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

Beginners Guide To Youth Soccer Coaching (3)

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.

We’ve already looked at developing your soccer coaching philosophy and deciding what to coach (and when) in Part One of our “Soccer Coaching Cheat Sheet” and we’ve delved into the nitty-gritty of planning the perfect soccer training session in Part Two.

In this final part we move into the training session itself and look at some strategies for having more fun, getting more done and making your coaching more effective.

Before Your Session

Preparation is key.

It’s vital that you have decided on your session’s theme and your desired outcomes before your session begins. With this piece of information you can properly target your drills and games and you can know when and where it is appropriate to concentrate your coaching advice.

Set-up earlier than you think you need to.

If at all possible you want to have everything for your session set-up before the first player arrives. This shows your players you value every minute of training time and allows you to dictate what activities players are doing whilst waiting for the rest of their teammates.

Inevitably whenever you arrive latest is when the most urgent emergency will distract your attention from setting-up! Give yourself a buffer-zone.

Mark out a ‘boot-room’ and ‘pro-zone’ area.

Your session will be a lot easier to manage if you have dedicated areas clearly identified for different purposes. Use the ‘boot-room’ to store any unused equipment (such as balls, bibs or cones) and items of players’ clothing they don’t need for the immediate activity.

Whenever you need to add or remove things during a game there will be a single point of access. Players don’t have the opportunity to kick balls away or meander around having their own conversations, and so transitions are a lot faster.

A similar concept is the ‘pro-zone’ where you can deliver any coaching points that require visual assistance, or discuss a tactic within your group. Creating a formal area keeps everybody close and focussed on the discussion. Leave water bottles in this area so you can easily combine your coaching with a water break, giving more time to actually playing.

Lay the ground rules, and remind your players regularly

Whether you are coaching a group for the first or the thousandth time it is important to tell them what you expect from them in your sessions, and what they can expect from you in return.

It gives you credibility to be able to refer back to your ground rules whenever an incident arises so expand and update them regularly as you learn more about your team.

Some of the key points of course will be the safety rules particular to your player’s age group and training venue. Also tell them what behaviour is unacceptable and what the punishments will be, whether there are any incentives up for grabs (such as certificates/skills badges) and what the criteria are to achieve them, etc.

Delivering Coaching Points

KISS your key points.

When offering coaching advice ‘keep it short and simple’ (KISS). Not only will this keep your players engaged but it will force you to be specific with your key points.

Your coaching point should relate to a specific moment in the game, a specific movement and be actionable.

Don’t tell when you can ask.

There’s a reason the socratic method of teaching is used in schools and universities around the world. People simply don’t remember details when they are just delivered to them rote – it is necessary to constantly test them by asking questions and requiring them to figure out the answer for themselves.

This is especially true in a dynamic environment like a soccer game. Set problems for your players to solve and do it frequently in all different areas of the field. Your players will develop their creative side and, crucially, come to understand the underlying reasons why we recommend certain actions at certain times.

It’s far better that players learn ‘why to do’ something rather than just ‘what to do’ because this affects their decision making and allows them to transfer concepts to different scenarios and build upon their previous understanding much more quickly.

Most importantly, develop player’s physical literacy.

Soccer ultimately is a game played with the body. No matter how deep a player’s understanding of a technique is, they can not perform it correctly without training their body to move in the correct way.

Practice sessions should give your players as much opportunity as possible to run with the ball, dribble, turn, pass, shoot, head and tackle. This is the only way to build up your player’s muscle memory and improve their ability to perform a movement correctly in a match.

Confucius gave us a, rightly, famous quote which you will hear a lot in youth development circles:

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

Not all kids learn the same way.

Another important point, worth touching upon here, is that current understanding suggests there are three different types of learners; visual, audial and kinaesthetic.

This sometimes gets kids in trouble with their coaches because they don’t appear to have been listening when asked to recall a verbally given instruction or seem to just be staring at the ground when you are drawing a tactic on the board. In fact they might be a visual learner who struggles with audial instructions, or an audial learner who is trying to concentrate on your words.

You should try to accommodate all by offering something to look at, something to listen to and something to do each time you present a new concept. Some players will understand when they see the diagram on your tactics board, some when they hear your instructions and some will only understand once they are on the pitch doing it.

Stagger your coaching points throughout the session.

Consider how the most important coaching points for your session build upon each other and then spread them out. Focus all your initial coaching on one very specific point and give it a chance to resonate with your players. Slowly introduce additional points one at a time, allowing the power of each one to reveal itself to your players before moving on.

Sometimes it’s tempting to cram as much information as possible into your coaching sessions and hope some of it sticks. But its almost always more effective to teach fewer concept more thoroughly.

Constantly check understanding.

Take every opportunity to ask your players about their decision-making and test their understanding of your coaching points. Do they see the reasons for choosing on option over another? Can they correct themselves when they make a mistake?

During water breaks allow your players to discuss what has been successful and what hasn’t in the last part of the session. Ask them what they might do differently if they played it again or what they will have to do to be more successful in the next part of the session.


Make sure you can demonstrate effectively.

When it comes to demonstrating techniques, the first rule is that you’ve got to be confident that you can perform it correctly in front of your group. This is essential for your credibility amongst the players and because the players need to see what the positive outcome of this movement is. You can’t sell a particular move as a solution to a problem if they don’t see you getting the result you wanted from it.

If you expect the players to learn how to kick a ball in a certain way, it’s reasonable to expect that you should be able to learn how to do it yourself. Practice in the backyard in the days before your session if necessary. When it comes to the demonstration in training, keep it as clear and simple as possible and remove any unnecessary element which adds to the difficulty.

If you are unable to properly demonstrate a move don’t even try. It’s better to ask a player who can to show the rest of the group, or even bring a laptop with some video clips on it. We’re adding more video clips to our site over summer so we’ll make these available for download for you.

Demonstrations and practice should be the same standard, speed and direction expected in a game.

The whole point of a demonstration is to illustrate how a certain type of movement can help to achieve a certain outcome in a game. The movement itself is not the goal so simply walking through a technique in slow-motion will never help a player to perform it effectively. By all means show just a part of a move or a specific stage of the movement in ‘freeze-frame’ but also show how that interrelates with the other movements to form the complete game-ready technique.

Coaching Training Games

Make the rules clear and consistent.

When setting up a new drill or game always answer these key questions in your players heads: How do I score? How does my opponent score? How does the game end?

If the game is turn-based make it clear how many turns each team or player will have. Avoid changing the rules in-between turns because young players are incredibly perceptive when it comes to spotting inequalities – you don’t want to be accused of being ‘unfair’!

Let the game flow.

Once you’ve introduced the game, get it running as quickly as possible and then just let it flow for a few minutes. You can address any problems that arise in the next scheduled pause.

Keep your players moving as much as possible once a game starts and give them the chance to correct mistakes themselves on the next turn before jumping in and stopping the game.

You can include a dedicated ‘half-time’ in all of your games, which presents an opportunity for teams to discuss tactics, take on board your additional coaching points and develop an action plan for the second half; just like in a match.

Allow some mistakes to occur.

Try to ignore mistakes which aren’t either directly related to your session’s topic or dramatically affecting your players’ ability to practice the session’s topic (for example if bad passing is hindering a first-touch practice).

Aside from pulling you off topic down an infinite number of coaching wormholes, you can badly affect players’ self-esteem when you spot every mistake they make. Remember that first and foremost the session should be fun for the kids, sometimes that means using your discretion and sacrificing great technique for a week.

Also try to avoid dogmatism over what constitutes a mistake. A player who seems to be ignoring your instructions isn’t necessarily acting erroneously. They might have come up with a creative new way of achieving the same outcome. Give your players the benefit of the doubt and if you’re unsure ask players what result they are trying to achieve – often you will be surprised.

Most coaching is done 1-on-1

If a player is consistently making the same mistakes then it is appropriate to step-in and help them. However it is better to do this in private for two reasons:

Firstly, not every player is making the same mistake so your coaching will not be relevant to the majority of your players. It’s better to leave them to get more practice touches in a live environment.

Secondly, many players are embarrassed about their mistakes being pointed out publicly. As a result players are often reticent to offer suggestions and it can appear as if they don’t know what they are doing wrong. In fact talk to them 1-on-1 and you will find that with the pressure off (and with a few guiding prompts from the coach), the same players can usually work out how to correct themselves.

Try to spend a short period of time 1-on-1 with each of your players in every session. It can sometimes be difficult to achieve but frequently those few seconds will be the part of the session players remember most vividly.

Anything to add?

Soccer coaching is an incredibly rich experience and one which becomes even more rewarding the more you throw yourself into it. I hope this guide provides a good starting point and you will continue to learn and develop as a coach.

One of the great privileges of writing for a site like this is that I get the opportunity to interact with a huge number of soccer coaches from all different parts of the world and with wildly different backgrounds. Every one of them provides a new perspective on coaching soccer and can offer fascinating insights that I can take and apply to sessions with my teams.

So if you’re reading this, I’d love to know what is the best piece of advice you have ever received as a coach? (Or what do you wish somebody had told you when you started coaching?) Please share it with us in the comments section below.

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