Energising a lazy team

or how to invigorate and restore discipline to youth soccer coaching sessions

  • Increasing the pace of your practice
  • Increasing the work rate in your training
  • Making everything competitive and publishing results regularly
  • Teach through games instead of line drills wherever possible
  • Tailoring the psychological profile of your training sessions
  • Identifying and encouraging your true believers
  • Reward good practice effort with more starts and more playing time
  • Replace non-believers with harder working players at the next tryout


1) Get them moving immediately on arrival, each player with a football, give them a series of 60 second technical exercises. Keep them moving the whole time except for short breaks. Award push-ups and sit-ups for foot draggers who deliberately delay getting on to the next exercise. Do not allow this and clearly state that you will not accept this. Since you have realized that they are not your friends, send lectures home on paper to read later, and don’t let them waste time socializing once they step on the field on your time.

2) Break down exercises into greater numbers of groups with fewer players so that the action / rest ratio is increased. For each individual exercise, add extra physical work or skill work to add to the effort. For example, instead of having two players one touch passing at 5 yards, have each player check away 3 steps after each pass and come back hard to one touch the next pass. Instead of 6 v 6, play two 3v3’s if appropriate. While group one plays group two, group three can orbit the playing area completing plyometrics, stretching, jumping, skipping, backwards and side to side running, and other specialized physical work.

3) Juggling, relays with ball control and speed required, 1v1 to cones, penalty kicks, and all kinds of other competitions can be done on a regular basis as a productive part of practice, and you can easily keep records, publish them by keeping standings and sending these home on a regular basis. Sprints of various distances, and other measures of aerobic fitness are also appropriate. If you are alone and don’t have a helper to write down results, buy a hand held tape record at Office Depot and you can record your results without even losing sight of your training session. (Side note: hand held tape recording onto micro cassette is an excellent method for taking notes about team and player fixes needed during the match. Coaches who spend a lot of time writing paper notes are at a disadvantage because they are head down too much.) Nearly everything you do can be made competitive. For example, if you are teaching an elevator settle with the instep of the foot, start with partners with a ball, one partner providing an underhanded serve to the partner. Quickly move to a situation where the server will pursue down the line of play, and the settler must move the ball off the line of play quickly. Then perhaps play two in the middle and two servers on the ends, alternating server and receiver. Let the second player in the middle push and provide back pressure when it’s not her turn, make it a battle. Have winners and losers, and move winners to play winners.

4) For every technique or tactic you’d like to teach, try to find a game that works as well as the line drill that comes to mind at first. Line drills have the advantages that everyone gets the same number of tries, and, because there is only one person or pair going at a time, it is easy for the coach to organize and observe. However, you are better off if it’s less convenient for you and more people are in on the action at once. This means that you have to coach the team as they play, and freeze them to correct or compliment and reinforce. For example, we were working on shooting to the far post today. We started with some basic unpressured shooting, added a little time and angle pressure, added a defender. Getting more competitive, but still less than thrilling, I can see a lot of players at the back of the shooting line talking about the football game Friday night. Finally, we simply played 6 v 6 to full-size goal and goalie, team winning the ball to play it outside the 18 before shooting, goalie always covering near side, only shots to far post counting. We did not have the same number of shots for every player, but we had a lot of shots under pressure conditions, and we did get people shooting to the far post, and everybody was in the game.

5) Tailoring the psychological profile of a training session is overlooked by most coaches. It means working, monotonically, from low concentration to high concentration, low pulse rate to high pulse rate work, and from low competitiveness to high competitiveness activity. If you warm-up and go to playing 2v2 to small cone goals, the action is intense and competitive, and the physical demands are great. If you then followed this with some boring tactical walk-through for a new free kick play, you’ll have a lot of your players zoning out or wrestling behind your back. So, go through boring stuff after your warm-up, or skip the warm-up and do boring stuff as the warm-up, then stretch before your technical activities.

6) Reference William Warren’s Book “Coaching and Motivation”, he’s right on this subject. (Some nice coach already mentioned the Positive Coaching book. John Sheperd, an old friend from Pleasanton, sent me a copy recently, and it looks pretty interesting.) Warren says build a new team around the true believers who are willing to share their feelings with you and work hard to achieve their goals. He says you will convert some of the others over time.

Now, reference me on the rest. First, every team will have perhaps a neighbourhood core that experienced some early success, and then you have a third of the team who drive more than 45 minutes to reach your training facility. Usually, the core is a clique and the outer perimeter kids are a separate group who bring a lot of skill, competitiveness, scoring, and earnest ambition to the team. If there is one pushy parent, it’s more likely to be with a perimeter kid, but, on the whole, they are a nice bunch and often easier to motivate than the neighbourhood clique, who have an club you will never join. Instead, you will be bringing some of these kids into your club. If your team has real stars, it’s often from the perimeter kids. You need to go visit their home, find out how they live, eat dinner at their home, and meet their brothers and sisters. Find out what ambitions these kids have, and work to help them plan and reach their goals. Keep them close and communicate with them, encourage them, and work to join more of the other kids into your circle of dedicated players. You can give a subtle benefit to the dedicated kids in your circle by thinking in terms of their needs first as you write and update your team development plan, including your training schedule (like scheduling training to allow perimeter kids time to arrive), your competitive schedule (make sure that your true believers have the day off from school for that big tournament), and your budget for development. Talk to all your players and families, just talk with your true believers first, and don’t make it a secret.

7) If your players are indeed gamers, than you have the biggest carrot. You decide who starts games, you decide who plays, and you decide how long they play, within the guidelines of your club, association, or state association. No matter how much you preach to the players that starting is not important, the kids believe starting is very important and filled with meaning. I would recommend that you keep a detailed training record for each training session, not only recording attendance, but location, times, topics, injuries, weather, and lot of other stuff. Advise your players that training attendance, attitude, and effort will are important and that they will control playing time. After practice, note in your training record performance for each player, and use this to assign starters and playing time in the next match. If you are pretty much trying for equal time for all, fine. Just take some match minutes aside, and make them bonus minutes for hustle. So, everyone gets 20 minutes in the 40 minute half, except a few players go an extra 10 minutes for excellent hustle at practice. Make sure your true believers and hustlers, and any new converts, get more starts. Tell the players why they are starting so there’s no confusion.