Bad Weather Soccer Coaching Strategies
Unfortunately, in the UK football is a winter sport and therefore coaches inevitably face some abject weather at some point in the season.
Around Manchester we’ve had heavy rain almost every day for the last three weeks so I’ve had to think about how I, and other soccer coaches faced with similar issues (of postponed games, waterlogged pitches and lack of contact with players), might address one of the biggest problems this presents. (If you have any thoughts about dealing with wet weather then please let me know in the comments at the end.)
Problem of Motivation
One of my U13 players commented recently that he didn’t like coming to training when it was wet because he gets cold and can’t concentrate.
A player from another team was thinking about quitting football because he had missed his best mate’s paintballing party for a football match that was called off ten minutes before kick-off.
And the reality is that teenage boys have a lot of competing distractions. It’s completely understandable that playing on their PS3 or going to a friend’s might be more appealing then traipsing down to a cold wet and muddy field on a Sunday morning.
Finding motivation for training is, of course, also much more difficult when the weather is bad.
I have a long-term outline for what I coach over the course of a season, informed by the fantastic development results the ‘Echo Method of Soccer Coaching’ gives me. This means that I might have a topic planned for a session well in advance.
But the reality might be that otherwise interesting topics and fun Small Sided Games will not engender much enthusiasm when it is pouring down with rain.
I recently had a lively debate on twitter about the merits of abandoning a session topic because of the weather, and how the way a coach approaches the session might change because of the conditions. A few of the interesting ideas that were raised are outlined below:
Soccer Training in Bad Weather
Drills and games which require players to wait in line or stand for any significant period should be avoided at any time, but this is especially true when conditions are cold, wet or both. (An unfortunate aside is that there is a real health risk to keeping young players stood still for too long in the cold.)
Instead of line drills give every player a ball and challenge them to perform a skill correctly 10 times in 2 minutes. This can also be adapted so that there is a ball between two for passing or finishing skills.
Play small-sided games where every player is involved at all times, this could mean setting up a number of simultaneous 2v2 or 4v4 games or you could use one of the templates from “Small Sided Games: Attack” a free book you can get here.
Don’t be afraid to scrap a game that isn’t working and don’t be too precious about getting through your scheduled topic.
One of the keys to great coaching is knowing how your players are feeling about a particular exercise and in wet or cold weather you should be especially aware of player’s looking distracted (or just bored!).
If you suspect the weather will be bad at your training session, mentally prepare a back-up game that you know your players understand and enjoy.
We want our players to develop and enjoy themselves in every coaching session; but it is far better to send players home having had fun without learning anything, than the other way around.
Turn the situation around by making the conditions a positive.
One of the best sessions I have ever coached was on a pitch so heavily waterlogged that the ball wouldn’t roll more than a couple of metres. We played eight 1v1 games on a pitch with six pod goals around the perimeter. Our players were forced to twist, turn and shield the ball continuously and then accelerate a few yards at a time when they could.
The unpredictability and non-stop action kept the energy level incredibly high and every player developed skills that would come in handy in any match.
When parents arrived at the end of the session they commented on how loud and boisterous their boys were. This was fantastic because I was worried they’d complain about the soaking wet and muddy kit, a result of one further rule which the soaking wet pitch had permitted us: compulsory Klinsmann dives after every goal!
Playing Matches in Bad Weather
Against our better footballing principles, it isn’t always possible to pass the ball on the ground. When the pitch is very wet the ball will not reach its target, and when it is very cold the roll won’t be true and the ball will bobble all over the pitch.
I don’t want to discuss all the possible permutations this might have on your team’s strategy but it is always worth highlighting the conditions to your players before the game.
Ask your players to take more shots on goal and look to play the ball behind the defence more often than normal. Players are prone to slipping and misjudging bounces, so balls behind the defence can exploit these mistakes – a defender facing his own goal on a wet pitch is in a (literally) sticky situation as dribbling and passing back to the goalkeeper are both very risky strategies.
On the flip-side of this, ask your players to drop a little deeper when defending and ask midfielders to pressure the ball-carrier more intensely than normal. The ball will tend to stick, so the ball-carrier’s passing options are reduced at the same time as running with the ball is much more difficult.
In bad weather, coaching from the side-lines is also slightly different.
Players will make ‘mistakes’ and errors of judgement; don’t draw attention to them. If you notice that some players are repeatedly misjudging balls or playing poor passes, mention at half-time that opponents are misjudging balls and playing bad passes. Your players will recognise the same aspects in their own play and will probably make different decisions in the second half, but they will not perceive your comments as criticism and damage their confidence.
Instructions during the game are likely to be obscured by rain and carried off by the wind so they need to be directly addressing an individual, very short and very simple. Before shouting try to think about exactly what the purpose of your instruction is, and what is the most basic way you can communicate this whilst being specific. If you cannot give a very specific instruction to a specific individual then save it until half-time or after the game.
If the weather is so bad that your match is postponed then try to arrange an alternative as soon as possible.
Of course, you are at the mercy of leagues, clubs and parents here but if an event is cancelled a day or more before then immediately seek an indoor or artificial pitch you can use at the same day and time and redirect your players there for training or just for a kickabout. Some clubs have emergency facilities for all their teams, but it’s more likely that you’ll have to take the initiative on this and just provide it yourself.
You might also have to ask parents to cover the cost of the pitch, but all the effort is well worth it because playing football, at the time they were promised, is a massive psychological boost to your player’s motivation and respect for you as a coach and the game in general.
Have Your Say
I’d be really interested to hear your stories, thoughts and ideas about football in wet weather – for training and for matchdays – in the comments section below: