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.



Patterns of play

davidscwnewPatterns of play are essential to the game. They can begin with any player on the pitch, and range from extremely simple to frighteningly complex! But the more players practise them and understand their effectiveness, the better the rewards for your team.

Here’s a game I use that starts with my full back. It doesn’t involve any long balls, but does require crisp, accurate passing. See if it works for you!

What to do

  • Set up as shown in the pictures above. There is a target man (T) at each end of the area, plus two neutrals (N) and a 3v3 in the main 50×40 yards area, not including the centre circle, which has its own 2v2. Players cannot step over area boundaries.
  • There are two balls in play at all times, starting with the target players who play out to the full back.
  • Teams score a point by receiving the ball from one target man and pass it the length of the area to the other but each player on the team must touch the ball. This doesn’t include neutrals, who play for the attacking team.
  • Tackling is only allowed in the centre circle, although blocks are allowed elsewhere. If play is turned over in the centre, the ball must go back to a target player for a new move to start.
  • When a point is scored, target players restart by passing the ball to a player on the non-scoring team.
  • Increase the game’s difficulty by making the neutral players defenders. If they win possession they return the ball to a target player.

The practice

  • The game is great for practising moving patterns through midfield.
  • It encourages players in the main area to be constantly on the move to help those in the centre.
  • Players must be alert to opportunities to pass, particularly because a team could find itself in possession of two balls at once.
  • Players must learn to pick up on preferred patterns of play from players in designated positions. The game encourages players to read and learn others’ preferences.


How to time your sessions… don’t!

davidscwnewI always remember when I was struggling to cope with delivering sessions in my early days, a very experienced academy coach said to me: “There are no failures, just experiences and your reactions to them.”

It’s a great piece of advice. My right hand man at training is fairly new to coaching and he, like you, works very hard at getting the right sessions and delivering them to some of our younger teams. But he gets very nervous and if the kids haven’t understood what he wants them to do, he moves right on to another session and tries that.

Understanding is vital to a session, both for the coach and the players – often it takes time for the players to get the session you are delivering. We were well into the session last week and I could see the players looking at one another slightly lost.

“It’s not working, Dave,” said my right-hand man. “You said it was a 15-minute exercise but time’s almost up and they’re not grasping it.

I told him to hold fire and managed to block out the murmurs of the watching parents who were keen for me to move on to something else. But I wanted to show them one more time that this could work. It’s never easy watching kids struggling with a concept, but I couldn’t give up on this with them so close.

I tried giving two players some extra encouragement – sometimes that’s all it takes. And sure enough, within 30 seconds, they began to ‘get it’. And more than that, they started having fun. The session was working and they wanted to carry on, because part of the fun was ‘getting’ the session.

Within a further 10 minutes they were making it look easy, which was exactly what I wanted. “Okay,” I shouted, “it’s a wrap!” And guess what? They didn’t want to stop 

Some players began to move onto a small-sided game, but a good number were still running the passing sequence. I initially planned this as a 15-minute warm-up, but it had ended up filling the majority of the session!

I’m always amazed when coaches tell me they ran a session with 15 minutes of ‘this’, then 20 minutes of ‘that’, and another 10 minutes to finish, because that is what it told them to do in the session notes. Sure, following that principle helps you keep control of your session, but it won’t allow you to develop your players with any spontaneity.

Don’t keep looking at your watch just because it says 15 minutes in your session notes. Instead, watch the players and use your own coaching knowledge to judge what to do next. Trust me, the results can be fantastic.



What does it feel like to be coached by you?

DCAS a coach you have lot of responsibilities, so how you coach and how you get your points across as a coach are vital to your players’ progression. It is not just on the pitch either – players learn from you how to achieve their goals in life.

What do you think it feels like to be coached by you? When your players turn up for training and matches what goes through their mind when they see you? Do you inspire them? Are they afraid of you?

An inspirational coach will find players respond better to them, and that it is easier to be understood when 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. So a coach needs to thnk about how they coach and what they want to get out of their coaching.

When I think about my coaching I want to base it on best practice rather than just controlling a group of kids. Best practice comes from the exercises I use and how I use them and the enjoyment the group gets from them. At a recent soccer coaching exhibition I went to one of the better coaches moaned that his session didn’t work because the players were not up to the standard he demanded.A coach should recognise the players level is not as expected and quickly change the exercise so the players understand it and can work with it.

So best practice… You need to coach fundamental skills – touch, passing, receiving communication and heading, and you need to coach the game – rules, tactics, sportsmanship. And you have to make it fun! There is a lot there, but if you start with yourself and how you coach and how players receive you, you will build a solid foundation and with that an understanding between you and your players.

Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal, has a track record of producing great players. How does he do it? Watch this video and pick up a few tips:




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