Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice


‘Anticipation’ is key in player development

davidscwnewWhen I was first starting out in coaching I remember reading an article about Ron Greenwood, who had played for Chelsea and Fulham and who went on to manage West Ham and the England national team. When asked what the most essential trait was for a soccer player, he said: “Anticipation”.

Put simply, it’s the knack of knowing where to be, when to move and sensing what is going to happen before it actually does. It is a trait that all the great players have and it is something I work on with my players, because it’s a trait you can coach.

A good way of creating players who have anticipation is to build the foundations of their technique – and that requires practice. Improving a player’s skill doesn’t just happen and players will not learn skills just by playing games.

Focus practice on basic skills in the early years and then let them advance with more technical skills. One of the Under 10 teams I coach are of a very mixed level of technical ability but the one thing they all have is enthusiasm and dedication for learning new skills. Once we have perfected the first set of skills we move on and develop the basic skills into harder ones.

“Look Dave, I can do what Ronaldo and Messi do!” one of them said to me last week as he spun on the ball and flicked it into the air.

Playing in a match before Christmas the team was losing 2-0 but their heads didn’t drop.

_DSC1555Early in the second half a wonderful step over took one of my strikers past a defender and his teammate anticipated this, moving quickly for a pass – and before the keeper had even moved, the ball was dispatched into the net.

It was an afternoon of watching great technique and some fabulous passing moves as the opposition were put to the sword. But we didn’t get an equaliser and it was a frustrating moment when the whistle blew.

Back at training I hadn’t expected to see the same players going 1v1 against each other on the muddy practice pitch but all they were bothered about was showing each other how much better their skills were than last week.

I was thrilled to see it. It won’t be long before they turn their potential into winning games and I bet even then they’ll still be going 1v1 against each other just to make themselves that little bit better.

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The irrelevant question “Did you win?”

davidscwnewMy 11-year-old daughter walked in from her hockey match on Saturday and before I could speak she said, “Guess what?” “What?” I replied. “We won!”

“Wow, brilliant!” I said.
Then she said, “I knew you’d say it was brilliant that we won, but we didn’t, we lost.”

Now I don’t consider myself to be a win-at-all-costs kind of coach, but my daughter has lived most of her 11 years on the touchline of youth pitches up and down the country and has obviously picked up on the celebration of winning and the type of language I use when the teams win.

Screen shot 2015-12-18 at 12.22.56I made a mistake, as my normal question to her would be “How did you play?”, which I always try to ask when she comes in from a match, if I haven’t been watching from the touchline.

The last thing I want her to feel is that she only gets praise if the team wins. The other thing to think about is that win or lose, within a few minutes of the final whistle, children’s minds are already on something else.

When I said to my daughter that it wasn’t the result I cared about but how she had played, she wasn’t interested as one of her friends had texted and her mind was already elsewhere.

It’s only the adults who are still raging hours later about the penalty that wasn’t given. So, as coaches, the lessons are huge – as the players in your team get older they will not remember winning the Under 12s Best Team Is The Winner Cup but they will remember the good times they had with the team and how their skills developed within the team.

Watching Gareth Bale playing for Real Madrid in the Champions League this week reminded me of the story where Bale, aged 15, had gone from being the fastest player to seventh fastest and was less of a match winner.

He was on the list to be released before the head coach decided he should stay. It was a development blip and of course the rest is history. But sometimes the development of a player seems to stall, but rather than sit them on the bench, keep playing them and they will reap the rewards of your foresight.

The question “How did you play?” in this instant is much more relevant to the player than “did you win”. I will be watching my daughter’s development with interest to see whether her comments were a one off.davidscwnew