Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Train like Michael Bradley and Charlie Davies: My tips to make fast footwork fun

By Dave Clarke

David ClarkeFast feet, dribble, pass then finish. Now that would be impressive, but follow my tips for giving players fast feet, then get them to do the drill at the end from Pierre Barrieu the fitness coach for the US national team and you will find your players are able to do this on match days.

1. Obstacles

Use cones, kit bags, flag poles, players bodies, tracksuits and balls. Put them all on the ground as alternatives to specialist ladders. Make the players move through these obstacles, making sure they do not step on any.

2. Fast feet adventure courses

Set up courses which require lots of different footwork skills. Each player can be timed over the course, with seconds added for failure to complete a section correctly. For instance station one could be jumping back and forward over a kit bag six times, followed by a zig-zag through cones, then running backwards through some poles.

3. Slow, fast, slow

Sometimes footwork can become repetitive, without challenging the player. Change the rhythm of the footwork session by changing the pace of the activity. A fast foot exercise can be made harder by using small hurdles or poles laid flat on the ground and players have to go at different speeds through them.

Watch this clip of Pierre Barrieu the fitness coach for the US national team, with Charlie Davis and Michael Bradley from the US team. You can set this up and play it with your team:

 Soccer Skills and Drills


How Barcelona coach players to control a high ball then shoot

By David Clarke

DavidClarke1I’ve been focusing my young players on controlling high balls this weekend. It’s a skill that players need to set themselves up for a shot at goal. I can remember Eric Cantona of Manchester Utd and Leeds fame commenting that every night he threw balls high into the air and controlled them as they hit the ground.

At Barcelona they have a great drill that covers these points

Bringing down high balls
Close control
Setting up the shot
Accurate shooting

All you need are four cones a ball and a goal with target areas marked out. Put a couple of cones a few yards in from the posts on either side of the goal and call these the target areas. Put four cones in a 10 yard square around the penalty spot so the penalty spot is in the middle.

Players must start with their back or side to goal
Juggle the ball three or four times then kick high
Keep the ball inside the zone
Finish in the target areas either side of the goal

Watch how Barcelona coach it here:

 Soccer Skills and Drills

My seven tips to help you make a difference on match days

dave clarkeBeing in control from the touchline is not easy for coaches of young players. But few coaches take as much care during the vital minutes of the match as they do with the pre-match preparation.


1. DO find the right moment.
Information needs to be given when players are most receptive, in other words when they can concentrate on what you are saying. That is not in the middle of the game. Talk to them at the half-time break. Youth teams suffer the most from parents shouting out meaningless parents, confusing the main message you want to deliver. Your team needs to avoid conflicting messages.

2. DON’T micro-manage the game.
Some coaches feel it necessary to talk players through every move. This is potentially destructive because it stifles their instinct for the game and stops them using their skills (which probably exceed the coach’s). Positive encouragement will give players confidence. Psychologists tell us that it is better to say “hit the target” than “don’t miss”.

3. DO break the game down into chunks with achievable targets.
No shots on your goal from the opposition for the next ten minutes, keep play in their half of the pitch.

4. DON’T get distracted away from the game.
Talk to spectators and the other coaches afterwards. Your players need your full attention. Create a bubble for you and your team. Make sure at half-time the bubble continues.

5. DO watch first, worry later.
Keep your emotions under control – panic, anger, frustration and fear are all mind killers. Players depend on the coach to be the coolest head on the pitch. Observing from as many different watching angles as possible will enhance your perspective on the game.

6. DON’T argue with the referee.
It distracts the players and draws attention to the possible shortcomings of one person rather than the game in hand. It is also unlikely to have a positive influence on the outcome of the game and is not in the spirit of the game anyway. Referees and umpires of all levels and abilities will rarely change a decision once it’s been made and it may even turn them against you.

7. DO create and refer to a checklist.
When the game starts, as a coach you should be able to read effectively the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses and alter your strategy accordingly. Use a simple checklist with the tactic you will apply to counter strengths or exploit weaknesses. For instance, identifying their best player may change the way they are marked, or noting whether that player is left or right sided.

 Soccer Skills and Drills

Changing pace: get players to run the lines

David ClarkeThe lines on a soccer pitch can be used for more than just a match. You can make some great games up just by getting players to follow the lines and turn at right angles. Players have to control the ball running in straight lines on a pitch and it works well for your training sessions.

Check out this game, which helps players get used to changing pace and controlling the ball. It’s great fun for the players and good for their fitness too.

Watch the clip and get your players running around the lines:

 Soccer Skills and Drills

The next 6 best football (soccer) songs ever

DavidClarkeI’ve had such a lot of feedback since I did my original blog The six best soccer (football) songs ever that I’ve had to come up with another six just to keep everyone happy. And, yes I know, there are a lot more.

Comment below with your favourite and I may do more…

Anyway here they are:

1. Best song GIVE HIM A BALL AND A YARD OF GRASS by Sultans of Ping – nominated by my publisher Kevin Barrow
see video at the bottom of the blog and sample lyrics from it

2, Best song in an advert UNDERDOG by Kasabian _ nominated by coach Pavl Williams
Click here to watch the Sony Bravia advert with Kaka

Or watch the full version of Kasabian Underdog

3. Best World Cup Song THREE LIONS by The Lightening Seeds
Watch Three Lions by The Lightening Seeds

4. Best Crowd Song MAS QUE NADA by Sergio Mendes
Watch the Brazil team in the Nike ad with Mas Que Nada

Watch the official Sergio Mendes version of Mas Que Nada

5. Best Ex Player Song DIAMOND LIGHTS by Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle
Watch Hoddle and Waddle on Top of the Pops

6. Best Club Song A SONG FOR LEICESTER CITY – only because it mentions the best young English manager in the game: Simon Grayson and England hero Emile Heskey.
Watch a Song for Leicester City (Billy Joel style)

My publisher Kevin Barrow brought the Sultans of Ping song to my attention after I had done the first Best Soccer (football) song collection and I have to admit it is a classic

Here’s an extract from their lyrics:

“Give him a ball & a yard of grass
He’ll give you a move with perfect pass
Give him a ball & a yard of space
He’ll give you a move with godly grace”
Here’s their video:

 Soccer Skills and Drills

What do you do when you celebrate a win?

DavidClarkeAs coaches we have all been through a period where we haven’t won for a few games and we begin to doubt what we have achieved. Losing is a part of sport that we all must accept and I include myself in that.

However hard we try to achieve a winning team you must be realistic and accept that losing is something that happens to most coaches. Remember that for every game you win opposite you is a coach and team that have lost, so try to respect that and not be over enthusiastic in your celebrations.

I know sometimes it isn’t easy to keep your emotions in check. I can remember after losing three games in a row how fantastic it felt to win again and so did my players. Coaches must try to set an example to their players in victory and in defeat because young players are easily influenced by your reactions.

Watching Maradonna when Argentina won a place in the World Cup in the recent qualifying matches diving full length onto the pitch is a good example of what you shouldn’t do. When my team won the U10 title having been second all season I could easily have done the same. Thankfully I can look back at the occasion and see photos of smiling coaches not idiots!

Watch these clips, one of Maradonna when Argentina beat Uruguay to claim a place in the 2010 World Cup against the odds, the second clip shows the moment Argentina score (goooooooooooooooooooooal!) and Sir Alex Ferguson when his team scored twice in the final minutes to help them on the road to winning the Premier League in England in 1993.

Central defenders make good stand-in goalkeepers

DavidClarke1Covering for the goalkeeper was brought sharply into focus on Sunday when our U14s ‘keeper felt ill at half time and said he couldn’t carry on. The game was a close one we were losing 2-1 but from my position as assistant referee (I get all the best jobs!) I felt it was certainly winnable.

We had therefore to change goalkeepers. My son used to play a lot as goalkeeper but hasn’t played in that position since the summer, but he was the best replacement. He was also instrumental in holding the ball on the left wing and playing it through to the attackers. The other thing he is good at is winning the ball off defenders high up the pitch which creates problems for the opposition, so to move him from there to goal gave two problems, filling that role and getting him to refocus on goalkeeping.

The match became difficult because the ball was quickly coming back at our defence with no one there to hold it up. Also my son was not coming out to get the ball like he would if he had been practicing more often.

The game turned when we went 3-1 down and there was no way back. There are a number of coaching points to be made here.

Make sure you give your reserve goalkeepers time in goal. With the U9s I play them in goal for a half every other game. It keeps them ready in case our main goalkeeper is unavailable or injured.

Goalkeeping gives central defenders a different view of the penalty area and makes them good at positioning themselves so that they can defend attacking shots if the goalkeeper has gone missing.

In this clip from the Champions League final 2008 between Chelsea and Manchester United, John Terry is in the ideal position to head the shot over the bar when his goalkeeper had gone to claim the ball and lost it. In the other clip Rio Ferdinand goes in goal and nearly saves a penalty after the Manchester Utd goalkeeper had been sent off. And another of Man Utd’s John O’Shea going in goal.

Central defenders get a good tactical view when they stand in for goalkeepers and it helps their defensive positional sense.

 Soccer Skills and Drills