Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Winning… without the ball – a Spanish malaise

David ClarkeBy David Clarke
After Spain had been held 1-1 in Paris against France in last October’s Brazil World Cup qualifying game the Spanish newspaper El Mundo ran this : “Without the ball problems arrive.”

Vicente del Bosque had played Sergio Busquets at centre back rather than in his usual place alongside Xabi Alonso in a holding midfield duo.

Without this midfield block France intercepted passes and broke into large spaces in midfield, causing lots of problems for Del Bosque’s team.

“We controlled the game well in the first half,” he told the post-match news conference.

“Afterwards we opened up, I don’t know if it was because we were tired. When it became an end-to-end game it was bad for us.”
The return game in Spain next March looks a little more daunting after Spain showed a rare vulnerability by losing control of possession and the game to draw 1-1 – they couldn’t win without the ball.

Winning without the ball is a vital part of a successful team both at international level and at youth level.

Young players should always be coached so they move before the ball is played. This session offers a number of additional coaching points within its structure and you can halt the session at any point to show players options and ideas.

How to set it up:

  • You need balls, bibs and cones.

  • Mark out an area measuring 40×30 yards.

  • In each corner, you need a square measuring 10×10 yards.

  • The session will work with six, nine or 12 players, divided into three teams – the example shown uses nine.

  • There are two balls on the pitch at any one time.

Getting started:

  • Two teams start with a ball. Each exchanges passes around the area, with the aim of scoring points. This is done when players run into the corner squares to receive the ball.

  • After doing this, they run out of the area with the ball and move on to another area.

  • The team without a ball must attempt to win possession from either of the other teams.

  • After 10 minutes, progress the session by stating that players cannot go into a square that is already occupied by a player from another team.

  • Play for an additional 10 minutes. The winning team is the one that has scored the most points by effectively making passes to team mates in scoring areas.

  • To advance the task further, make one of the teams defend. Rotate teams regularly so each has a go at blocking scoring runs as well as making them.

Why this works:

The focus should be on the team completing sequences that involve running without the ball, accurate passing, good weight on the pass and good control at the end of the sequence.

Look for players to mix short passes with longer balls that switch areas of play and search out team mates running into space.

This game works because the player in possession will always have a choice of two passing options providing his team mates are looking to attack space. Dummy runs and overlaps should be encouraged also.

These are all off-the-ball runs that mimic match play and, given the small playing area, you will have plenty of opportunities to freeze play and recommend to players where the more efficient passes might have gone.


Why quick throws work for youth teams

David ClarkeLast weekend, we were lucky to find our game was on given that most of the country was under water – we played on astro turf as our usual pitch was too wet. It was a fast game, requiring player reactions to be somewhat quicker than normal.

But whether on a fast surface or not, I always ask my players to think about performing quick, instinctive actions all the time anyway. Sure enough, on Saturday, we scored an opportunist goal thanks to one of my players taking a quick throw-in while the opposition was still getting set up to defend the set play. After the ball went dead, my winger ran over, picked it up and threw it first time into the path of one of our attackers. Two touches later, and the ball was in the back of the net before the keeper had even realised what was happening.

Something like a quick throw-in can make a huge difference in matches, and particularly in youth football where players are not as ‘tuned in’ and alert as they are in the pro game. Of course, players need to show good technique if they are to take advantage of the situation. In fact, after we had used the quick throw-in successfully, another one of my players repeatedly tried to replicate the tactic, and on each occasion he was penalised for lifting one of his feet off the ground.

I know he felt frustrated about it – he was trying to perform the throw quickly, but as a result lost sight of the action itself. You could say he was quick, but couldn’t keep to the rules!

But it’s still worth using quick throw-ins at every opportunity in your coaching sessions. Get players to try it under timed pressure – each time there’s a throw-in they have only 10 seconds to get into position and perform the action.

Of course, to make the most of this in game situations you’ll need for each player to excel at the technique. A lot of teams will have one or two players who are specialists, but if you want quick throw-ins, they’ll need to be performed by the player nearest the ball.

Tell your players to remember:

  •  To take the throw-in from where the ball went out of play
  • That their team mates can’t be offside from a throw-in
  • That another player has to touch the ball before the thrower can touch it again
  • That a goal cannot be scored directly from a throw-in
  • And that opponents must stand more than two yards from the thrower

Try it out! It’s a great feeling the first time your team proves that something as basic as a throw-in can be utilised to such devastating effect!

Do your players UNDERSTAND?

David ClarkeYou can be as clever as you like with tactical planning and technical instructions, but players must be able to understand what you want them to do.

I went to a demonstration this week by a couple of highly respected youth coaches to see examples of the different ways you can coach young players. There were some really good coaching and session ideas that I was privileged to take away from the get together.

However, one thing that was clear to me was that the players were having a hard time understanding exactly what was expected of them.

Both sessions were player- and activity-centric – but, because this was a meet-up designed for coaching knowledge, the players at times were clearly unsure of what they were doing and what was expected of them. In that respect, the experiment failed on all levels, bar one – namely in reminding me that one of the most important things you must do with players is ensure they are ‘with you’ at every step along the path of learning. It’s the whole purpose of what we do, after all.

If you notice that players are not doing what they are supposed to or are looking around to see how others perform the task, either they were not listening or you failed to get instructions across well enough.

Remember, players understand things in three different ways:

  •  Visually
  •  Verbally
  •  Physically

It is important that for each demonstration a coach must:

  •  Perform and show the technique that is being learnt, or recreate the scenario for tactical feedback (the visual part).
  •  Use explanations and key coaching points through the stages of the demonstration (the verbal part).
  •  Let the players perform the technique or replay the situation (the physical part).

This way, you can be sure your players know what they are doing. And it will ensure you make the most of every session you take.

My five Christmas must haves
December 10, 2012, 5:06 pm
Filed under: Dave Clarke | Tags: , , , , ,

SOCCER COACH WEEKLY £47 This is the best subscription product on the market for grass roots coaches anywhere in the world – I know the experience and effort that goes into bringing the most up to date coaching advice it is possible to get.


COERVER COACHING – MAKE YOUR MOVE £55.99  This series features skills for players to practise step-by-step on their own, as well as drills and games for coaches and teachers to use in their practice sessions. Learn the skills and how to coach them – such as the reverse drag push, scissors step over and fake inside cut.

A must for any aspiring player or coach to watch and learn from.

The session focuses on defensive organization and there is no coach in the world who is more meticulous in setting up his side properly than José.

Take this chance to coach like José and for your players to train like Real Madrid.

redcard RED CARD ROY – ROY MCDONOUGH £8.95 The jaw-dropping story of terrace cult hero Roy McDonough. Featuring a who’s who cast from football in the 70s, 80s and 90s – from his unlikely friendship with the late, great Bobby Moore to his run-ins with current Premier League managers David Moyes, Martin O’Neill and Tony Pulis (who he kung-fu kicked to the floor after five minutes of an FA Cup tie).

Read my review here


This is my favourite manual of this year… and it works if you use the sessions and allow your players to get into the spirit of the Barcelona way.

It gives your players the ability to grasp that match winning opportunity. Have they got the skill and confidence to make the right play when it matters most?

The manual will help your team develop the technical ability to manoeuvre opponents out of position and create more goalscoring chances.

Great portable goals for coaches

David ClarkeAnyone looking for great mini soccer goals that are easy to put up this is an excellent product. In lots of my sessions I suggest using mini goals and this is one I choose to use

The Samba 12 x 6 match quality football goals are made from high impact upvc and will stand up to the hardest of shots and reacts like ‘in the ground’ posts – its been given a good work out by my teenage sons, and their friends.

samba goal1I have spent hours putting and taking down all sorts of goals in all sizes and this set up is by far the best. With the help of my son we did easily put it up within the 10 minutes it claims to take to put up on the packaging.

I use them with a number of different age groups. For matches with U7s to U10s and for my older groups they are excellent for training purposes – durable, portable, practical and fun, it also makes the pitches we play mini soccer on look very professional . For my coaching sessions they can be set up quickly and my players much prefer these to posts with no crossbar or net at training.  

With all the coaching session I need to have a goal in my garden to test the sessions myself before I use them with my team. So I need a set up which works, and these really work for me as I can take them with me if I need them – I can easily carry them myself and have no problem fitting into my car.

samba goal2They are very sturdy and survived the recent high winds when I had one up in my garden and despite not being pegged to the ground it didnt move an inch. The goal comes with the Samba locking system. As the goal parts are assembled they click and lock into place to ensure that the parts will never come apart during play. To unlock the parts you just press the locking button and pull.

However, I must stress when using any portable goal they must be anchored to the ground for safety reasons – this one has an extended runback and net and ground anchor locations marked on the tubular frame to make life easier.

I would recommend these goals to anyone wanting goals for matches, training or for a high quality, sturdy goal in the garden.

I got great service and quick delivery from The Soccer Store. Check them out.

A game of passing under pressure

By David Clarke

David Clarke

You can tell when players are under pressure – their first touch begins to go astray. It’s a tell-tale sign and one of the most costly mistakes that can be made in the game. For that reason, it’s important to try to recreate the pressure that players face in matches.

There is also tiredness. By the end of matches, players are often weary and stop thinking about what’s in front of them – they kick the ball wherever they can. In fact, building play with good passing is an afterthought.

So this exercise is great for two reasons – it tightens up concentration while helping to increase players’ stamina. Rehearse this well and you’ll find your players pushing themselves and team mates in pursuit of victory.

How to set it up:

  • The playing area for this session depends on the age of your squad. For any players above the age of 10, use the centre circle of an 11-a-side pitch, decreasing the diameter for younger children.

  • Split your squad into two teams – in the example shown, we are using two lots of six players.

  • Six cones are placed inside the circle in a zigzag formation as shown.

  • One team (in the inner circle) places a player on each cone.

  • The other team (outside the circle) stands in a line at any point on the centre circle.

Getting started:

  • The team inside the circle scores a point each time the ball goes along the zigzag, from the bottom man to the top, and back again.

  • The length of time they have to do this is determined by the outer circle players. This team takes it in turns to run around the circle until every member of the team has completed a circuit.

  • For the first run, the inner circle players throw the ball to each other up and down the zigzag making sure no player is missed out.

  • Next they do this two-touch with their feet so they are passing the ball and receiving under pressure.

  • Teams now switch positions with the running team now attempting to beat the number of points scored.

  • Run this through two or three times. While players running around the circle should generally experience the same drop-off of pace with each attempt, you should look for the points scored by the inner circle team are likely to increase as they gain more practice.

  • For an additional challenge, have the outer circle team dribble a ball around the outside of the circle on each circuit – this way both sides are rehearsing ball skills while under time pressure.

Why this works:

This is a great passing exercise. It is a really good way to work your players so they are passing quickly to defeat the other team.

It’s an unopposed game yet players are still aware of the pressure being placed on them, and this builds the logical awareness that at no place on a football pitch can a player truly relax.

Keep an eye out for good communication between players, and a determined work ethic in terms of passing, running and receiving.

Big respect to the opposition

David ClarkeWe’ve all seen or heard about the team leading 15-0 whose coach says “play as if it’s 0-0”. And when the 16th goal goes in the team is celebrating as if it’s won the league. Never mind the fact that the losing team has given up long ago…

That said, I’m not a huge fan of the way some teams will hit double figures then put the goalkeeper up front or substitute half the team. That doesn’t make the opposition players or manager feel any better either – they just think the team is showing off.

It’s a difficult call to make, but there are other ways you can deal with the situation.

Last weekend, we were playing a team a couple of places below us who had won 7-1 the week before, so we were expecting a hard game. But we coasted into a 3-0 lead and I became a bit uneasy that things would get really bad for our opponents.

However, they had a really good spell and pulled it back to 3-2. This made for a much better game; my team had to think hard about how they were playing, and it was a lesson for them assuming the job was done so early.

By half-time though we were 5-2 up and I could see some of the opposition players’ heads had dropped. So for my team talk at the interval I challenged each of my players to touch the ball in the build-up to a goal. If they could do that, they’d get to choose what training we did the following week.

Of course, the opposition didn’t realise we were now playing this way – they could only see a switching, shielding, passing and movement process that offered more situations where they might, in theory, win the ball.

The parents of my players had something to concentrate on as well – watching players getting into good positions for the pass.

It became a much better game and really gave my players a good work out in the second half. The score in that half was 2-2 so both teams had played well. Neither of our goals came from every player touching the ball, but it’s something to aim at next week, or the week after.

This tactic led to a much happier conclusion to the match, although I know some of the parents on my team had been muttering that “nobody does this when we’re losing”!

That was a fair point, but if we can share ideas such as this, maybe that will change?