Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice


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.



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.



If at first you don’t succeed

DCMy coaching word for this week is ‘perseverance’. I heard Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson talking about the attributes that make a good coach and that was the first one he named – and having been manager of Manchester United for 25 years, he’s likely to know!
Within a few days, I had experienced why this is such an important part of a coach’s toolkit. I was trying out a new session for my Under-10s, an exercise that uses movement, coordination, passing, receiving and sprinting – you’ll see it in Soccer Coach Weekly in a couple of weeks.
I know sometimes when directing exercises with young players in front of their parents it can be a bit awkward for you, particularly if the players don’t understand immediately what it is they have to do. I ran the exercise a couple of times and it was not going well. It needed some fine tuning and a few re-run demonstrations for the players to understand what I wanted.
It was eating into my coaching time but I thought it was worth persevering with it. After 10 minutes they were still struggling but suddenly one of the players shouted “got it, Dave!” Instinctively, he showed the others how it worked. And with demonstrations from both of us, the whole squad got the hang of it. It still took time to really get things motoring, but we played the exercise for the next 20 minutes and I took notes on how to change it… how to make it easier to understand for my Soccer Coach Weekly readers.
It had worked in the end but only because I was prepared to persevere with the session, and thanks in no small part to some visual aids and a player who could help me to show the others how to do it. After the session, a coach from one of our other teams (who had caught the final 10 minutes) came up and told me what a great session it was.
Rest assured he wouldn’t have said that at the start, but as a group we persevered,




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