Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

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


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