Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

The power of unorganised play

David Clarke

Here’s something for you to try. Before your players arrive at training, mark out a pitch and place a ball in the middle. Make sure there are no other balls available.

As your players arrive, stay inside the clubhouse, or well away from the playing area, and let them go out and get started on their own.

When there are enough players they will probably organise themselves into teams and start playing a game (of sorts) or drill. Let them play for five minutes and then stop them. Find out what rules they were playing and why. You will either find that they are playing a game you have taught them, or they have made up their own.

There will be well thought out reasons for their rules, usually based on what they have found works and what doesn’t.

Researchers have tried out this method of letting players take the lead and ended up with some startling findings, namely that adults will either kick the ball around or perform technical moves and tricks (essentially something that features little or no refereeing), while children will come up with all sorts of ideas and mini games.

If it doesn’t happen the first time you try it don’t give up.
Say to a couple of players as they head outside “Why don’t you get a game started?” You’ll probably notice the younger ones organising full-scale games, while the older kids may be perfecting the finer elements. But whatever they choose, the message is clear: children love to play games, and if you let them, they will learn much faster and retain more of what they are learning. Involve your players in setting and changing the rules for games and, from that, sessions.

The more involved they feel, the more they’ll invest, and undoubtedly, the more they will surprise you! Empowering your group is an important thing, and will aid their football development hugely.

The more they feel they are part of a unit where they have a voice and a strong influence, the more they’ll invest not only in the physical action of playing the game, but also in the bonding elements that ultimately make up a team.

Football, certainly at the highest level, has the image of being very authoritarian, with pecking orders and protocol very evident. But that’s a world away from youth coaching, and the skills and responsibility players can gain from playing a significant role in their team will undoubtedly be transferred to other areas of their life away from the football pitch. Get them into good habits now, where they feel their opinions and ideas are valued and appreciated, and you’ll be the first to gain from the benefits.

Why not try it this weekend?


Dealing with tricky parents

David Clarke Soccer Coach Weekly

Almost every parent occasionally disagrees with your decisions as a soccer coach (whether or not you hear about it). Usually, the parent is simply putting the interests of the child first – and seeing things from the child’s point of view. The following soccer coaching tips can help if this situation arises in your team.

Most parents don’t complain, and are more likely to leave the team if they are unhappy with how things are handled. So, it is good to have parents who will bother to give you feedback (even if it can be painful to hear).

Most of the time, this feedback is well-intentioned – and the parent simply wants an explanation for what has happened or wants to offer some suggestions about alternative ways to do things. Most of the time, this advice is well-intentioned (and the parent had no desire whatsoever to take over the team – or to try to order you around).

What parents want

Most parents have two objectives when they sign the child up: for the child to succeed and for the child to be happy. If you praise the child in front of the parent, you can rest assured that the child will give you a big grin – and you earn points in both columns. Do this as often as you can – and you will keep gripes to a minimum.

Any time that you start resenting the time that it takes to give this positive feedback, tell yourself that you could easily be spending double this time – and a lot less happily – talking to just one upset parent! In short, a good soccer coach makes the parents believe that they have wonderful, successful and happy offspring – which causes the parents to believe that the coach must be an absolutely brilliant judge of children.

Time to discuss problems

But, of course, you cannot please all of the people all of the time – and you may end up with a complainer or advice-giver despite your best efforts. If this happens, listen briefly to find out what the problem is, then schedule a time to talk about it. NEVER discuss any serious problem right before a drill session (or before a game). You have work to do, and don’t need the distractions (and certainly don’t need to be upset yourself if any harsh things are said).

Furthermore, if the parent is really upset, you don’t want any confrontation to occur in front of your players or other parents. So, set the discussion for the end of drill practice – or schedule a time to call the parent later (if this is something where the child does not need to hear the conversation).

NEVER discuss any problems or complaints right after a game. If a parent comes to you with a complaint right after a game, make up any excuse that you can and get out of there. Usually, these complaints come after a hard game and a hard loss, when everyone is upset. Give everyone time to cool off – so that things are not said which are regretted later.

Soccer coaching communication skills

When you do talk to the parent, listen carefully to the parent’s problem. Be calm. Try to get them to see things from your point of view. If at all possible, lavish some praise on the child during the meeting (remember parental objectives). Try to verify their reports that the child is unhappy (for instance, some parents want their child to be the goal-scoring star, while the child truly is happiest as a keeper or sweeper).

Volunteer to have a meeting with the parent and the child to talk about the situation. If the child truly is upset (for instance, he wants to be a forward, while you have rotated him to the back because he sorely needs to develop some defensive skills), talk about why you think that this is best. Usually you will be able to resolve complaints by open communication, and a calm approach to the problem.

Involve the club

However, some parents simply will not be satisfied, no matter what you do. This happens quite commonly with parents who were athletes, and ended up with non-athletic children, where it is easier to cast blame than to face reality about the child’s lack of skill and talent. If it is clear that you are not getting anywhere, suggest that you set up a joint meeting with club officials to talk about the problem. In the meantime, call the club to give them a “heads-up” that they might hear from this parent, if it appears that the parent is truly irate.

If worse comes to worse, take heart that “parents-from-hell” tend to stick around for only a short time. Usually, you will find that they have been very unhappy with every coach whom their child has ever had – so they go back in the pool every season. In fact, don’t be surprised if, when you call the club, you hear a large sigh come out of the phone – along with a comment of “Oh, no. Not them again.”

Fun game to teach soccer moms and dads how to help

Gary Speed memories…
November 27, 2011, 7:57 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

My six tips for better skills demos

DCDemonstrations are a very powerful way of giving information to young players. Here are six steps to ensure your demonstrations have the effect you want.

Step 1: Set the scene
Establish exactly what you want to achieve from the demonstration. Tell your players what you are showing them and exactly what they should be looking at. Outline the criteria for success.

Step 2: Get the level right
If it’s a new technique or skill you will need to go right back to basics. If it’s a skill you have been working on for a while you can focus on the more advanced aspects. Always highlight the basics though even if your players are good at them.

Don’t overload your players with information. If it is a complex skill, break it down into steps and work through them during a period of time.

Step 3: Know your stuff
You should be clear on what you are about to demonstrate. Make a note of the key factors you want to put across to your players so you don’t forget any of them. Practise the demonstration beforehand so you are confident in your own ability and can talk through each part of it.

Step 4: Check for understanding
Ask your players questions to check they have understood what they have been watching. You can even ask a couple of players to come out and demonstrate after you so you can check they have understood. Allow your players time to ask questions regarding the demonstration.

Step 5: Hands on
After your demonstration make sure your players are given an immediate opportunity to try out the skill. Keep reinforcing the key factors and correcting any faults you see.

Step 6: Assess the results
At the end of your session, gather your players and check they have remembered the key factors you were trying to put across. Answer any questions they have regarding the session and tell them what the next steps will be in terms of developing the new skill

How to make stop/start work in your coaching

DCI was running an exercise this week with my players grouped in 3v3s, and one lad in particular stood out. I wanted the rest of the group to watch some of his actions, so I kept stopping play to show them how he was using skill and movement to create space for himself – space that opened up the opposing three players and allowed him to score.

Using a ‘stop and recreate’ method is a great way of showing young players how certain things work during games, and teaches them in slow motion how to prevent a negative situation developing.

If you do stop and recreate play you must do it quickly, always ensuring you get each player back to the positions they were originally in. On this occasion it worked really well with the player involved keen to repeat what he was doing, but after a while the others began to resent being stopped and were getting irritated by my constant recreating of certain situations. So always know the appropriate time to move on and let the game flow again.

If you use ‘stop and recreate’ methods in your coaching you must look out for signs of irritation from players. Another method is to run the exercise or game again without stopping, then at the end talk about what you saw and how you felt they were progressing. Whatever method you choose, you should quickly notice subtle differences in the way your team play or position themselves.

At the moment, this is how I plan out my sessions in order to include a ‘stop and recreate’ exercise:

  • Warm up – 10 minutes
  • Exercise or game with ‘stop and recreate’ technique – 10 minutes
  • Same exercise or game letting it flow to the end – 10 minutes
  • Small-sided game – 15 minutes
  • Warm down – 10 minutes
  • Q&A with players at the end – 5 minutes

This is a good way to control the whole session if you are coaching for an hour, and is one that keeps the players interested. It gives you the best set-up to get coaching points across whilst ensuring that your players are still developing their techniques and skills.

And remember, a good Q&A session for five minutes at the end will help you find out if your players have understood and learnt from you.

Players who can do it in training but freeze in matches

A performance error happens because a player cannot perform a skill in a match that they can do in training. Once you have identified this type of error and the player has acknowledged that there is a particular problem, you can set about helping him to correct it.


Tiredness is the easiest cause to diagnose and overcome. Ask the player about their pre-match routine. What and when do they eat? How much do they drink before a game? Do they sleep well before matches? If necessary, get the player to keep a simple diary logging their exact routine. Based on their answers you can advise them about eating and drinking before games to maximise their performance.


Speak to the player about what they would do in different game situations. Get them to talk through their decisions during exercises and games in training. In terms of overcoming the problem, put them into more game-related scenarios, and see how they respond. Players can often learn more on how to play in different situations by experiencing them. Encourage players to talk to each other about what worked and what didn’t. Ask the defenders what they saw and how easy different options were to defend against.


The first step in overcoming pre-match nerves is for the player to realise that everyone else feels the same way and that if they can control their nerves they can turn it into a positive. Different things work for different players and you may have to try a number of options before finding one which works.

Pre-match routines can help overcome nerves. Introduce a period of relaxation before games. Players sit quietly and focus on their breathing while you speak to individuals and give them positive messages about their own performances. Use self talk and visualisation to help players remember things they are good at, or aspects in which they excelled in past performances.

In some cases, changing a player’s position in the team can help them rebuild confidence. For example, moving a struggling winger to full-back can help to alleviate some of the responsibility on them.

If at first you don’t succeed

DCMy coaching word for this week is ‘perseverance’. I heard Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson talking about the attributes that make a good coach and that was the first one he named – and having been manager of Manchester United for 25 years, he’s likely to know!
Within a few days, I had experienced why this is such an important part of a coach’s toolkit. I was trying out a new session for my Under-10s, an exercise that uses movement, coordination, passing, receiving and sprinting – you’ll see it in Soccer Coach Weekly in a couple of weeks.
I know sometimes when directing exercises with young players in front of their parents it can be a bit awkward for you, particularly if the players don’t understand immediately what it is they have to do. I ran the exercise a couple of times and it was not going well. It needed some fine tuning and a few re-run demonstrations for the players to understand what I wanted.
It was eating into my coaching time but I thought it was worth persevering with it. After 10 minutes they were still struggling but suddenly one of the players shouted “got it, Dave!” Instinctively, he showed the others how it worked. And with demonstrations from both of us, the whole squad got the hang of it. It still took time to really get things motoring, but we played the exercise for the next 20 minutes and I took notes on how to change it… how to make it easier to understand for my Soccer Coach Weekly readers.
It had worked in the end but only because I was prepared to persevere with the session, and thanks in no small part to some visual aids and a player who could help me to show the others how to do it. After the session, a coach from one of our other teams (who had caught the final 10 minutes) came up and told me what a great session it was.
Rest assured he wouldn’t have said that at the start, but as a group we persevered,