Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Why football coaching at Adult Sunday League is still so important

Hi, my name is Ashley and I have been given the opportunity to post an article here on the blog. I’d like to thank Dwyer for the invite!

I am 26 years old and play Sunday football in a local Essex (England) league. A couple of seasons ago I made the decision to drop down a couple of leagues to join up with my friends and play for a different team. I don’t regret the decision but over this period I’ve noticed clear differences in the standard, football player behaviour and general attitude towards football on a Sunday morning.

This football season has been a disaster to put it bluntly. Bad habits have crept into the team and although we cannot expect Premier League status fitness, wages or TV coverage the simplest things were missing from our team. Our inability to do the simple things on the pitch let us down badly. To coach a football group of adults to do some simple drills, stretches and sprints before the game falls on deaf ears if you do not have a committed coaching structure in place. As the captain of the team I have found it hard to influence others to be as committed throughout the season.

Some of the other teams in the Sunday league include established local footballers who have played and now coach with passion. They organise the team properly, they have planned and structured training sessions, they know about fitness and hydration, they communicate positively from the touchline and they have enough support week in week out to get the team playing.

It’s no surprise that these football teams have hauled in the points this season. I can only think of a couple of occasions where we have matched them for fight and passion. But not having a proper football coaching structure and team discipline has let us down badly. On a number of occasions we haven’t even had enough players or subs to run the line.

I’ve now taken the decision to play for a new team in a different district and what I have seen watching two games with my new team confirms to me that organisation is the key. Although the ability of the players may not be hugely different, it’s the way that they perform as a team which makes the biggest difference. There have a considerable amount of respect for each other and the coaches and this is shown throughout the team.

I’m looking forward to a new challenge but I will miss the social side of meeting up with old school friends on a Sunday. But this football season has taught me that even at adult amateur level basic coaching needs to be applied to get the best results.



Can youth soccer players become “past it”

Well not past it, but you know they don’t want to play anymore. It’s a sad time when you see players you have put such a lot of effort in turn away from the game you have taught them. A lot of my players are the guinea pigs for Better Soccer Coaching sessions.

I was thinking about this when I watched the great Arsenal and Brazil player Gilberto turning in a performance where he was dropping too deep, far deeper then he had done before and so let the opposition come on top of him. He’s a World Cup winning player, a captain of Arsenal. He’s no fly-by-night, he’s the real thing. They don’t give World Cup medals to just anyone.

And yet somehow he is suddenly defending too deep. Although still strong defensively, he seems to have forgotten how to attack.

Early on in the season Arsene Wenger had dropped him. A World Cup winner and former captain dropped. But Wenger has been proved right, so why did he go back to him? Loyalty plays such a big part of these decisions. You can’t cast aside a World Cup winner can you?

I see this happening to young players, not because they burn out or are past it, they just don’t want to play anymore. They outgrow it and they stop reading the game, are too deep or too far forward or just are not there. The buzz has gone and the passion has died.

And I too feel that loyalty. I made a mistake this season with one of my strikers. Michael was obviously much more interested in golf than soccer. He had told me so last season but asked if he could play in some matches this season when he wasn’t playing golf. I agreed but only because he had played so many games for me. He didn’t play well, he missed some easy chances and half way through the season left to take up a golfing career.

This boy was the van Nistelroy of the under 10s but somewhere along the way by Under 15 he was past it.

Gilberto is a wonderful player but he no longer reads the game as well as he did. At the top level, the very top level, he is past it.

And I have players in my team that were once the heartbeat that made the team tick, but as they grew older and other things took their interest and took them away from soccer I too, like Mr Wenger, had to pick other players to take their place, and I too like Mr Wenger wanted to play the players who had played for me since under 4 even though they were “past it”. Their ghosts haunt the pages of Better Soccer Coaching.

The time to be soccer superstars is very short, both at international and at youth levels.

David Clarke, editor, Better Soccer Coaching

Here Comes the Sun- I’m finally able to take my soccer team back onto grass to train

Actually, that’s not strictly true because it looks like it’s about to start pouring with rain outside my little attic office here in not-so-sunny Oxfordshire, England.

But spring is here. The daffodils are wilting, the trees are blooming, there’s a smell of freshly cut grass in the air, and at long last I’m finally able to take my team back onto grass to train.

Our season lasts from September to April. From October to March it gets dark at around 5.00pm or earlier. Although our local soccer facilities are really very good, unfortunately we do not have the luxury of a floodlit grass training pitch. And frankly, even if we did, it would be unusable for much of that period due to the weather.

Instead we train on a floodlit multi-use-games-area (MUGA). We’re lucky to have that facility, I know, but it’s still not ideal. The surface is extremely fast, and is bound on all sides by a low wall. The fast surface means that the players aren’t training in conditions that replicate the match experience. When you pass a ball on a MUGA it zips across the surface. Play the same pass on a Saturday morning on a boggy pitch and it doesn’t go nearly as far and often as not just gets stuck in a mud-bath. And the boundary wall has the effect of making young players forget that they need to observe the touchline – why use a stop-turn when you can just bounce the ball off the wall?

But on match days we have to play on a large grass pitch. Many times through the winter I’ve asked myself, why do we play in these conditions? Can we reasonably expect 8, 9, 10 year olds to play to the best of their ability, to really express their skills, when it’s freezing cold, raining, the grass is too long and the ground is muddy? What do they learn from that experience? For many they learn that they don’t like playing soccer as much as they thought and they’d rather be somewhere warm and dry with a cup of hot chocolate.

So why can’t we play from April to September? Why can’t we train our players in the conditions that we expect them to play in? Is the argument that schools break up for summer and the players aren’t around? Frankly, I don’t think that holds water anymore. The school calendar has changed so much in England, and there are so many half-term breaks and long weekends and Christmas and Easter holidays that I actually think it might be easier to keep your squad together from spring to autumn than from autumn to spring.

I have little doubt that had I coached my players through the summer rather than through the winter they would all be better players for it. I follow David Clarke’s (Better Soccer Coaching editor) credo of pass-pass-pass on our MUGA sessions. We practise passing until it’s coming out of our ears, but more often than not when we get to the game on Saturday, the same well-rehearsed drills end up with the ball stuck in the mud or long grass. So what do the players do? Hoof it up the pitch as hard as the can, conceding possession, and turning the match into a large-scale game of ping pong.

Am I missing something? Are there any other reasons why we insist on putting our players through this? I really think we’re making it more difficult rather than easier for our young players and I would implore the FA to consider the structure of the season in England.

I’d love to get some feedback on this from coaches in other countries around the world. How does the weather impact on your coaching and your players’ development?

Dwyer Scullion, Publisher, Better Soccer Coaching

Look to your players Mr Wenger

“Every single decision has gone against us in every game and I don’t know why…” Arsène Wenger, April 2007

I like and admire Arsène Wenger. His teams play wonderful passing soccer, just like I imagine my team will play when they get to the professional level!

So it always surprises me when he makes statements about referees that make no sense. I felt sorry for him and his team when they played so well at Liverpool in the Champions League but lost out to a penalty decision that was his player’s own fault rather than the referees fault. And it was something dear to the hearts of all of us at Better Soccer Coaching where our publisher is Liverpool through and through.

By throwing himself at Liverpool’s Ryan Babbel, Kolo Toure was leaving himself open to a split second interpretation of the game by a referee. From the refs position it looked like a penalty so he gave it. The reason Wenger was sore was that in the first leg a different referee in a similar incident had chosen not to give a penalty. This time it was an Arsenal player who was knocked over in the penalty area. A definite penalty, fumed Wenger. The two decisions over the two legs were virtually identical but the referees saw them differently.

It’s difficult to criticize a referee over his interpretation. Last week playing at home my Under 15s had one of our best young referees on the pitch. At 0-0 we had a certain penalty turned down when a player tripped our striker. No penalty. Up the other end they went and to my amazement they won a penalty. I wasn’t happy and stormed around the pitch to our linesman, who confirmed it was a penalty. I asked the ref at half-time why he hadn’t given our penalty. “I’m really sorry, Dave,” he said, “at that point two players ran into my line of vision and I couldn’t actually see what happened. I can only give what I see.”

And that’s the truth of it. These guys give what they see. I accept what my referee tells me because I know him and because on a rainy cold day you expect things like that. Just because a match is on TV doesn’t mean the conditions are any different to the conditions my referee was playing in.

Where Arsène Wenger went wrong was that it was his players at fault. If his forwards – namely Emmanuel Adebayor – had scored from the chances that came their way Wenger wouldn’t need a refereeing decision to decide his fate. If Philippe Senderos had actually defended Wenger would not be ranting at the referee.

In a way it’s “welcome to our world Mr Wenger”. The world we write about in Better Soccer Coaching. If young Matt had put his three easy chances into the net on Sunday I wouldn’t have worried about the penalty. If Tom hadn’t rugby tackled the opposition they wouldn’t have been given a penalty.

Players lose games – not referees.

Dave Clarke, editor, Better Soccer Coaching


I read a fascinating interview with the great Zico in The Observer (English national newspaper) this weekend.

As a boy growing up and becoming interested in soccer, Zico was one of my favourite players. A truly dynamic, impossibly skilful, imaginative forward, it transpires that Zico is an equally inspiring coach.

After spells coaching a Japan club side and then the Japan national team, Zico became coach of Turkish side Fenerbahce in 2006. Fenerbahce’s ambitious desire to become one of the top clubs in Europe doesn’t seem so far-fetched when you consider that they are in the Champions League quarter-final, going into a second leg against Chelsea already leading 2-1.

His coaching philosophy is straightforward and consists of two central principles:

1. Dialogue
2. Teaching through repetition

And unsurprisingly, he does not compromise on how he thinks the game should be played:

“There are too many defensive teams around, with players passing the ball sideways instead of going for it. I like my players to have fun and attack”

For Zico, dialogue means talking with his players rather simply than issuing instructions. He is not concerned with straitjacketing his players or imposing strict roles. Instead, he prefers to give them freedom to make their own choices and decisions. He uses dialogue to show his players their potential then gives them the freedom to go out and reach that potential for the team.

Simple training is the second central principle that Zico applies with his players. Most Brazilian coaches, and indeed most of the top coaches in world club soccer focus their attention on tactics. Zico, however, prefers to emphasize the basics:

“For me, playing football is a mechanical thing, like cleaning your teeth. You need to learn the movements and have them in your head: controlling, passing, shooting, heading, crossing… it is all about training.”

This may seem like a simplistic approach to the game at such a high level, but you can’t argue with his results.

It strikes me that Zico’s coaching philosophy is very similar to what I should be doing as a youth soccer coach. In the past I’ve struggled to make the connection between what, say, Manchester United do, and what we have to do in our own little grassroots universe.

Zico’s approach has made that connection for me and I can see that if I follow that path – dialogue combined with coaching simple core skills – our players and our team will improve and everyone, including our spectators, will have more fun.

Dwyer Scullion, publisher, Better Soccer Coaching

Size Matters

new-image-dave-clarke.jpgI was watching my two sons playing soccer in the garden last night. It’s great to watch them, and it’s also a good lesson in problems in soccer teams, so it gives me plenty to talk about with the team at Better Soccer Coaching.

Both of them are good players, they use skill to get past each other, and it’s a continual game of 1v1. But size plays an important part in 1v1 and so does the position they play in the team.

My eldest wins every time. As an older, bigger player – he’s 14 and my youngest is 11 – he can not only use his skills but also his size. The extra height and weight mean in a tussle he wins the ball. This highlights one of the huge problems in youth teams. In your Under 10 team you can have players born in September of one year and a boy born in July nearly a year later.

With this difference in size and age the older boys nearly always get picked for the team. What we as coaches have to look out for and encourage are the younger skilful boys who get bulldozed out of the way in matches. You have to keep helping them and they will blossom as they get older. It may not be your team that benefits from this but a coach further on down the line when he is older.

I had one fantastic player who from Under 7 through Under 10 had the best kick – so he scored a lot of free-kicks – was a strong runner – so he went past the smaller players with ease – and played rugby – so he was strong in the tackle. But at Under 11 the others caught him up, and caught him out. He slowly went down the ‘best player’ rankings and then left us for rugby where he was still king.

At Better Soccer Coaching I am always trying to get across how important it is to nurture all your players, good, bad, big or small, they change so much at this level, you are sometimes surprised at how suddenly some players blossom.

Position is also important in 1v1. My youngest son feeds off good passes into the box, he scores goals for fun, and can run from midfield and hit defence splitting passes left or right. My eldest on the other hand, is a strong, fantastic tackler, winning the ball in midfield and setting up attacks. He is also full of tricks. So it’s a no brainer in 1v1. The skills of a good tackling, engine room running midfielder has much more going for him here than the goal poacher, good passer.

On a very simple level then, what 1v1 does is show you that you need those that are good at it in the centre of your midfield or defence. And what 1v1 teaches your attackers and wingers is that you don’t want to get in a close tussle with the midfielders or defenders, what they need to do is run at them and get past them quickly.

I’m glad the weather in England is warming up so I can get outside and be the link player for one of them!

David Clarke, editor, Better Soccer Coaching