Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Make the most of possession play – dribble or pass?

davidscwnewBy David Clarke

When players feel pressure in matches, it can often affect their ability to make decisions. You will undoubtedly have players who dribble brilliantly in training, yet “panic pass” in matches. Other players will hesitate when on the ball and a great opportunity to pass to a team mate is often lost.

Knowing when to surge into space with a dribble or when to switch play with a good pass comes from lots of practice – and you can’t expect players to learn this on their own.

Therefore, it’s a great idea to set up situations where they have the choice, because making that call can be vital to their development.

This session shows players where options present themselves, then develops into a small-sided game, in which the right decision will give their team the advantage.

How to set it up

  • Create a playing area measuring 30×25 yards.
  • For this session you’ll need bibs, cones and balls.
  • There are two teams of four players.
  • Set up three small goals – spaced equally apart – along the longest sides.
  • Each team must defend its goals while trying to score in the other three.

Getting started

  • Players score by dribbling or passing the ball through the poles.
  • Players must react quickly to situations around them, looking for areas on the pitch where there is space to exploit. They should look to mix dribbling with passes to team mates, but every decision is made with the aim of retaining team possession.
  • Play for 15 minutes.

Developing the session:

  • Develop the session by making the area 50×30 yards with two five-yard end zones.
  • The players must get the ball into the end zone by passing to a player who has run to meet the pass, or by dribbling into the end zone themselves.
  • Players are not allowed to stand in the end zone waiting for a pass – they must always be on the move.
  • You can award an extra “goal” if the attacking team makes five consecutive passes before scoring.
  • If players find the session easy, reduce the size of the scoring zone at each end by a yard. For younger players, increase the size.

Why this works:

This practice rehearses players in the logic that clever dribbling can move the ball into areas where there is space to be exploited. A final pass to a team mate should make the creation of goalscoring chances that much easier.

Players are also encouraged to score with a pass which represents a quicker route to goal than a dribble. The decisions depend on the player’s ability to read the space and that will come as they practise this session.

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7 tips to get the most out of your coaching sessions

davidscwnewCoaching isn’t just a matter of turning up and running a session – anyone can do that. You need to think about how you are going to deliver the session so the learning experience is heightened for your players.

These four questions will help you decide how you coach your sessions:

  1. Know your players – which ones need what, and when do they need your help?
  2. Talk to/listen to your players – are they enjoying the sessions?
  3. Do they understand what they are doing?
  4. Ask yourself… did my intervention have a positive impact on their learning?

Here are my seven tips on how to get the most out of coaching your sessions:

1. What is the problem?
Picture in your mind what it is that your team is doing wrong. Think about the type of session you need to help the team.

2. What is available to me? What resources do you have that relate to the problem? Soccer Coach Weekly issues are a great place to start.

3. Have I used a session in the past to cover the topic?
Think about what you have done before when you have come across this problem. Did you solve it? Can you use it again?

4. How will individuals react to the session?
Some of your players will respond negatively to certain sessions you run. If you know your players well you should be able to spot problems before they arise.

5. Is it simple or complex?
How much guidance do you need to give your players? Sometimes simple is best. If it is complex make sure you explain it carefully before the players have to go and do it.

6. Are you reviewing work already covered?
If you are revisiting work, you need to quickly get the session going and work your players at the level you worked at when you last ran the session – they know the topic so the understanding should already be there.

7. During the session does it feel right?
Your gut feeling is often a good indicator as to whether or not the session is working. If it is, great, make a note of what went right. If not, don’t despair. Write down what went wrong and change it next time.

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The goalkeeper has nowhere to hide

davidscwnewWatching one of the Under-12s goalkeepers at my local club this week picking the ball out of the net seven times I was reminded me of an article I had read by David James, the former England stopper who is now at English Championship club Bristol City.

When the 41-year-old was playing in the Premier League with Portsmouth, he once suffered the humiliation of conceding 10 goals in two games. Recalling that and other similar events, he said: “I try to get on with it; I take the dogs out for a walk. I try to move on and prepare for the next game. I have a debrief with my psychologist…” Psychologist?

Now that is where the similarities end…!Coaches of youth teams don’t have psychologists at hand when they lose a game, and neither does the poor lad whose goal has been under constant bombardment. More likely is that said keeper will be in the car home getting a pasting from his dad, your words of comfort a distant and fading memory!

But that’s the problem for keepers… their errors are highlighted every time the ball goes in the net; they have nowhere to hide. That’s why you must not let your keeper take the blame because, trust me, if you do, he won’t be your keeper for much longer! Protect him and nurture him so he wants to play in goal no matter what the score is.

At training nights make sure he joins in with all the fun bits – the match, skills, fitness – before you move him between the sticks for some designated keeper practice. It is important for you and the team that he feels part of it all. You can also get him to be vocal at training – to shout at his defenders and order them around, if necessary. Not only will this give him a unique status, but it will cement his value to the rest of the team as a leader and organiser on match day – someone who can survey all that’s in front of him with ease.

And encouraging him when he makes a mistake rather than criticising means that most of his team mates will do likewise.

At the end of the day keepers are vital to your team and their influence is stronger than you may realise. Let’s make sure they don’t go home crying.

How Lampard destroys the opposition


Chelsea and England midfielder Frank Lampard has built his whole game on the ability to thread a pass. His trademark long balls can split defences wide open and create space for an attacker to work in.

But he is equally good at playing the short game, using the ball to take out defenders or to put an overlapping winger in behind the defence.

If every team got its players to use passes with purpose they would be much more successful in creating goalscoring opportunities. And by the same token, nothing will destroy a team more than inaccurate passing.

So here’s a move that will help players practise passing so that it comes to them naturally during a match.

How to set it up:

  • Mark out an area 30 yards long by 10 yards wide using cones.

  • Place four players around the area, one on each side.

  • Use only one ball.

Getting started:

  • The players on the short ends pass long and short.

  • The players on the long sides must move to receive but can only pass short.

  • Get the players moving the ball around in triangles, anticipating where the next player will run to.

  • Mark out zones so the players on the longer sides are given some guidance of where to move to when they receive the ball.

  • If it is a short pass, they run into the end zone nearest the passing player.

  • For a long pass they are in the zone furthest from the passing player.

Why this works:

The way to familiarise your players in passing with purpose is to get them passing long and short. Players need to learn not only how to pass well, but to move into space so it is easier for the player on the ball to find them. The passing must be very accurate or the exercise breaks down.

In a match situation, coaches will often stand on the side of the pitch and see situations where a simple pass, long or short, could open up the opposition defence, but the opportunity is missed.

Practising the basics in a quick-moving scenario such as this will perfect technique as well as decision-making ability, so get your players doing this exercise to make them into mini Frank Lampards.

You can set up a few areas like this so the whole team is passing and moving at the same time.

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Watch out for growing pains in your players

davidscwnewYou think it’s something you never need to think about – surely an awareness of ‘the ABCs’ is something that kids have comfortably tucked in their locker when they first arrive at your door.
Think on things a different way, though. Consider the idea that growing bodies and changing shapes mean that, in terms of how they play the game, players sometimes have to readjust their ABCs… or even learn them all over again from scratch.
This has happened to one of my Under- 11s. He had a considerable growth spurt last summer and turned up for the new season playing like Bambi on ice. His dimensions are radically different and, by his own admission, he has struggled this year after really impressing last term.
His dad told me his feet have grown two sizes, with the need for new boots twice in the last six months! Even with the right size shoes on, his balance was all over the place and he could barely turn without falling over. But I think he is finally coming to terms with his new size.
Sure, to the untrained eye he looks like a player who has never played before because of his body language, and the way he sometimes controls (or miscontrols) the ball.
But this week there were the first indications the coordination that made him one of our best players last term is starting to come back. Against quality opposition, he was my Man of the Match on Saturday from central defence – being sure in the tackle and really ambitious when bringing the ball out. He scored twice showing great control and movement, and was at the heart of everything we did well. ABCs are vital to youth players.
They are the basis of everything they do in a match and at training. It may be that you have players in your team who suddenly look awkward on the pitch, and that may be due to growing bodies that knock out their sense of balance meaning some of the basics have to be learnt all over again.
If you’re coaching kids of ‘that’ age, keep an eye on them, because you may be able to spot what’s going on before they do. It’s your job to get them get comfortable again with their bodies, reassuring them as they go. There’s a fair chance they’ll be as puzzled as you are as to why they cannot do what they used to, so be patient and they will eventually catch up.

The Charlie factor

davidscwnew“Can I play up front next week because I don’t do anything at the back; it’s boring?”
These were Charlie’s words to me at the end of training a couple of weeks ago. I’ve had this battle with Charlie all season having played him in every single position except left-back – he’s even been in goal. I spoke to him about the brilliant game he’d played the previous Saturday – he was captain of the team and had been running the show from central defence, wearing himself out so much that by half-time he was a puddle of sweat, yet determined to carry on.
I took him off for a while, so I suppose I could legitimately add ‘substitute’ to his many positions!
The problem is twice this season we have watched as Charlie runs up to take a corner – we’ve seen him make perfect contact with the ball as it curves high above the heads of attackers and defenders, over the outstretched arms of the goalkeeper to nestle in the corner of the net.
We’ve seen Charlie when he scores those goals – the look in his eyes, the joy on his face. It’s what Charlie likes to do.
So I spoke to him. “Charlie”, I said, “what about those amazing covering runs you made in the same game last week? What about when you made that last-ditch tackle, and two great interceptions when the opposition were on the counter-attack?”
Without that we’d have lost the game. Without Charlie in central defence we’d have looked slow and flat-footed.
“I didn’t do that!” he said. “I don’t remember that!” “Yes you did, Charlie, and saving three goals is as good as scoring three goals,” I replied. And with that Charlie’s face lit up with a broad grin. He was surprised that I was praising him for what he saw was something run-of-the-mill and natural. This is a player who never gives up, and that’s a fantastic quality to have.
“You’d be wasted up front,” I told him.
“Yes,” he agreed, “no-one else scores from corners yet can also stop the opposition scoring.”
Charlie has now started to realise that the team doesn’t win just because goals are scored, it wins because teams defend resolutely and with skill and intelligence. He’s a rare breed who can be good at both. If you’ve got one of these players, harness his skills, and prove to him how he can be good at both.

Pressure, support and depth – go defensive

By David Clarke davidscwnew

Teaching defenders technique and the ability to move into the right places at the right time can be done on the training ground.

Here though, we combine the teaching with an immediate attack versus defence scenario, so players are straight away putting into practice what they have learnt.

So they must ensure they react to the call well, adopt the right shape, then be ready to defend immediately.

How to set it up:

  • Create a 25-yard square with 10 x 5 yards end zones.

  • In front of one end zone, place three cones across the width of the area, plus a mini goal just in front of the central cone.

  • Three defenders start behind the cones and three attackers start at the opposite end.

  • Stand halfway up the area on the touchline.

The technique:

The three defenders will need to move as per your instructions, so teamwork and unity is essential in maintaining a solid backline. So you will call either:

“Left” – the left defender pressures and shows inside, the central defender supports and stops the forward pass, the defender farthest away supports the central player and provides depth.

“Centre” – the central defender pressures the ball while the two wide defenders take up supporting positions behind, and to either side to stop the forward pass.

“Right” – the right defender pressures and shows inside, the central defender supports and stops the forward pass, the defender farthest away supports the central player and provides depth.

Getting started:

  • On your call, the defending team completes the defending technique task.

  • You then pass a ball to the attacking team at the opposite end.

  • Immediately, the defenders must run onto the pitch and use the group defending technique to stop their opponents from scoring in their target goal.

  • Each team has six run-throughs before the roles are reversed. The winning team is the one to have scored most times in the goal.