Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice


Turn defeat into victory

davidscwnewAs you can imagine, I receive a lot of emails from coaches who want to share their problems with me, and I do my best to answer them all, offering maybe a drill, an exercise, or simply a piece of advice.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret here… I try to read every one of those queries, not just because I feel a moral obligation, but also for selfish reasons… as a coach I learn a lot from my readers too!

Earlier this year I received an email from coach JD in Australia. He told me he’d had far too many peaks and troughs with his coaching and was at a low point where his team was not winning games and nothing was fun anymore. He’d been like this for a while, regularly brushing the problem under the carpet and blaming anything and everything, especially the standard of his players.

Then he read something I had written about not giving up and researched other similar pieces published through Soccer Coach Weekly. He told me he realised he was not training the team the way he should – he had not bothered to do things that needed to be done.

I was immediately struck by his willingness to tell me this and his desire for absolute honesty, not just with me but with himself too. The minute he did this he was on his way to turning around the culture of defeat within his team.

Admitting your mistakes is an important part of becoming a success – you learn by admitting and recognising your failures. I am still in touch with this coach and he has now turned the corner; indeed, his team has just won two games in a row for the first time in two seasons.

So if his email describes your situation, don’t despair. You can begin moving in the right direction straight away by admitting your mistakes and energising your training sessions. After all, there’s nothing quite like winning when the odds are stacked against you.

I will leave you to ponder a quote I read earlier this week by 19th century Scottish author Samuel Smiles: “The battle of life is, in most cases, fought uphill; and to win it without a struggle were perhaps to win it without honor. If there were no difficulties there would be no success; if there were nothing to struggle for, there would be nothing to be achieved.”



Chaos in the last few minutes – letting in late goals

By David Clarke

davidscwnewEarly last season I was frustrated with my players because they were throwing away matches by defending too deep in the last few minutes. We were playing 25 minutes each way and, for every minute except the last 10, we were the better team. Looking at my notes at the time, I was having trouble keeping my players focused on their formation for the whole match. Instead, as they neared the end, the team began to just clear their lines.

Lone attacker too deep

My lone attacker in the 2-3-1 formation we played was so deep, he was playing in our penalty area. So, when we won the ball, there was no outlet and it kept coming back until we eventually buckled under the pressure.

This is a common problem you see all the time, even at the top level of the game. If you are winning 1-0, why not just stop the other team scoring? It’s something the Italian clubs and national team have always been famous for.

However, to do this, you need to play a different formation. I found it difficult during the game to persuade my attacker to leave his deep position and take opposition players away from our goal by staying near the halfway line. In his young mind, he was helping the team win the game.

Makes sense to play the same way

There was no point in shouting at him during the game. I had to wait until training and explain it to him. Eventually, over the course of a few weeks he, and the team, realised that if we were winning 1-0 by playing a certain way, then it made sense to play that way until the final whistle.

However, we had a few tears along the way. My centre back took my instructions literally that we should be attacking in the last 10 minutes.

With a couple of minutes to go in one game, he charged up the wing with the ball and went past one, past two, past three… then he lost ball and the counter attack caught us out!



Big respect to the opposition

David ClarkeWe’ve all seen or heard about the team leading 15-0 whose coach says “play as if it’s 0-0”. And when the 16th goal goes in the team is celebrating as if it’s won the league. Never mind the fact that the losing team has given up long ago…

That said, I’m not a huge fan of the way some teams will hit double figures then put the goalkeeper up front or substitute half the team. That doesn’t make the opposition players or manager feel any better either – they just think the team is showing off.

It’s a difficult call to make, but there are other ways you can deal with the situation.

Last weekend, we were playing a team a couple of places below us who had won 7-1 the week before, so we were expecting a hard game. But we coasted into a 3-0 lead and I became a bit uneasy that things would get really bad for our opponents.

However, they had a really good spell and pulled it back to 3-2. This made for a much better game; my team had to think hard about how they were playing, and it was a lesson for them assuming the job was done so early.

By half-time though we were 5-2 up and I could see some of the opposition players’ heads had dropped. So for my team talk at the interval I challenged each of my players to touch the ball in the build-up to a goal. If they could do that, they’d get to choose what training we did the following week.

Of course, the opposition didn’t realise we were now playing this way – they could only see a switching, shielding, passing and movement process that offered more situations where they might, in theory, win the ball.

The parents of my players had something to concentrate on as well – watching players getting into good positions for the pass.

It became a much better game and really gave my players a good work out in the second half. The score in that half was 2-2 so both teams had played well. Neither of our goals came from every player touching the ball, but it’s something to aim at next week, or the week after.

This tactic led to a much happier conclusion to the match, although I know some of the parents on my team had been muttering that “nobody does this when we’re losing”!

That was a fair point, but if we can share ideas such as this, maybe that will change?



How to win when you’ve lost

David ClarkeGoing into our game last weekend, my Under-11s were playing on the back of a seven-match winning streak. That run has been built on a good passing game and the idea that every single player is involved as the ball is moved up the pitch. In the match, we were up against a physically big side… not that my players were put off by that challenge.

And it was the best game of passing football I had ever seen us play, even if our winning sequence came to an abrupt and unexpected end.

Essentially, all our training, practice and repetition of movement has started to pay off. Yet we lost 4-0. But who cares? Some of the one-twos and link-up play were mouth-watering… I counted five back-heels that beat a player and put one of my players into a great position to create a goal.

And yes, we created a lot of chances, but the opposition were very strong at the back and the goalkeeper showed excellent awareness coming off his line to sweep up any through-balls. The opposition themselves played some great football and the match was an excellent advertisement for grass roots soccer.

We gave away a goal on the stroke of half-time, but that didn’t change my team-talk at the interval. I told them they were playing superbly. Sure, they were more concerned about leaking a goal, but even they admitted that the manner of the performance had been very encouraging.

The second period followed much the same pattern – both teams created chances. They took theirs, but we didn’t. That is sometimes how it goes in a match. I was buzzing afterwards because we had performed so well, and so much of what I had coached them had come through.

Sometimes that’s enough in soccer, because while things didn’t come off on Saturday, I know that if the players continue to play like that, they’ll win many more than they lose. And that’s the point – if they go out thinking they have a chance of winning, we have won together as a team – coach and players learning from each other.

The result should never be the main thing. It’s much more important that your team plays to the best of its ability – remind them that for as long as they do that they’re developing and growing, and you’ll find they’ll keep responding, no matter what the scoreline is.



2-0 up and under the cosh – how to defend a lead

David Clarke

You’re 2-0 up against your closest rivals, so how do you see out the win?

This was a question which posed itself last Saturday morning in a match my Under-10s had against the team that shared top spot in the league with us. We were level pegging in the table but they had played a game more.

We knew therefore that a win would offer us a healthy advantage at the top. Sometimes we all get too carried away with scores and results but in this instance it was a big game against a team of a similarly high standard. The only real difference was in terms of tactic – we typically pass the ball whereas they kick it long.

These occasions can be intimidating affairs for the players involved but we have such a friendly atmosphere at our club that both groups were laughing before kick-off and thoroughly enjoying the occasion. The first five minutes were very tight; no-one gave an inch. We won a corner, giving us chance to put into action something we’d been practising in training. A quick exchange worked, the ball ended up on the head of our attacker, and we were 1-0 up. A few minutes later we got another corner – same routine, same result! 2-0.

What is it about a 2-0 scoreline though that makes the team in the lead sit back?

Because sit back we did! It was frustrating for me and the players’ parents too as we watched our well oiled machine begin to choke. What I really enjoy about my side though is that they can think for themselves – for a while they worked it out, pressing the opposition, holding the ball and concentrating on their passing game.

But by the midway point in second period, the skill of the other team in spraying passes and sticking to a tactic at which they were well versed meant I needed to change things, or they’d quickly be back in the game. So I dropped a player from midfield into defence and locked it up tight. I knew this would relinquish possession in midfield but against a long ball team most of those central players were being bypassed anyway.

I also pulled a player back from the frontline and sat him in front of the defence – it was like Fort Knox. We could repel any invaders that took us on. I wouldn’t normally have gone so defensive, but we’d played a pressing game and our stamina levels were flagging. Pulling players back actually made the other team’s tactic less effective, and on a day where league points mattered more than the spectacle, a defensive ploy seemed the right thing to do.

I wouldn’t play this way every week because youth football is about so much more, but it ensured we held on to win the game.

Watch the highlights of Inter Milan winning the 2010 Champions League 2-0 against Bayern Munich

Soccer defence drills and games



Learning from losing

David Clarke

Learning to lose graciously is one of the hardest lessons any young sports person has to take on board. Young players learn a lot from losing, providing they can accept it, analyse why they lost and know what they can do to improve next time.

It’s okay to show some emotion…
Many psychologists believe you shouldn’t deny children the opportunity to show their emotions when they lose. It’s okay to feel upset but they need to know where the boundaries are in terms of displaying emotion. Set standards of behaviour for your players and have sanctions if they don’t follow them. For example, showing dissent towards a team-mate or the referee means they start on the bench for the next game. They will soon learn to control their emotions better. Always acknowledge your players’ disappointment and show sympathy but emphasise the positive elements of the performance. It is important that players go home after a game with a positive mindset.

They should know that, despite the result, they have achieved and learned something.

Win as a team, lose as a team…
Football is the ultimate team sport and no one individual is ever responsible for a win or a loss. Create a team sprit where players encourage their team-mates rather than point blame at individuals. Good teams have been ripped apart over the course of a season by one or two ‘blamers’. If you have any of these types identify them quickly and speak to them about their attitude and the effect it is having on the team. Try giving them responsibility within the team as ‘motivators’ instead. It is then their job to go straight over to a player who has made a mistake and get them back in the game.

Remember you’re the role model… You cannot expect your players to accept losing if you don’t. You need to keep your emotions under wraps especially in front of the players. It is often easy after a game to look for excuses, but is a lot harder to look at yourself and your players and ask, ‘What could we have done better?’. Despite what many armchair critics think, referees are very rarely responsible for the results of matches. Develop a ‘never blame the referee’ culture in your squad and lead by example. Encourage players to shake the referee’s hand after games and thank him for doing his job.

Focus on performance… If you are going through a bad patch of results, one way of keeping players motivated and focused is to de-emphasise winning and focus on improving skills. Set realistic goals within the game – for example, “This week I want us to make eight out of 10 first-time tackles”. This means if the team achieves its goal the players win, regardless of the result.

Watch players show their emotions after losing:



You don’t always have to win to be a success

Winning is always important but not always an accurate measurement of how well a team played. It is better to ask key questions about your team:

  • Did they create chances?

  • Did they have a good shape defensively and cover the dangerous spaces?

  • Did the players make good decisions when in possession?

  • Did they play a mixed passing game?

  • Did they control the tempo of the game?

Jot down your thoughts straight after the game. Then write down what happened in the game an hour after your team has played and re-read what happened. Look for the positives to talk to your players about and then go to work on the negatives.

My team played a game recently where they started off easily
the best team. We totally outpassed the opposition and created twice as many chances as they did. We lost the game 3-2.

So I wrote down my answers to the questions…

  • Yes, we did create chances – praise the team.

  • No, we often left dangerous spaces when we didn’t get back quickly enough when attacks broke down – work on defensive positions and recovery movement.

  • Mixed, but on the whole we made good decisions.

  • Yes, passing was good, long and short – praise the team.

  • No, they allowed the opposition back in to the game when they had it won – work on closing the game out.

You can then see what to talk about, what to praise and what to work on at your next coaching session.



Working towards your first win

The qualifying matches for the Euro 2012 competition brings it home that for some teams being beaten and ridiculed is a fact of life. For San Marino, Andorra, Malta, Luxembourg, Faroe Islands and Azerbaijan I could list you teams ending in Juniors, Colts, Youth or animals like PUmas and Tigers – youth teams that find themselves being beaten every week.

But while I feel for the teams that this happens to I also know that the players and the coach will be learning a great deal about themselves and getting better every time they play. I’ve seen teams turn it around during the season. But I doubt Euro 2012 will see any of the bottom seeds will be going to the tournament.

However what a turnaround can do is create a good team – just look at Cyprus. Their rise in recent years owes a lot to an influx of money into their domestic game, which propelled Anorthosis Famagusta and Apoel Nicosia into the group stages of the Champions League.

They have begun to develop as a force – last month’s 4-4 draw in Portugal was an excellent result and points to a strong team.

After amazingly beating Switzerland 2-1 in the recent World Cup qualifying campaign, Luxembourg midfielder Fons Leweck said: “See, with strong morale and good team-work you really can achieve something in football. Nothing is impossible.”

It was Leweck who scored the winner and it was a very clever free-kick – watch it in the clip below



How to deal with losing – it’s an attitude thing

Every team no matter how good they are will at some stage go through a series of games where they lose more than once and the coach has to deal with the outcome. In youth games losing often means losing big, by a large number of goals because it is hard hit back – three becomes four or five or six.

What happens then is that players go sick for the next game or email you to say they had forgotten but they were going on holiday that weekend, or they just don’t turn up.

A lot of coaches turn a blind eye to this sort of behaviour and let the team struggle on.

As a coach there is a lot you can do when your team is losing to boost morale and help the players through periods when they lose. It’s a question of attitude for you and your players.

When the team lose:

  • PRAISE individuals who have played well despite the team losing.
  • PRAISE particular occasions in games when a player has done something good.
  • PRAISE players who have tried to continue playing well despite being a lot of goals behind.
  • PRAISE the individuals who try and encourage the rest of the team to step up a gear even though they are losing.

The other thing to talk to your players about is that they have the ability to put everything right the next week. To think about how they played in this match and what they need to do to put it right in the next match.

Finally explain what went wrong in the game and how with hard work in training they can put it right.

Watch this coaching video of the Nike coaches talking about their players’ attitude when they lost their first game 8-1. Remember this is a sport where you can often learn more when you lose then when you win.

 Soccer Skills and Drills




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