Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice


Let the players speak

davidscwnewI work at a number of clubs coaching kids of all ages, as well as running my own team. One of the interesting things that I notice is the differing attitudes shown by head coaches towards the way the players behave. I’m not talking about disruptive behaviour here, it’s more the receptive behaviour.

As an example, let me tell you about an incident last week when I was coaching a team of talented Under-12s for the first time. The head coach and parents were interested to see what I was going to do with the players – I’m sure you’ve experienced the same scrutiny. I ran a session on passing and movement, calling the players over at regular intervals to talk to them about what we were doing and why.

The boys were very on the ball, answered the questions well and really got into the spirit, even if there was a certain ‘we know what we’re doing’ bravado towards what they saw as the new coach. In essence, they were out to impress.

At the end of the session we wrapped up and I went over to talk to the head coach. He was suitably pleased with how things had gone but he raised a couple of objections.

“Why didn’t you get the players to sit up straight and focus on you when you gave the talks throughout the session,” he asked? “There was a point when they were all shouting out their ideas – how could that work?” Well I’m not one for enforcing that style of receptive behaviour from my players. I want them to be comfortable; and as I had just run a fairly fast session I allowed them to lay on the grass rather than sit up straight. After all, this wasn’t a maths lesson!

And if players shout out ideas, great. I want them to express themselves; I want them to feel they can say what they want, when they want. I prefer this more casual style of sitting around and discussing the session rather than me being the teacher and them the obedient pupils. I want a relaxed atmosphere where every single player feels comfortable in that situation and wants to speak up about what we are doing.

I have no problem if the head coach would rather see players sitting neatly in rows all cross legged with straight backs – that’s how he gets his ideas across to his players and if that works for him that’s fine. But always remember, if you start with rules about sitting up straight and only speaking when spoken to, you may not get out of your players what they really want to say.



Skills session: coach players to turn with the ball

davidscwnewGreat way to coach turning with this simple session you can use to coach your players – it also makes a good warm up.

skillsblog

How to play it

Set up an area measuring 20×5 yards, as shown, with two cones marking the midway length point.

The player in the middle receives a pass from the front player in the top line – this man then follows his pass.

The middle player must make a turn, pass out, then follow his pass to join the group at the bottom.

The player who originally passed from the top line now becomes the new middle player.

For the next part, a pass is fed in from the bottom line.

The process continues with the player in the middle receiving the pass, but his ‘turn and move’ must be different to the one used by the player before him.

There are many ‘turn and move’ choices, including:

  1. An open body turn
  2. Opening legs and flicking the ball in between
  3. Open legs and dummying Making a Cruyff turn

The practice continues until all players are suitably warmed up in passing, controlling, turning and moving on.

Technique and tactics

Players must be on their toes at all times.

You’re looking for imagination in terms of how they turn.

The quality of passing to and from the middle man is essential if this warm-up is to maintain its momentum.



Simple way to get players to look up

davidscwnew

This session from Kevin McGreskin is aimed at developing a player’s visual awareness by making them look up and know what their team mates are doing around them. In the session, players have to carry out a specific action in response to a visual cue which forces them to look before they pass or receive a pass.

How it works

In the picture above. Player 2 must only use three touches in the centre – one to control the ball, one to move it and one to pass.

Encourage players to call out the colour of the visual cue during the exercise. This is an important secondary task that increases the challenge for the players and gets them used to talking during play.

How to play it

  • You need three players, two balls and six markers.

  • Player 2 stands between two markers (one black, one white) approximately three yards apart.

  • Players 1 and 3 each have one black and one white marker.

  • Player 1 passes to player 2.

  • Player 2 must look around to "spot" the visual cue, held up by player 3.

  • Player 2 must then shift the ball around the same coloured marker as the visual cue.

  • Player 2 follows the ball and makes a return pass to player 1.

  • Player 2 turns and repeats with player 3. This time, player 1 will hold up the visual cue.

How to progress it

  • Continue as above but player 2 must now "spot" a second visual cue, held up by player 3 in the picture, and call out the colour before making the return pass.
  • Rotate players after they have had two turns.

Key coaching tips

  • Make sure players look over their shoulder before receiving a pass.

  • Players need a good touch to shift the ball out of their feet and beyond the cone.

  • Ensure players look up and correctly identify the second visual cue before making the return pass.

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Why heroes can inspire your players

davidscwnewIsn’t it great when you hear players shouting the names of their heroes in the professional game? Twice this week I heard a pro’s name shouted by one of my players when they were bearing down on goal, as I’ll go on to explain…

To put it into context, my Under-11s were playing a really important end-of-season match last week. I was nervous for them, as were the cluster of parents gathered on the touchline, but how refreshing to see the kids just playing the game with so much relaxed spirit. It was a tight first period with relatively few chances, and with the scores level in the second half, a series of passes led the ball to my midfielder Marcus through on goal at an angle.

Before he shot, he shouted “AGUERO!” and tried to emulate the player he had seen in his living room score that fantastic title-winning goal for Manchester City . Needless to say the shot went high and wide – oh well! Even so, that didn’t stop his team mates appreciating at least the fact he had put himself in the right place as we drove forward looking for a goal.

“I heard you shout that!” one of his team mates said with a smile on his face. “That was brilliant!”

Another came over laughing and told him he too had thought of Aguero as the move developed. I find it heartening when I see my players inspired by great and memorable events on the pitch that they want to emulate.

Kids learn by watching and there is no better league for them to learn from than the English Premier League. Their appreciation for the game is a far cry from some people’s perception that kids are sometimes only taken in by some of the more unsavoury aspects of the modern game. I disagree with that notion. At the end of the day they take the positives, and this season has been full of them – great players, great skills, great goals, but also great stories.

And not always on the pitch – look at the reaction to Fabrice Muamba recovering from his heart attack and the draw of affection from the football family, for instance. I have started to realise there’s a lot in football to inspire those of us in the grass roots game. And if ever, as coaches, we’re unsure which of those influences are having an effect, just watch the kids!

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How Oscar and Hazard fool recovering defenders

davidscwnewWhen Oscar or Eden Hazard are running with the ball watch how often they do a skill which fools the chasing player. They change direction or pace with simple movements like this reverse pass.

It is the speed of the initial reaction which makes all the difference when players lose the ball and the opposition counter-attacks. Running in counter attacking situations often means players are being chased by defenders. I get my players to prepare by playing this game. Not only does it get players to react quickly to a change in possession but it also involves a skill and a technique.

The skill is a reverse pass, followed by pressing the player on the ball – and the technique is both with and without pressure.

How to play it

  • Put down two cones 20 yards apart – further/closer depending on the physical fitness of your players.

  • You need players at each end of the exercise.

  • Play starts at one end with a player running with the ball.

  • When he reaches the far end, he passes to the player at that end with a reverse pass – he runs past the first player in the queue and use a backheel pass across the standing leg.

  • The receiving player starts running to the opposite end, the player who has made the reverse pass must turn and give chase.

  • When players get to the far end, the player with the ball reverse passes to a player at that end then turns and gives chase.

  • The original chasing player joins the back of the queue.

Key coaching points

  • When running with the ball, players should use the laces for each touch, making sure they run in a straight line.

  • Players run as fast as they can, complete the skill and turn to give chase.

  • Make sure your players put maximum effort into this exercise so they get all the benefits of fitness and skills.

Change the pass

  • If your players are having trouble with the reverse pass across the front of the standing leg get them to try a normal backheel (without crossing the legs). Even this may be hard with some young players, but keep pushing this skill – they will get it with practice.


Matches are NOT coaching sessions

davidscwnewSome of my fellow coaches have been labelling me as a stuck record, of late. But if you’ll indulge me in the same way that I ask them to, I’ll explain why I’m so passionate about allowing kids to play the game without them being told what to do – to make their own decisions.

The truth is you should only be coaching your players when you are running sessions, or when they are playing a game in training. Basically, it’s only at a time when you can stop the game and make observations and suggestions. During a match – whether it is a friendly or league game – you should only be reminding players of their responsibilities, because the most important thing in this situation is for players to try out what you have been coaching; it’s the best environment for them in which to make mistakes… and learn from them. That way the experience gets logged in their brains through experience.

This week I observed a coach who constantly told his players what to do. A ball in the air, and he shouted “head it, head it”… a ball coming towards a player, “kick it hard”… a player running with the ball “pass it, PASS IT”. You get the picture. When I asked the coach if he thought this was the best approach, he responded: “I never tell them what to do – I’m just shouting to get them thinking.”

But they don’t need to think because they’re being instructed by the coach at every turn.

Interestingly, when the coach turned his back for a few seconds his players were looking around for him, shrugging their shoulders unsure what to do. He smiled at me and said, “See, if I don’t tell them what they should be doing they’re stuck.”

He’d missed the point completely.

I have told you this little tale because even the best coaches dictate things to their players when they should really just be letting them get on with it – I’m guilty of it myself.

At the end of the day, players who make decisions for themselves are developing every time they have to do it – even when they choose the wrong option. If we continue to instruct our players at every turn they’ll never develop the instinctive elements of play that all good sportsmen have.

Try to hold back this coming weekend and see if your players surprise you – I bet they do.




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