Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Free-kicks change games

davidscwnewThe importance of free-kicks cannot be underestimated in youth football. As a statement you may dismiss it, you may disagree with it, or you may actually agree but think that practising free-kicks is pointless. However, it’s a statement worth thinking about.

At the end of last season my U11s had been in the top three for almost the whole season. With one game to go we were three points behind the team in second place, who were also our opponents for that final fixture. A poor performance in their penultimate game meant that their goal difference was nowhere near as good as ours, so we just needed a win to snatch second place.

It was a good game and my team played some lovely passing moves but at the interval it was still 0-0. I didn’t need to inspire my players at half-time, they did it themselves as I gave them the floor to talk about the game and how well they were playing.

We scored early in the second half and the opposition looked out of it until, with five minutes remaining, they got a free-kick just outside our penalty area. We set up a wall and had players on the posts but it was a great free-kick, looping high into the top corner and miles from my keeper’s hands. I doubt even Joe Hart would have got near it.

I had to admire the quality of the kick. One like that doesn’t happen without a lot of patience and a lot of practice. But then we have specialists too and on the stroke of fulltime we won a free-kick ourselves, just outside the area.

It was some way out but one of my players practises kicking for both rugby and football and there was no way anyone else was taking it. He picked up the ball and lined up his shot. The well organised opposition weren’t going to make it easy for him, but he focused, took a few paces back and hit it.

It was a beauty of a shot. Skimming the heads of the players in the wall, it beat the keeper and took the player on the line into the net with it! Then the referee blew for fulltime. We had won. Had the ball been played into the box as a cross then I doubt the opposition would have given a goal away, but there was nothing they could do about that unstoppable free-kick.

So when I talk to other coaches I tell them the importance of getting players to practise kicking because you never know when you are going to need that special something to give you the edge in matches.


Tap-ins need practice too…

davidscwnewIt’s funny, when you’re watching a match and a goal is scored, how often do you hear someone say: “that was just a tap-in – I could have scored that”. But it’s important not to forget that it was the movement in the build up to the goal and the decision to stay with the attack that often creates simple tap-ins.

Talk to Lionel Messi about tap-ins. He scored a record-breaking 91 goals in 2012 and he would be the first to tell you that simple tap-ins count for just as much as his spectacular drives and dribbles. If the player wasn’t there to put the ball in the net, the team wouldn’t score.

Tap-ins or rebounds are like the last putt in golf – they’re just as important as a huge drive down the fairway.

messiA big part of a striker’s job is being in the right place at the right time, following up shots in order to put rebounds into the back of the net. In a youth game spectacular goals are a rarity but rebounds are plentiful. Young players can learn a lot from watching Messi – not just from his sublime skills but he also regularly demonstrates how important it is to be in the right place at the right time. You can always count on him to pop up and tap the ball into the net after it has been parried by a keeper. A good striker will always anticipate a rebound or be in the right place to finish off a move.

I like my strikers to follow any shots on goal, however feeble they are, because young keepers often push the ball away rather than risk catching it, giving predatory attackers a second chance to score. Supporting strikers should never stop running, as they may be the ones that get the rebound coming their way.

Having the ability to finish off moves is vital to the development of young footballers. A confident bunch of players makes for a much better team and increases the opportunities of success. There is nothing more disheartening for the whole team when chances are not taken. And it takes practice to get it right. Look at any of the top finishers in the world and behind their success you will find hours and hours of practice, both in training sessions and on their own.

You need your players to practice as often as possible, using sessions that will help them perfect their finishing technique. Otherwise you’ll end up standing on the touchline on match day with your head in your hands.

3v3 to coach support play


In this 3v3 game, you can get players to learn about providing support and being in the right position to cover when the ball is lost.

Support play

In a 3v3 situation, one of the most important jobs is to support the player on the ball. There should be forward support to provide an attacking outlet and rear support to give a defensive outlet.

A pass back to the player covering the defensive area of the team can be an attacking move because it can open up space on the other side of the pitch.

Support players need to think about:

  • The angle of support
  • The distance of support

Getting this right means the supporting player:

  • Has a full range of forward vision.
  • Can receive the ball comfortably.
  • Has space to pass the ball to a team mate.
  • Can move forward into space in front of them.

How to set it up

In this game, rear support comes from the goalkeeper who must move out of his goal when the team is attacking. When the team is in possession of the ball none of the three players are allowed in their defensive end zone.

Goalkeepers have to support from the rear and be ready to get back if the team lose the ball. So the attacking team always has an empty end zone so the defending team can quickly attack if it wins the ball.

The attacking team therefore has a 3v2 advantage in the middle of the pitch. The defending team can have players in any zone, but when it wins the ball and attacks, all players including the goalkeeper must move out of the defensive end zone.