up. We want to coach in a way that will fill the tanks of our players so they can play their best at all times – we want to cheer our teams on not shout at them and drain them.

And, we want our teams to learn to fill each other’s emotional tanks by supporting each other on and off the pitch.

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Why your players don’t come back

davidscwnewI had a conversation last weekend with a youth coach regarding why players sometimes go AWOL halfway through the season. He told me his team had won every game they’d played, but the number of lads attending his training sessions was dwindling week-on-week.

There are reasons why kids suddenly lose interest, although sometimes coaches need to step back to really see why it’s happening.

In particular, the coach I was speaking to highlighted some areas that gave me instant cause for concern:
1. His sessions were heavily focused on outcomes rather than development. Winning was always the main target at his club.
2. Over-coaching was a huge problem. Training was heavy on drills and exercises, with little uninterrupted game play that allowed players to experiment, and with that, experience failure and success.

The problem for this coach’s team is that even though they were winning games, the players have been getting to a certain age and discovering soccer was no longer fun. And when players aren’t having fun, their development stalls.

At this age the players should be hitting real highs in the way they understand the game, and their play should express this – tactically and technically. Ideally you want players who have a desire to learn, to succeed, and who possess a low fear of failure. That’s the ideal, but naturally, you can’t buy that off the shelf. You have to create an atmosphere that encourages your players to want to develop, learning from their mistakes along the way.

At the heart of it, as coaches we must do our best to promote an environment that is challenging, fun and free of fear. This builds confidence and self-esteem, but it all comes down to the basic idea that if you treat people well, they will respond to what you’re asking of them.One of the things I always tell coaches who are struggling with training sessions is to picture the excitement in children when the bell rings for break time at school. This is the atmosphere and spirit you want reproduce, albeit with a bit more control!

Small-sided games are an ideal way of generating this sort of enthusiasm and energy. Within those games, let the play continue uninterrupted, and at the end allow players the opportunity to offer their feedback.

And unlike the team leader I was chatting to last weekend, don’t over-coach the session – only make points when it’s absolutely necessary. That will leave the players wanting to come back for more next time around, I guarantee it.

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Stop attackers turning

By David Clarke davidscwnew

This session is all about stopping the opposition players with their backs to goal turning with the ball, so they won’t be able to pass or dribble into the space behind your defence.

The idea of the session is to:

  • Stop forward or through passes.

  • Stop good dribblers from turning and attacking your defenders.

  • Force opponents away from goal.

What players need to think about

  • Make up ground to within touching distance of the attacker while the ball is passed from the server.

  • Position body between attacker and target player.

  • Stand slightly sideways on ready to move quickly in any direction.

  • Get a clear view of ball.

  • Tackle when attacker is half-turned and not screening the ball.

How to play it

Use the centre circle for this session or an area 20 yards in diameter.

2 players – 1 attacker and 1 defender – start inside the playing area, with the defender initially giving the attacker some space.

1 server and 1 target player start on the edge of the circle in one half, with the other server and target player on the edge of the other half. All 4 players on the outside of the circle should be spaced apart equally.

The attacker receives the ball from a server and must attempt to turn and pass the ball to the target player on edge of the other half of the circle.

Whatever the outcome, the drill is repeated with the attacker next receiving a pass from the server in the other half. Rotate players so they all have a go at being the defender.

How to develop it

The unused server becomes a target player. The defender now has to cut off two options for the attacker.

Increase the size of the circle.

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Manchester United’s three-ball routine

By David Clarke

davidscwnewManchester United’s first-team coach Rene Meulensteen developed what he called the three-ball routine to increase team speed and mental awareness. I saw it in action and it was a real flurry of movement and attacking action.

I created my own version of it to use with my youth teams.

It provides a very effective way of getting a side prepared for a forthcoming match because it improves the speed of defenders and the movement of attackers.

The routine starts with a shot from outside the box, then moves on to a cross that needs to be defended. As soon as the crossing element has finished, a third ball comes in from the other wing.

Meulensteen said: “It’s an exciting exercise – you’re looking at the quality of the passing and the variety from the wing, while watching runs at the near and far post. Can the players react to the ball?”

How to set it up:

  • Player numbers can vary but we’ve used 10 in this instance.
  • You need balls, cones and a goal, plus one keeper.
  • Place a pole or cone just outside the D of the penalty area, plus two additional
    cones on each wing – one to mark an early cross and the other a deep cross.
  • Four central players stand so the cone just outside the D is between them
    and the goalkeeper, with one player further forward than the others.
  • Two players position themselves on each of the wings.
  • There is one defender in the penalty area.
  • Ensure the central group have a good supply of balls.

Getting started

  • The central players one-touch pass to each other. When the ball arrives at the
    most advanced player, he turns on the cone and shoots first time at goal.
  • As the central group lays a ball to the right wing, the shooter makes his way into
    the penalty area to challenge 1v1 against the defender. Both players prepare for
    the cross from the side.
  • The right crosser then joins the action and the defender must defend 2v1 on a
    cross from the right. The ball is again fed from the central group.
  • The left crosser now joins to complete a maximum 3v1 in the middle.
    Repeat the crossing scenario with the two remaining wingers, this time from the
    deepest crossing cones.

Developing the session:

  • Set up as before but have an attacker and two defenders in the penalty box.
  • The advanced central player lays the ball back to a team mate
    before joining the other attacker – he needs to head for the post not covered
    by his team mate.
  • The ball is switched to the wing and the subsequent cross challenged 2v2 in
    the middle.

Why this works:

This is a great workout for defenders because it’s very match realistic.

There is reward for good play from the attackers in the form of goals, and the growing number of attacking players creates a constantly changing proposition for the lone defender – who ends up defending against a 3v1 overload.

Finally, the variety of attacking angles mean both attackers and defenders need
to stay aware at all times.

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Why I hate being the linesman

davidscwnewIt’s rarely regarded as the most popular of gifts when you have to hand the linesman’s flag to one of the parents of your team.

You might, like me, have also found it strange how mobile phones start apparently ringing, pulled muscles come into the conversation and urgent dog walking needs to be taken care of… any excuse so as not to have to run the line!

As coach of the team, I haven’t had to run the line for a couple of years… that was, until this week, when I’d gone to watch one of my boys play. Over came the coach, and before I knew it, I was the one preparing to stand up to the shouting and ridicule!

So off I went tripping over the siblings sat too close to the pitch whilst trying to avoid the potholed parts of the touchline.

The referee was chairman of the club and pretty well qualified, with 15 years’ experience as the man in black. But twice in the first 10 minutes I raised the flag and wasn’t spotted. On the third occasion, I stood waving away trying to get the attention of the referee to a chorus of “you must be joking!” from opposition players and parents alike.

“Does he know you’re there?” quipped one of comedians. 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. I wondered why I was bothering!

During an attack in the second half the ball was put in the net by a boy clearly standing in an offside position. “I’ve given it,” shouted the referee to much cheering from the opposition players and parents.

I asked him if he’d again failed to spot my flag waving. “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 moment was gone and I still had a job to do… not that I was enjoying it much!Needless to say I was glad when the final whistle blew and I could give the flag back to the referee.

“Thanks”, he said, with a smile.

In fact that was the only thing that prevented this from being a completely thankless task.

The point of all this – youth soccer coaching may come with many pitfalls and frustrations, but the rewards are plentiful, and real, and when you do things correctly, it really does get noticed.

There are many worse roles in soccer – running the line being one of them!

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Why a long ball isn’t always a bad ball

davidscwnewWatching my Under-11s play at the weekend reminded me that a long ball can be really effective when it comes to creating space in midfield. Sound silly? Let me explain…

We were playing against a tough-tackling midfield-heavy outfit. It was near half-time and we hadn’t even produced a meaningful shot on goal. The opposition had been pressing us hard in midfield and our fast passing game was hitting a brick wall.

I could see my players were getting frustrated with being unable to get the ball through the midfield – that was, until one of my centre-backs decided to take the game into his own hands, and punted a ball over the midfield and behind the opposition defence. One of my forwards eagerly took it in his stride and found the back of the net – fantastic!

The opposition then had a problem in deciding how to defend against the type of ball that had caught them out. After a couple more lobs over the top, they had to pull players out of midfield. Reacting to that, we quickly reverted back to our fast passing game, and the success we know that brings.

The long ball isn’t pretty, but used tactically it can be very effective. And I have to admit I had nothing to do with instigating it – it was my players’ frustation that led to them formulating their own instinctive solution, and that’s something a coach always likes to see.

Players need to be aware of all sorts of things in matches and space is a certainly one of them. If they are struggling to find space then they need to do something to create it – individually, by losing markers, or as a unit, by stretching play.

After all, if you watch passing teams like Barcelona or Brazil you will see them pinging long passes forwards or sideways to lose the predictability of their set-up play. So even for the best in the world, a long ball maybe isn’t such a bad thing!

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A pressure and overload game that keeps on evolving

davidscwnew

This game is about pressing and dropping in tight areas of the pitch. It helps your players’ decision-making skills where overloads are concerned – their judgment of when to press and when to drop during a game, depending on numbers and position on the pitch.

Playing in exercises that have a game structure helps players understand training principles.

How to set it up:

  • This game requires cones and balls.
  • Use two 30×20 yards areas with a gap between of 10 to 20 yards. The bigger the gap, the fitter your players need to be.
  • Two teams – whites and greys – play 4v4 in each area, with a five-yard cone goal at each end but no keepers.

Getting started:

  • Start both 4v4s at the same time, instructing one team when to press high and when to drop back to cover lower down the pitch. Play for five minutes.
  • Now assign numbers – in both boxes whites are 1, 2, 3 and 4. Greys in both boxes are 5, 6, 7 and 8.
  • Returning to the game, when you call out a number the two players who have that number must switch pitches to create overload scenarios.
  • Play for a further five minutes.

Progressing the session:

The players now don’t have numbers, and can play in either box. If greys are winning in one box but losing in the other, players can switch to assist, leaving team mates behind to defend their lead. Play for 10 minutes.

Why this works:

As the players switch pitches they leave and join different overloads, adapting their game in the process. In the progression, the decision of when to support the other team is left to the players. The challenge is very match-like in that respect – when to press and when to drop.

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