Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Children want a coach like this



Praise talent… or praise hard work?

David Clarke

Some of the players at my club are facing their final few weeks of revision before the exam season starts, and their parents are looking for words to help motivate them.

It is mirrored in many ways by the words you and I have to use over the course of a season to motivate our players.

But the way children learn both in sport and academia is not through praising talent but through praising effort. Dozens of studies have found that the top performers – whether in mathematics, football, or music – learn no quicker than those who reach lower levels of attainment. In essence, childrens’ talent improves at practically identical rates.

Putting it simply, if your players practise more they will become strong achievers – talent alone is not enough for them to develop into good footballers. I won’t deny that some children come to the game and are naturally better than others, but if they don’t put in the effort the others soon catch them up.
That means phrases such as these are out:
“You did that exercise really quickly, you’re such a good player”

“Wow what a clever move, you must be the next Messi!”

“Brilliant – you scored that goal without even trying!”

And phrases like these are in:
“You worked really hard at that exercise – keep it up”

“That was a great bit of skill, your practise is really paying off”

“Great goal, you must be working really hard in training”

And if you don’t believe me listen to this: A leading psychologist has recently conducted an experiment based around the praise that her students received. All 400 subjects tested were given a simple puzzle.

Half were praised for intelligence – “wow you must be really smart”. And half for the effort they put in – “wow you must be hardworking”.

They were then given a choice of whether to take a hard or easy test. 75% of the students praised for intelligence chose the easy test because they were scared of losing the smart label, but only 10% of the students praised for effort chose the easy test; the other 90% chose the tough test to prove how hardworking they were.

They then took a second test of the same difficulty and the group praised for intelligence showed a 20% drop in performance compared with a 30% increase for the hardworking group. Failure had spurred them on.

Five words can have that profound an effect on the performance of children. If you praise your players for their hard work you will get more out of them than if you praise them for their talent.

It works with my team and I bet you can make it work for yours.

The best coaches know what to say at half-time

Dave Clarke

Two managers under pressure met in the semi-finals of this season’s Carling Cup. Birmingham city managed by Alex McLeish and West Ham United managed by Avram Grant showed how managers can have a profound effect on the performance of a team.

With Birmingham 3-1 ahead on aggregate at half time in the second of the two leg semi-final it was likely that Birmingham were out. McLeish had to motivate his team if he wanted to have any chance of winning the game. This is what he said to the team: "We are out… but it’s not official yet. It’s up to you if you want to come in at the end of 90 minutes and say you have regrets or you didn’t give it your all."

His talk resulted in Birmingham coming back from 3-1 to win the game in injury time 4-3. An amazing turnaround.

On the other hand Grant was quiet in the West Ham dressing room. He later confessed: "I didn’t know what to say to them at half-time."

While McLeish used a motivational approach to revive a team that looked beaten, Grant seemed to shrink from the challenge because he couldn’t cope with the pressure of winning.

This illustrates how the half time team talk is important – however you choose to do it – to inspire your team to victory.

Here are my half-time tips:

  • As soon as the first half is over, move to your players. Don’t make them move for you. Unless there is an obvious alternative, such as some shade or cover in sunny or adverse weather.

  • Be clear from obvious distractions such as the opposition.

  • Ask the players to sit down. This way communication is easier, the players are still and they are in the best position for recovery and hydration.

  • A key tip is to get players to drink moderate amounts of water at a continual rate. This means having as many water bottles available as possible. Successful recovery and hydration allows the team to absorb feedback quicker.

For the most constructive feedback time:

  • Get or wait until you know that you have everyone’s attention.

  • Provide two or three major points.

  • Be clear, positive and constructive.

  • Colourful language doesn’t necessarily motivate players.

Plan for the second half

  • Pinpoint the areas for improvement.

  • Highlight opposition weaknesses and how to take advantage of them.

  • Re-emphasise the positives and the skills from the first half and the need to stick to the game plan, particularly for the first 10 minutes of second half.

  • Before you leave the field, have a quick final word with the captain before the final huddle is formed.

Half-time summary

  • Don’t talk until everyone is listening.

  • Don’t concentrate on negatives.

  • Don’t spring any surprises.

  • Don’t allow too much player input all at once.