Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Does Your Coaching Have a Personal Signature?

It makes no difference if you do not understand the mechanics of American football, the scoring system, time keeping, orimage-of-john.jpg players’ positions. In this specific case, these things are irrelevant to understanding the scope of the coaching achievement.

Over 30 seasons coach Roger Barta has won 273 games, lost 58 and guided his team to six state American football championship titles. His Smith Centre High School team from Kansas are currently on a four-year winning streak. During 2007-2008 they have won 54 games in a row and outscored opponents 844 to 20. They broke a national record set in 1925 by scoring 72 points in the first quarter of a game, and despite replacing the entire senior team before halftime with first year freshmen, they went on to win that game 83-0.

Barta’s approach could not contrast more starkly with the way most coaches push their players in competitive sports. For this team, playing football is almost the last thing on their mind. In fact they are not really bothered about winning games. The “how”, “who”, “what” and “why” of what they do goes far beyond the pitch and gives an entirely different meaning to the word “winning”.

Coach Barta possesses years of technical, tactical and strategic expertise. He still enjoys writing his scouting reports and running the same offensive and defensive formations season after season. Yet there is something very different about how under him, each individual as a member of the team approaches every practice, game and championship title.

What emerges is a picture of how he uses his qualities as a coach, both as a leader and a human being, combined with his football expertise, to make an impact.

That impact starts in the first year a player steps on the field right through to their senior year, and, one would imagine, continues throughout their lives.

Ask any Smith Center player what makes him perform so well and it is probable that he will not mention football but rather the qualities of the coach. Here are some examples:

Purpose – “He puts special things into winning. Small things like silence on the bus and holding hands before taking the field”.

Challenge and enjoyment in the process  – “We like to set different goals every game like only allowing ourselves a certain number of yards each time we have the ball”.

Leadership – “As good a coach he is, he’s a better guy. He treats everybody like gold”.

Mentoring and Being – “He speaks with us about how to be men, things like respect – then shows us”.

Responsibility and awareness – “Each player signs a contract to be drug, alcohol and tobacco-free – for ourselves and the team”.

The qualities Barta demonstrates are especially powerful in the critical years when young talent needs to be nurtured in order to flourish. According to the players, the result is a transformational experience for each player.

Coach Barta’s success shows at the very least the enormous potential for a professional development club or youth academy to adopt this approach. If you can develop coaches who have a personal signature powerful enough to inspire people and an entire system, it usually delivers huge returns to the club, to the coaches, and most important of all, to the players.

About the author: John Grisby is a Performance Coach at DNA Performance which helps individuals and teams become aware of their potential


Bad behaviour? Blame the grassroots coaches

Whichever way I turned this week someone was having a go at grassroots coaches. First when Ashley Cole refused to looknew-image-dave-clarke.jpg at the referee who was booking him for a bad foul, somehow the discussions managed to blame the behaviour of players in grassroots soccer and the coaches that patrol it.

Then watching the TV programme Soccer AM on Saturday morning, Trevor Brooking took the cameras on a tour of the Football Association HQ, where we saw the England manager Fabio Capello in his office and various secretaries who looked after this and that. Then Trevor burst into a meeting where the Chief Executive of the FA Brian Barwick was talking to his team. “We are discussing the behavioural problems of the coaches in grassroots soccer,” said Brian.

Trevor furrowed his brow as if to say Yes that is a problem.

Then in the Liverpool – Manchester United game Javier Mascherano was sent off causing another full scale debate over behaviour by players towards referees. And yet again grassroots soccer was at the heart of the debate

I expected to see the offices of Better Soccer Coaching surrounded by people calling for our heads this morning.

So I put “dangerous cult” into Google  and what pops up? No not grassroots coaches but the Church of Scientology. I’m beginning to wonder what these commentators on Sky and BBC really do think grassroots soccer is about. Have they ever been to a game at a weekend with young enthusiastic players and enthusiastic coaches and parents who sometimes get overexcited by what they see their kids doing?

The only time I have had a problem with my players is when they have been watching hightlights of the English Premier League before they come and play a match. Then they copy the swearing and challenging of the referee because that is what the players at the top do, the players that drive the Aston Martins and spend their lives on soccer pitches and get paid the astronomical sums we hear about.

Here at Better Soccer Coaching we are well aware of all the initiatives that are going on to try and stop abuse at youth soccer games and I think they are beginning to have a  positive effect. The only negativity now comes from the people who run soccer.

Abuse of referees and linesmen has been cut down, but that is what I see each week. Maybe you see something different. Let us know by commenting below.

David Clarke, editor, Better Soccer Coaching

Can national coaches see the problems at grassroots level?

Street soccer contains a lot of the attributes we write about every week at Better Soccer Coaching. I played it and I’m surenew-image-dave-clarke.jpg many of you did and wish it was still alive and kicking in streets around the world. It would help us all on a Saturday morning. So I was very interested this week to read a quote by the man who is charged with running England’s Under 18 team.

Talking about playground or street soccer, he wanted to see it replicated in a safe environment for 9, 10 and 11 year olds at local soccer clubs. An excellent idea. However he went on to say we – that is the youth soccer coaches at grass roots level – should not get them playing one or two touch soccer, instead we should let them run with the ball and should let them make all the decisions about when and if they should pass it themselves. He argues that that is the only way national teams will get players who are exciting and run with the ball and beat opponents and excite the fans of tomorrow.

I quite liked reading this but at the same time I was not comfortable with it. I have players at under 9 who will run up a blind alley and not look to play a wall pass to a team mate which would open up the tightest of defences. I have players who can run around every player on the pitch but won’t pass the ball and if he played quick one twos he would be through on goal. And after 10 minutes of the same player doing the same thing i.e. not passing the ball, the rest of his team get fed up and stop playing.

I think it’s quite a complex problem, and advice from coaches who work at national level is not always relevant at grassroots level. If all 9 and 10 year olds were able to run down the pitch with the ball, look up see the goal, beat another player then make a decision when to make the killer pass then there wouldn’t be much need for all the soccer coach advice I give every week in Better Soccer Coaching.

The boys that the academies at national level work with are the cream of youth soccer talent in the country. I’m still trying to get young Jonny to use his left foot and he’s already at Under 14.

It’s fantastic that grassroots soccer is beginning to be taken very seriously but maybe the national coaches who are keen to get boys into their academies that have come through coaches like you and I should spend some time with us and see the problems and the vast range of abilities we coach every week.

Dave Clarke, editor, Better Soccer Coaching

The Future of Soccer Coaching

Last night I attended a lecture by Sir Trevor Brooking at the University of Surrey. This was the second annual Allan Wellsdwyer-2.jpg Sports Lecture and was hosted by former Tottenham and Crystal Palace player Gary O’Reilly.

I really enjoyed the lecture. Sir Trevor was there to talk about his role as Director of Football Development at the English FA. For those of you who don’t know, he took the role on in 2004 and was charged with the task of conducting a root-and-branch review of the structure of the game in England, from grassroots minis football through to the top level of the Premier League and the national team.

He identified the key issues in youth coaching as:

•    lack of core skills such as ball control
•    inadequate and inconsistent coaching
•    parental touchline interference
•    respect and behaviour of players towards each other and match officials.

I couldn’t agree more and I suspect that these views are shared by many people who read Better Soccer Coaching.

And he wasn’t exclusively towing the FA party line. He acknowledged that there is the potential for conflict of interest within the governance of the FA and the interests of professional clubs. This idea should not be dismissed and has concerned me for a few years. Any conflict of interest at this level has potential implications for how you and I operate as grassroots coaches.

For example, there are plans in place for dealing with ill-discipline at grassroots and youth level but these seem at odds with the approach to the same issue in the Premier League. There are many who believe that the behaviour of our high profile players should be addressed in the first instance, but the FA don’t seem quite so keen to take the same stance at that level. Anyway, that’s the subject of another blog.

Next week Sir Trevor launches the FA’s National Game Strategy which will apparently be a blueprint for the future to deal with these issues. I’ll report back on its contents then.

But he wasn’t there just to talk FA business. He recognized that a great many of the audience were lifelong West Ham Utd fans who consider him a near-deity.

He told a few stories of his playing days and talked with great warmth about how he learned to play as a boy. He talked about jumpers for goalposts on the grass behind the street where he was raised. He described how he taught himself to be two-footed by playing with a tennis ball and aiming between two drainpipes in the yard of the terraced-house where he lived.

And Arsenal supporters will be pleased to know that he finally admits that he knew very little about the header than won the 1980 FA Cup Final for West Ham Utd.

Dwyer Scullion, Publisher, Better Soccer Coaching

How to GROW as a soccer coach

As I’m sure you are aware, a soccer coach does more than just coach. He’s a manager, a taxi driver, motivator, nursemaid,andrew_griffiths.jpg father figure…I could go on. Oh, and he or she knows a bit about the game.

It’s quite a responsibility. But there’s more.

Coaching is probably the most powerful tool available for personal development. As a soccer coach you are perhaps the strongest influence on the future careers of the players you look after today. At whatever level they play throughout their life, and for how long, their enjoyment of the game is going to be determined to a large extent by their experiences with you as a leader and mentor.

In my last post I outlined some definitions of coaching from the Defence Leadership Centre passed on to me by Roger Jones, a coach at AFC Holmer Green, based at The Misbourne School in Great Missenden, England. Today I’d like to go a step further and explore a coaching technique used by the centre and in other organisations.

The technique gets players to learn for themselves, and is called the GROW model. The coach helps the player to think through the following steps: G = Goal, R = Reality, O = Options, and W = Wrapping Up.

I’ll explain what these mean.

Goal. The player decides what the goal of the coaching session will be. For example, a soccer player might express a desire to get into space more often.

Reality. The player explores reality from different perspectives to raise their awareness of the issue in hand. For example, the player might ask himself why he doesn’t already get into space and what’s stopping him. He might ask how others get into space or watch professionals in action to gain further insight.

Options. These are considered by the player and coach together along with the feasibility of meeting the goal. For example, the player might consider always making a run as a fellow player receives the ball, or always looking around for space as a pass is made by a fellow player. The player has to see the possibility of one of the options helping him or her towards the goal.

Wrapping-Up. The player decides or commits to taking an action. For example the player commits to always making a run when a team mate receives the ball.

The approach only works if first, the coach manages to remove interference (noise and interruptions) as well as self-generated distractions, and second, the player himself chooses to do something differently.

Here’s the upside.

By allowing the player to set the agenda, he or she has ownership of the issue and retains the motivation to solve the problem. In other words, the player becomes the driver for the change and the improvement.

The coach has raised the awareness of the issue by the player and helped to improve both learning and performance at the same time. And to some extent, both the coach and the player have “grown.”

Andrew Griffiths, Managing Director, Better Soccer Coaching

Soccer teams – one big family

Michael Ballack has put Chelsea’s recent resurgence since their Carling Cup final defeat to Tottenham down to skipper John Terry’s insistence on a team bonding paint-ball trip the following week. And I for one am a great believer in team bonding trips.

One of the wonderful things about grassroots football is the spirit and friendships it produces between the players. When I first started writing for Better Soccer Coaching it was because I felt such an affinity with the players and the sport that I wanted to put in words what I had experienced in reality.

With my first team that I set up so my son was playing from the age of 5, we had such camaraderie among the players and the parents that we went away for a soccer trip to Devon. We stayed in converted stables that had houses for each family and an indoor pool so we could all interact together as families and as a team.

The matches we played after that weekend away together were so much more intense from a team point of view, because we had got to know each other from a different angle. We had run through the woods together, gone out at midnight to find the headless horseman of local legend. We had played volleyball in the hot indoor pool that none of the kids wanted to get out of. We had for a weekend been one big family.

We made it an annual experience, something to look forward to in the cold winter months when soccer takes on a different aspect, a grit-your-teeth-and-keep-the-cold-out aspect, but we were going to Devon so we had a lot to look forward to.

I saw one of my players from that time the other day and it reminded me of those Devon weekends. He’s now much older but still remembers and still thinks about those trips away with his friends, his team mates and his coach.

You should try it with your team. Build them up into one big family, creating memories as they go.

Dave Clarke, editor, Better Soccer Coaching


Level Playing Field

There’s been much talk recently about the state of the game in England. The national team’s failure to qualify for Eurodwyer-2.jpg 2008 has led to lots of wailing and gnashing of teeth and everyone you talk to has an opinion on how we got here.

Many people feel that there are too many foreign players in the English Premier League (EPL) and that this has had some huge detrimental effect on the game at all levels. I’m not so sure. In fact, I would like to make the case that, rather than holding the game back, the number of foreign players in the EPL is actually helping the game.

So here’s my theory. The Premier League clubs are often criticised for their failure to develop enough young English talent. Young players from 10 years of age might get called in to the Manchester Utd Academy but very few of them will make it and the vast majority will be let go by the age of 16, while expensive foreign imports take their place in the senior teams.

So what do these players do? Some get jobs, some go back to school, and some carry on playing in the lower leagues or in non-league soccer. So now you have a great many players who have been coached by some of the best coaches around, have played at a decent level and are now bringing that experience, skill and quality to the lower leagues. If you follow lower league football in England you can’t deny that the quality and excitement is greater than ever.

And the other factor to add into the equation is the level of coaching. There was a time when coaching expertise was the domain of the big clubs with lots of money (or at least with a large fan base and a decent heritage). That is no longer the case.

The coaching expertise which underpins the success of the Big 4 EPL clubs is now easily available to lower league and grassroots coaches alike. The Internet, the broadcast media, and even the FA have brought to the fore the real issues for coaches. There is a degree of concensus about how and what to coach our players and resources to develop those coaching skills are available to all.

Lowly Havant and Waterlooville very nearly knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup a few weeks ago. I believe this was made possible by a combination of the factors that I’ve just outlined. Their team contained a number of players who had trained at bigger clubs, and their coaches have access to the same sports science and coaching resources as the coaches at Liverpool. These factors are just as relevant at international level.

So why did England fail to qualify for Euro 2008? Simple. They lost games to well-coached, highly skilled and motivated international soccer teams.

Dwyer Scullion, Publisher, Better Soccer Coaching