Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

How Soccer Coach Weekly took a grassroots team from relegation to promotion in one season

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I’m not going to say that coaching successful teams is magic – it takes a lot of hard work and time to coach a team, and to train a group to play matches every week throughout the season. What I hope to do is make things a bit easier by providing coaching sessions to help you develop your players.

I’m often asked what age groups Soccer Coach Weekly covers and, working from the bottom, it starts at Under 7s, but what is the top end? Where does the coaching point become too easy for the players?

I was contacted last summer by an adult team, Burpham FC who had just finished bottom of of the GWAFL Division 1 with just 1 win and 11 goals in 18 league games! “HELP!”, they cried…

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New First team Managers Scott Kemp & Suj Khera, both Uefa B licensed coaches wrote: “David, we love coaching and developing players and we believe, with your help and by using Soccer Coach Weekly coaching methods and drills, that we can turn the fortunes of our local club around! Would you support us and put the faith you have in your product to the test?”

The rest is history. Burpham were re-elected to Division 1 and, on Saturday 2nd April 2016, promotion was sealed when they scored 3 goals in the final 6 minutes to win 3-1 away at Swinley Forest FC. On 16th April Burpham were confirmed GWAFL Division 1 runners up.

Incredible results indeed, in just one season. Burpham amassed 33 points, 10 wins scoring 42 goals with a +8 goal difference. Compared to 4pts, 1 win, 11 goals and a -41 goal difference the season before.

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“If you can create that positive environment of learning, which Soccer Coach Weekly has given Burpham, then the results can be staggering!”

Joint Manager Suj Khera said “Credit to the team for all their hard work! They bought into the philosophy and approach of our management of wanting to develop and improve through coaching, which often took people out of their comfort zones. But it’s worked and the results show you that!”

Khera added “As a coach, you can never stop learning. Having used Soccer Coach Weekly this year and seen the results, I would recommend it to any coach or manager wanting to improve their own abilities and, ultimately, the performance of your team!”

How Chelsea’s Antonio Conte uses the full pitch to win matches

davidscwnewWatching the Euros instead of standing coaching my players gives me a good chance to see how some of the world’s greatest coaches approach games where the opposition poses different problems.

Chelsea’s new boss Antonio Conte gave a wonderful performance in matches before they lost out to Germany on penalties. He was faced with two different types of games but his ability to get the best out of his players I noticed usually relied on them cleverly switching play in attack to create space when it was difficult to find any because the opposition was closing out any obvious space on the pitch.

And when defending, Italy’s formation makes perfect use of the players available. In Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, Italy have the best defensive unit in European football.

Italy still has the best coaching academy in the world. They produce generations of coaches capable of organising players into effective teams, something that Conte has taken on at the European Championships.

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His tactics are a big part of the success he brings to teams. He said “When my teams attack, we do so with five players. It used to be four but now it is five. Attack with five, defend with five”. This means his attackers can spread right across the pitch finding any space that is available.

Italy’s performances against Sweden and Spain were entirely different, with both exploiting noted weaknesses but in each case Conte used switches of play to create goalscoring chances.

Against Sweden, Conte knew that he would face a side sitting deep in their own half, looking to take advantage of the counter-attack and free-kicks. As a result, Italy were patient, stretched the play from side-to-side when looking for an opening, and defended in numbers whenever they lost possession.

Against Spain, far from sitting back and limiting space in the final third, Italy charged at Vicente Del Bosque’s team, robbing them of the chance to build any tempo or rhythm.

Spain’s style of football depends on the players being very compact so that they can begin their mesmerising short passing game and work their way up the pitch.

When Italy attacked, they took advantage of this narrow team shape – constantly switching play to break up the compact Spanish team and give themselves a chance of scoring.

They constantly played the ball into space, dragging Spain around. It’s exhausting to defend against and when Spain would eventually win the ball back, Italy would press high up the pitch and surround their players to stop them passing.

“We have been working very intensively for a month now, tactically and physically, in a bid to surprise people and we have already succeeded in that,” said Conte after that 2-0 win over Spain.

How to coach Zonal marking

davidscwnewOnce your players understand the concept of zonal defending, this game allows you to put the system into context and gets them playing a game with lots of corners.

Why use it

The defending team is coached how to get into formation in a match when they have lost the ball and how to quickly assemble a zonal defense. After using our first session, run this and allow players to make decisions on where to defend at corners.


Use a playing area of 40×40 yards. You need a coned off area of 20×20 yards in front of one of the goals. We’ve used 14 players. You need bibs, balls, cones and two goals.

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How to play

Play 7v7 including keepers. Each team takes turns to attack and defend the coned off area. The defending team must be in the box when they haven’t got the ball, and if they put it out of play anywhere it is a corner against them. The attacking team plays normally but can’t score from outside the box. If the attacking team put the ball out it goes dead and restarts with their keeper. If the defending team win the ball, they can break out and counter-attack. At corners the defenders should set up to zonal mark as shown in the previous session.


Players use zonal marking at corners and when defending the box, learning where to support and where to mark.

Strikers go 1v1 for a special finish


davidscwnewThis fast and game-realistic training session sets up 1v1 attacking situations that will encourage your strikers to come up with a special finish.

Why use it

This is all about using skills around the penalty area to take defenders by surprise and create goalscoring opportunities. It uses quick combinations but relies on individual excellence and it’s great for development of ball mastery.

Set up

Use half of your usual pitch. We’ve used seven players. You need balls, bibs, cones and a normal sized goal.

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How to play

The attacker takes the ball through a chicane of cones and drives towards the first defender before passing to the server. The defenders cannot move until the server has touched the ball. The server plays a quick return pass and the first defender tries to catch the attacker, while the second defender closes down the attacker.

Once the shot has been taken the attacker swaps with the first defender; the first defender swaps with the second defender; and the second defender swaps with the server, who goes to the attacking line up.


This is all about creating 1v1s at pace so that everything is game realistic. There are different skills to use and when the attacker gets to the final phase, he can try something clever to create space for a shot.

Give your players a voice – they often know best!

davidscwnew1Sometimes my young players make more sense than I do – and that makes me well aware that I shouldn’t always put a tactical side of the argument as a rule that cannot be broken, so I try not to.

This week with the season over I’ve been coaching positional sense to young players – not for very long though as it can be a lot for young players to take in and understand.

All players are different, some can be taught from an early age but some cannot. However, players need to be given the chance to learn it so they can develop their soccer brain.

Working with the Under 10s I was going through some moves that a central defender can make when we are winning 2-1 with five minutes remaining. Note that I constantly rotate my players at this age but already they have begun to think about the position they will play each week.

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One of my team wants to be a central defender. And he is good at it but because he has played in every position he gets carried away sometimes when he has the ball and charges up the pitch in search of glory! Nothing wrong in that, but sometimes he loses the ball and leaves his defensive position open to being exploited, which has cost us goals, especially late on in matches.

One match this season we were winning 2-1 with five minutes to go. My defender decided to go on one of his runs and he lost the ball and suddenly it was 2-2 and the game was a different one. Don’t get me wrong, I like him going on runs, it helps him develop as a player, but he needs to think about when to do it.

In this situation, coaches can do one of two things – constantly shout at him about his position during the match or talk to him about the situation and what the team needed him to do the most. As a coach, I am not going to shout at him during the game. I am going to try and coach him into making the right decision when to run forwards and when to pass or stay back.

What I have done is talk to him about how far he takes the ball before a pass or a shot. These actions give him time to get back to his position should his team lose the ball. He must also think about timing during the game – if we are winning 2-1 with a few minutes left, should he go on a run or should he give that responsibility to the midfield?

He happily listens and comes back with his own logic – “if we are winning 2-1 and I run up the pitch and make it 3-1 is that not a better way to make sure we win the game?”

He is right of course and what can I say to that kind of positivity? Carry on playing!

TACTIC: Playing between the lines

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davidscwnew1 Line-breaking passes are those that go through a line of the opposing team’s formation.

For example, a pass that goes between two opposing defenders is known as a line-breaking pass because it breaks through the defensive line.

A line-breaking run is similar to a line-breaking pass, although in this case it is the player, not the ball, that breaks the line.

Line-breaking runs usually occur in the final third of the pitch when a forward or midfielder runs through the defensive line and into a goal-scoring position. Cristiano Ronaldo is an expert at making line-breaking runs.

Taken from David Clarke’s manual

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Create a diamond defence on the Pivot/Goalkeeper axis

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davidscwnewIndividual players have a particular job to do in a diamond defence right from the goalkeeper to the attacking midfielders. The focus here is on the role of the defensive midfielder or pivot and his relationship with the goalkeeper.

At this year’s Euros in France the strongest teams all seem to have a brilliant goalkeeper and a ball-playing defensive midfielder or what we call a pivot. France use Leicester City’s N’Golo Kante, Germany often use Mats Hummels in that position, Spain has Sergio Busquets and Italy has Daniele De Rossi. Look behind them and you find Hugo Lloris, Manuel Neuer, David de Gea and Gianluigi Buffon.

That means finding a way past some of the best players in the world in diamond defences using formations like 4-4-2, 3-5-2 and of course the classic 4-1-4-1 creating a diamond between the centre backs, goalkeeper and the pivot. The pivot will also form a diamond with the other midfielders creating a strong formation right up the pitch.

The role of the goalkeeper is vital with positioning key to stopping any attacks through the defence. This works with things like the Sweeper Keeper personified by Manuel Neuer and his clever positioning in front of goal. The pivot also needs use a wide range of attacking as well as defensive qualities.

The players should:

  • Have a good tactical sense.
  • Be good at shielding the defence.
  • Be good at tackling and intercepting.
  • Be able to drop into and hold the defensive line, possessing good defensive qualities.
  • Be able to control and direct play from a static deep position, so being a point of reference for the whole team.
  • Be able to accurately deliver long passes.

Defensive Midfielder Responsibilities

  1. Protect the Center Backs by denying through balls and blocking passing routes into attack plus cover any holes when a defender gets pulled out of position
  2. Work hard in the middle of the pitch to win the ball and create space for attackers
  3. Stay central disrupting and destroying plays as they come through the middle of the park

Defensive Midfielder Physical

  • Fitness key to recovery from attack to defence
  • Good in the air to jump against attacking players
  • Strong lower body to clear balls with both feet
  • Quick reactions to transitions
  • Agility to press players
  • Good body strength for tackling and shielding the ball

5 Defensive Midfielder Attributes

  1. Winning the ball in the air and on the ground
  2. High Work Rate
  3. Link up with simple passes between defence and attack
  4. A team player
  5. Disrupts the flow of the opposition


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