Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

How limiting space can widen a player’s vision

David ClarkeAlthough simple in concept, this is a difficult small-sided game, and one that is brilliant when preparing for situations where space on the pitch is at a premium – for instance when two sides slot five men into midfield.

The fact the pitch remains long in length means that play can be spread about. That said, attackers must be sure of their control and angle of approach, as the defender’s task is made that much easier by only having to cover a relatively small width.

Teams will generally find that they need to build up through the middle of the pitch using quick skills and passing combinations, so close control and good technique is encouraged and can serve teams well.

How to set it up

  •  Pitch size: 30×20 yards (min) up to 40×25 yards (max).
  •  This is a 4v4 game plus two keepers.
  •  Construct two channels of 5 yards in width, one down each side of the pitch from the touchline.
  •  The game is played for a set time period of 10 minutes.

The rules

  • Play as you would do a normal game, but with no offside rule.
  •  If the ball leaves play, you have a few re-start options:
    1 The coach passes a new ball onto the pitch
    2 The players take a roll in
    3 The players take a throw in
    4 The players make a pass in
    5 The players dribble in
  •  The aim of the game is for the teams to score in each other’s goal, whilst negotiating a much narrower playing area.

More small sided games


Is the playground culture really a great place to nuture skills?

David ClarkeI was reading an article at the weekend bemoaning the loss of playing football in playgrounds at schools around the country as one of the reasons the youth players of today do not have the skills or fitness of the good old days.
It reminded me of watching a group of boys in the playground of my son’s school and how they sorted themselves out for a game of football.
It was all “John and I are the best players so we can pick the teams”. And I saw and felt the embarrassment of the last player to be picked. “You can have him – no you have him.” That boy ended up in goal – fitness and skills did not feature in his life that afternoon – what will he think of football when he’s older?
Being in goal between a pair of jumpers is in reality a nightmare.
“That was in!!”
“No it wasn’t!”
And so on
On the plus side it created two even teams but it was only a couple of players on each team who had the ball and passed it to each other.
This is why good coaches like you and I can have a huge difference in the lives of a lot of children. I’m sick of hearing from various figures on TV (and from my father-in-law) that coaching at youth level has nothing to do with the kids anymore. And that it was much better in ‘the old days’ when boys picked teams and organised themselves. The ‘Jumpers for Goalposts’ era of skills and innocence where boys flourished into footballing idols – and England won everything… or not.
A lot of what we do as coaches is give children the chance to play in teams, the chance to play up front or midfield or at the back. And giving someone a chance in life is a great gift to give – we change the lives of children and nurture their love of football.

Recovery – I had to point out to my U11s that they were doing it

David ClarkeI spoke to Charlie at half time in a match this week. He was rather cross that I wouldn’t play him up front. He had been player of the match the previous week playing up front and thought this would be his position for keeps.

He said he was doing nothing playing in central defence and wasn’t sure why he was playing there. I explained to him about how he knew I moved players around the pitch to let them try different positions. But I also pointed out to him that he had twice recovered back and stopped a certain goal by tackling the player before they shot.

Not only that he had also cleared a long ball with his head away from danger. Is that good, he asked? Brilliant – as good as scoring a goal, I told him, and off he went pleased with himself.

I use this session to coach recovery with my players. It combines pace and awareness because players must concentrate on recovering by moving quickly, then supporting the other defenders. Another crucial part of this is in making sure that once your players have made it back they don’t turn off mentally and subsequently fail to complete the defending task. It can be all too easy to get back and think that the job is done, when really it has only just started!

How to set it up:
• Use a standard pitch for a warm-up sprint drill.
• Also set-up an area measuring 35×10 yards with a goal at one end – this will form the main part of the session.

Getting started:
• Start first with a sprint drill to teach defenders tracking back the key areas they should be running into.
• Players should run as fast as possible and take the shortest route towards the danger area. Players on the wing should take a line back towards the nearest goalpost, while those in the centre of the pitch should run towards the penalty spot.
• Now move to your 35×10 yard area.
• Three white strikers attack one defender and a goalkeeper.
• A second defender is 10 yards behind the play. His aim is to make it back to the ball to help prevent a goal.
• The middle striker is a server and cannot move. He plays the ball to either of the two white forwards. As soon as he does, play begins and the recovering defender can move.
• The lone defender must hold up the strikers until the second defender arrives.

The recovering player must make one of four decisions.
1. Challenge for the ball
2. Cover the defender
3. Mark an opponent
4. Mark space between the opponent and goal
• When a move comes to an end, play restarts with the serving attacker.

U11 soccer drills

In praise of the players’ player

David ClarkeI hope you are all having awards events at your clubs as the season comes to a close. They’re a great way to wrap up the campaign and for the team as a whole to celebrate their achievements. And because this is done away from the football pitch, it puts an extra gloss on proceedings.

One of the end-of-season honours that I always keep a watch for at our club is that of Players’ Player of the Year.

To be the ‘players’ player’ is always a great honour. It tells a footballer they’ve won the respect of their team mates. And it’s usually won by that same player who has become regarded as the most consistent, trustworthy and level-headed.

Michael Owen revealed on Twitter that Robin van Persie of Arsenal should be PFS player of the year: “Player of the season so far? I went for Robin Van Persie. Stand out winner in my opinion.”

In my Under-10s group, they are now at the age where they have stopped voting for their best friend, and actually give credit to the player who they feel genuinely deserves the award.

And when it comes to writing down their favourite, the response is usually quick – it doesn’t take them long to work out who they think is the best in the team. It’s an exciting time and one that should be savoured. If you’re trying it for the first time this year, then be prepared for a couple of things.

Firstly, will the award be given to the leading goalscorer? Not always. I think some players feel that the strikers gain enough plaudits throughout the campaign! And secondly, the goalkeeper very often goes home empty-handed as well.
This was summed up one year when one of my players expressed surprise when I spoke to the squad about the award and how important it is. After outlining the process of how the players would vote, I added: “And don’t forget the goalkeeper.”A reply came from the back of the group: “Is he a player?”

Watch Robin van Persie scoring goals this season:

Messi is also a goal machine…

David ClarkeLionel Messi became Barcelona’s all time top scorer on Tuesday night with a hat-trick in the 5-3 victory over Granada.

Messi has now found the back of the net 234 times for the European champions, eclipsing César Rodríguez’s record of 232 made in the 1950s.

He is truly a great player – and we all know that is just part of his amazing all-round play.

His manager at Barcelona, Pep Guardiola says: “Messi doesn’t score goals, he scores incredible goals.

“There are no players capable of dominating a sport with such superiority … Messi can be compared to [the former US basketball star] Michael Jordan.”

Johan Cruyff said: “Messi is by far the best player in the world. He is incomparable, he plays in a different league.”

Sit back and enjoy this 15 minutes of Messi scoring goal after goal:

Hold player focus with a twist

David ClarkeYou know how we are taught that your players must focus on you during your pre-match team talk and not be chatting or pushing or playing with a ball?

Well try this instead. I get my players to concentrate on this core body strength warm up while they are listening to me talk about the game or training session they are about to take part in.

I think it works, let me know if you do…

How to do it

  • Start by sitting down, only your bottom will be touching the ground during the exercise.
  •  Lean back slightly.
  •  Feet off the ground with ankles crossed.
  •  Bend knees slightly.
  •  Touch ball to ground on each side.
  •  Keep arms straight.
  •  Ten touches each side then rest for 30 seconds.
  •  Do three sets.

How to advance it

  • Keep legs straight.
  • Try the same exercise using a medicine ball (if you have one, or try different sized balls).

Soccer workouts and exercises

Getting back to fitness after I sprained my ankle

David ClarkeI was on a recent coaching defending course and during the session I sprained my ankle. I have never really had a bad sprain  of the ankle before – knees yes but ankles no – and this has proved rather painful and is taking time to get over it. I’ve done a fair amount of research into sprains and strains so I thought I’d share this with you.

What is a sprain? A sprain is a stretch and/or tear of a ligament, the fibrous band of connective tissue that joins the end of one bone with another. Ligaments stabilise and support the body’s joints. For example, ligaments in the knee connect the upper leg with the lower leg, enabling people to walk and run.

What is a strain? A strain is a twist, pull and/or tear of a muscle and/or tendon. Tendons are fibrous cords of tissue that attach muscles to bone. What causes sprains and strains? A sprain is caused by direct or indirect trauma (a fall, a blow to the body, etc.) that knocks a joint out of position, overstretches, and, in severe cases, ruptures the supporting ligaments. Typically, this injury occurs when an individual lands on an outstretched arm, slides into a tackle, jumps up and lands on the side of the foot, or runs on an uneven surface.

I’ve been doing some simple ankle strengthening exercises, balancing on just the leg with the sprained ankle for two minutes or standing on a step with just the balls of my feet and standing up and down on my toes and I am now at the stage where I can strengthen my ankle and am doing the following exercises to help:

  • Jogging
    Begin at 50% intensity. Jog 100 yards, walk 100 yards. Repeat 4 times. Increase intensity and duration over 2-3 weeks
  • Figure of Eights
    Jog in a figure-of-8 pattern around cones. Begin with the cones near each other. Each day, spread out the cones and increase the speed.
  • Box Runs
    Make a box of cones. Jog forward the first side, side shuttle to the right, run backwards, then side shuttle to the left. Again, increase the size of the box and the speed of the running each day.
    Once these activities can be done at full speed with no pain, patients can resume their sport.

It is important to state that if you still get pain seek proper advice!

While I hope you’ll find this blog useful, it won’t make you a first aider. All soccer coaches should go on an emergency first aid course before they take their first training session. In the UK, there are several providers of this type of training. St John Ambulance is one and the FA include a module on first aid in their Level 1 course.

In the US, the American Red Cross offers courses and you can get advice from the NSCAA.

Soccer fitness and diet