Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

“I’m not playing in this atmosphere, Dave” – what’s happened to the Respect campaign?

My left back didn’t like the aggression coming from the parents of the home team. It unnerved him as they growled and snarled their support for their players, two of them with large threatening dogs on the side of the pitch. He walked off and told me he wouldn’t play in the aggressive atmosphere that the match was being played in.

It was an U15s game. Not much fun for anyone involved. But we played on.

I was reminded of this game when I read about a match last month where a mass brawl took place and one of the players allegedly used one of the FA Respect poles holding the rope up to keep spectators a safe distance away. That’s some irony, a Respect pole being used as a weapon.

The FA’s Respect programme has a massive role to play in the grass roots game – it’s vital we all embrace it for what it is, making the evironment our players are in safe and sound. If this kind of thing is going on then players will not feel safe and sound and one of our responsibilities as coaches has been negelected.

The FA has a role to play as well in educating the grass roots so they know why this is not the kind of environment we want our players to be in.



Alex Ferguson: What makes a good coach

dave clarkeSir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United, sees four main characteristics that make a good coach.

  • Observation
  • Perseverance
  • Imagination
  • Communication

Ferguson says that observation is vital – if you are too involved you miss a lot of things. It is a good idea to stand back sometimes and watch someone else coach while you observe the players.

He says you need perseverance because coaching is not easy and you have to come back after a defeat full of confidence for the next game. “You have to keep the fire in your belly,” confirms Ferguson.

Imagination is important because when you are asked what was your best ever goal as a coach you want to identify a perfect goal that you influenced. This is down to your imagination and how you get things across to the players in your training sessions. As a young coach Ferguson thought up creative ways of coaching to inspire his players. “you create a chain reaction which produces thinking players and this is a wonderful thing to develop” he says.

And simple communication is vital. Ferguson believes making it clear what you are after in a coaching session should be top of a coach’s list. “You see those training sessions where the coach is talking all the time and the message is lost – the words get lost in the wind.”

The players want to get on with it so don’t ramble on. “Talking too much is a big danger for a coach.”

Watch this clip of Sir Alex when he was inspiring Aberdeen in the 80s to winning everything in Scotland against all odds. Listen to what he has to say about being an inspiring manager:

1. Observation

Berbatov uses his imagination

Watching the Manchester United versus Liverpool game I had to admire the moment of unforgettable imagination and technique from Dietmar Berbatov.

It was a moment that exploded into the imagination, and left me wondering what Berbatov had been doing during the two years of strolling and loitering which had United’s fans wondering if the £30m man would ever come good.

It’s the kind of thing I love to see in matches, an outrageous piece of skill that works – I could watch the clip over and over again. Hopefully a lot of kids will be trying to do it in their backgardens and we will see it attempted on the youth pitches we play on.


Follow my blueprint and get your players doing it.

This skill is all about timing – Get your players to:

  • Get into line with the flight of the ball, keep their eyes on it.

  • Kick the ball cleanly, not hard – the movement of their body will generate the power.

  • Jump up, leaving their kicking foot on the ground and use their other foot to propel them upwards.

  • Begin to fall backwards, keeping their eyes on the ball.

  • As their body sinks towards the ground, their non-kicking leg will go into the air. Kicking leg may still be on the ground.

  • When the ball is in ideal range, whip the kicking leg off the floor into the back of the ball, bringing your other leg back down quickly. The upper body should be almost horizontal.

  • As you fall, stretch out your hand to steady your impact with the ground. Twist your body to avoid landing on your back.

The romance of youth – will Argentina change the way they play?

dave clarkeAfter the Argentinian side went out of the World Cup I have been watching with interest to see if they, like Brazil, will adopt a more European style or stick with its traditional style of attacking play.

At youth level, coaches are encouraged to play either 4-3-3 or 4-3-1-2 on the grounds those formations should ensure the continued production of attacking midfielders. In games you rarely see any pressing of the ball, so players can stroll around with all the time in the world to be creative.

On TV they like to highlight the best moments of skill from the weekend much like they do on Soccer AM but the skill is the highlighted whether it leads to any attacking or defending move or not.

I warm to the idea, its all about the fun element, and that is what I should be seeing up and down the country in the parks and grounds where youth soccer takes place – it’s the idea that playing the right way is more important than winning.

It gives young players the time to be creative and leads to very watchable matches. When did your U8 midfielder get time on the ball without someone shouting “pass it!” or worse “get rid of it!”

There is one problem with this romantic idea of how the game should be played – the only side Argentina has beaten in a World Cup knockout game without going to penalties in the past 20 years is Mexico.

What does that do for the beautiful game?

Take a look at the latest Argentina sensation Javier Pastore the future of Argentinian football – linked with a £40m move to Manchester City.

Play to win but lose with dignity

dave clarke

A code of conduct is written to reflect the responsibilities players have to the game. Young players should be made aware of this and be made aware of what is expected of them.

They should know that nobody wins all the time. You win some, you lose some and when they lose they should do so graciously.

They should congratulate the winners, not blame the referee or anyone else and be determined to do better next time. Good losers earn more respect than bad winners.

Obligations towards the game – a player should:

  • Develop their sporting abilities in terms of skill, technique, tactics and stamina.
  • Give maximum effort even when the game is lost.
  • Set a positive example to younger players and supporters.
  • Never use inappropriate language.
  • Always keep within the laws of the sport and use fair play.

Obligations towards the team – a player should:

  • l Know the laws, rules and spirit of the game and the competition rules.
  • Accept success and failure, victory and defeat, equally.

Respect towards opponents – a player should:

  • Treat opponents with due respect at all times.
  • Avoid violence, rough play and help injured players.

Respect towards officials – a player should:

  • Accept the decision of the match officials without protest, if a decision needs explaining the team captain should ask.

Why thinking you can win against the odds isn’t madness

Nelson Antonio Haedo Valdez went from Werder Bremen’s youth team to the first team, winning the league in 2003-04, and was chosen to play for his country Paraguay. He went from Borussia Dortmund to Spain this summer, becoming the most expensive player in Hercules’ history, at €3.8m.

He doesn’t score that many goals, he creates space and opportunities for team mates by running through from deep and dropping off the front.

But when he went to the Nou Camp with newly promoted Hercules he scored two goals, goals that were big in the history of his club. Goals that sunk the great Barcelona – Xavi, Pique, Iniesta and Villa.

Herculés coach, Esteban “Sardine” Vigo, a former Barcelona player, predicted that his side would win 2-0 – was he mad? Barcelona had not been beaten by a newly promoted side for a decade.

Barcelona had won 17 out of 18 at home last season, drawing the other. They had not lost a league game at home for 16 games. Since Pep Guardiola made his managerial debut in La Liga they have not once been beaten by two goals in the league. Madness.

“See,” said Vigo, “I’m not mad after all.”

“They played brilliantly. All I can do is congratulate them,” said Guardiola, Valdez said: “The key was solidarity and sacrifice. This is a dream come true.”

Coaches should learn from each other like Ancelotti

dave clarkeChelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti has released a book called The Beautiful Games of an Ordinary Genius. It’s a good read and I can recommend it to any coach who wants entertainment and some coaching advice. In the book Ancelotti reveals that his predecessor Jose Mourinho left an archive of training exercises at Stamford Bridge from which Ancelotti says he has learned a lot.

Amazing that a coach of his experience still gets ideas from reading what others have written. Maybe I’ll introduce him to Better Soccer Coaching! But the point shows we all need information to help us be more creative with our own coaching.

“It is a sign of his considerable intelligence that he does not try to do everything himself,” writes Paolo Maldini, in the foreword of the book, and Ancelotti also explains what he learned from Arrigo Sacchi, Nils Liedholm and Sven-Goran Eriksson as well as the “teeny-weeny bit” he picked up from Fabio Capello.

He himself has been a very creative coach and has ideas to share with the rest of us. Ancelotti details with pride how he devised the Christmas Tree formation and responded to Berlusconi’s

He also reveals that he has kept meticulous files on matches, and as Sacchi’s assistant, he had to note down every single kick and run of every single Italy game.

Interstingly his one big remaining ambition is to coach an African team at the World Cup because, he explained at yesterday’s launch of the English edition of his book, “they have the physical and technical skills but do not yet produce teams worthy of their potential”. That’s what Ancelotti tends to do with the teams he takes over.

He was also a good goalscorer – watch the clip below when he played for AC Milan with Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten