Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Developing a Coaching Philosophy


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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Do donts coaching jpeg

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!

Solve your coaching problems

davidscwnewA couple of seasons ago I was asked to take over a team that the club said were underachieving – they wanted the side to get more success than they were having. So I went along to watch them. It seemed that for the first half of matches they were very successful and were often winning at half-time, but they always seemed to capitulate in the second half. I found it slightly puzzling that it happened so often, but I soon realised exactly why.

The team had a player who was an outstanding defender. He read the game well and was the type of footballer anyone would want in their team – commanding, fearless, always in the right place at the right time and joined in with attacks.

But this last point was the reason for the team’s second-half horrors. It transpired this young man had come to a deal with the old manager to play in defence for one half but attack for the second. With the player gone from defence the team were soon in trouble – and I cant for the life of me think why he wanted to play up front. He rarely saw the ball, and when he did it was usually from a panic clearance that he struggled to control. As his frustrations got the better of him, the coach took him off to calm him down.

I’m all for players moving around in different positions, but this just wasn’t working and the team were throwing away excellent first-half performances to accommodate this deal. I spoke to the player and his parents and I gave them an idea about what I wanted. I saw him as a fantastic centre half running the game from defence, but I also accepted that he should get the chance to play in attack.

However, rather than change at half-time, I explained that I would target games when he was most needed in defence, and for other games he could move up the pitch, allowing his team-mates to gain valuable experience at the back. As a result, he was still getting to play up front but we were getting full games out of him playing in defence.

I also made him captain, which gave him a huge boost. Having him at the back for full games made a huge difference to the next few games and the team began to be much more successful, built on the shoulders of a great player who excelled at the fundamentals of defending.

The manager had been doing the right things but he needed to think more about the problems he was having and come up with a solution like mine. Sometimes it takes another pair of eyes to see where a coach is falling down and a simple solution will often fix it.

The cure for a bad day’s training

davidscwnewI’m driving home after a coaching session in the rain – I’m wet through and so are the two players on the back seat.

Thanks to the performance of the car’s heater (which was better than mine at training), there’s an ever-growing musty smell, as sweaty bodies dry out. I can’t open the window because it’s pouring down… really pouring down.

The boys are hungry, but the traffic’s snarled because of the worst rainstorm of the summer, and I’m not going to be home in time for dinner. What an afternoon. Why do I do this?

And the training session? What a washout. No-one was doing what I wanted. The defenders were attacking, the attackers were defending – essentially the whole thing had been turned on its head, and not through instruction. I thought glumly about this as I looked at the trail of red lights ahead of me, as the wipers continued at full speed.

But once we had got home and were dry and warm and (finally) fed I looked back and went over the session, as I normally do. I use something called an achievement exercise when I think a session has gone badly. It’s where you simply write down up to five things you achieved in the session.

No matter how stressful or frustrating training was, as a whole, this is a pleasant reminder that some progress was made in some areas. Some achievements might appear minute in the grand scheme of things, but they are achievements nonetheless, and I write them down.

The defenders attacking, the attackers defending – it all has a place in coaching. It is a huge positive that these things came out of the session.

Even something as seemingly unimportant like my players all turning up despite the bad weather – that’s a positive too.

And I might not have enjoyed it, but I know most of them did. After all, what kid doesn’t get a thrill from getting muddy and battling against adverse conditions?

Then add in the fact that my relationship with the players became even stronger because we trained together in those appalling conditions. They saw my commitment and liked it.

It was a powerful exercise for me to snap out of my frustration and be grateful for what we, as a team, had achieved in that hour-and-a-half.

So, the next time you think you’ve had a bad session, reassess by writing down what you achieved. You’ll find that it’s often the little things we take for granted, and the relationships with others in our lives that bring the biggest smiles to our faces.

Matches are NOT coaching sessions

davidscwnewSome of my fellow coaches have been labelling me as a stuck record, of late. But if you’ll indulge me in the same way that I ask them to, I’ll explain why I’m so passionate about allowing kids to play the game without them being told what to do – to make their own decisions.

The truth is you should only be coaching your players when you are running sessions, or when they are playing a game in training. Basically, it’s only at a time when you can stop the game and make observations and suggestions. During a match – whether it is a friendly or league game – you should only be reminding players of their responsibilities, because the most important thing in this situation is for players to try out what you have been coaching; it’s the best environment for them in which to make mistakes… and learn from them. That way the experience gets logged in their brains through experience.

This week I observed a coach who constantly told his players what to do. A ball in the air, and he shouted “head it, head it”… a ball coming towards a player, “kick it hard”… a player running with the ball “pass it, PASS IT”. You get the picture. When I asked the coach if he thought this was the best approach, he responded: “I never tell them what to do – I’m just shouting to get them thinking.”

But they don’t need to think because they’re being instructed by the coach at every turn.

Interestingly, when the coach turned his back for a few seconds his players were looking around for him, shrugging their shoulders unsure what to do. He smiled at me and said, “See, if I don’t tell them what they should be doing they’re stuck.”

He’d missed the point completely.

I have told you this little tale because even the best coaches dictate things to their players when they should really just be letting them get on with it – I’m guilty of it myself.

At the end of the day, players who make decisions for themselves are developing every time they have to do it – even when they choose the wrong option. If we continue to instruct our players at every turn they’ll never develop the instinctive elements of play that all good sportsmen have.

Try to hold back this coming weekend and see if your players surprise you – I bet they do.

Using player-centred coaching

David ClarkeThere has been much debate recently about player-centred coaching and the benefits it has for young footballers. Player-centred coaching is about focusing and targeting soccer to the ages and skills of your players.

But in addition, it supports players’ independence by giving them a controlling influence over the session. They feel the session is theirs, which improves communication with the coach, increases motivation and accelerates understanding and appreciation of what’s being taught. From that, a player’s ability to solve tactical problems within the game is enhanced.

This does not mean that the coach has no control – far from it. The role of the coach is to set a challenge that’s centred on their skills, and he’ll still need to guide the players through the process of solving problems. But there is created an environment in which players share responsibility for individual and team performance.

So, for example, I will mark out the playing area, but within that area give the players cones to create boxes or gates that are going to be used. I will guide my players if they make squares or gates too big or small, but they can alter the parameters as the session commences.

I will present them with questions related to what they’ve laid out and might recommend a set challenge, but am looking for them to correct any mistakes made. For instance, the challenge might be to dribble a ball through four gates. If a player misses a gate, I’ll watch him to see if he makes amends for the error without me pointing it out.

The challenge is the same, but the player is in control. For a scenario that is less game-like, I might look to work on technique and skills… such as players having a choice over which channel they go down in 1v1s – a long, thin one, or a short and narrow one. Or I might move to a setting with four coned off parts of an area where players cannot be tackled – wing channels on either side of the pitch, for instance, where a player can run without opposition before putting a cross in. I’m always interested to see what effect player-centred coaching can have – from those 1v1s to 4v4s for general all-round choices, or even 8v8s to offer experience in more specified roles.

Whatever the task in hand is, I will always guide players so they experience every position, but by and large they’re fashioning the challenges themselves. The crucial thing for me is, of course, getting the challenge as relevant as possible to my players. But it’s also about identifying the point at which guiding a player turns into interfering with the process.

Player-centred coaching, and empowering the footballers who play under you, is certainly something that develops gradually, but players love the freedom and, as a coach, I believe I am beginning to see real rewards.

Where should you stand at training?

By David Clarke

David ClarkeBeing able to see everyone and everything that is going on means a coach can give feedback more effectively, correct errors or encourage good work. Here is a quick guide to better positioning in training.

  • Position yourself far enough back to be able to see all the players working.
  •  Try to keep to the outer perimeter of practice areas so there are no players behind you at any time.
  •  Make sure you move to various positions around the practice area to give yourself different perspectives of the action.
  • If you need to deliver one-to-one coaching, bring the player to you so you can help them while keeping an eye on the rest of the players.
  •  When demonstrating or talking to the players, create a half circle so they can all see.
  • Always demonstrate with the weather (sun or rain) in your face rather than the faces of the players.
  • Ensure there is nothing interesting happening behind you when talking or demonstrating to the players.

When talking to your players use the right words. I find that often a coach will praise the players that can easily do the tasks they set out for them but  if you read my blog Praise Talent or Praise Hard Work  you may think differently.

Also check out Five Ways To Make New Players Part of the Team.