Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

What’s it like to be coached by YOU?

“A coach who smiles and praises his players will get more out of them”

davidscwnewAs a coach I know I have a lot of responsibilities, so how I coach and how I get my points across are vital to the progression of my players. It is not just about progression on the pitch either – my coaching should also help them learn how to achieve their life goals away from the pitch.

I try to imagine what it must feel like to be coached by me. Do I take enough interest in every one of my players and make them feel special? When they arrive at training or for a match I try to recall a key fact or occasion that will make each one of them think: “he remembered”.

What do you think it feels like to be coached by you? When your players arrive what goes through their minds when they see you? Do you inspire them? Are they afraid of you? An inspirational coach will find players respond better – they will listen more intently when you are explaining what you want them to do in a particular exercise.

A coach that breathes fire should realise players are just doing what they have to because they are frightened. I want to inspire my players, not scare them. When I think about my coaching I want to base it on best practice rather than just controlling kids. Best practice comes from the activities I create, how I use them and the enjoyment the group gets.

DavidClarke1At a recent coaching event I watched a top class coach run a session – unfortunately the youth team he used didn’t understand what he wanted from them. He got exasperated and his coaching style became very commanding. Afterwards he moaned that his session didn’t work because the players were not up to his standard.

A good coach should recognise when players are not up to the level of the session and quickly change the exercise to make it easier.

A coach who smiles and praises his players will get much more out of players than one who snarls and shouts.

So take five minutes to sit down and imagine what it’s like turning up to your sessions. Are players having fun? Have you coached them in the fundamental skills – touch, passing, receiving, communication and heading? Do they know the rules? Have you explained tactics and sportsmanship?

There is a lot there, but think about how you coach, what you coach and try to get to know a little more about each player. You will build a solid foundation and a better understanding between you and your team.

Van Gaal hugs Rooney in training – excellent man management

Louis van Gaal shows why he is such a good manager of players and gets the best out of them by showing a little love when Wayne Rooney does what he is told in training…

Get The Better Of Cheats In Six Steps

BY Alistair Phillips GUEST BLOGGER

Despite the best efforts of football’s governing bodies, some teams bend or even break the rules to give themselves an advantage. Here are some handy hints to help you get
the better of match day cheats…


Make sure your own team is squeaky clean and that all players understand the rules of the game and the expectations of players as stipulated in your FA’s Code of Conduct. If you have to take any form of action against a team that does turn out to be cheating, it will be taken much more seriously if you and your own players have a reputation for fair play.


Prior to kick off present the opposing coach with your list of your registered players. By doing this you should encourage them to do the same thing and you will be able to check they are using only properly registered players. It also sets out your stall as a stickler for doing things the right way and as someone who holds the rules of the game in high esteem.


If a team you are due to face has a bit of a reputation or you have experienced problems when playing them in the past, remind your players of the need to remain disciplined at all times. Tell them not react to any heavy challenges or verbal provocation during the game but to inform you of any problems they have at half-time and at the end of the game.


When the referee arrives, make sure you introduce yourself and go through a few points briefly before the game. Ask that he punishes bad behaviour and foul play, perhaps letting slip you have had some problems with this in previous games. Then go to your opposing coach and relay the contents of your chat, making sure they are happy with this in advance.


Be vocal if you see any cheating during a game but in a way that will not inflame the situation. Remind your team to play to the whistle if a decision goes against you and try and establish eye contact with the referee when you do this. If things have got really bad, speak to the ref at half-time but remember to invite your opposite number into the conversation if you do so.


At the end of the game make sure your players shake hands with all opposing players. Listen out for any ‘under-thebreath’ remarks and, if you hear any, act on it by reporting what you hear to your opposing coach first. The match may be over but your opponents will remember this before you play them next time. Remember to congratulate your team for playing by the rules.

Focus on the players… not the session

davidscwnewIt all went horribly wrong last week – I coached a team of players and lost the focus of the session and the suitability of the challenges for the players who were doing it. It was my own fault. I had been asked to coach another team straight after my own session.

I hadn’t taken these players before but without giving it any thought, I decided to run the same session I had run earlier with one of my own teams. I had done no homework on the players and, as we started, I quickly realised I needed to change the focus of the session because they were finding it too difficult. Instead of adapting the same session, I whizzed through the library of sessions stored in my memory and started another one. It was far from ideal.

I should have just changed the dimensions of the exercise that I was using and made the session work for them. With my regular team the session had gone like a breeze because they were used to moving the ball around with speed and precision.

I have been working on getting them to pass like Spain, where defenders, midfielders and strikers link up with effortless ease thanks to some great combinational play. Short, sharp passing and clever movement was key to the session – the art of Spain’s wonderful play is dominating possession in this way. And my players coped well with the session, using intelligent passing and great teamwork.

However, when I tried the same session with the next group they weren’t able to use the same techniques or passing movement to make it a success and they weren’t getting the same fun out of it as my team had.

This caused one or two players to show their boredom in other ways so I had to go in and change the session. Rather than adapt it, I changed the session completely, but this just stripped away the focus and made the challenges I had set meaningless. I struggled on and forced the new session through but afterwards I was disappointed that I had ignored my own advice and tried to totally change the session rather than alter it to get their understanding.

I had been caught out because I took it for granted that the players would be able to cope with my session, even though I had never coached them before. It was a timely reminder that I should have focused on the players and their needs, rather than focus on the session – and that a session can be altered to make it work for different groups of players.

Control the game without the ball


An important characteristic of modern teams is their ability to control the game even when they haven’t got the ball. The whole team plays a part in this tactic with the intention of forcing the opposition into awkward situations.

The formation succeeds by covering all avenues of opposition attack, meaning that play is stifled. It relies on pressing as soon as the opposition has the ball. The defending team always keeps the action in front of them and tries to stop any balls through the centre or in behind.

This tactic requires good fitness from players because it is hard work. And for pressing to work, the team must prevent any switches of play as this will give overload initiatives to attackers. But performed well, the game rewards are significant.

How to set it up:

  • Set up an area measuring 30×20 yards. Make three 10-yard zones across the width of the pitch.

  • You will need bibs, cones, balls and goals.

  • The players in the middle zone must prevent other teams passing through them.

  • This featured session uses nine players split into groups of three (one group in each area), but it will work with any equal denominations.

  • No balls are allowed over head height.

  • Players are restricted to two touches.

Getting started:

  • Play starts with either end zone team. Players pass amongst themselves before threading a ball through to the team in the opposite end zone.

  • For the first two minutes, the middle team is not allowed to move any player out of its zone.

  • After two minutes, allow one player from the middle zone to go forward into the an end zone to press the ball. Play this for three minutes.

  • If the ball is intercepted, play restarts at the other end.

  • Rotate play so that each team fulfils defensive duties in the middle.

Now try this:

  • Remove the zones and add two goals, with a keeper in each. Also add a halfway line.

  • Keep the teams in threes but this time the middle team attacks one end, then turns and attacks the other.

  • The outer two teams must defend the area and clear the ball using the pressing technique.

  • If a goal is scored, play restarts with the middle group and they attack in the opposite direction. If a tackle is made, the defenders’ reward is to now switch places with the middle group, thus becoming the attackers.

Why this works:

Pressing the ball is a great tactic for winning back possession. This activity shows the value in doing that, compared to standing off waiting to intercept. Pressing means opposition players rarely settle on the ball and mistakes can be forced, either through poor control or a rushed pass.

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.

Solve your coaching problems

davidscwnewA couple of seasons ago I was asked to take over a team that the club said were underachieving – they wanted the side to get more success than they were having. So I went along to watch them. It seemed that for the first half of matches they were very successful and were often winning at half-time, but they always seemed to capitulate in the second half. I found it slightly puzzling that it happened so often, but I soon realised exactly why.

The team had a player who was an outstanding defender. He read the game well and was the type of footballer anyone would want in their team – commanding, fearless, always in the right place at the right time and joined in with attacks.

But this last point was the reason for the team’s second-half horrors. It transpired this young man had come to a deal with the old manager to play in defence for one half but attack for the second. With the player gone from defence the team were soon in trouble – and I cant for the life of me think why he wanted to play up front. He rarely saw the ball, and when he did it was usually from a panic clearance that he struggled to control. As his frustrations got the better of him, the coach took him off to calm him down.

I’m all for players moving around in different positions, but this just wasn’t working and the team were throwing away excellent first-half performances to accommodate this deal. I spoke to the player and his parents and I gave them an idea about what I wanted. I saw him as a fantastic centre half running the game from defence, but I also accepted that he should get the chance to play in attack.

However, rather than change at half-time, I explained that I would target games when he was most needed in defence, and for other games he could move up the pitch, allowing his team-mates to gain valuable experience at the back. As a result, he was still getting to play up front but we were getting full games out of him playing in defence.

I also made him captain, which gave him a huge boost. Having him at the back for full games made a huge difference to the next few games and the team began to be much more successful, built on the shoulders of a great player who excelled at the fundamentals of defending.

The manager had been doing the right things but he needed to think more about the problems he was having and come up with a solution like mine. Sometimes it takes another pair of eyes to see where a coach is falling down and a simple solution will often fix it.


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