Coaching 101 - Practices

There is no 'The' way, only 'A' way

MSYSA’s Coaching Safety Checklist
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Developing your own coaching style is a personal responsibility. You’ll have to stay true to your own beliefs and personality, please try to avoid this one, takes you to YouTube. The end result is called the "Color of the coach." The following should help serve as a guideline, just take what works and apply it to your own situation.

Questions & Answers
The role of the coach

Let’s start with a job description. What am I suppose to be doing? The role of the coach is to help the kids play better soccer.

How do I do that? What is the best, most efficient and effective way to help them to play better soccer? By playing and coaching soccer. A soccer coach coaches soccer, not something else. Let’s start with the practices.

Does that mean we just scrimmage? In an ideal world, one with unlimited resources yes. But this is not an ideal world. You have limited resources and you need to work with those in mind.

So what do I do? What is soccer in this limited sense?

What is limited soccer?
Small sided games

To start soccer is a hobby. It’s an activity that fills leisure time. It’s also a game. Games involve problem solving and end in a result. Soccer has certain characteristics that distinguish it from other games. They are; teams, a ball, a field, goals and soccer rules. One or more of these elements will be short of the real game.

So a soccer coach uses games that include teams, a field, a ball, goals and soccer rules, is that all? Isn’t that just scrimmaging? Yes and no. Yes, they are playing a game with the elements and ’keeping score.’ No because it falls short of the weekend match. The weekend match is still a special moment, something to build and look forward to.

We normally play 7v7, my roster is 12 players, so should we just play 6v6? Is that limited soccer? No, you have a lot of options. Besides the numbers in the teams you can change the size of the field, size, number and placement of the goals, the rules and even the ball.

So if I just mix up these elements I’ll be Okay? You’ll be off to a good start but you can do better.

What is coaching?
Methodology for practices

I played a little as a kid but I’ve never coached before. What’s first? Start by thinking of coaching as a self correcting process, not as a blind progression of drills and exercises. Use a doctor’s approach.

A soccer doctor? Start with diagnosing the patient. It’s their problems that have to be fixed, not your preconceptions or what’s convenient for you at the moment. That’s a clinicians job. You go in, they administer a shot without any diagnosis and you’re done. Like at a soccer camp. Kids show up, get a set of instruction from a set plan and go home.

So do I analyze each individual or the team as a whole? The former, the later or both. Making that decision takes some experience. It’s a form of triage, find the biggest problem and focus on that. There is no substitute for experience here. The nice thing is that in small sided games the picture is smaller, the problems easier to see.

Okay, I found the biggest problem, what’s next? A doctor would prescibe a treatment. It maybe two asprins, a perscription, a visit to a specialist or even surgery. Your job will be to design, or choose, a practice/game that exposes the problem so that it can be treated. The problem has to come up again and again. That’s repetition.

So after I make up a great game I’m done right? Not by a long shot. Simply implementing a game isn’t enough. The patient will either A) Get better, B) Stay the same, no change or C) Get worse. One of these three will happen and you will have to change/modify the treatment, your game, to meet the patients new condition. In the case of A, look for a new biggest problem and go after it. In case of B and C, reevaluate the treatment, your Rx, or your diagnosis for what’s going wrong. There’s no cure without proper follow up.

How do you analyze teams and players?
The differences between the individual and the collective

Isn’t it easy to tell what the biggest problem is in a game? Not necessarily. Once again it takes experience. For example, a problem with passing maybe in the passers technique, their decision, timing or with the receiver. He or she might not be on the same page as the player with the ball. It’s easy to misdiagnose the problem.

So where do I start with the analysis? Using small sided games watch the teams for a few minutes. Give them time to get use to the game and each other. Which team is having the most trouble? When you eliminate the other team 50% of the problems are gone. Then which moment is the team your watching having the biggest problem in, (it’s usually when the opponents have the ball.) Now you only have to consider 25% of all of the problems on the field. Finally narrow the problem down even more by finding the individual(s) who actually have to deal with it.

The kids

I know my group, they’re all over the map in their abilities. How do I cater to different levels? This is the biggest problem for a youth coach, bar none. The inherent disparity in talent, experience and interest in youth teams. The limiting factors for children are their talent, their motivation and their environment. You only have direct influence on their environment at practice and games. You can only hope you have a positive effect on their motivation and you have no control over their talent. One way to deal with this is to combine your team with another at practice and have a Festival. The increased size of the player pool will offer both coaches options they won’t have on their own.

The team

How do I analyze the team as a whole? In youth soccer it’s hard because the only thing that’s consistent is inconsistency. The biggest question is "Are they sticking to the plan?" The answer is usually "What plan?" Now that’s a big problem. Next, when they do have a plan someone lacks the ability to hold up their end. After that, the plan usually doesn’t cover enough, it lacks one of the main moments or a basic task.

You can see the glass as half empty, "They can’t do..., They have to learn..., They need to..." or half full, "They do... pretty well at times, We can build off of..., They’re starting to get..." How you see is every bit as important as what you see. Start with the positive points and build on them.


No matter what, keep focused on the kids playing soccer and their TIC. Shortcomings in TIC are at the root of all your problems, individual, small group or team. Eventually you’ll have to address TIC.

Is there a benchmark, a progression for TIC? Yes. It’s in soccers numbers, 1v1 to 11v11. 1v1 represents the smallest, simplest form of soccer. It requires the fewest skills and is the least complex game you can play. (As long as the players are of comparable talent, motivation and experience. This applies across the board.) Next is 2v2, playing with a teammate. At first the second opponent is just a nuisance. Then 3v3 where shape and positions come into play. 4v4 is "Real soccer" where all of the basic tasks can be learned. 5v5 introduces a duplication of tasks. This goes on to 11v11. When the kids have a feel for how the numbers influence the game they will appreciate how working together is better then working alone.

A progression for older players, adolescent and above, could be through the phases of play. The building up, follow up, creative phase and attacking phase. Individual technical work does not have to be done even here. Players can learn their techniques inside the phase of the game. It may not be "Correct" technically but it will do for the level they’re at.

So I need to really step in and help them right? Not right away. Keep in mind, it’s their game, their hobby. You need to be very careful about "Over coaching." (Watch the golf video.) When you do get involved use the guided discovery method. Don’t tell, sell.

Reality Check

You have very little time to influence, coach, the kids. The more time you spend on minor details, subsets of soccer, the less time you have for the bigger picture, helping the kids improve their TIC. It’s a balancing act requiring you to consider the return on investment. What is the return in improvement against the loss of time and energy, yours and the kids. Always look for the highest ROI for both of you.

View the short YouTube vide here for some good basic advice.

Here’s a link to US Youth Soccer’s "HELP! I Volunteered to Coach...What do I do?"

Here’s the link to the Burke AC resources practice planning page.

Go to the BAC Links page for lesson plans and specific help.

Below is a lighter look at how not to coach.