Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

How to get every player playing every week

David ClarkeOne of the experiments I’ve been trying at my club is to run extra teams who play friendly matches. This is so that players who have been substitutes the previous week get a full run-out the following weekend.

It has worked really well. Parents have shown a lot of interest because it provides a great outlet for those players who find themselves sitting out the majority of matches for the main team.

It’s also a good way to integrate any new players into the club. There’s a huge benefit for the coach as well, namely that it’s an ideal way to watch and monitor talent, keeping the kind of check on their development that you just wouldn’t be able to get normally if you only saw them in training. After all, game time is essential for any player looking to really ‘find’ their game – it gives them something to aim for.

On Sunday morning, I went down to watch a couple of new players in one of our friendly teams. The match was against a strong local side. They lost, but you wouldn’t have thought so when you saw them after the game. The players were full of energy and self-confidence and were thrilled at having achieved a full game for our club.

I’ve only had one negative comment so far.

This was from a parent who didn’t want to pay the same amount of money as other parents whose children played in what he called ‘proper’ matches – “Why should I pay for friendly games?”

I explained that the coaches involved still have to turn up and organise the friendly games. Then there’s a referee, and someone to book pitches. Everything else is the same apart from the kids get more out of the experience.

The player named Man of the Match in the friendly will play in one of next week’s league games as a result. It showed all the other kids that putting in the effort really does pay off – and we can use it the other way around with ‘first-teamers’ not giving it their all.

But the best element it is that around 20 boys in each age group are all playing regularly, and that can only be a good thing.


Why ALL your players should get equal playing time

David ClarkeBy David Clarke
Every player deserves equal time on the pitch in grass roots football and if you don’t believe me here’s the evidence.

Last month we took on a young player who has never played for a club before. He’s 11, and charges around the place without being able to control the ball or kick it very well.

I’ve started to coach him and he’s already improved, although some of his team mates have made it clear they don’t think he’s good enough to play for our team.
But I like to have players like this; players who can be allowed to develop and find themselves a role in the team.

The lad has been desperately keen to play in a match, and I spoke to him and his parents about when and where he can expect to play.

I planned to introduce him slowly to the pace of match play because I didn’t want him to have an experience that would put him off.

Well, the best laid plans and all that…

At the weekend I had three players call off sick at late notice. When we turned up on Saturday morning it was quite clear we were going to be a player short. And one of our 10 was my new player.

I got the usual moans and groans at our lack of numbers, but explained to my new player where I wanted him to position himself. Needless to say, he was really keen to get going. And with a couple of interventions by me – at one point to explain the offside rule! – he played well enough in the first half.

Sure, he wasn’t quite up to the pace of the game, but was beginning to show signs that he would be a good acquisition to the team. And this was confirmed when he made a surging run early in the second half – the only player alert to a through-ball. He got away beyond the defenders to go 1v1 against the goalkeeper, and fired the ball high into the net.

What a strike! To say I was surprised is an understatement! He was thrilled and so was his dad. Of course, this gave the player a new-found confidence.

As a result, he was looking for the ball all over the pitch – it also gave him boundless energy. It helped the team as well and they all congratulated him on a solid (goalscoring!) debut.

And so he has written his name into the history books. To think I was afraid of playing him straight away shows how wrong it can be of coaches to consider some players ‘not ready’.

Sure, you use your judgement based on what you see on the training pitch, but sometimes the only way to really tell if a player has what it takes is to give him the opportunity when it matters – on match day.

Never write your strikers off… just ask Matri at Juventus

dave clarkeA friend of mine was thrilled this week. His son had scored the winner in an U14s match against a team at the top of the league. It gave the team a huge boost because they hadn’t scored a lot of goals recently.

But even more important to my friends son was that he had actually played. The team normally has the manager’s son playing up front, and although he is a good player no one else got to play in that position – my friends son was limited to bit part substitute roles.

The fact that without his son up front the team still played well and his “reserve” striker had scored the winning goal hopefully made its mark on the manager. Players must be allowed to play games or you cannot see how much they have developed from week to week.

It reminded me of the recent Juventus v Inter Milan game. “It’s hard to score goals without any attackers,” Said Juventus manager Gigi Del Neri in January when they won just two of seven league games after losing top scorer Fabio Quagliarella to injury.

He went out and bought Alessandro Matri from Cagliari on the last day of the transfer window which didn’t impress everyone.

Former Juventus great Franco Causio was not impressed: “Matri? He won’t make the difference.”

But just like my friends son he has. He scored the winner against hated rivals Inter.

“Matri is already a legend,” said the Turin-based newspaper La Stampa. Gazzetta dello Sport is even more enthusiastic. “Do you realise what you have done,” it declares. “That was not a goal. That was a howl of liberation, a declaration of love, an act of desire, a black-and-white orgasm.”

You’ll never know how good a player is until you see them playing in your team each week. Don’t have bench warmers in your team.

Watch Matri’s goal below:

 Soccer Skills and Drills

Dealing with a sulking substitute and his parents

dave clarkeSubstitutes seem to be causing a lot of trouble to the coaches I have spoken to during our recent monthly meetings. What I hope to see is that every player starts a certain number of games and that it is not the same few players who start on the subs bench every match.

At my club we have worked it so that we have three teams in our age groups with one team playing friendlies and the other two teams matches. In this way we can spread players out and make sure everyone is starting matches to give each player a chance of developing during the season.

The problem is however much we try to make sure players are not always made sub there are still some players (and their parents) who do not like being substituted during the game.

This week we were playing on a heavy pitch and I wanted to change players as they got tired. So at half time I explain to one of our more advanced dribblers that I wanted him to sit out for the first five minutes of the second half and to watch how the defenders were sitting deep. I wanted him to work out for himself how he could exploit that situation.

“That’s a strange decision,” I heard his dad say. The player himself responding to his father’s sentiments threw himself to the floor in a big sulk. Not helping the team at all as the other players went over to see what was wrong. Players must realise from an early age that they must learn to accept substitutions with good spirit. So I kept him off for 10 minutes and explained to him and his father that the team is important and each individual player must help their team mates.

Managing substitutes is hard, and managing parents harder, but if you are fair with players over the course of a season then everyone should be more than happy.

If you go to my blog you can see an example of Wayne Rooney being taken off and his reaction to it. You can also see the substitution of Luis Figo when he played his last game for Inter Milan.

 Soccer Skills and Drills

Don’t leave substitutes on the bench on cold days

dc1I was talking to one of the parents of my team at the weekend and he was furious that his younger son, who plays for a different club, had been made to sit on the bench for the whole of the first half in a match earlier that day.

It was a cold day on Sunday, with a fierce wind making it seem even colder. His son had been playing away at a rather bleak spot. He got there half an hour early so his son could warm up, but no only did he have to go through the 30 minute warm up he then had to sit around with the other substitutes for another 40 minutes. Boy was he cold.

According to the manager it was “his turn” to sit out the half. In my opinion the coach was being lazy, he didn’t have to make a decision on who was or wasn’t playing well and shuffle his players around accordingly.

The substitutes are roll on roll off so they can go on for 15 or 20 minutes and take it in turns to stand for short spells. 

It isn’t fair to your players to make them turn up early then stand around in the cold for 40 minutes all it takes is a game plan which you can put into action the minute you arrive at the match.

 Soccer Skills and Drills