Monthly Archives: December 2013

3 Tips For Developing Training Plans that Build Skills/Confidence

When I go back to my plans from eight months ago I have to smile and give my girls a lot of credit for getting much at all out of the sessions we had in the Spring. They really were all over the place. Even looking back at my training plans as soon as five months ago I still shake my head a little.  Keeping at it, finding ways to make it better, training and research is showing itself in the most recent plans but I wished I had known what I do now earlier this year.

Soccer looks to be a simple game – throw a ball on the field with a bunch of players and do your best to score more than the other team.  But it’s not.  There’s a lot to teach and it’s easy to get caught up in the mindset that you need to cram as much into a 60 or 90-minute sessions with your players as possible.

“A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are.” – Ara Parseghian

Especially with younger soccer players like the ones I work with, 8 and 9-year-old girls, self-confidence can get shattered pretty quickly.  Aside from overloading with too much information, if I cover too much, too fast I’ll start loosing them.  And dismantling their confidence in themselves.  Having a good training session plan does quite a bit to make sure that doesn’t happen.

At a high level, I find that there are three key components to a good session plan – pick a narrow theme, progression from technical to the game focused on that theme and give yourself enough time to do it.

Pick a Theme and Make it Narrow

So first things first – for each training session there needs to be a theme.  Pick it, narrow it and stick with it for the session as best you can.  For example, if your kids need work on the fundamentals of passing/receiving that should be your theme, but you’ll also need to narrow it.  Focus on proper technique, two-touch receiving, controlling the ball, coming to the ball and so on.  Maybe even throw some one-touches in there.

However, don’t be tempted to overload the session. Keeping with the same example, it’s probably a good idea to avoid teaching turning while receiving, combination play, directional first touch and passing to space.

And you want to be cautious about spending very much time on other topics.  The focus should be on your theme throughout.  It might not be a bad idea to remind your defenders to be patient instead of going right for the ball in some of the later small-sided games, but you don’t want to spend five minutes on the proper way to shut down an attacker.  Stick with the theme.

Progression in Your Session

The U.S. Soccer National E License is an awesome course.  It doesn’t tell you what to coach, but instead focuses on the how to coach.  One of the best takeaways was the proper way to progress through any given training session (below).

US Soccer Session Progression

From U.S. Soccer National “E” License guidebook.

For those reading the fine print, yes it does say “confidential” but this presentation is part of public domain so I didn’t seen any reason why I couldn’t share it.  As a matter of fact, you can get the entire candidate guidebook online which is where this slide is from.  Even if you haven’t taken it this is worth a flip through.

Basically progression goes from focusing on a specific technique without pressure and isolated (i.e. it doesn’t mimic a typical game scenario) to a full game scrimmage where the focus is on what was the theme for the session but in an actual game.  Each stage adds more pressure and becomes more game-like.

So if we continue on our passing session example, the stages would probably look something like this:

  1. Stage 1:  Paired passing focusing on the basics.  No pressure and focus on technique.
  2. Stage 2: 3v1 Rhondos (keep aways) or 2v1 games to goals.  Make rules to encourage the passing them.  Pressure added a little here.
  3. Stage 3:  Rhondos or 3v3 to goals where defenders are added after goals or time to increase pressure.  Make rules where there needs to be X-number of passes before a goal is scored etc.
  4. Stage 4: Scrimmage w/keepers.  Have the players try to employ the things they learned during the game.

The beauty about this format is that it is focused and your building on the player’s confidence throughout the session.  Putting them in game-like settings.  And, ultimately, letting them play the game which is what kids most what to do.  If I had a dollar for every time I got asked “are we going to scrimmage next?” or “when will we scrimmage?” I would be a rich man.  The players want to play and that should be the reward for every session.

Give Yourself Time to Plan Each Session

Finally, you need time to do it well.  For those of us who are volunteer coaches this is perhaps our biggest challenge.  There are so many resources, they can be hard to navigate, everyone is an expert and the messages can sometimes be conflicting.  Plus it just takes time to do it right.

I think that’s one of the key reasons why my sessions have gotten better – investing the time.  This doesn’t have to be all at once in crunch mode.  Spread the time out ahead of the season and during breaks.  Look ahead, keep researching, keep well-organized bookmarks, keep good notes on where your players are, talk to other coaches, etc.

What helps me is to start sketching out sessions well in advance.  Look at the themes for your practices for the season.  Begin bookmarking sessions you’d like to see.  Keep a notebook.  But figure out what works for you and your style.

Just make sure you don’t turf the planning till the last moment.  If you do, more than likely you’ll be shaking your head after your sessions as well.

And keep it simple.  It is much better to have a session be a tad to simple than too complicated.  The later will demotivate you and your players.  You don’t want your players to walk from a session thinking they just can’t do it and they’re not good enough.

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Key to Player Development: Coach Less

Accelerate the development and learning of your young soccer players by talking less.  Less advising, explaining, theorizing, strategizing and, well, talking overall.  Give them a little something then let them go at it and figure it out.  Then add a little more and let them go.


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Season Talking Points Delivered to Your Inbox

I’m a big fan of the Positive Coaching Alliance because if you follow their advice you’ll be a better coach.  Period.  So when I saw this I had to share.

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10 Tips for Developing a Good Training Session

My guess is that, while there are a few clubs that have well thought out practice sessions developed for each age group, there are a lot clubs that do not.  I’m talking grass-roots clubs.   In an all-volunteer club you are dealing with borrowed time and there’s just not that much of it.  Even if you do have some material to work with, there are likely some gaps.This means you will need to do some homework when you put your training sessions together.

While I can’t tell you where to go for passing sessions or the best place for rondos, there are some guidelines I use when I pull mine together.  I find that the more of these tips I hit, the better the session.  I’ve got ten of them.

10 tips for developing a good training session:

  1. Lot’s of touches on the ball.  I don’t know of there is a magic number here, but I try to aim for as close to 1,000 as I can get.
  2. No lines.  The girls should be active the vast majority of the time.
  3. Physically demanding.  While I don’t want to kill them, these practice sessions should be enough to get them in shape for the games.
  4. All activities with a ball.  When I say “physically demanding” I mean intensity with ball work and small-sided games.  No laps, suicides, etc.  Just keep it moving.
  5. Progression in your sessions from simple to scrimmage.
  6. Activities should mimic what the girls will see in a real game.  Limit cone work and add pressure.
  7. Uses as few cones as possible.  This might sound silly, but getting your practice area setup so you’re wasting as little time possible moving around your cones between each activity can make a big difference.  I try to setup the whole field at once and I don’t want it to look like a cone manufacturing plant exploded there.
  8. Simple.  It’s not like I can go out and do a test run on a variety of plans/activities on a random group of players to work out the kinks.  I need to be able to understand it, “see” myself coaching it and feel my girls would do well with it just from reading it.
  9. Age and developmentally appropriate.  In addition to be right for them at their age, it should also be not too easy or too hard for them.  There are some areas where they are stronger than others, plus there are definite gaps.  So the activities need to be calibrated for where they are.
  10. Make sure it’s fun! If you follow most of the other tips, this is more likely to happen than not.


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When it’s OK to Yell at a Referee During a Youth Soccer Game


That should be the end of the post. It is that simple. But I know there are some out there that will say “Yeah, but what about…?” so I’ll do my best to explain why you don’t yell even when the What Abouts happen.

Before I go into some specific scenarios let’s try something.

What if…?

Imagine you are at a youth soccer game and the referee doesn’t show. One of the coaches approaches you and asks if you would be willing to ref the game. Says the other coach is OK with it and we’d just like to not have to cancel the game. We just want the kids to play. What would you say?

If you would say “No” there could be a variety of reasons. It could be that you are not confident in all the rules of the game. At the younger ages, there is only one ref so maybe you are unsure you would be able to keep your eye on every play. Or be able to make the right call from a potentially bad angle from a far distance. And what would be the reaction you’d expect from the coaches or the parents if you made the wrong call?

If you said “Yes” then that’s great! Not many will step up so you are the exception and a wonderful example. OK, so you are on the field, the game is going just fine, you see a foul and call it. You feel it’s a good call, but what if the coaches don’t agree with it, how should they treat you? The parents? What about if you call a foul and quickly realize it’s a bad call? How should they treat you then? Or let’s say that you aren’t perfect. What about the calls you aren’t making? How should the coaches and parents respond to your mistakes?

My guess is that if you let that scenario sink in a bit you will get why it is never OK to yell at, or openly criticize, the ref regardless of whether you are a coach, a player or a parent.

For those of you that are still saying “But what about…?” there are two scenarios where you are most likely to be dying to give the ref a piece of your mind.

The ref has it in for my team!

The first is where you feel the outcome of the game is being directly affected and not in your favor. Yes, that can be frustrating, but the fact is that the quality, background, experience and approach of referees at the youth level are highly variable. Some are good and some not so much.   Accept that fact and, regardless of quality, they all deserve your respect.

Remember you are setting the example for your players. They are kids and are learning what is acceptable, and what is not, by watching you. Instead yelling a few choice words at the ref with your best are-you-kidding-me? face, you need to switch your mindset in this situation because this is an excellent teachable moment on how to handle adversity.

  1. Do you really want to convey the message to your kids that it is OK to shout at someone when you disagree with them or you don’t get your way? Or worse – berate, antagonize, insult, ridicule or threaten?
  2. Take a page from the Positive Coaching Alliance and teach them to Honor the Game by using the ROOTS acronym. Respect the Rules, Opponents, Officials, Teammates and Self. Showing respect does not mean yelling at the ref from the sideline.
  3. Explain to the players that there are times in soccer, and life, were things just will not go your way. It is not fair, but it happens. Complaining about it does not change the outcome. You do not have control over other people’s actions, but you do have control on yours. Brush it off, dig down and give your best effort – that’s the only way things have a chance of turning around. Players show respect for Self by holding themselves to a higher standard. Players show respect for their Teammates by not embarrassing them by disrespecting the officials.
  4. Games are venues for learning. If you are focusing on developing your players as the priority, this is good way to teach some of the psychological skills they’ll need to compete at a higher level.

Concern over safety…

The second scenario is where you feel that the game is unsafe for your players.  Keep in mind that soccer is not ballet.  It is a contact sport.  There are times when your players are going to get knocked to the ground, get their foot stomped on, be shoved around, take a ball to the gut or head, be tripped and so on.

However there are games where, because the referee is systematically not calling blatant fouls, he or she is encouraging unsafe play to the degree where you feel it is just a matter of time before someone is injured.  Even still you need to Honor the Game.  There are better approaches.

Referees are going to call a game the way they call the game. Some are more lax.  Some are strict.  Some act like this is a World Cup Qualifier.  Some are “whatevs.”  Some will give your girls a pep talk and you’ll wonder if some have vocal cords at all.

However you can, and should, bring the awareness of safety as one of your top concerns. When speaking to the ref prior to the game, I always ask “Safety is one of my biggest concerns – what do you look for in the game to help make sure the kids are safe during the course of play?” I’m basically asking him how he’s going to keep my players safe on the pitch.  I purposely use the word “kids” or “children”, instead of “players”, because it helps put what I’m asking into stronger context.

If that doesn’t work and you find things are going from bad to worse in the first half, and you feel strongly that the calling is so severely sub par, with an extremely aggressive opponent, talk to the ref at half time.  Simply state that your concerned about the safety of the kids and it looks like there are a lot of late tackles, kids not pulling up when the keeper has the ball or whatever.  Then ask him what he’s seeing.  Don’t drive it into a debate.

When the second half is underway if the situation is still severe, or possibly getting worse, and the ref is completely incapable or unwilling to control dangerous play then calmly pull the team off the field and walk.  You are entrusted with the safety and well being of your players.  This is the way to keep that promise and send a message more powerful than yelling ever will.

The good news is that this the worst case scenario.  It should, hopefully, never come to this.

Let the parents know.

It is not enough that you and your players know what it means to respect the referee.  You need to tell the parents that you expect them to Honor the Game the same way, why it is important and explain how you will handle different situations.  This should be part of your parent’s meeting and reinforced if you feel it needs to be during the season.

Getting them on-board early will save you a lot of headaches.  Unfortunately many think that if a coach is silent during times like this it is a sign of weakness or ineptitude.  The truth is it’s easy to yell and blame the ref.  That takes no skill and it isn’t leadership.

Honoring the Game makes your job tougher, takes more guts and requires more hands-on coaching.  But it will teach your players powerful life lessons, make them stronger mentally, help them deal with adversity and teach them leadership skills that take them beyond the pitch.

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Filed under Game Day Coaching, Honoring the Game

10 Things All New Volunteer Soccer Coaches Need To Do

So you are now a brand-spanking new volunteer coach for a youth soccer team? Congratulations!

This is going to be a great experience for you and all those kids who have been entrusted to your leadership, skill, mentorship, coaching and values by their parents. You have effectively been made the custodian of a part of their childhood. The experience they have with you will help shape their confidence in themselves, their resilience, ability to handle adversity, grow their technical, tactical, physical and psychological ability and their love of the game.

You should be very excited…and be doing a fair amount of freaking out too. If this feels like a big deal it’s because it is. You have quite a few children under your wing now and a lot of things to accomplish. You might not have ever coached before. Maybe not even played soccer that much or at all!

It’s OK. You can do this.

Whether you enthusiastically jumped into this role or the only reason you “stepped forward” is because everyone else took two steps back. It doesn’t matter. It’s easier to sit on the sideline than it is to be on the field and you didn’t take the easy road. You are a volunteer coach and you rock.

So let’s get started.  These are the things you need to start working on as a new volunteer coach for youth soccer in no particular order.

  1. Get some help. Assistant coaches to help run training sessions, games and give you different points of view.  Team managers can help with the logistics and administrative stuff for the team – clears your plate to focus on trainings and the players.
  2. Write out your coaching philosophy. Sure you might have it in your head, but you want to get it onto paper (or a Google Doc).  You’ll want to share it with parents. It’ll also help you focus on what’s important throughout the season.
  3. Take stock in your own strengths and weaknesses.  Figure out where your gaps are. Try to be honest here. It’ll be important to identify what can frustrate you and what can make for less effective practices. If you know what to look for you’ll be able to plan for it or work around it.
  4. Set your development goals.  For the season or the year if you play in Fall and Spring. These should be age appropriate and specific around the technical, tactical, physical and psychological.  At the younger ages, it’s going to be a long list of technical, followed by shorter lists of the other three.
  5. Map out your training topics for the season. You don’t have to detail each training plan. Simply having an outline of what you will focus on each week will help guide you through the season.
  6. Start building your coaching network. The only way to get good at anything is to practice it and you’re freshly minted. Learn from the experience and, more importantly, the mistakes of others. You will want to begin reaching out to other coaches that have been doing this for a little while. They will be able to give you advice and perspective that will be invaluable.
  7. Look for ways to get coaching training and, ultimately, certified.  The more I coach the more I realize that the “how” to coach is much more important than the “what” to coach.  You can have a training session laid out with wonderful things to teach, but if the kids are bored, getting frustrated and you’re white-knuckling through then it’s not going to be a very effective session.
  8. Schedule a parent meeting.  Set parent and player expectations up front and in person.  When will practices be? When should they be at games? How will you be rotating players through positions? How will substitutions work?  What type of behavior do you expect from them on the sideline? And more.  Do this at the beginning and your season will go much smoother.
  9. Build out your bookmarks, and bookshelf, for resources to pull practice plans from.  Don’t reinvent the wheel.  Unless your club has a well defined training program mapped out, you will need to come up with these yourself.  There are plenty of resources online and in print.  Too many, actually.  You’ll want to find age appropriate ideas.  As I build out this site I’ll begin adding some of my favorites.
  10. Prepare to be patient.  There’s no way to cover everything for your first game, fourth game and even seventh.  Soccer is a complicated game and the only way to learn it is over time.  A long time.  And these aren’t mini-adults – they’re kids.  Make it fun and take the long view.

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Filed under Getting Started

This Is How It Starts

Ignoring that this is an odd site to have this kind of story, this is how it goes for most of the volunteer soccer coaches I’ve talked to.  Of course we don’t always get a Bob Bradley as a mentor.

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December 3, 2013 · 9:29 am