Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Why parents criticise coaches

davidscwnewI think all of us have a dark side that turns us into critics. Some people can be more critical than others, but if you’re on the receiving end you have to close your ears to the comments and just let the critics get on
with it.

I was at a coaching session last week and all around me coaches were being critical. Rather than write the session down and create something new from it, they just wanted an excuse to say “I’m better than you”.

But it’s not just true of coaches. Working with grassroots teams I tend to hear criticism constantly and a lot of it comes from the parents at the side of the pitch. If their son or daughter has not played well, they think the coach hasn’t been doing his job properly. If their son or daughter is substituted, the coach hasn’t a clue what he’s doing.

And on it goes. Remember, criticism is easy to make but your achievements are not. And it’s easier to deal with criticism when you realise the reasons behind it. Criticism from parents is often a tool to defend their children and to defend themselves in the face of other parents with higher achieving kids – it’s not an attack on you as such but it can be hard to ignore.

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You are doing a great job so don’t let them put you off. It is because you have given up your time and taken on the role of coach that you have been thrust into the limelight and unfortunately a lot of people will resent your position of importance.

When I first started coaching I remember that one of my teams went through a sticky patch in the middle of the season, having started out with four straight wins. After one game a parent came up to me and told me that he had spoken to a few of the other dads and they had decided my tactics were wrong.

I was taken aback and rushed home to go through my notes and think about what they had said. My tactics hadn’t changed but the players were on a steep learning curve and some aspects of their play were just beginning to come through. At that time I felt quite nervous about the score in games – not like now, when I look at how well the team played before I even think about the score.

In attacking me the dads had come up with reasons why their kids hadn’t won the game, but it was their problem, not mine. Now that I understand why people criticise, I no longer feel nervous about what parents think of me. Once you realise why people criticise you’ll deal with it much better too.

Give Players Time To Understand Your Session

davidscwnewMy coaching word for this week is perseverance. I heard Sir Alex Ferguson the former manager of Manchester United in the English Premier League talking about the attributes that make a good coach and his first one was perseverance.

I immediately experienced why this is such an important part of your coaching style. In training this week I was trying out a new session which I was writing up for Soccer Coach Weekly – I do it on the premise that if it works with my U10s then it will work for pracDavidClarke1tically all age groups.

It was an exercise that uses movement, coordination, passing, receiving and sprinting. I know sometimes when you are using exercises with young players in front of their parents it can be a bit awkward for you if the players don’t understand immediately what they have to do. Especially so when they have just come out of school and are raring to go – concentration is at a minimum.


I ran the exercise a couple of times and it was not going well. It needed some fine tuning and a lot of demonstrations by me to get the players to understand what I wanted. It was eating into my coaching time but I thought it was worthwhile persevering with it. After 10 minutes they were still struggling but suddenly one of the players shouted “got it, Dave!” and he showed the others how it worked.

And with demonstrations from both of us suddenly the whole squad could do it. We played thblog_volleye exercise for the next 20minutes and I took notes on how to change it to make it more easily understood for my Soccer Coach Weekly readers.

After the session a coach from one of our other teams came up and said “wow what a great session that was!” It had worked in the end but only because I was prepared to persevere with the session and use visual aids and use a player who could help me to show the others how to play it.

Not only that but it has given me another good, different exercise to use with my players as soon as we get to training that they can quickly get going with. And you can be sure that once I’ve used it a couple of times and drawn it out you will be the first coaches to get to play it because it will soon be in Soccer Coach Weekly.

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.

Do your players UNDERSTAND?

David ClarkeYou can be as clever as you like with tactical planning and technical instructions, but players must be able to understand what you want them to do.

I went to a demonstration this week by a couple of highly respected youth coaches to see examples of the different ways you can coach young players. There were some really good coaching and session ideas that I was privileged to take away from the get together.

However, one thing that was clear to me was that the players were having a hard time understanding exactly what was expected of them.

Both sessions were player- and activity-centric – but, because this was a meet-up designed for coaching knowledge, the players at times were clearly unsure of what they were doing and what was expected of them. In that respect, the experiment failed on all levels, bar one – namely in reminding me that one of the most important things you must do with players is ensure they are ‘with you’ at every step along the path of learning. It’s the whole purpose of what we do, after all.

If you notice that players are not doing what they are supposed to or are looking around to see how others perform the task, either they were not listening or you failed to get instructions across well enough.

Remember, players understand things in three different ways:

  •  Visually
  •  Verbally
  •  Physically

It is important that for each demonstration a coach must:

  •  Perform and show the technique that is being learnt, or recreate the scenario for tactical feedback (the visual part).
  •  Use explanations and key coaching points through the stages of the demonstration (the verbal part).
  •  Let the players perform the technique or replay the situation (the physical part).

This way, you can be sure your players know what they are doing. And it will ensure you make the most of every session you take.

Using player-centred coaching

David ClarkeThere has been much debate recently about player-centred coaching and the benefits it has for young footballers. Player-centred coaching is about focusing and targeting soccer to the ages and skills of your players.

But in addition, it supports players’ independence by giving them a controlling influence over the session. They feel the session is theirs, which improves communication with the coach, increases motivation and accelerates understanding and appreciation of what’s being taught. From that, a player’s ability to solve tactical problems within the game is enhanced.

This does not mean that the coach has no control – far from it. The role of the coach is to set a challenge that’s centred on their skills, and he’ll still need to guide the players through the process of solving problems. But there is created an environment in which players share responsibility for individual and team performance.

So, for example, I will mark out the playing area, but within that area give the players cones to create boxes or gates that are going to be used. I will guide my players if they make squares or gates too big or small, but they can alter the parameters as the session commences.

I will present them with questions related to what they’ve laid out and might recommend a set challenge, but am looking for them to correct any mistakes made. For instance, the challenge might be to dribble a ball through four gates. If a player misses a gate, I’ll watch him to see if he makes amends for the error without me pointing it out.

The challenge is the same, but the player is in control. For a scenario that is less game-like, I might look to work on technique and skills… such as players having a choice over which channel they go down in 1v1s – a long, thin one, or a short and narrow one. Or I might move to a setting with four coned off parts of an area where players cannot be tackled – wing channels on either side of the pitch, for instance, where a player can run without opposition before putting a cross in. I’m always interested to see what effect player-centred coaching can have – from those 1v1s to 4v4s for general all-round choices, or even 8v8s to offer experience in more specified roles.

Whatever the task in hand is, I will always guide players so they experience every position, but by and large they’re fashioning the challenges themselves. The crucial thing for me is, of course, getting the challenge as relevant as possible to my players. But it’s also about identifying the point at which guiding a player turns into interfering with the process.

Player-centred coaching, and empowering the footballers who play under you, is certainly something that develops gradually, but players love the freedom and, as a coach, I believe I am beginning to see real rewards.

How to get every player playing every week

David ClarkeOne of the experiments I’ve been trying at my club is to run extra teams who play friendly matches. This is so that players who have been substitutes the previous week get a full run-out the following weekend.

It has worked really well. Parents have shown a lot of interest because it provides a great outlet for those players who find themselves sitting out the majority of matches for the main team.

It’s also a good way to integrate any new players into the club. There’s a huge benefit for the coach as well, namely that it’s an ideal way to watch and monitor talent, keeping the kind of check on their development that you just wouldn’t be able to get normally if you only saw them in training. After all, game time is essential for any player looking to really ‘find’ their game – it gives them something to aim for.

On Sunday morning, I went down to watch a couple of new players in one of our friendly teams. The match was against a strong local side. They lost, but you wouldn’t have thought so when you saw them after the game. The players were full of energy and self-confidence and were thrilled at having achieved a full game for our club.

I’ve only had one negative comment so far.

This was from a parent who didn’t want to pay the same amount of money as other parents whose children played in what he called ‘proper’ matches – “Why should I pay for friendly games?”

I explained that the coaches involved still have to turn up and organise the friendly games. Then there’s a referee, and someone to book pitches. Everything else is the same apart from the kids get more out of the experience.

The player named Man of the Match in the friendly will play in one of next week’s league games as a result. It showed all the other kids that putting in the effort really does pay off – and we can use it the other way around with ‘first-teamers’ not giving it their all.

But the best element it is that around 20 boys in each age group are all playing regularly, and that can only be a good thing.

Two ways to recover your session from disruptive players

David Clarke

By David Clarke

I was speaking this week with Dan Cottrell a rugby coaching guru who often has to deal with disruptions in his coaching sessions. We were discussing how you can recover your session once it has been disrupted by silly behaviour.

He said: "Working with children can fall apart if there is a distraction, like two players fighting, someone burps or there is something significant happening on another pitch. But there are ways to recover the session quickly."

These are the two ways we spoke about.

1. Silent treatment

  • Get everyone together and don’t speak for 30 seconds.

  • Don’t even tell anyone to shut up.

  • Players will become embarrassed by the silence.

  • Some will tell others to shut up, while some will continue to muck around or laugh. Don’t worry about how they react.

  • Then, look at your watch, say: “Right, where was I was? Yes, we were working on…” and carry on as if nothing had happened.

2. Peer threes

  • Split players into groups of three.

  • Ask them to come up with one key factor for the exercise you are doing between them in 15 seconds.

  • Ask someone you know will give you a good answer.

  • Give them lots of praise.

  • Ask someone else, again who is going to give a good answer.

  • Praise them and say that you are sure there are lots of other good answers… and move on.

  • Like above, act as if nothing happened.


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