Five ways to streamline your practice

Many of today’s youth soccer clubs are limited to between one and three practices per week. Although there are a few clubs that are fortunate enough to train more than this, a common soccer coaching complaint is that it is difficult to try and cover all aspects of technical, tactical, and physical work in the time available.

For coaches who are holding extra practices to get work in, or are limited by weather conditions, here are five ways you can make your practices more efficient and effective when given time constraints.

1. Be Prepared…Have a Plan
Many coaches come to practice knowing what they want to do but yet don’t write it down. Instead it is all kept in their head! Keeping a record of each training session will allow you to develop a solid training plan that is both progressive and sequential in nature. Without a written plan it is difficult to peak your team at the right time. Remember the old phrase ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’.

2. Don’t separate conditioning & playing the game
It is not always necessary to include additional fitness exercises at the end of a practice. Be mindful that playing the game is conditioning. Incorporating training variables such as the number of players, the number of balls available, the size of the field, and touch restrictions are all ways to create various conditioning effects.

3. Include speed work in your warm-up
Speed wins soccer games. A great time to incorporate this type of training is at the tail end of the warm-up. The players are fresh and the training volume required for speed development is not very high. A quality speed session that focuses on technique may only take 5-8 minutes. This time invested will prove huge results on the field.

4. Incorporate circuit training
Circuit training is a beneficial method to use when training large groups of athletes. It is also used to raise work levels and can be designed specifically for a strength, a conditioning, or even a flexibility emphasis. For example, set-up 8-10 exercise stations on the field and in groups of 2-3 players per station. Begin with 30 sec. of exercise at each station and 15 sec. rest (time to switch to the next station) and complete the circuit twice.

5. Organize practice so only minimal setup is required
Taking time to set-up drills can eat up the clock. Therefore where appropriate, make use of one space to accomplish multiple goals. For example, begin by having a team play a 7 v 7 non-directional possession game in a medium size grid, then progress to adding direction to the possession game, and then finally play to goals. A session of this nature can easily last 45 minutes to an hour with minimal setup required. You can even do all of your warm-up and speed work in this same area!

Characteristics of ten and eleven year old soccer players

U12 players
  • They begin to develop the abilities to sustain complex, coordinated skill sequences.
  • Some of the players have reached puberty. Girls, in general, arrive earlier than boys.
  • Most players are able to think abstractly and are thus able to understand some team concepts that are foundational to the game.
  • They are beginning to be able to address hypothetical situations, and to solve problems systematically.
  • They are spending more time with friends and less time with their parents. They are susceptible to conformity to peer pressure.
  • They are developing a conscience, morality and scale of values.
  • Players tend to be highly self-critical. Instruction needs to be enabling. Show them what can be done instead of telling them what not to do.
  • Although they are more serious with their play, they are still mainly involved because it is fun.
  • They are openly competitive. A few may foul on purpose.
  • They are looking towards their role models and heroes in order to know how to act.
  • They have a more complex and developed sense of humour.


It is imperative that coaches get the parents involved. Not only are they are a major resource for your team, but the U-12 player still relies on their parents for support and encouragement. A pre-season meeting should be held with the parents so that objectives and team policies can be addressed. Some topics that you may want to address at this meeting are:

  • A means of contacting everyone without one person doing all of the calling. (phone chains)
  • Choosing a team administrator, someone to handle all of the details.
  • Complete all paperwork required by your league or club. ¨ Discuss the laws of the game.
  • Carpool needs.
  • Training and game schedules. How you feel about starting and ending on time, what your attendance expectations are, what you think is a good excuse to miss training.
  • What each player should bring to training: inflated ball, filled water bottle, soccer attire, shin guards cleats or sneakers.

Most importantly, your philosophy about coaching U-12 players. Let them know that everyone plays; that the game does not look like the older player’s games; that you are there to ensure that their player is safe and has a good time, as well as learn about soccer.

What your expectations for them is during game time. How do you want them to cheer? Do they know that they should not coach from the sidelines?

Above all, try to enjoy yourself. If you do, they probably will too.


Some coaches say that the 10 and 12 year-old players have “turned the corner” and are looking like real soccer players. However, games are still frantically paced and a bit unpredictable for the most part. These players know how much fun it is to play the game skilfully. As a result, we begin to see some the players drop out who recognize the importance of skill and become discouraged with their lack of it. Some other things that we can expect when working with this aged player are:

  • They will yell at their teammates when they make a mistake.
  • They will openly question the referee’s decisions.
  • Players will encourage each other.
  • They will pass the ball even when they know that they will not get it back.
  • Team cooperation is emerging. They will run to a spot, away from the play, even when they know that they might not get the ball.
  • They will point out inconsistencies between what you say and what you do. They are “moral watchdogs”.
  • The difference in skill levels between the players is very pronounced.
  • Some players might be as big as you are, some might be half your size.
  • Not only will some of the players come to training with expensive cleats, but some will also come with matching uniforms, sweatshirts, and bag.
  • Parents, during games, can be brutal. Some will yell at the referee at almost every call.
  • They will get together with their friends and be able to set up and play their own game.


Coaching at this age level is a challenge because many of the players view themselves as real soccer players, while others are at the point where it is not as much fun as it used to be because they feel that their lack of skill development does not enable them to have an impact on the game. They see their skilful friends able to do magical things with the ball and since they can not do this themselves, they start to drop out. Our challenge then, if the players are willing, is to keep all of the players engaged, involved, and make them feel important. (as though they are improving.) Skills still need to be the primary focus of training and players need to be put into environments where they are under pressure so that they learn how to use their skills in a variety of contexts. Here are a few other considerations as we think about working with this aged youngster:

Our goal is to develop players in a fun, engaging environment. Winning has its place but must be balanced with the other goals of teaching them to play properly. Some decisions will need to be made that might not necessarily lead to wins (ie: having players play different positions, or asking players to try to play the ball “out of the back”.)

  • Smaller, skilled players can not be ignored. Although it may be tempting to “win” by playing only the bigger players in key positions, the smaller, skilled players must be put into areas of responsibility.
  • Small sided games are still the preferred method of teaching the game. This makes learning fun and more efficient.
  • Flexibility training is essential. Have them stretch after they have broken a sweat, and, perhaps most importantly, at the end of the workout at a “warm-down”.
  • Overuse injuries, burnout and high attrition rates are associated with programs that do not emphasize skill development and learning enjoyment.
  • Playing 11-a-side games is now appropriate.
  • Single sexed teams are appropriate.
  • Train for one and one-half hours, two to three times a week. Training pace needs to replicate the demands of the game itself.
  • They are ready to have a preferred position, but, it is essential for their development for them to occasionally play out of their preferred spot, in training, as well as during games.

Training is now best if it focuses on one, perhaps two topics a session. Activities should be geared to progressing from fundamental activities that have little or no pressure from an opponent to activities that are game like in their intensity and pressure.


Here are some items that should be included in a U-12 training session:

WARM-UP: A brief warm-up is appropriate in order to get the players thinking about soccer and to prepare them physically for the time ahead. This should involve individual or small group activities that involve the ball. Since there can be one theme to the session, hopefully, the warm-up will lead into the theme of the day. Static stretching is also appropriate at this time, after the players have broken a sweat, again, hopefully done with the ball. The warm-up should get the players ready to play. It should be lively, fun, and engaging as well as instructional. There is nothing like a good, fast-paced activity to grab the player’s attention and make them glad that they came to practice.

INDIVIDUAL OR SMALL GROUP ACTIVITIES: Follow the warm-up with some kind of individual activity, not necessarily a real 1v.1 game, but some kind of activity where players act as individuals or cooperate in small groups in a game environment. An example would be a kind of keep-away game, or small sided games that bring out or emphasize a specific skill or topic. Keep players in motion at all times. Avoid having them wait on lines. Play games of “inclusion” instead of games where the “looser sits”. Be creative. These players like “crazy” games with a lot of action.

PLAY THE GAME: Small sided soccer can be used to heighten intensity and create some good competition. Play 4v.4 up to 8v.8. Be creative. Play with 4 goals, or 2 balls. Play with or without boundaries. Perhaps play to emphasize a particular skill (can only dribble the ball over a goal line in order to get a point). Use cones if you don’t have real goals. Keep players involved. Have more than one game going on at a time if necessary. Switch teams often, give everyone a chance to win. Also, it is important that every player has a chance to shoot on goal as often as possible. Finish this stage with a real game with regular rules. Players need to apply their newly learned abilities to the real game.

WARM-DOWN & HOMEWORK: Finish the session with a warm down. Give them some more stretches to do with the ball. You may want to review what you started the session with. Also, give them some homework so that they practice on their own. Challenge them with some ball trick. Can they complete a juggling pattern? Can one player kick a ball to a partner and then back without it hitting the ground? Can they do that with their heads? How many times can they do it back and forth? It is important to finish on time. This is especially essential if the players are really into it. Stop at this point and you will get an enthusiastic return.



Here is a good warm-up that will get players prepared for a session on passing and receiving skills. It is an example of how players can be challenged in an environment that is dynamic and can demand specific, targeted technique that has direct implications to the demands placed upon players during the real game. Since there is no pressure from an opponent, it is appropriate to use this activity during the warm-up.


  • Assign each player a number.
  • Players pass the football to the player with the # one higher than their own # (eg: 5 passes to 6, 11 to 1.)
  • All balls travel through the entire team.
  • After they pass a ball, they must run to a different spot on the field.
  • Players are first allowed unlimited touches, then only two touches, then one touch if they area able.
  • Ask the players not to let the ball stop, or to let their pass hit other players or balls.


  • Left foot only.
  • Outside of foot only.
  • No talking allowed.


  • Make eye contact with the person they are passing to.
  • Perform good passing technique.
  • Keep their body and vision open to the field of play.
  • Keep the person they are passing to in their line of sight.
  • Be active. Look like a soccer player.



Here is a game that can be used in the middle phases of the training session. This game involves passing and receiving skills and is also a good activity for showing players the benefits of ‘spreading out’. It is a dynamic game with a lot of running. It provides a lot of ‘puzzles’ for players to figure out and demands that they cooperate.


Set up the field as shown on approximately half-field, depending on how many players are on your team. (16 players shown. It is OK if one team has an extra player. If there is an odd # of players on the team, that gives the players a different puzzle to solve.)
10 yd. ‘squares’ are set up in each corner.
Goals are scored when the ball is passed into the square and then out to a teammate.
Each team can attack any one of the four goals.
Whoever has the ball is on offence until they lose possession, or if they kick it out of bounds.
Score can be kept.
Play with two balls at once to make the game exciting. (This will actually make the game two, separate smaller games going on at the same time.)

Ask the players to keep spread out and to try to attack the goal that is ‘open’. Keep possession, make the other team earn the ball. See if the players can recognize where pressure is coming from.

Written by Jeff Pill, NHSA Director of Coaching. Special thanks to Dr. Thomas Fleck and the National Youth Coaching Staff, Bill Buren, Dr. David Carr, Dr. Ronald Quinn, Virgil Stringfield.

Coaching style

Being a coach, like anything else, is a matter of “wearing a different hat.” It is not the same thing as being a parent, a fan or a role model. The coach has responsibilities beyond these. In order to fill them he will have his own views and they will be filtered through his “coaching glasses,” a set of assumptions about the children, the game, coaching and his role in the process.

The Children
The Game
The Coach

The Children. They will either be active, i.e. curious, wanting to figure things out on their own, possibly stubborn, willing to learn through trial and error, needing to find their own answers to problems. Or they will be passive, simply vessels that have to be filled with the correct answers to all of their problems. Willing to accept the adult views as correct and subordinate their own to it.

The Game. The vision of how the game should be played. Listen to the words that the coach uses regularly, hustle, pressure, go, kick it long and a picture will emerge of what the coach values in the game. Is it a player’s game or the coaches game? Is a controlled build-up preferred to a quick counter attack? Will the team defend in the opponents half or drop back into their own?

The Coach. The coach can teach by leading, i.e. giving instructions, controlling, being at the centre of the activity and always having the answer. Or he can guide by offering ideas in place of answers, encouragement for the players to try their own solutions, covert instead of overt direction.

Coaching. How do children learn best? By learning the parts and then applying them to the whole? Or, by learning the whole and letting the parts take care of themselves? These questions are the focus of numerous books on childhood education and bring as much debate as how the game should be played.

Effective coaching is similar to being an effective doctor. First is the ability to diagnose the ailment. Next is the ability to prescribe the correct treatment. Finally, how to modify the treatment as the patient improves.

The important point in this model is that the different frames in the “coaching glasses” should support one another. Passive children won’t respond to a guiding coach. They’ll both wait for the other to take initiative. In the Dutch Vision the children are active, the coach guides, the game is centred around the player’s and they learn best by playing the game itself.

Characteristics of twelve to fourteen year old soccer players


Boys and girls at this age …

  • “shoot up” in height when they enter puberty. This rapid growth creates an imbalance between the length of their torso and legs;
  • often find it difficult to move around in a fluid manner because of the physical changes they are experiencing
  • on the other hand demonstrate greatly improved strength and speed.


The basic technical principles need to be adapted to this greater swiftness.

Their ability to grasp concepts means: they can be taught more demanding tactics.

Fitness and stamina are improved, primarily through playing. Training should occasionally be supplemented by simple circuits, jumping exercises, games and exercises to improve reaction and acceleration.


Boys and girls at this age …

  • like playing in a competitive team, i.e. in a group which shares the same objectives, norms and interests, find the “security” which they lack or consciously reject in other areas of their lives at this time. Psychological insecurity is stabilized merely by belonging to a team;
  • can also perform more specific tasks within the team because they have a better grasp of the game.


The recognition by teammates and coaches of the importance of individuals’ performance in the team’s success helps to boost young players’ self-confidence. Each player must be given tasks geared towards his particular strengths without limiting individual initiative, creativity and enjoyment of the game.

Main emphasis during games on the use of space and the careful build-up of play.


Boys and girls at this age …

  • distance themselves further from adults, looking to establish their own fixed place in the world;
  • are often prone to considerable mood swings and inconsistency in their performance during this orientation phase;
  • receive support from their friends and peers during this somewhat insecure process of “finding themselves.”


Players at this age must be shown how to be independent and share responsibility.

However, coaches must not issue all the orders, plan and organize everything, block out criticism. Instead, their main job is to encourage the youngsters to find their own solutions and develop their own ideas.

Each player must be allocated suitable responsibilities.

Characteristics of six to ten year old soccer players

Six to eight…the wonder years

  • Attention span is a not at a “competitive” stage.
  • Inclined towards small group activities.
  • Always in motion: scratching; blinking; jerking; rocking….
  • Easily bruised psychologically. They will remember negative comments for a long time. Shout praise. Give “hints”.
  • They want everybody to like them.
  • Developing physical confidence.
  • Starting to imitate older players or sports heroes. Want the same “gear” as them.
  • Lack sense of pace. They go flat out until they drop.
  • Skeletal system growing rapidly. Often results in apparent lack of coordination.
  • Cardiovascular and temperature regulation system is not developed. Their heart rate peaks quickly and they overheat quickly. make sure that they get adequate water breaks.
  • Limited understanding with personal evaluation. “If they try hard, they performed well” regardless of the actual performance. Thus, they need to be encouraged constantly, and asked “Now, can you do this?”
  • Better at recognizing when the ball is out of play, and remembering what goal they are going for… but, in the heat of battle, they will sometimes still forget. They still find it difficult to really be aware of more than one thing at a time.

What to expect

Six, seven and eight-year-old players are a bit more compliant than their U-6 counterparts. They will be able to follow 2 or 3 step instructions and are starting to have a good understanding about what it means to play a “game”. They are also starting to cooperate more with their teammates. In fact, they now will recognize that they even have teammates by the fact that they occasionally, and I mean occasionally, will pass the ball to a teammate, on purpose. Often, they will repeat the phrase “I can’t do that!”, but, will quickly run to you to show you that they can, even when they only think that they can. Some other things that you can expect to happen during a season with this age group are:

  • There will be at least 200-300 falls during the season, but, now they will usually pick themselves back up.
  • The puddle in front of the goal is still too tempting to resist.
  • Some of the girls are a lot tougher than the boys.
  • They will still want to wear a training bib, even when the colour is identical to their shirt.
    It will be impossible to remember who is whose best friend as you try to make up teams.

Nine and ten…turning the corner?

  • Gross and small motor skills becoming more refined and reliable. Boys and girls begin to develop separately.
  • Ability to stay on task is lengthened. They have the ability to sequence thought and actions.
  • Greater diversity in playing ability and physical maturity.
  • Skills are emerging. Becoming more predictable and recognizable.
  • Some children begin moving from concrete thinking to abstract thinking.
  • Able to pace themselves, to plan ahead.
  • Increased self-responsibility. They remember to bring their own equipment.
  • Starting to recognize basic tactical concepts, but not exactly sure why certain decisions are better.
  • Repetition of technique is very important, but it must be dynamic, not static.
  • Continued positive reinforcement needed.
  • Explanations must be brief, concise, and mention “why”.
  • Becoming more “serious”. Openly, intensively competitive, without intention of fouling.
  • Still mostly intrinsically motivated. ¨ Peer pressure starting to be a factor.
  • Adult outside of the family may take on added significance.
  • Prefer identification with a team. Like to have good kit, equipment, balls.
  • More inclined towards wanting to play instead of being told to play. Will initiate play more.

What to expect

Some coaches say that the 9 and 10 year-old players are beginning to “turn the corner” and starting to look like real soccer players. However, games are still frantically paced and unpredictable for the most part. These players are starting to find out how much fun it is to play the game skilfully, but they will still stop and laugh if the referee gets hit in the backside with the ball during a game. Some other things that we can expect when working with this aged player are:

  • They start to understand offside, but still forget themselves when the goal is in front of them.
  • They will really beat up on each other during practice… especially boy’s teams.
  • During a game, the parents will scream out “HAND BALL” or “COME ON REF, CALL IT BOTH WAYS” at least fifteen times.
  • They might cry after the game if they loose, but will forget it if you ask them if you want to go out for burgers and fries.
  • You might actually catch them practicing on their own without you telling them to do so.
  • Their parents are telling them to do one thing during the game, you are telling them another thing, but what they end up doing might be what their friend is telling them to do.
  • You will see a pass that is deliberate. You might even see a “back pass”!

What makes a GOOD soccer coach?


It’s a subject that we think we know a lot about – how to coach youth soccer.

But what do parents look for in their son or daughter’s team coach?

Perseverance? The ability to keep order? A sense of humour?

The article below (reproduced with the permission of the was written by an American ‘soccer mom’ who knows why she has kept with the same soccer coach for the last four years.

By Lori Reynolds

“What is a good coach?”
“Why is HE a good coach?”
“What makes him different from other coaches?”

I’ve been asked these questions—or ones similar—many times over my years of being a soccer mom. My son has had the same coach for almost four years, and no matter what organization the team plays with, I make sure we stay with the same coach. Why? That’s easy. He possesses qualities that I feel are essential and necessary for being a positive influence and good coach, such as:

PATIENCE—This is probably the most important characteristic. Let’s face it—12 active boys together require a lot of attention. A good coach is one who doesn’t expect angels on the soccer field.

TOLERANCE—This quality goes hand-in-hand with patience. Kids are going to be rowdy, or moody or lazy. Tolerance takes the different mind-sets and turns the focus to the tasks “afoot”.

ACCEPTANCE—Our children are so very different. Each one has varied potential and skill levels. A good coach is one who recognizes each child as an individual and he/she encourages that child to perform at his/her very best level. Perfection is not required!

MOTIVATION—Soccer can be viewed as kids kicking a ball across the field, or it can be viewed as an opportunity for growth. The true test lies in sparking a child’s interest to learn and grow and keeping that spark alive each season.

RESPECT—I’ve seen many games in which the coaches, and sometimes parents, of the other teams berate and belittle their children for making “mistakes”. Sometimes they even go as far as criticizing opposing team members. Good grief! We’re playing U-10 soccer! This isn’t the World Cup. ‘Coach’ has never singled out a child for making a mistake and he does not allow parents or the other team members to do so either. At the beginning of every season ‘Coach’ reminds us parents that we’re all in this sport to learn and have a good time.

SPORTSMANSHIP—Perhaps this should have been on top of the list, but being toward the end does not lessen the importance. My definition of sportsmanship is to teach kids to work together as a team in order to achieve a common goal. It also means teaching kids to respect other players as well as each other. Insults are not tolerated. Mistakes are team mistakes, and they are used as teaching tools for the next game.

ABILITY TO TEACH—Sounds simple, right? It’s not. How many times has a parent signed up a child for a sport, only to have a well-intentioned father decide to coach? He may or may not know the sport. He may or may not relate well to his players. There is a huge difference between the team whose members do what is yelled at them, and the team whose members actually understand what to do and why. A good coach teaches his players basic fundamentals, explains concepts and enables his/her players to think logically when making a play. One of our practice mantras is “You’ve got a man X and a man X. The ball comes to you. What do you do”? The kids are able to use logic and make the best choices based on situations.

LOVE OF KIDS: They have the energy to make every practice and every game a new experience for coaches and parents alike. Without their vision and energy, sports would be dull and unappreciated. They offer a day-to-day challenge for coaches, which is contagious and which is motivation for
everyone involved in athletics at all levels.

LOVE OF THE GAME: Coaches must love their sport, and, more importantly, must show their players enthusiasm for every aspect of the game. This would include techniques and tactics. The love of the game must also show to the players the love for fair-play, respect for the opponents, officials, and spectators, and positive reinforcement for team mates. Only a good coach who loves the game can provide the correct aspects involved in the winning and losing of competition.

One of the reasons we parents encourage our kids to play sports is to hopefully broaden their horizons and to give them additional skills they wouldn’t get otherwise. While having a winning season is great, I consider it a bonus and not the main purpose. Playing sports should be a positive experience, and it should be one that children look forward to each and every season.

What sort of soccer coach are you?

Do you ever wonder how to evaluate yourself and your coaching style?

This test – provided by the National Institute for Child Centred Coaching – should give you some idea if you are a traditional, PE teacher type of coach, a child centred facilitator or somewhere in-between.

Make a note of the response that best reflects your thoughts about each statement. Don’t think about it too long, it’s your first, instinctive response that gives the best indication.


The major reason children should be involved in sports is for fun, not winning.

A. No. Winning is important to young children and older children.

B. Sort of. Winning is important but not necessary.

C. Yes. Enjoyment is the key; winning is only secondary.


It is important for children to learn how to compete at an early age.

A. Yes. They stand a better chance of being successful later in life.

B. Sort of. Competition is important, but it shouldn’t be the basis for playing sports for young children.

C. No. The earlier young children learn to be competitive, the less enjoyment they might have playing.


A good, strong self-image can be developed in young children with a no-nonsense approach to coaching.

A. Yes. They need to be told “who is the boss” and to follow the rules.

B. Sort of. Children need to be managed with a firm yet reasonable approach.

C. No. Children need to be encouraged to try their best.


Praising a child’s ability is OK, but a coach shouldn’t overdo it.

A. Yes. If praised too often, they’ll develop a false sense of their abilities.

B. Sort of. Children need to be told accurately and honestly about their weaknesses.

C. No. If it’s honest praise, there is no such thing as “overdoing it.”


Children who develop too high of a sense of self-esteem grow up being spoiled.

A. Take any one of those high-priced superstars in today’s sports, and you’ll see what a spoiled child is like.

B. A child must be taught humility; a child with high self-esteem often acts conceited.

C. Children with high self-esteem often make the best players.


Most parents want their young children to win — not necessarily to have fun.

A. Agree.

B. Some do, but not all.

C. Parents need to be educated.


Disciplining a child in front of the team sets an example for the others.

A. Other children learn to do the right thing really fast.

B. Peer pressure is the most effective form of team discipline.

C. Disciplining a child is a private issue between the coach and child.


Team rules should be set by the coach and given to the players.

A. A coach needs to show who’s in charge; children need to respect authority.

B. A coach needs to demonstrate leadership; children need to comply.

C. A coach needs to provide guidance; children should be empowered.


The coach sometimes acts like a teacher; sometimes like a parent.

A. A coach should not be confused with a parent or teacher; a coach is a coach.

B. A coach might sometimes take on the role of a teacher or a parent but should remain first a coach.

C. A coach is at times a parent and a teacher.


A parent’s role in children’s sports should be:

A. To be mildly involved.

B. To be moderately involved.

C. To be involved to the maximum level.


To score your responses, give each “A” response 1 point; each “B” response 2 points; each “C” response 3 points. If you totalled:

10-16 points. Attitudes of traditional coaching: Believes winning is the primary reason for playing sports; takes a hard line in discipline; uses an autocratic approach to coaching; finds little value for parental involvement. Need a lot more instruction in child-centred coaching philosophy and techniques.

17-23 points. Tendency toward leadership, not autocratic rule; problem solving, not ruling; motivating, not commanding. Needs continued study and practice in child-centred coaching philosophy.

24-30 points. Believes in making the game fun; is willing to be both a parent figure and teacher; offers guidance, encouragement and support and maximizes parental involvement. Needs to continue practicing skills.

The craft of coaching

Adapted from an article published by The National Soccer Coaches Association of America

Bill Beswick, renowned sports psychologist formerly of Manchester United and now with Middlesborough FC, said: “A good football (soccer) coach is able to take a player where they have never been before and will not get to on their own.”

Many would argue that the ultimate acid test of a player is “What impact did you have on the game?” Surely the ultimate acid test of a coach is “What impact did you have on your players?”

It would be disingenuous to assert that a player’s sole means of improvement is through good coaching. Coaches take too much credit for producing good players and too much criticism for producing poor ones. Playing with and against better players ultimately is what improves a player. Players also improve from modelling – watching and imitating good players.

Player improvement also occurs, undeniably, from participating in focused, dynamic and well-structured practice sessions.

The craft of coaching players comes down to four basic tasks. The end results are carefully designed and focused practice sessions in an environment which closely resembles the competitive pressure of a game, and in which players improve. The four basic tasks are 1) observation, 2) organisation, 3) instruction and 4) motivation.

Observation – Match Analysis
To discover what the players need to practice, the coach must observe them play in a game. The game tells us what the players need. The observations the coach makes during a game will give the practice session a focus. Consequently, the soccer coaching model on game day is quite different from football, basketball or lacrosse, which encourages a high degree of interaction between players and coaches. Possibly baseball or ice hockey are better models for soccer, wherein the coach quietly observes the game, writes notes and occasionally exhorts players to perform.

Match observation and analysis
This is a very difficult skill. Some useful tips to develop this skill include:
• Watching a lot of soccer games.
• Sitting quietly with a pad and pen to note observations. Some coaches have an assistant do the writing while they observe.
• Developing the ability to look away from the ball. This is difficult, because the ball is a magnet for attention. Here are three classic scenarios where looking away from the ball might be important:

  • If midfielders get caught in possession, you may accuse them of indecision. Had you looked away from the ball at the forwards, however, you would have seen that they had not checked, made runs, etc.
  • Your forwards have the ball outside opponent’s penalty box. Are your backs pushed up to the half line to compact the team defensively?
  • Your team plays a 4-4-2. When the right flank has the ball, does left flank come inside to become a third centre forward, or does he/she stay wide? This has implications for getting into penalty area if a cross is delivered or leaving space for overlapping left back.

Compartmentalizing observation into categories:


  • Evaluation of your players’ technical, tactical, physical and psychological performance.

Small group

  • Observation of backs, midfielders, forwards, etc.
  • Observation of vertical thirds, left flank, central, right flank
  • Observation of players within 12 yards of the ball
  • Observation of first and second attackers
  • Observation of first and second defenders


Does team exhibit ability to apply principles of game?

  • Attack
    • Penetration
    • Support
    • Mobility
    • Width
    • Creativity
  • Defence
    • Pressure
    • Cover
    • Balance
    • Compactness
    • Predictability

Organisation – developing practice sessions
Soccer players learn to play better soccer by practicing soccer-like exercises. Contrived drills, excessive standing in lines, small sided games with no focus and running laps have very little benefit to players.

Facilitating Learning
“The game is the teacher” is a phrase which we constantly hear. In practical terms, this maxim means that the soccer coach organizes conditioned games to improve players. The kind of conditions the coach puts on the games will help teach the players. This process is called facilitating learning. Part of the skill of an advanced coach is to design exercises that specifically address problem areas. The conditions the coach puts on games basically fall into the following categories:

• Numbers of players (e.g. 4 v. 2, 8 v. 8, 6 v. 6 + 1, etc.)

• Size and shape of field (narrow and long for vertical passes, short and wide for shooting or crossing.)

• Goals or methods of scoring (shooting into a full goal, dribbling across a line, 6 passes equals a goal, etc.) • Numbers of touches (1 touch to encourage passing and support play, 2 touches to encourage receiving) • Zonal games (field marked off by cones with restrictions as to who can go into certain zones)

The methods a coach uses to improve players depend on such factors as age, ability and ultimate purpose of a practice. The methods of a coach of seven-year-olds uses are completely different than those of a college coach. A coach preparing to play an opponent may be more concerned about the future game than the one which is past.

Basic guidelines of teaching

  • Focus: Improvements will more likely occur when concentration is on two or three concepts.
  • Progression: Sequencing of exercises follows logical progression. The coach may work with the back four versus two center forwards before putting them into an 11 v. 11 game. Having a 9-year-old practice dribbling in 1 v. 1 may precede playing in a 5 v. 5 game.
  • Duration: Practices should be about the same length as a game. Very little quality learning happens in the final half hour of a two-and-a-half hour practice.
  • All coaches are encouraged to write down a practice plan regardless of age group of the players. Practice plans should delineate practice sequencing and duration of exercises.

Practice components
Practices consist of four main components:

  • Warm-up – 20 percent of time. Should be related to theme and focus of practice (e.g. passing in pairs, circle routines)
  • Teaching exercises – 50 percent of time. Two or three exercises that focus on observations the coach makes from games. Coach may split team up (e.g. goalkeepers and defenders in one end, midfielders and forwards in other)
  • Final game – 20 percent of time. 11 v. 11 or even-numbered game. Coach emphasizes points from the practice.
  • Warm-down – 10 percent of time. Players jog, stretch together; led by captain, assistant coach.

Some coaches will do fitness between final game and warm-down. The coach may meet with players prior to session to explain what they will be doing in practice. Some coaches will show video clippings of the previous games to highlight their observations. This is also helpful in changing the players frame of mind and preparing them, psychologically, for practice.

Instruction – “The Teachable Moment”
Possibly the biggest difference between skilled coaches and novice coaches is in the quality and quantity of their instruction. There are certain “teachable moments” which occur in a practice session when the skilled coach speaks and addresses a player or group of players. The number of instructional stoppages and their timing very much will be a matter of choice for the coach. It will also depend on the age group; 14-year-olds will need more instruction than professionals. The “teachable moments” happen at fairly predictable times:

  • When something is done incorrectly
  • When something is done correctly
  • Between exercises, during water breaks
  • When the players are clearly fatigued and will welcome a rest and instructional moment
  • Ball out of play

Instructional points can be made to an individual, group or a team. They can be made while play continues or play can be stopped. Most importantly, they must focus on the actual teaching theme or goal.

Different Instructional Examples to Improve Players
Tony DiCicco, 1998 U.S. Women’s National Team
Conducting a practice session for the Women’s National Team, DiCicco’s stoppages almost universally came at the moment a player did something right. He brought the players’ attention to what it looked like when done correctly, praised them and moved on. He never made any corrections to address mistakes the players made.

Bob Gansler, 2002 Kansas City Wizards
He conducted a practice session which contained three dynamic exercises each lasting 20 minutes. He never stopped any of the sessions once. He made all of his coaching points during water breaks and between changeovers in exercises. A true proponent of “the game is the best teacher.”

Helmut Schoen, 1974 German National Team Manager
Paul Breitner relates how Schoen walked over to the 2 v. 2 exercise where he and Franz Beckenbauer played. Schoen never said a word, but Breitner related how Schoen’s presence burned a hole in the back of his neck. He redoubled his efforts in the exercise. Sometimes silence can be the coach’s greatest ally. Clearly there are no absolutes as to how the coach gets improvement out of players. Coaches must understand what is best for their environment and fits their personality


  • Too many stoppages which prevent any flow from developing
  • No instruction at all. The coach merely supervises exercises which have no meaningful focus and in which the players receive no guidance.

Motivation — light a spark in a player
One of the great rewards of coaching is helping to energize a player and stimulate a player so that he or she wants to improve. Players will improve only if they want to improve, but the coach can offer extrinsic motivation which lights a spark in a player. The coach does this in a number of ways.

Methods of motivation

  • Quality practices. Practices which are organized, focused and facilitate clear improvement.
  • Specific instruction. Coaching points which specifically relate to the focus of the session.
  • Mixture of positive and negative reinforcement. Coaches must be demanding at times. The best coaches understand how to mix praise with honest observation in such a way as to challenge the player to improve.
  • Appearance and participation. The coach should have a modicum of physical fitness and dress like a coach. Players like it when a coach occasionally joins in a practice. (Hint: make yourself the +1 who cannot be tackled.).
  • Realistic expectations. Prudent coaches set realistic goals and targets for the players. They keep the game within the context of how good the team is compared to who they are playing. The coach is wise to forewarn players, parents and supporters that, in soccer, nothing is ever guaranteed.
  • Humanity. Personal honesty and integrity are respected by players. Players will clearly respond to a coach who displays an interest in them aside from their soccer ability.

Enjoy your coaching!