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.

Why your players don’t come back

davidscwnewI had a conversation last weekend with a youth coach regarding why players sometimes go AWOL halfway through the season. He told me his team had won every game they’d played, but the number of lads attending his training sessions was dwindling week-on-week.

There are reasons why kids suddenly lose interest, although sometimes coaches need to step back to really see why it’s happening.

In particular, the coach I was speaking to highlighted some areas that gave me instant cause for concern:
1. His sessions were heavily focused on outcomes rather than development. Winning was always the main target at his club.
2. Over-coaching was a huge problem. Training was heavy on drills and exercises, with little uninterrupted game play that allowed players to experiment, and with that, experience failure and success.

The problem for this coach’s team is that even though they were winning games, the players have been getting to a certain age and discovering soccer was no longer fun. And when players aren’t having fun, their development stalls.

At this age the players should be hitting real highs in the way they understand the game, and their play should express this – tactically and technically. Ideally you want players who have a desire to learn, to succeed, and who possess a low fear of failure. That’s the ideal, but naturally, you can’t buy that off the shelf. You have to create an atmosphere that encourages your players to want to develop, learning from their mistakes along the way.

At the heart of it, as coaches we must do our best to promote an environment that is challenging, fun and free of fear. This builds confidence and self-esteem, but it all comes down to the basic idea that if you treat people well, they will respond to what you’re asking of them.One of the things I always tell coaches who are struggling with training sessions is to picture the excitement in children when the bell rings for break time at school. This is the atmosphere and spirit you want reproduce, albeit with a bit more control!

Small-sided games are an ideal way of generating this sort of enthusiasm and energy. Within those games, let the play continue uninterrupted, and at the end allow players the opportunity to offer their feedback.

And unlike the team leader I was chatting to last weekend, don’t over-coach the session – only make points when it’s absolutely necessary. That will leave the players wanting to come back for more next time around, I guarantee it.

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Noughts and crosses – great game

By David clarke
David ClarkeI was on a coaching course recently with Surrey County FA coach educator Keith Boanas. One of the warm-up sessions from Keith really caught my eye and I have since used it with my team – it is tremendous fun and brings coordination, communication and teamwork to the fore.

Fun team games are one of the treasures in any coach’s chest of exercises and drills, and this combines some great elements of physical and mental awareness.

This opposed warm-up is fantastic for coordination, whilst rehearsing players in seeing and assessing what is in front of them.

They are looking to solve a strategic problem whilst also staying aware of the movement of opposition players, just as they would do in a match situation.

Adding in a ball provides an extra challenge, so try this with your team to see if they can develop dribbling ability and mental agility in one exercise.

 How to set it up:

  • This opposed warm-up is played 3v3.
  • You will need 11 cones and 12 bibs.
  • Set up three lines of three cones, each five yards apart horizontally and vertically. This is your noughts and crosses playing grid.
  • Add two additional cones at the bottom of the grid a further five yards back. This is from where each team will begin the exercise.
  • Each player has a bib of his team’s colour in both hands.

Getting started:

  • On your call the first player in each team runs and puts one of their bibs on a cone.
  • They must run back and tag the next player in the team.
  • Players must try to get three in a row horizontally, vertically or diagonally, whilst looking to prevent the opposition team from achieving the same feat.
  • Play three games making sure each player takes a turn being first in the line.

Developing the session:

  • Progress this opposed warm-up by giving both teams a ball. Each working player must now dribble to his chosen cone before placing the bib over it.
  • You can increase or decrease the distances between cones to alter the physical demands of the test – the greater the distance, the greater the challenge.