Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Running from deep – whole-part-whole session


Many defenders and midfielders think that once the ball has been fed to a striker, their job is done. But they should be supporting the front men by running past them and into unmarked attacking areas.

So here’s a session that helps players understand the value of supporting play and passing into dangerous areas of the pitch. It uses "whole-part-whole" coaching – namely going straight into a game, then breaking things down to show players coaching detail, then back to the game.

How to play it

  • Set up as shown in the pictures above – this is a 6v6 game (including keepers).

  • One player from each team stays in the zone in front of the goal – the target man, who can only use one or two-touch. He cannot score and can only assist others.


  • The game starts with teams looking to score in the opponent’s goal.

  • Using peeled, overlapping or blindside runs, players must create space to receive the ball then shoot at goal.

  • Play for 10 minutes to allow players to get a feel for the game.


  • Change the game now to focus on the movement from deep of the supporting players.

  • Now all players start in the same half, with the defending team’s target man moved back to the halfway line.

  • The attacking team combines to feed a pass to its target man before attacking the goal.

  • If the defending team turns over possession, it can attack the other goal by passing to its target player on the halfway line. Players have only three touches before they must shoot but their players cannot be tackled.

  • Play for five attacks then switch teams over so both teams experience the same conditions.


  • Replay the first part again. This time, you will find players automatically making more runs from deep.

Technique and tactics

  • Players have to make supporting runs because the target man can only play the ball back to a team mate to create goalscoring chances.

  • Runs from deep involve movement to lose a player, to reach a position for the target player to pas to them, to use good technique in order to control or shoot at goal.

  • Players should use different types of passes to find the target player and must support from deep with a wide variety of well-timed and well-angled runs.

GUEST BLOG: Ways Parents Can Help Their Kids Have a Good Player-Coach Relationship


Nancy Parker

Respect is at the center of the player-coach relationship. With a setting that is based on respectful behavior, all members of a team can thrive. A parent’s role in helping a child to have a good relationship with a coach is one of instruction, encouragement and support. Unless you, the parent, are the one doing the coaching, it’s not possible to control how the coaching is handled. However, you can work to provide positive support that will enable a child to have a good experience.


Age-Appropriate Expectations
Although children at different levels have different physical and behavioral abilities, it’s always possible to teach respect. Important aspects of respectful behavior include paying attention when the coach speaks or models a skill, listening without interrupting, following directions, trying new skills and asking questions in a polite manner. Additionally, respectful behavior involves not being distracted by other kids. Simple use of polite words and behaviors can also help form a positive relationship. Teach your child to thank the coach for his time at the end of practice.

A young child can stray off task easily, and distractions are common in early league levels. However, coaches working with young children are generally trained to keep activities shorter to accommodate age-related needs. As children grow older, more attentive behavior can be expected as longer drills and activities are provided. Help a child to enjoy a good relationship with coaches at any level by reinforcing respectful behavior with encouraging words. Correct your child when inappropriate behavior is observed, and be sure to praise positive behavior.

Model Respectful Behavior
Your child doesn’t have control over his arrival time. Being late to practices and games can create problems for the coach, and it’s on you to make sure your child arrives on time. The team can also suffer if multiple kids are late or absent. Good communication from a parent can help. Let your child’s coach know if he will be absent or late. Make it a point to be on time for official activities. Follow through on commitments to the team, especially those involving things like after-game snacks or important forms.

A parent who expects a child to show respect for an authority figure like a coach must also model such behavior. If you bad-mouth the coach’s style, decisions or other actions, your child may assimilate some of these same sentiments into his own behavior. If he perceives negativity on the part of Mom or Dad, he may feel that he is justified in acting out or criticizing on his own.

No coach is perfect, and parents often disagree about a coach’s decisions. However, helping a child to have a positive experience means that it’s important to avoid attacking his coach publicly or privately. This can be tough, especially if there is a perception that the coach hasn’t treated a child fairly. However, it’s important to remember the power you have as a role model.

Act in a Supporting Role
Coaches often appreciate the availability of parents during practices and games. Having a parent available makes it possible to quickly deal with serious behavioral issues. Additionally, having a few parents help out can lighten the duties of the coach by making it easier to manage drills and other administrative tasks. Consider volunteering as a team parent and assisting a coach in coordinating distribution of team notices, uniforms or fundraising materials. Demonstrate a willingness to help set an example for a child while supporting the coach. Parental support can do a lot to keep a child’s relationship with the coach positive.

Dealing with Differences
It’s important to realize that no matter how attentive and cooperative a child is, the player-coach relationship is two-sided. There will be times when a parent may not agree with how a play is handled, where a child is positioned, or when a child has to sit out for a play (or longer). An unintended slight can lead to a negative relationship between parents, players and coaches. It’s important to address concerns directly with the coach. Similarly, teach a child to ask questions respectfully if he disagrees with how a situation has been handled. Help your youngster understand that the coach is the leader and has the responsibility for decision-making. It’s important not to over-exaggerate small issues. At the same time, a pattern of oversights may require some private discussion.

Ongoing Development
Your child will have many coaches over time. Every coach will be unique in his approach to team discipline, drills and game strategies. It’s important to help your child understand that respect is an ongoing priority. Encourage him with positive points at the beginning of a season, and continue to model support and cooperation in order to facilitate a pleasant player-coach relationship.

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Why warm-ups are a good habit

Driving to a match at the beginning of the season I got stuck in some roadworks that made the journey take twice the time it usually does. I made it to the game just in time for a quick chat with the players before they went on.

There are two or three different ways to get to our home ground from where I live, and for years I’d gone the same way. But those roadworks were going nowhere fast – it would be months of holdups unless I changed the way I went.

So I started taking a new route to the ground. Yes, one week I forgot and went the old way and got snarled up in traffic, but gradually I got used to the new route.

I had a laugh to myself last weekend then when, even though the roadworks have gone, I set off the ‘new’ route, because I have become so used to going that way, and I trust it will deliver me to the ground on time.

Now there’s a thing – I’ve changed a habit. It’s something most people tell me is hard to do but I’ve done it. And when I think about why I want to get to the ground on time, it’s because of another habit I changed…

When I first started coaching, I had no time for warm-ups or doing the right things before a game. I arrived seconds before kick-off and regarded warm-ups as being for wimps – my team didn’t need them!

But gradually I learned more about young players and that they needed to stretch both mind and body in the lead-up to a game. I learned how much better they would perform when they were 100% ready to play. The more I studied the game the more I had to admit I was hindering my players by not doing those other things. So just like forcing myself to drive a new way to the match, I forced myself to change.

Along the way I had setbacks, but over time my players stopped letting in silly early goals and even started scoring early themselves. And there were no pulled muscles or players out of breath after a couple of minutes of running.I forced myself to be a better coach on match days.

And that’s why I hate getting to the ground late, because it reminds me of my old habits. Preparing yourself and your players for a game is so important – make sure you do it.

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.

Paul Scholes: fantastic player, but what kind of coach?

DCI first saw Paul Scholes play for Manchester United in the final of the Youth Cup against Leeds United in 1993. Man Utd’s team included David Beckham, Scholes, and both Nevilles as well as Ryan Giggs and even Robbie Savage.

The game remains memorable for being live on the new satellite channel Sky Sports, for a crowd at Elland Road of 31,307 and the emergence of several players that were to go on and play for England.

A strong, physical Leeds side easily dominated what were to become the basis of Sir Alex Ferguson’s team for years – they lost 4-1 on aggregate but the one goal came from a 5ft 7 scrawny youth… Scholes.

Scholes was turning out for underdogs everywhere – this small midfielder had the nimbleness and timing to confound a beefy defence and score goals from all over the pitch. All in all he has scored 150 of them.

What is great for coaches everywhere is that a youngster with asthma can become a such a huge player. Scholes moved people with the height of his achievements as much as the impact of his play – how could someone like him be first choice attacking midfielder?

He was a clever player which was as much part of his game as was his technique. There was quick-witted vision to the best of his passes and goals. He could see the opening and the perfect way to exploit it.

Zinedine Zidane has called him “the greatest of his generation”. Xavi hailed him as “the best central midfielder of the past 15 or 20 years”.

Now he has retired Scholes is taking up coaching, and it will be interesting to see the type of players he turns out.

Watch highlights of his career below and you can also watch a clip of the best goal from the Youth Cup Final in 1993 scored by Jamie Forrester with an overhead kick to rival Wayne Rooney:

What’s the difference between a manager and a coach?

Most professional clubs have a manager and a coach, but do they always do the roles separately?

I always thought that managers should be able to coach and have interchanged the word without thinking about the actual roles they perform. Why should managers coach? To me they should coach because they can see the problems on the pitch and should have some knowledge of how to correct them by coaching.

However, managers also need to be able to motivate players and I’ve seen some managers who leave the coaching to the specialist coach but then motivate the players on match day.

When he was coaching at Brighton Gus Poyet had come through the coaching side and became a manager. However, he still takes a lot of the coaching sessions, he is a manager who likes to get involved.

You can see how much he thinks about coaching and playing when he talks about the young players at the club and how he wants to develop them.

This is what he has to say: “We will have the time to go out and watch the under-15s and under-14s and get them playing the same way we want the first team to be playing so, when they get to an age where they can get a professional contract, they are as ready as they can be.”

So the roles can be interchangeable and I know most of you coach and manage your teams – it can be done successfully as Poyet has proven.

Watch Poyet coaching at Brighton below:

Euro 2008 – and the winner is…?

Greece won Euro 2004 scoring a mere 7 goals along the way. I suspect Euro 2008 will be won by a team scoring a lot more goals.

Arrigo Sacchi (former AC Milan and Italy coach) predicts that the tournament will be won by the teams with the best individuals rather than the most organised or systematised. Slaven Bilic, coach of Croatia, agrees, saying “Systems are dying. It’s about the movement of 10 players now.”

Results so far would seem to bear this out. The domestic European competitions and Champions League commitments are so hectic these days that international sides rarely get the chance to get together to work on specific systems or styles of play.

Greece’s Euro 2004 victory was the result of an extremely well-organised but not particularly gifted group of players following their coach’s instructions to the letter, stopping their opponents playing, and nicking the odd goal to secure victory. You can’t fault their approach. It’s not a million miles away from what Italy have done so successfully for so many years (with all due respect to Italy’s great players, and Greece’s for that matter).

So far both Greece and Italy (the reigning Euro and World Cup holders of course) have lost their opening games. In both matches both teams attempted to play their traditional holding games and both teams failed to score, Greece losing 2-0 to Sweden and Italy losing 3-0 to Holland.

That’s not to say that tactics and formations aren’t important. But the teams who are doing well are made up of players with all of the following three key attributes – the ability to follow tactical instructions, high levels of physical fitness, and crucially, a willingness to play at a high tempo and attack, attack, attack.

No team in Euro 2008 is sent out to play without specific tactical and formation instructions. But the successful teams are the ones who will allow their most gifted players to fully express themselves – the teams that are less concerned with the opposition and more concerned with doing their own thing.

That’s the way it should be. That’s why this has been such an entertaining tournament so far, and that’s what I hope to achieve with my own young teams in the future. Just tell them to play their own game.

Having said all that, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Greece or Italy go on to win the whole thing. That’s called hedging your bets.

Dwyer Scullion, Publisher, Better Soccer Coaching


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