Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Time limits work wonders

David Clarke

Children thrive on having a time limit to work to and nothing focuses them better than working against the clock.

I did an experiment recently with a squad of 12-year-old players. They did a basic passing exercise – running up a channel in groups of four passing along the line. There was no pressure and I stood back and watched.

After two minutes I noticed that none of the players were running on to the ball and taking it in their stride and the whole exercise lacked energy and accuracy.

So, I then set them a challenge: how many runs can you do in one minute? There were still one or two poor passes so players had to stop and go backwards to receive the ball, but the pace was up and you could see the concentration on their faces.

Their passing and receiving technique had also improved. Balls were being passed in front of players for them to run on to. When asked why there was such a big improvement, the overwhelming answer was that they all wanted to beat their previous score and that meant focusing so they didn’t have to wait for passes.

Dos and don’ts of timing

  • Do vary the amount of time you give the players depending on their age and the skill you are practising. Thirty seconds of work is more suitable for younger players.
  • Do tell them their score each time and challenge them to beat it.
  • Don’t worry if the skill level drops the first few times. This is normal as players are trying to do everything as quickly as possible. They will soon realise that the more accurate they are the faster they will be.
  • Don’t time everything. The novelty and effectiveness will soon wear off.

A motivational masterclass

Dave Clarke

Last month Javier Aguirre’s Real Zaragoza team beat Real Madrid in Madrid for the first time in 11 years and only the fourth time in their history.

The team were seven point from saftey camped in the relegation zone when Aguirre took over at the end of last year but they have climbed to safety since then.

The key to his success is motivational not tactical. He was described in Zaragoza as “a macho but with intelligence and conviction, vehement and direct, using language players understand. Honest and fair with his players, he has created real bonds.”

The week before the Madrid game Aguirre constantly told his attacking winger Ángel Lafita he was better than Madrid’s defenders. Lafita returning from injury got the first and the third. “At last I can see the sun,” he said.

Of all the stories about his amazing motivational skills this is my favourite:

Aguirre used the wives and girlfriends of his players by secretly meeting them and making a video. The players unaware of this were gathered together the night before a big game. He put the video on, and sat back to watch their faces.

The players wives came on camera one by one: “There’s something I have to tell you. This is important. Listen to me.” Each of them spoke to the camera and to their own particular player. “I love you. Really, I do. But there is something we have to talk about. There is something you have to do for me …

… Go and win this match!”

He also tells his players they’re the Indians defending their territory from the white man and whips them into a fury before big games, lining them up and telling them which player each individual faces – and that it is their job to be better than them.

Motivation. It can count for so much when the odds are stacked against your team. It need not necessarily be as dramatic as these examples but it shows how inventive you can be if you sit down and think about motivating your players.

Watch the video of Real Zaragoza taking Real Madrid apart:

Why coaches are key to sport selection

As we develop as coaches we should be constantly aware of what is going on in our sport around the world. In some countries parents are now deciding which sport their children should participate in on the quality of the coaching they will get.

This is catching on in a lot of countries and you can expect it to happen in your neighbourhood soon. Not necessarily the sport they choose but the team they choose. If the coach isn’t up to leading the ‘people’ side of the sport then they will go somewhere else.

Bo Hanson is a four-time Olympian and a sports consultant for Athlete Assessments. He has just returned from a 2-month tour of the USA and Australia. According to him one recurring theme kept popping up…there is a growing war for talent across sports, vying for the best athletes, coaches and referees.

“Only those sports focused on attracting, engaging and retaining their talent grow and prosper. Sport is no longer just about technique and fitness. Progressive sports are those that can manage and lead the ‘people side’ effectively and that parents will choose for their children.” Hanson says.

Australian Football has over 720 000 participants and recruiting and retaining not only coaches, but also referees has become another major challenge. The demand for referee appointments is growing at 89% pa yet the number of actual referees is only increasing by 13% pa. Around one quarter of referees drop out each year due to abuse from players, coaches, parents and fans. Without referees and umpires, sport cannot be played and cannot grow.

Hanson says, “The AFL is promoting the fact that coaches are a key selection criteria for young athletes in choosing which sport to play.”

If a sport is to grow, a large part of that growth relies on the skills and characteristics of their coaches.

Here at Better Soccer Coaching we are educating our coaches in skills and techniques but we are also helping to improve their non-technical skills to enable them to be better leaders and people managers. In my own Soccer Coach Weekly publication I write two columns designed to help this – The Art of Coaching Children and Touchline Tales.

 Soccer Skills and Drills

It’s not just the goal scorer that wins the game

By David Clarke
Motivation was in the forefront of my mind this month. Watching a player from a lower league who has attracted the attentions of a number of high profile Premier League clubs made me wonder what motivated him.

The English leagues have a transfer window during January. It just so happened that the club he plays for was drawn against one of the top Premier League teams and he was going to be in the shop window on TV. During that game the player excelled scoring the winning goal and pulling the Premier League defence all over the pitch.

The national press picked up on this and highlighted why this player would make it in the Premier League. They have never seen him play week in and week out when he doesn’t fancy the pitch or the team or there’s no one watching in the stands.

He is motivated by the challenge of playing at a higher level with a higher profile and a higher salary. When the transfer window closed again he played against a team from the Premier League but this time there was no winning goal in fact no goal at all, and hardly a shot.

One of the reasons he gets so many chances to score goals is that behind him supporting him he has a quartet of excellent players. One who can win the ball, hold it up, knock it down and take the defenders away from him. Then there is the clever winger who can beat players get into the penalty area and cross the ball. Finally there are two midfielders who can play long or short passes to put the attacker in space.

He gets the goals and the kudos that goes with it hence the motivation from a higher challenge. So how do you motivate the players that comprise the engine room of the team who create but don’t score the goals what kudos do they get?

Here are my tips for motivating all your players, you need to think about:

The way you communicate – with the right approach and by using positive language you’ll get enthusiasm and positive action – from yourself and those you coach. 

Various coaching methods enhance the motivation levels within soccer training sessions and during matches, including goal setting, rewarding positive outcomes and involving players in the planning process.

Allowing and encouraging players to take responsibility for their own behaviour and performance outcomes has a significant impact. 

Involving players in the design of soccer training sessions and programmes is a key step to increasing loyalty, commitment and ownership.

Remember it’s not just the goal scorer that wins the game.

Listen to this clip from Michael Jordan about winning and losing:

And watch Manchester United lose to a lower league team:

 Soccer Skills and Drills

What Makes A Great Soccer Coach


I’ve been thinking about what it is that makes a great soccer coach. What is the essence of coaching? What are the core

skills that a coach needs to have in order to fulfil his role?

I guess the answer depends on what the role is, and there are a number of different ways to look at that. For example, a great youth coach might have different characteristics to a great adult coach. Similarly, a great grassroots coach might need different skills to that of a professional coach.

For the sake of argument, I’m going to lump them all in together and take the broadest view possible. Here are my five criteria for what makes a great coach:

Communication: a great coach should be able to communicate with his players on their level. The communication should be supportive and encouraging and should include everyone in the team.

Coaches should generally avoid using the word “don’t” and should try to be nurturing as opposed to bullying. And it’s important that no one is allowed to slip through the cracks – a loner in a soccer team is a potential problem and communication has to be consistent.

Listening: a great coach needs to be able to listen to his players and everyone else with a stake in his team’s success.

Players need to feel that they can talk to their coach about their game, and a good coach is able to respond to that in a positive way. I’m not saying that we should let players dictate where or how they play, but I think that a good coach can establish an effective two-way relationship with his players.

We also need to be able to take advice and guidance from other coaches and assistants. All the world’s great coaches recognise that they are part of a team and I doubt there are many successful coaches who dictate everything at their club. I know some coaches who are uncomfortable when a peer suggests a different approach. They need to be able to tell the difference between helpful advice and criticism. For me, the more ideas and viewpoints the better. I’ll still make my own decisions, but I’ll do that with the benefit of the views of the people whose judgment I trust.

Motivation: a coach has to arm his players with the tools to be better individuals and a better team. Chief amongst those tools is the motivation to succeed. Many people would say that this is the key factor – the magic ingredient – that every great coach must have.

Organisation: an effective coach must be organised. Everyone’s time is wasted if no-one knows what they are supposed to be doing, if the equipment isn’t in place, and if arrangements haven’t been made. Some coaches are terrible organisers but the trick is to recognise that and find an assistant who is a good organiser.

Have the knowledge: a coach can have all of the skills and characteristics described above, but it won’t count for much unless they have the technical knowledge to back it up. At youth level that might mean knowing how to coach players to pass over distance or perform a stop turn. At senior level that might mean knowing how to coach a team to change shape when moving from possession to defence. Either way, the coach has to have the knowledge, and whether they get it from the internet, a bookshop or a training course, a great coach has to know the nuts and bolts of the game.

I found it very strange that Newcastle United appointed Kevin Keegan as their new manager. Keegan is no doubt a great motivator and is known for his strong bond with his players. But it’s also true that he has tactical and technical shortcomings. I know that he will have people on his team who take care of that, but for me a truly great coach shouldn’t have to ask someone else to work out his team’s tactics.

Motivation alone is not enough, at grassroots or Premier League level. A great coach will invest the time to know and understand the principles and techniques that underpin the game.

So that’s five for now. As soon as I post this blog I will no doubt think of another half dozen so I’ll post those in due course. In the meantime, please feel free to get in touch and tell me what you think makes a great coach.