So you ‘volunteered’ to coach your son’s soccer team this summer. Now what?
Whether you’re completely new to coaching youth soccer or going strong into your 15th season, it’s always useful to consider the fundamentals of successful and effective soccer coaching.
To help we have prepared this 3-part “Cheat Sheet” guide : all of the most essential points to remember when coaching your team in one convenient place.
Part One deals with the youth soccer coach’s big decisions (like what to coach and when to coach it). Part Two will talk you through the perfect soccer coaching session plan and then Part Three will help you run your session like a pro.
Know Your Coaching Philosophy
Remember why kids come to soccer practices; to have fun.
If your session isn’t enjoyable why should the players return? They have lots of other activities competing for their energy.
Part of a player’s enjoyment will arise from developing their skills and responding to challenges. But if these are the only areas the coach emphasises, players won’t stick around long enough to see these benefits.
Determine your order of development.
Consider that the skills required to play soccer effectively are like building blocks, without a broad strong base players can only reach so high.
With the youngest players focus on core physical literacy (running and jumping, twisting and turning, stopping and reacting). With school-age children give them opportunities to develop excellent fundamentals (close ball control, fast dribbling skills, precise short passes and accurate shots). With these key skills, your players can then benefit from work on match-related scenarios like 3v3 attack and defence.
Make the pressure age and gender-appropriate.
You have to determine the individual character of each of your players. Pre-pubescent children (and especially young girls) aren’t typically as competitive as (particularly male) teenagers. Therefore, the amount of emphasis the coach should put on winning and losing has to be dependent on the player’s profiles.
Respect the nature of the game, do your best to win. Don’t project your competitive streak onto your team.
Learn Faster Than Your Players
Regardless of your past experience, you will only be a good soccer coach for as long as you are still learning about soccer. Subscribing to Better Football’s soccer coaching newsletter is obviously a fantastic idea :-) but also read books, watch DVDs and go to live games (amateur and professional) whenever you have the chance.
Ask nearby academies or centre of excellences if you can observe their coach’s sessions and go to grassroots pitches on a Saturday morning to see how other youth coaches take their practices. You will improve your own coaching as much by watching bad coaches as good.
Get Your Coaching Badges
This follows on from the point above but deserves it’s own emphasis : Get Qualified. It doesn’t matter if that means taking an FA Level 1 Certificate in Coaching Football, NCAA Youth Level 1 or US Youth Soccer National Youth Licence. Whatever the course you will benefit from meeting and working with other coaches and from the guidance of expert coaches. Gaining a nationally recognised qualification will also give you, and your players and parents, confidence in your abilities and methods.
Once you have a basic qualification, explore your options for further badges – the UK needs far more Level 2 and Level 3 coaches working in grassroots football and there’s no reason a smart person like you can’t be one. Both the UK and US authorities offer a huge range of courses so you can specialise in anything from Goalkeeping to Futsal to Disabled Football. By taking the next step up the coaching ladder you will be putting yourself into the top 10% of soccer coaches in your country.
Decide On Your Session Topics
Pitch At Your Players’ Level
As we mentioned above, players require a strong foundation of co-ordination and technique before they can be reasonably expected to succeed with complex tactical manoeuvres. Before jumping into a topic look at the coaching points and identify antecedent skills.
For example, you cannot coach a “one-two then shoot” drill effectively if your players don’t know what a “one-two” is. You cannot coach a “one-two” (a.k.a “Wall Pass” / “Give-and-Go”) if your players cannot pass accurately with their first touch etc.
Be prepared to instil transferable broad concepts (like getting in line with the ball) rather than isolated movements (like repeatedly volleying a pass to partner)
Have SMART Long-Term Goals
Create a long-term plan for your coaching based on your player’s current ages and abilities. List everything your players can and can’t do at the moment and consider how would you like that picture to change in a year’s time? Pick the three areas which would make the biggest difference to your player’s confidence and success – usually these will be the ‘building blocks’ we talked about earlier.
This is a much more effective system than simply reacting ad-hoc to whatever deficiencies you happened to spot in the previous game.
For each of your chosen areas create a Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound (hence SMART) goal. For example, if your players will benefit from being able to cushion aerial balls then my goal would be: In 4 weeks (Time) players will be able to control more than half (Measurable) of all falling balls with their thighs and feet (Relevant). Control will mean stopping the ball within 5m (Specific and Achievable) with their first touch, without letting the ball bounce first.
Try The ‘Echo-Coaching’ Method
Having chosen ‘what to coach’ you want to know ‘when to coach’ each topic for maximum efficacy. Coaching one topic a week will help you get though that long list of things your players can’t do, but the problem with this approach is twofold. First, new skills take time to propagate as player’s muscle memory can only be developed over a series of weeks and not in a matter of hours. Second, players forget most of what they are told if they are only told it once – their brains decide the information mustn’t be important if it is only given once.
The ‘Echo-Coaching’ Method repeats key points and movements over a series of gradually increasing intervals. This gives players the chance to develop specific skills over a longer period and pushes the key points towards their long-term memory. You can read a full introduction to Echo Coaching here.
Next : Part Two – Planning The Perfect Session
Hopefully you’ve got a number of things to think about this week and you can get on with developing your soccer coaching philosophy and a plan of action for what and when you are going to coach your players.
In Part Two we will look at creating the perfect session plan; what goes into it, how to arrange your games, how to decide on times, secrets of rapid transitions and what to do if it all goes wrong!