Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Coach the supporting defender

David Clarke By David Clarke

If you’re facing a team where the attackers are getting good support from the wings, you need your defenders to support each other in dealing with the threat. The supporting defender in this situation is vital for cutting off attacking options.

In this session players learn how to improve the understanding of covering and support between team mates.

How to play it

Set up a 30 yards by 20 yards area and add a 5 yards end zone at one end. Split the playing area down the middle with a row of cones so you can run two drills at the same time and allow more players to participate.

To begin, the defender near the end zone passes to the attacker at the other end. He must then stop the attacker from dribbling back towards him and into the end zone. The supporting defender, standing behind the playing defender, must give verbal support such as, “get tight”, “stand up” or “force wide”.

How to develop it

Remove the cones to create one pitch. Now two defenders work together in a 2v1 situation against the attacker. The first defender must put pressure on the attacker while the team mate covers and supports.

After the ball has been played, a second attacker enters the pitch from the other side and the defensive roles are switched. The defender creating pressure now covers and supports while the covering defender has a turn at putting pressure on the new attacker.

Turn it into a game

Play as above, but with the addition of a goalkeeper and goal. Now the attackers can shoot from distance so there is extra pressure on the defenders to move across quickly. The goalkeeper can provide additional support, communicating with both defenders.


Returning players and team discipline

David ClarkeAn email popped into my inbox this week which filled me with dread. The title alone was enough to have me put my head in my hands… ‘Harry wants to come back’, it read. Everyone had breathed a sigh of relief halfway through last season when Harry had decided to leave the team to go on to “better things”.

His parents were quite adamant that this was his decision and that he was going to “a team that won every week”, even though we were on a strong winning streak ourselves. (That said, we’ve never preached that winning is vital to our success.) Harry and his parents caused a lot of trouble – not at matches but at training. The lad rarely attended, and when he did, was one of the most disruptive boys I’ve ever coached.

But during matches he was the model player – very skilful, strong and never gave up. Even if I substituted him he was fine with the decision. But the trouble was getting him to matches in the first place. He once turned up 10 minutes after kick-off and was surprised that I made him sit on the bench for the majority of the game.

Harry’s problem was that his parents were too busy to get him to matches on time and too preoccupied with other things to ensure he attended training. But no matter how often I spoke to his mum and dad, they never reacted in the way I hoped. And Harry’s reasoning was that he couldn’t be blamed for his parents failing to get him to places on time. But punctuality is the first example of player discipline at any football club, and the team will suffer if players don’t turn up for training. It is vital in any squad that all of the players are singing from the same song sheet.

What was wrong with Harry was that – good player though he was – he wasn’t a team player. He missed out on key coaching sessions and the development of my other lads was being hindered by him not realising what he was supposed to do on the pitch. So if Harry wants to come back he does so on a two-month trial. If he sticks to the team rules on match days and at training he will win himself a place in the side.

If not he has to leave.

I’ve put the ball firmly in his and his parents’ court. They have to make it work or Harry will be finding himself another team.

Why Coerver Coaching’s youth module adds up for coaches

David Clarke

By David Clarke

What is fantastic about watching and listening to Alf Galustian about youth coaching is that it all makes perfect sense.

  • Speed + technique + skill = player excellence
  • Safety + competition + fun = coach excellence

For a coach working with youth players the sums add up. It’s all about touch, control, confidence, 1v1s, 2v1s, 4v4s, 1 goal, 2 goals, 6 goals, feinting, beating your partner, keeping the ball, winning the ball back – using the coaching environment to get the best out of your players in a safe, fun atmosphere.

I was watching Alf on his Coerver Coaching Youth Diploma which is aimed at coaches at all levels of the game – professional academy coach, grassroots coach, teacher or parent. It gives coaches a greater understanding of how to plan and execute more effective coaching sessions.

I’m on the course to learn and it doesn’t take long before I’m drawing diagrams and writing down the scenes that unfold before me on the Fulham Academy astro pitch, something which I can pass on to my readers of  Soccer Coach Weekly.

Alf is a co-founder of Coerver Coaching and the list of top clubs he has worked with around the world is as long as your arm. The course was held at Premier League team Fulham’s superb academy training ground and you really feel you are in a pure coaching environment.

The Coerver Coaching concept concentrates on attacking, fast-flowing football and this style has been demonstrated during the past few years by teams such as Barcelona, Spain and those from South America.

In Alf’s own words: “The knowledge you gain on our diploma will help you to plan and deliver effective sessions that are challenging and fun for the young players that you work with and will hopefully provide the pathway to the devlopment of game effective, technical excellence which we are all striving towards.”

The final session of the day is about how to build and deliver a session. It was run by Coerver’s excellent coaching director Scott Wright who coached Fulham U12s for the session. Scott said: “Hopefully this session has helped or changed your outlook on how you will plan & deliver sessions.”

A great session to watch it gives loads of hints and tips about coaching groups of children and helping develop their playing ability.

There is no doubt that this course will make you a better coach so make a mental note to get yourself on the next one, Alf runs them up and down the country.

But if you can’t go on the course then why not invest in the Coerver CD set, there’s lots of material on how to help you plan your sessions.

To order the CD in Europe:
Click Here

To order the CD in the USA:
Click Here

There will be two further Diplomas in the summer, one at Manchester City on the 2nd and 3rd June & the second in Birmingham 9th and 10th June. For more information click here

New recruits and new problems…

David ClarkeI always feel sorry for professional players when their teams announce they are on the lookout for someone new in their position. It must be almost heartbreaking when that happens.

As a coach, I have to realise that this crushing blow to a player’s confidence and ego doesn’t just happen in the professional ranks; it happens at all levels of the game.

At youth level players are not going to read in the papers that we’re looking for someone new, instead this threat will just appear at training.

At our club, we’ve recently run some trials for new players – some teams are going from 7-a-side to 11-a-side so we need to recruit.

On one of the trial days one of our coaches came to me and said there was a boy I must see because he was rather special in his position. He was a goalkeeper, and we all know how difficult it is to get good shot-stoppers.

There were a number of small-sided games going on and he was certainly impressing – diving at the feet of the attackers, calling defenders into position and commanding his box. However out of the corner of my eye I could see the dad of our current keeper, and he was taking note of my obvious enthusiasm for this potential intruder.

The parents of the new player came to talk to me about their son and the possibility of him playing for the team. ’He would want to play for the A team’, they told me, ‘and expects to play every week’. After the trial, myself and a few other coaches discussed the problem…

Was he a better goalkeeper? At this stage, probably, but in future, who knows? Would he fit into the team? Yes, he was a nice lad. Were his parents okay? Well, there was possible trouble if he was dropped for some games.

Our present keeper was popular, he never missed a game and was keen to learn and progress. His parents were very supportive and had been members of the club for a long time. There was no way we would make him move over for another keeper at this stage in his young life.

We told the parents of the trialist that we would love their son to join the club but we couldn’t guarantee he’d be club ‘number one’ – he would have to earn it. So he would start in one of the other teams but would still be guaranteed to play every week. This wasn’t enough for them so he didn’t join. In my view, we definitely made the right choice.

There is a lot to be said for loyalty and support, both from the side of the coach, and the player.

A fun session from the Barcelona training ground

David ClarkeThis session is influenced heavily by techniques seen on the Barcelona training ground, a place where teamwork, communication and ball control provide the natural order. It’s a fun game that gets players keeping the ball close whilst moving as a unit. On the face of it, the premise is simple – a group race where one team tries to get a ball around a cone quicker than the other. The problem is the teams must hold hands in a circle and keep the ball moving with one or two touches as the whole group negotiates its path around the cone.

How to set it up:

  • For this game, you will need cones and balls.
  • Separating your group into teams of four, create an appropriate number of channels – in the example shown, we’ve used eight players and two channels. In each channel there are two cones, placed 15 yards apart.
  • Each team has one ball.
  • Each team begins on the left cone, and players hold hands with one another so as to form a circle.

Getting started:

  • On your whistle, teams must keep the ball in the middle of their group and pass one-touch as they move to the cone, then around it. (For younger age groups allow two or even three touches.)
  • The first team to get around the cone and back to the start wins.
  • If the ball goes out of the circle players must go back to the start.
  • The distance between the cone and the players should alter according to their age and ability, so vary the length and see how they get on. The longer the distance, the more difficult the task.

Developing the session:

  • This is for super control freaks, particularly older players. Try your players with the same set-up but this time they must not let the ball bounce on the ground. It’s an elaborate ‘keepy-uppy’ game where each group must keep a ball in the air between them, get around a cone, then back. They can use their heads, feet, legs, and any other part of their body except their hands.
  • You can also nominate one player as the ‘captain’. He has to guide the group of players by pushing, pulling and talking to them.

Why this works:

This is a good team bonding game that requires skill and technique. Coordination and communication are vital because although players are moving in one direction, some are going backwards, some forwards and some sideways… yet all need to keep an eye on the ball. Players will buy into this too because they find it really good fun.


Kids being kids, the prospect of holding hands with one another may not be too popular, so why not tell them to hold sleeves or wrists instead. The effect will be the same – players linking as one circle so as to perform the task

Being happy is the one thing a young player wants most of all

David ClarkeIn my club I have tried to create a situation where, at each age group, players can develop at their own pace, whilst guaranteeing themselves plenty of playing time in the process. We do this by having more than one team at each age.

This has worked well up until now – with over 40 players fitting into one particular age range. Any player who develops quicker than their contemporaries can move up, while any player struggling has the option of moving down, and I make sure there is no stigma attached to any of the groups.

With everyone playing each week and no-one stuck on the substitutes’ bench, it has been a very successful season. But there’s a problem that has developed…

Because in our club there is no stigma attached to the groups, there is by the same token no sense of achievement for the players who move up through the teams – there is nothing pushing them to advance.

For instance, one player from the third team has developed at a very fast rate this season. He has grown a considerable amount and filled out too, and when playing matches he has really started taking command in the middle of the park.

In short, he is ready to take on a new challenge; after all, there is no point in watching a player become complacent because he thinks he is the best player in the team.

So I suggested he was moved into the second team as I reshuffled the pack at the end of the season. His mum and dad were flattered and were pleased he had progressed so much that I felt he could be moved up.

However, the player dug his heels in – his best friends were in the third team and he wanted to be with them. This caused a real conflict. In one sense, I wanted him to progress as a player, yet on the other side of the coin I knew it was vital for him to have fun and enjoy his soccer without worrying about where he was playing or who his team mates were.

So I spoke to his mum and dad again. We decided between us that it was the right thing to let him stay with his friends because enjoyment was the deciding factor that we should base our decision on.

It goes to show, you can chart your players’ progress, organise meticulously and really build a plan of action, but for most, being happy in playing the game is really all they care about.

And there he is now for another season – unless of course one of his friends plays well enough to get moved up!

Drogba and Muller are head boys

David ClarkeThis week’s Champions League final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich had two goals both headers which used different techniques. Thomas Muller scored with a downward header using the angle of the ball to create an unstoppable bounce which the Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech couldn’t save. Didier Drogba’s equaliser was a fabulous power header which caught the whole Bayern defence napping.

It’s an important attribute for a striker to have, the ability to jump above the opposition and get their head on the ball. When your players head a ball, if they can jump with the right technique, they are likely to get above most defenders in youth matches.

Young players often are not spending enough time at training practicing getting themselves off the floor and their heads on the ball. A header is a very effective way of scoring at all levels of the game but especially youth matches where players shy away from heading.

Coaches need to spend time on the technique and the movement to get into position to attack the ball using the head. Time spend in training will be repaid over and over again in matches.

Watch the Champions League goals below: