Category Archives: Coaching Tips

11 Tips for Coaching Youth Soccer

Soccer America’s Youth Soccer Insider posted a great article giving coaches 11 tips for coaching young soccer players.  Though this was written in response to a question on how to coach 6-year-olds, most of these rules apply no matter what age you’re coaching.  Some of my favorite points:

  • Say “no” to the three L’s – no lines, laps or lectures
  • Use age-appropriate games and don’t bore them.  The longer you have to talk to explain it the better the odds that you’ve picked the wrong thing to do.  Don’t sweat it.  Improvise.
  • Don’t yell instructions. This is a tough one for most of us. If you do, you are hindering their growth more than helping it.  Challenge yourself to say less.
  • Your players are not mini-adults.  They’re kids.  Try to see the game through their eyes.  They want to have fun.

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Keep Players From Wandering – Create a Watering “Hole”

Water Bottles

Water breaks are good.  Players need to keep hydrated.  Younger players especially need to make sure they’re drinking water often.

I don’t know about you, but for me they also ate away valuable minutes from a training session.  Not the drinking part, but everything else that came with the water break.  This has been my experience…

When I would tell the players to go get a drink of water during a training session it usually took quite a bit of effort to bring them back in for the next activity.  Their bottles are usually over where their packs, snacks and parents are.  So not only were they drinking water, but eating, showing off stuff they brought with them, talking to their folks, horsing around and so on.

They were also far enough away that I’d have to yell to bring them back in.  Often I’d have to resort to the countdown trick to finally real them in:






…there are only so many fractions a coach can take.

So I started something new at trainings and it’s working brilliantly: a watering “hole.” Once I setup my field for training, I take a bunch of cones and make a small circle somewhere about central to where all the activities are happening.  At the start of practices I have my players put all their bottles in the watering hole.  That’s where they’ll go when they need a drink.

When it’s time to take a drink they go to the “hole.”  They are in easy earshot.  They come back in quickly for the next activity.  They can still make small talk and goof around, but it eliminates distance and all the other distractions.  Works awesome.

Additional benefit – when a girl’s team comes off the field from a small-sided game, an they want to grab a quick drink while they’re waiting, I’m more likely to say OK because it’s right there.

Because I’m eliminating much of the delay in getting the players re-engaged, in addition to me being a bit quicker to get started on the next activity because the girls are naturally back faster, I’m guessing I am gaining around 5 minutes more time each session.  For a 90 minute training, that’s 6% more engagement with the players!

Highly recommend giving it a go with your sessions.

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Interesting Reads – 2/21/2014

Achievement Goal Theory and Why Kids Quit Sports

Lots of kids drop out of sports by the time they hit 13.  70% in fact.  With the upside of sports on kids being so positive, that’s a disturbing number.  The good news is that most of the reasons are within the coach’s influence of control.  When looking at the competitive side of things, Achievement Goal Theory (AGT) also tells us that what motivates people the most is demonstrating mastery of a task or to one’s self.  That link in the article to a 15 minute video on AGT is worth the time.

Why Kids Quit Sports

Unleashing Creativity in the Uncreative

Being creative is an important part of soccer.  Usually when I read things on how to get kids to be creative the overarching theme is usually a “hands off” approach.  However, there are going to be some players that struggle with that kind of freedom.  In fact, there are going to be kids who need a bit more structure, a little more praise and a bit more engagement from you.  Know your players and get some tips from this great article.

How to Unleash the Uncreative Children

More Bad News for Crossing

I love data and analytics. This analysis is another angle of why crossing has the lowest percentage of success for scoring goals.  The other article is in this post from last week.  Now, if you follow me on twitter and/or read this blog, you know I care more about development than about winning.  So why should this matter? For me, it just puts things like crossing and completing passes in the attacking third into perspective.  It’s hard.  It can help shape the expectations for you, your parents and your players.

And there are a lot of pretty graphics.

How Can an Attacking Team Get Close Enough to Expect a Goal?


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Putting Things in Perspective – 2/14/14

Focus on the Individual

“Our idea is: don’t think about teams anymore, just think about individuals. It’s all about developing the individual.” – Dennis Bergkamp

If you are coaching players under the age of 14 the focus should be developing the individual, not the team.  Technical over tactical.  Skill and technique over positions.  Develop the whole player.  Most of us who volunteer will not meet Cryuff’s profile for the ideal youth coach.  We don’t have to.  As long as we never assume we know it all (note to self: this means you!), keep questioning, keep learning and focus on developing the best all-around player both on and off the pitch then great things will happen.

Cryuff & Ajax’s ‘Way Forward’

A Little Cross on Crossing

It takes about 91 open crosses to score 1 goal in the English Premier League (EPL).  91!  These are not the set plays resulting from free kicks or corners, but all the other crosses.  What this research indicates is that if EPL teams focused a little less on crossing they would score more goals.

Good too keep in mind when you’re out there teaching crossing for the youngsters.  It’s hard for the pros to execute and we’re teaching kids.  Have patience and put things in perspective.

Crossing in Soccer has a Strong Negative Impact on Scoring

Talk Less

If you want players to learn more, have them stop looking and listening to you so much.  Watch those lines in practice.  Standing around isn’t even on the pyramid.

Passive vs Active Learning

Pulled the image from this link, but made it a little bigger for this post.

Stay Positive

In addition to creating an environment where mistakes are OK, it’s important to focus on the positives after games that just don’t go well.  Highlight the things that did go right during the game – you were watching for those, weren’t you?  And those problems during the game aren’t problems.  They are teachable moments.  They are opportunities to find solutions and to get better.


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What You Need to Know About the Magic Ratio

Don't let your players get flat.

Don’t let your players get flat.

As a coach your goal is to help your players get better.  That means letting them know when they do something wrong, how they can do something differently and generally how they can improve.  This is part of what you do.  The how you do it will determine if your players start to shut down on you are take it as the true opportunity it is – to learn from their mistakes.

For example, if you have your U9 girls team warming up with paired passing to start a session, what’s more likely to be your response to giving feedback?  Are the things you say likely to sound like this, let’s call it Style A?…

  • “Make sure your partner is looking at you and is ready for the pass before kicking it.”
  • “Don’t use your toes.  Use the inside of your foot.”
  • “Don’t kick the ball so hard until you can control your pass better.”
  • “I saw you use your toes again.  Remember – inside of the foot.”
  • “Focus!”

…and so on.  Or, are you likely to be more like Style B?…

  1. “Hey Suzie, that was a really strong kick there, “
  2. “, nice job pointing your non-kicking foot where you want the ball to go, “
  3. ” and I liked that you looked at the ball before making contact.”
  4. “The ball didn’t go where you wanted to go though, did it?  Why do you think that is?  Right! Kicking with your toes.  If you kick with the inside of your foot you’ll get it where you want it more often than not.”
  5. “I know you are a hard worker “
  6. “and you’ll get it the more you do it.”

The problem with Style A is that it will start to tear down your player’s self-confidence pretty quickly.  Especially kids who tend to think they either have talent or they don’t.  That is, most do not realize that talent is grown with practice and over time.  If you keep with Style A you are likely to have players who have lower self-confidence, are less likely to put themselves in positions to push themselves or take risks and maybe even dread practices.  Definitely not what you want!

Style B is taken from a principle from the Positive Coaching Alliance called the Magic Ratio.  Basically, the goal is to make sure you are giving your players 5 positive messages for every 1 criticism.  A ratio of 5:1.  This way you are constantly building up your players while you are helping them improve on the things that need work.

For some of you who might think this is a lot of fluff and it treats the kids too softly (they need to toughen up for crying out loud!), you’d be surprised.  On the contrary – your players will be able to handle adversity better.  In my book, Handling Adversity = Tough.  In addition, they will listen to you more and be more optimistic.  This is a competitive edge.  It also gives them the juice to handle adversity better off the field, and away from practices.  Better still!

There are two key things to keep in mind when using the Magic Ratio:

  1. The positive comments need to be specific.  Don’t just say “good job.”  Find specific things to be positive about.
  2. Bring your own style into – don’t be robotic.  And you might be the kind of coach where if you get to 3:1 it’s a big win.  That’s OK too – it’s the right direction!

So start paying attention to how your are giving feedback to your players and build up that ratio.  Guaranteed to see results and these are the kind of results that can last a lifetime.

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How to Save a Training Session Gone Bad – Have a Plan B

For the last week you poured over other club session plans, blogs, Twitter and if you have to spend another night combing through Google for a decent YouTube video on how to do a proper shoulder charge you’re going to scream! But that’s OK, because all that hard work has allowed you to put together the best training session for your young soccer players.  It flows, the progression is perfect and you have all the questions you’ll ask the players to have them tease out the key coaching points for the evening.


Of course, when it comes to the night of the session it doesn’t play out quite like you imagined it.  The players just don’t seem to be “getting it” and you spend a lot of time explaining it.  Or maybe what made perfect sense to you by the glow of your computer screen sudden has you wondering “how is this supposed to work” when you’re trying to do it.  There are lots of reasons why, but this will happen to you at some point and from time to time – the session is dragging, the players aren’t getting much out of it, and you feel what precious little time you have with the kiddos slipping away.


Very frustrating.

And totally normal.  It is going to happen from time to time.  From my experience, when this happens it is because the activities that I picked are too complex for the girls at that point in time.

The solution?  Have a Plan B.  Heck, having a Plan C will come in useful from time to time too. Here’s an example from one of the last sessions of the Fall.  I pulled the below activity from the FC Chelsea Development Center Booklet.

FC Directional

Looks like a good one!  Not too tough and teaches some good concepts – we were focusing on directional first touches.  I gave some very basic instructions, had the girls get started and started walking around.  What I noticed was a lot of confused 7- and 8-year-olds.  We started going from group to group to help give some extra explanation and tips, but I realized we were burning a lot of time explaining.

Not good.  I know by now that the longer I talk has a direct correlation to how not-so-good the session is going.  I want the girls to build confidence and learn new skills and this was achieving neither.

So I went with Plan B…


Same idea, but less cones.  Player 1 passes the ball to Player 2 who directs the ball with their first touch to the left of the cone where they pass it back to Player 2 with their second touch.  Player 1 then does the same thing.  They got it!  Just making it a little simpler did the trick.

Even though I was happy they were getting it, we spent long enough on the first that I could tell the girls spirits were still a bit down.  Plus it was really cold and they weren’t moving enough to keep warm.  Didn’t help with the moods.

Time for Plan C – I announced we would be scrimmaging for the remainder of the practice.  Cheers went up!  Mission accomplished.

Practices will not always go this way.  The good news is the more you do, the better you’ll get at picking the right sessions for your players and how to adjust on the fly.  Hey, even coaches with a lot of experience, and who actually get paid to coach, always have something on their sleeve because this happens to them too.

And, the more I coach, the more I realize that one of the things that makes  really good coaches, well, really good are because they can handle things when they don’t go well.

So buck up, don’t fret and come to your training sessions prepared.

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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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