Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Focus on the players… not the session

davidscwnewIt all went horribly wrong last week – I coached a team of players and lost the focus of the session and the suitability of the challenges for the players who were doing it. It was my own fault. I had been asked to coach another team straight after my own session.

I hadn’t taken these players before but without giving it any thought, I decided to run the same session I had run earlier with one of my own teams. I had done no homework on the players and, as we started, I quickly realised I needed to change the focus of the session because they were finding it too difficult. Instead of adapting the same session, I whizzed through the library of sessions stored in my memory and started another one. It was far from ideal.

I should have just changed the dimensions of the exercise that I was using and made the session work for them. With my regular team the session had gone like a breeze because they were used to moving the ball around with speed and precision.

I have been working on getting them to pass like Spain, where defenders, midfielders and strikers link up with effortless ease thanks to some great combinational play. Short, sharp passing and clever movement was key to the session – the art of Spain’s wonderful play is dominating possession in this way. And my players coped well with the session, using intelligent passing and great teamwork.

However, when I tried the same session with the next group they weren’t able to use the same techniques or passing movement to make it a success and they weren’t getting the same fun out of it as my team had.

This caused one or two players to show their boredom in other ways so I had to go in and change the session. Rather than adapt it, I changed the session completely, but this just stripped away the focus and made the challenges I had set meaningless. I struggled on and forced the new session through but afterwards I was disappointed that I had ignored my own advice and tried to totally change the session rather than alter it to get their understanding.

I had been caught out because I took it for granted that the players would be able to cope with my session, even though I had never coached them before. It was a timely reminder that I should have focused on the players and their needs, rather than focus on the session – and that a session can be altered to make it work for different groups of players.


Mind elsewhere not on coaching?… Focus is vital to successful sessions

By David Clarke

David ClarkeI turned up for a coaching session last night and my mind wasn’t on the job. The club coaches had scheduled a meeting for the next day, in which I had to prepare my report on the season so far… what had gone well, what could be improved.

My mind was full of this as I arrived at the training ground. The minute I got there one of the other coaches came over and started talking to me about next season and the players he hoped to keep. He also spoke about how he was going to bed new players in and whether he should include this in his report at the meeting.

My helper had set up a warm-up exercise and the players were doing it at about 50 per cent performance, talking to each other and jogging along. The conversation I was having totally took my mind away from the purpose of the evening so when I turned back to the players I was totally out of the coaching zone.

We usually have very focused hour-long sessions but time was already ticking by and all my players had done was warm-up. And they were getting bored with the session. It was beginning to affect me as well – I felt cold, I was looking at my watch, and I was doing nothing to coach the players. My mind began flicking through my library of exercises and drills but nothing would come into my head that would drive the session.

Then I realised that I hadn’t thought of a focus, there was no core to wrap the exercises around. I was doing the ‘let’s just get through the session by filling the players’ time with drills’ cop out. I couldn’t let them down like this. So I took my mind back to our last match and thought up a title for the session – ‘running without the ball’.

I quickly set up a pitch with zones at either end – no goals or goalkeepers. I told the players the way to score was to pass to a player who had run into the end zone – they weren’t allowed to stand in the end zone, they had to be running onto a pass. In this way I built up the movement of players both with and without the ball. I instructed runs both towards and away from play, then worked on the timing of the run and the first touch upon receiving the ball.

The session began to take shape – and I had rescued something out of it. The final 30 minutes went really quickly, unlike the first half-hour when we were standing around feeling cold and not thinking about the here and now.

Trust me, your session will be much more successful – and the time will go much quicker – if you have a focus and exercises to build around that focus. But you have to be in the right mindset from the start.

8v4 game – Get your coaching point across with overloads

David Clarke

Playing with overloads is a great way to get achieve your coaching focus. I often play games achieve success for players in certain aspects of the game. In this 8v4 game for instance, the overloads created and the set up means I can see switching play, short passing, long passing, good control and technique for the team of 8 and the team of 4 needs quick thinking and shooting to win the session

This game gets players practising different aspects of possession play and movement. When shooting at the targets, the scoring team must combine to goalscoring effect, while for the in-circle passing team the aim is to find a way past the opposition. The passing team outside the circle must be mobile and able to position themselves in the best way so as to receive the ball.

dave clarke

How to set it up:

  • Mark out a 30-yard diameter circular pitch (with markers or cones if necessary).

  • Place four goals at four equal points around the edge of the circle.

  • There is one team of eight players, the passing team.

  • The other team has four players, the scoring team.

  • The passing team starts with four on the pitch and four off the pitch.

  • The scoring team starts with all four players on the pitch.

The rules:

  • The passing team must attempt to keep possession at all times, playing out to their team-mates positioned outside the circle.

  • The player passing the ball must go to the outside whilst the receiving player dribbles into the playing area.

  • The scoring team must get the ball into the target goals.

  • The passing team get a point for each successful switch.

  • Play for a time period to be designated by the coach, then gradually rotate groups of four players so that each team gets the opportunity to perform in each role.