Beginner’s Guide To Coaching Soccer (2/3)

Beginners Guide To Coaching Youth Soccer (2)

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.

In Part One of our “Soccer Coaching Cheat Sheet” we looked at developing your soccer coaching philosophy and deciding what to coach (and when).

Today Part Two of this guide will help you delve into the nitty-gritty of ‘how’ to coach soccer by planning the perfect soccer training session.

We’re going to discuss what you must put into your session and how to structure the elements, plus some top tips on keeping the practice moving and developing a fail-safe backup plan.

The Perfect Soccer Coaching Session Plan

Start With An Intelligent Warm-Up

Warming-up at the start of every session is crucial. It reduces the risk of injury, prepares your players for activity (by raising their heart-rate, loosening muscles and gradually increasing their energy production) and it focuses their minds on the football games ahead.

There are four parts to the perfect soccer warm-up: Mobility Exercises, Dynamic Stretching, Individual Ball Manipulation and Team Ball Work. See our Guide to the Perfect Soccer Warm-Up for a full routine.

To run through a complete warm-up requires 15-20 minutes and about half of this can also be used to practice technique and go over coaching points from previous sessions.

The warm-up should be fun for your players and, as it doesn’t need to change every week, you can teach your players a warm-up routine and then get different players to lead it each time.

Coach Your Player Through Relevant Skills Practice

After the warm-up we need to explain the main topic of our session – whether that means introducing new skills or concepts, or expanding on the coaching points from a previous session. Each session should therefore include a skills practice which emphasises a very specific problem and allows players lots of opportunities to try out techniques and tactics to solve it.

Use your equipment and the position of your practice on the pitch to make it very clear how the session relates to a situation in a match. If you are coaching short passing for example, is it to be used on the edge of your team’s own penalty box or to unlock an opponent’s tight defence? Position your goals appropriately and offer realistic incentives and risks for successful or unsuccessful passes.

Choose Age and Ability Appropriate Games and Drills

Of course, the games and practices you choose will also depend on the age and the ability of your players. Arrange games that are going to be easily understood by your players, and pitch them in a manner that appeals to their age-group’s sense of fun. A group of five year olds will respond to a game in which they play ‘Sharks’ and ‘Dolphins’ but ten year olds will respond to the same game if they play ‘Vidic’ and ‘Ronaldo’.

Try to avoid drills which are contingent on a different skill, for example finishing drills which require accurate support passes or pinpoint crosses. You will spend a lot of your session coaching these topics instead of the topic you had intended to focus on.

Similarly you can plan a whole series of beautifully constructed team pass and move drills, but if they fall to pieces after an errant pass they aren’t appropriate for players still developing their technique (or you will spend your entire session chasing balls and blowing whistles!).

Structure Your Coaching Points

Prioritise your coaching points before the session so you know what are the most important key points you absolutely must get across and then consider what else you can prompt from your most advanced players.

Consider whether the topic you are coaching is best suited to ‘chaining’ (learning each movement in a sequence accurately) or ‘shaping’ (aka moulding – making gradual improvements to a compound movement). A double-scissors feint is an example of a skill best taught through chaining and an attacking header is an example best coached through shaping.

Know When and How To Increase Pressure

When players first learn a technique they might need to practice it with very little pressure or no pressure at all so be able to accommodate this where appropriate.

Set-up your practice with as much pressure as your players can cope with and still successfully complete their task about half the time. Always start at the lower end of the scale, because reducing the challenge after starting dents your players’ confidence. When your players start to complete the task frequently increase the pressure.

There are five main types of external pressure you can use to increase the challenge: number of touches or amount of time, size of playing area or target zone, number of decisions to make, number and skill of opponents and the current game-situation (the scoreline, position on the field, time-left etc).

Set Individual Challenges

Coaching sessions run a lot more smoothly when every player feels involved and sessions are much more effective when every player is challenged at a suitable level. You can ensure both by planning ways to vary the pressure on an individual level.

Whilst you can not be sure which of your players will be strongest, nor whether any players will struggle, with the practices you plan; you can build in a range of measures which allow you to increase and decrease the pressure on individual players on the fly.

You can use the same variables we talked about to develop progressions for the whole group, modify the number of passes or goals different players require to win, or even play different scenarios within the same game (e.g. have a 3v2 within a 2v1 practice).

Get Into Small-Sided Games ASAP

The logical end of ramping up the pressure is to get into a real game situation so that your players will feel comfortable using their skills in the melee of a competitive matchday.

Incorporating Small-Sided Games into your session is the ideal way to strike a balance between a realistic full-pressure challenge for your players, and the need to control the practice and influence the development outcomes of your coaching session.

As The FA’s expert Coach Educator Peter Glynn explained:

In small sided games players get an opportunity to pass, receive, dribble, tackle, shoot, make saves and make decisions like they do in a game.

Children love to play in games, so try and create practices which closely mimic aspects of the game, allow the children to make decisions like they do in the ‘real game’ and tailor your outcome accordingly.

(The myriad great reasons for using Small-Sided Games are fully explained in my book ‘SSG Attack! Small Sided Games – A Practical Guide To An Incredibly Effective Soccer Coaching Method’ which is available as a free download here.)

Bringing It All Together

When you have decided which outcomes you want from your session and have a good grasp of the coaching points you want to develop, it’s time to write down your session plan.

As we have now seen, the structure of your session should look something like this:

  1. Warm-Up: Mobility Exercises and Dynamic Stretching
  2. Warm-Up: Individual Ball Manipulation Movements
  3. Warm-Up: Group or Team Ball Work Movements (which could be a drill or small-sided game)
  4. Skills Practice: Problem Setting and Key Coaching Points
  5. Skills Practice: Progressions and Further Coaching Points
  6. Small-Sided Game: Realistic Match Scenarios
  7. Cool Down: Debrief and Evaluation

The time spent in each section will depend on your session length and considerations of player age and fitness ability. Generally the complete warm-up should take 15-20 minutes and you should give as long as possible to your small-sided games.

The skills practice only needs to be long enough to deliver and demonstrate your key coaching points. Once players understand the problem and how you would like them to solve it you can get into your SSG. Robotically repeating the same movement over and over isn’t relevant to a soccer match and can be mind-numbingly boring!

Remember you will also need to allow for water-breaks every 5-10 minutes.

The Secret of Great Transitions

Many coaching sessions are great when the players are engaged in a practice but quickly degenerate into a flurry of noise and surreptitious shots on goal as soon as the coach shouts ‘stop’. However there are two really simple techniques you can use to keep your session flowing smoothly and reduce the time lost on breaks and transitions.

Prepare the next practice before the current one finishes.

Coaching assistants were made for this! Have them lay out the areas and position the goals for your next exercise so that you can move your players straight over from one practice to the next. This will instantly remove almost all opportunities for irrelevant discussions or messing about.

One of the biggest headaches we face is trying to get all of our equipment back into the bags after a practice. Don’t give players the chance to boot them all over the place whilst putting them away. Again it’s much easier to leave the balls where they are and ask your assistant to collect them once the next practice has started.

Give Players Something to Discuss

When you do have to stop – either for a water break or to coach individuals – your players are going to start talking. So it makes sense to preempt this and give them something constructive to discuss. Whenever you interrupt the game for a break or to introduce a rule change ask your players to get together in small groups and have a ‘team-talk’.

In this setting they can decide which tactics are and are not working or discuss strategies for winning under the new rule. The format is a fantastic coaching tool because it gets players thinking about the problems you present and developing creative solutions (that you might not think of yourself!). It also encourages communication between players, improves player confidence and builds team spirit and cohesion.

Another useful tip is to do the same thing at the start of your session to get players thinking whilst you wait for everyone to arrive. Set an engaging problem or challenge as soon as the first player arrives, and ask them to explain it to the next person who arrives. If you can get a chain of instructions going, every player will be occupied and you can sort out last minute ideas with your assistants (and impress any watching parents).

Plan B

Sometimes, no matter how well thought-out a session is, your plan just won’t work. The weather conspires against you, your assistant gets stuck in work or, simply, the games or drills you have carefully constructed just aren’t getting the outcomes you hoped for.

In such a situation it’s crucial to have a back-up plan so that your whole session isn’t wasted. The default ‘Plan B’ for most soccer coaches is a big scrimmage; half your players versus the other half on as big a pitch as you can find.

But it’s far better to have a stock of go-to games which you can rely on to engage your players and still achieve some of your coaching goals for that session.

Through all your sessions – those that don’t go south – make a note of the games your players really respond to and put them in a dedicated ‘Plan B’ folder.

Oh and make sure you store them in your coaching bag or somewhere you’ll always have access to whenever you take to the field. I learnt this the hard way the first time I had a really disastrous session (long story short; the goal had been stolen!) as my painstakingly organised ‘Plan B’ folder sat painstakingly organised on my office shelf four miles from the pitch.

Next : Part Three – Effective Coaching Methods

Hopefully you’ve got plenty to consider this week and you will be scribbling great session ideas into your notebook for the rest of the season.

Next week we will conclude our essential guide by looking at the most important part of any session – the ‘coaching’ itself. We’re going to take you right through a session and dissect the most effective soccer coaching methods for creating fun sessions which, crucially, develop great players.

Check back next week or subscribe to our free email newsletter or our RSS feed to make sure you don’t miss the rest of this essential guide.

  • Thank you for sharing this excellent info at no cost - if all websites did this coaches out there would be better equipped!
  • Thanks Howard,

    I'm glad even experienced coaches like you find the guide useful!

    Pavl
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