Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Jose Mourinho? No scapegoats in a youth game but plenty of pressure on the volunteer coach

davidscwnewIt can be a scary moment when you face the first game of the season. It doesn’t matter whether you are a new coach or have coached the same team for a few years, that first game is so important.

Getting the momentum is one thing but getting the parents and players right behind you is another, so a good display is important.

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Last season our first match was away at a very impressive ground with lots of facilities, including a main pitch with stands and floodlights.

As it was the Under 11s that were playing we were not on the adult A team pitch but we were on a pretty impressive one surrounded by a clubhouse and tennis courts. We had been promoted the previous season so we were not sure how we would cope at this higher level, but I could see my players were not intimidated by the surroundings and were raring to feel the excitement of the kick off.

We were quickly into our warm ups and soon we had shaken hands with the opposition ready for the match. I can’t imagine how it must feel to be Uwe Rosler, the new manager of Leeds United, as he waits for the whistle to blow with the eyes of his trigger happy owner Massimo Cellino upon him. Or Claudio Ranieri at Leicester, back in the Premier League hoping he can have the success he had before.

Kick off came with great relief and my initial fears that the team wouldn’t be good enough were soon banished as we unleashed a flurry of attacks. Twice we were nearly caught out on the counter but our defensive training sessions paid off with some good covering and clearing. However, as half time approached all of our hard work was undone when a clumsy clearance went into our own net.

The boy involved was heartbroken, but at half time we all gathered around him and told him it wasn’t his fault and that we were all pleased with the way the team had played. We ran the game in the second half but failed to score and that one own goal had been the downfall of the team.

However, parents and players alike were in high spirits because we had all seen we could compete at this higher level and I was proud of the way they had all gathered around the player who had scored the own goal.

So a great start to your campaign doesn’t always mean a winning start but momentum comes from playing well and working as a team – we went on to have a great season in a very tough league.

Tap-ins need practice too…

davidscwnewIt’s funny, when you’re watching a match and a goal is scored, how often do you hear someone say: “that was just a tap-in – I could have scored that”. But it’s important not to forget that it was the movement in the build up to the goal and the decision to stay with the attack that often creates simple tap-ins.

Talk to Lionel Messi about tap-ins. He scored a record-breaking 91 goals in 2012 and he would be the first to tell you that simple tap-ins count for just as much as his spectacular drives and dribbles. If the player wasn’t there to put the ball in the net, the team wouldn’t score.

Tap-ins or rebounds are like the last putt in golf – they’re just as important as a huge drive down the fairway.

messiA big part of a striker’s job is being in the right place at the right time, following up shots in order to put rebounds into the back of the net. In a youth game spectacular goals are a rarity but rebounds are plentiful. Young players can learn a lot from watching Messi – not just from his sublime skills but he also regularly demonstrates how important it is to be in the right place at the right time. You can always count on him to pop up and tap the ball into the net after it has been parried by a keeper. A good striker will always anticipate a rebound or be in the right place to finish off a move.

I like my strikers to follow any shots on goal, however feeble they are, because young keepers often push the ball away rather than risk catching it, giving predatory attackers a second chance to score. Supporting strikers should never stop running, as they may be the ones that get the rebound coming their way.

Having the ability to finish off moves is vital to the development of young footballers. A confident bunch of players makes for a much better team and increases the opportunities of success. There is nothing more disheartening for the whole team when chances are not taken. And it takes practice to get it right. Look at any of the top finishers in the world and behind their success you will find hours and hours of practice, both in training sessions and on their own.

You need your players to practice as often as possible, using sessions that will help them perfect their finishing technique. Otherwise you’ll end up standing on the touchline on match day with your head in your hands.

Winning the 1v1s

davidscwnewIn the game my U10s B team played on Saturday they were involved in a lot of 1v1 duels both in defence and in attack, which had a big effect on the game. By winning the majority of these battles, my team held a huge advantage by having possession of the ball much more than their opponents.

Fortunately in the session before the game I’d been using this session designed to improve 1v1s in the midfield. Players are forced to continually attack and defend 1v1 in order to forge a chance to score a goal.

These are the kind of duels they would face in a real game. Remember to also alert your players to the fact that beating an opponent in a 1v1 will remove them from the game, allowing more space to attack.

How to set it up

Use an area 50 yards by 30 yards with a 10 yards by 10 yards area in the centre of the larger area.

How to play it

Pass a ball into the smaller area where two players must compete for it. The player successful at taking the ball outside of the area has the chance to run and take a shot at goal.

How to develop it

The player that wins teh initial batlle in the centre area has take on the defender in 1v1.

However, if the defender wins the ball from the attacker then they can pass the ball back to their team mate in the centre square.

The team mate can now go 1v1 at the opposite end.

Now when winning the 1v1 duel, your player attacks as he would in a game with the attackers outnumbering the defenders (the picture showing 3v2 can be changed to suit the players available in your session).

Play it in a game

The objective is to show the players in your team the benefits of competing and winning the duel against their immediate opponent in the game.

“Don’t let them play!”

David ClarkeI’ve heard a lot of things shouted at soccer games in youth leagues, but something that I was confronted with at our game last weekend was a new one for me.
It was hot on the heels of a meeting I’d had the day before where the blueprint for youth soccer in England had filled my world with hope for the future of the game. But the positivity and fair-mindedness that I’d experienced was quickly stifled in the reality of an Under-11s match.
We were playing against a strong, tough-tackling, hard-kicking team who were hitting balls at our defence with alarming regularity. Supporting this extremely hard-working team were a group of parents intent on winning, and winning whatever it took.
We adjusted to the pressure and at half-time it was 0-0. We now had the slope of the pitch in our favour. Our slick passing and movement began to gain us the upper hand, and the through-ball exercises we had been working on earlier in the week were looking as though they might pay dividends.
It was at this point one of the opposition parents, obviously realising his son’s team were losing their edge, began shouting warnings. Nothing unusual in that, until a final instruction came: “Don’t let them play!” he screamed. “Stop them playing!” This ‘tactic’ was promptly followed up by other parents. They were trying to end this absorbing game as a contest.
I remarked to the parent how much the players were enjoying the tactical battle, and that shutting down and stifling the game was a real shame… but of course I was ignored and the bluntly shouted instructions continued. This tactic actually allowed us to switch play more easily, and as my players began to pick off the tiring opposition players we found better chances to score. Late on, we finally found the net.
We held on to win the game, and the post-match atmosphere between the two sets of players, if not the parents, was good. It was our opponents’ first loss of the season and those around the sides of the pitch took it badly.
But what they failed to see was that it was a good close game. And it might have been even closer had they let the players continue in the same manner with which they’d approached the first half.
At the end my players said they had enjoyed winning 1-0 much more than the previous week when they’d triumphed 8-0, but I think even they felt the spirit of the game had gone in those final phases. That was a shame, because up until then there had been two styles of play cancelling each other out, providing a platform for an abundance of skill all over the pitch.
If only the parents hadn’t got involved…

Welbeck and Cleverley can hit the target every time

David Clarke

How often do you watch your striker reach great attacking positions only to then delay his shot, offering enough time for defenders to get back and put in a tackle? It’s a frustrating part of the game and something that’s certainly not exclusive to youth football!

It’s important to give players the confidence to shoot from all parts of the penalty area rather than them trying to walk the ball into the net. So below I’ve put together a great practice that, quite simply, encourages players to shoot at the earliest opportunity from all areas of the pitch.

How to set it up:

  • You will need six target cones and seven balls, plus additional cones to mark out a pitch. You’ll also require bibs and a goal.

  • Create a pitch measuring 35×25 yards.

  • Three yards in from each end touchline, and halfway up the area, place three cones in a triangular shape.

  • Each cone has a ball placed on top of it.

  • The game can be played either 3v3 or 4v4.

Getting started:

  • One team starts on the left, one on the right. Each defends the cones as they would do a goal in a normal match, although there is no keeper.

  • Players must try to knock the balls off the cones at their opponents’ end of the pitch while defenders need to ensure their own cones do not come under threat.

  • If a player shoots and gets a "strike" (knocks all three balls off with one shot) the team gets six points, otherwise it’s one point scored for each ball.

  • Should all three be dislodged, the balls are set up again before resuming.

  • Play for three games of six minutes, ensuring that players are ambitious in their attacking play and do not hang back crowding around their cones as a defensive tactic.

Developing the session:

If you have three or four teams, play so that the side getting a strike knocks the opposing team out, and another comes into play. Teams waiting on the sidelines act as ball boys.

Note which teams are the best at winning a strike – undoubtedly this will be because of the frequency of shots and from all distances – and point out to the other teams why they are so successful.

How to advance it:

  • Put a goal and a keeper at one end and set up a bowling alley-style group of six cones with balls on at the other end.

  • This is a straight knock-out, with one team trying to knock all the balls off the cones and the other trying to score three times past the keeper. Which team will fulfil its task first?

Why this works:

The initial practice encourages players to shoot at targets from all areas of the pitch. Teams defending cones will also be pushing forward trying to attack, so the scoring options should be plentiful.

Direction and power are of course vital to a team’s success, while the set-up ensures that players are aware of the need to shoot quickly and positively. Should they not, a tackle could see the other team attack and complete their task first.

An unopposed drill for Spanish success

David ClarkeA lot of coaches have been asking me “how can I make my team play like Spain”. Sometimes with youth players you need to let them have success at doing things before they get the belief in themselves that they can do it. Using unopposed exercises for build-up and combination play in attack is a good way of coaching your players to move the ball, and encourages movement to support the ball as play moves around the pitch. And because it is unopposed they will experience some of the moves that Spain or Barcelona create.

In this session, strikers and midfielders combine with a neat lay off and a precise threaded ball to set up a shot across the goalkeeper.

Set up a 40 yards by 30 yards playing area with four mannequins (poles or cones will do), two cones and two goals. You need eight outfield players and two goalkeepers.

How to play it

  1. The forwards move away from the mannequin to receive a pass.
  2. The forwards set the pass back to the supporting midfielders.
  3. The midfielders return the pass into space for the forwards to spin and run after. The forwards now shoot across the goal.

Patience is key to beating the Barcelona of your league

David Clarke

How do you beat Barcelona? Real Madrid, Valencia and Manchester United have all tried to do it by getting more possession of the ball and none of them have managed it.

If you find you’re playing a team like Barcelona who won’t allow you to have the ball don’t try to stop them playing – you end up not being able to stop them and ruining your own game plan.

Sure your players will be thinking that it’s time they had the ball because all teams want the ball but if they hold their positions and when they do win it hit quickly on the break they can make the game theirs.

When teams lose patience they often lose the game because they become easy to pick off with one-two passing and 1v1 skills.

If you jump in like Nani does on Lionel Messi you will easily be beaten. Watch the video clip below of Messi beating Nani.


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