Players are not developing skills. This is because coaches aren’t teaching players skills because coaches can’t execute the skills that players need to be learning! In order to be a good coach you first have to be a good player. To clarify, not all good players make good coaches but in order to be a good coach you first have to be a good player. I have been fortunate enough to work with many clubs in different parts of the country and see what players are exposed to. In addition I played for clubs growing up with varying coaches, some good and some bad. By far coaches focus a lot on tactics and concepts, the main thing being positioning, but there is so much missing!
So let’s first dive into the question of What makes a good coach? Many things. Personality is important. A coach needs to be able to relate to the players they are coaching and able to have relationships with parents, and work collaboratively with players. If a player has a suggestion for a coach, a coach should listen and appreciate that the player is invested in the team, cares, and wants to make a difference. But unfortunately some coaches are insecure and will say things like, “Oh so you think you know better.” Coaches need to understand what players need. In oder to form a family environment everyone needs to be heard.
Players need to be taught high level skills at as young of an age as possible. A ton of players I work with have never even seen basic things like triangle pendulums, and they don’t know what a cruyff is! The footwork they learn is extremely basic. They don’t know how to combo move after move together. They have never been taught pull-stopovers, glide scissors and how to combine them with sharp touches and cruyffs. I show players my proprietary 40 move dribbling progression that I have developed amongst many other things and it is all so new and difficult for them. This is stuff they should be getting exposure to but nobody is teaching it. Here are links to two videos that will help players immensely.
These skills allow players to attack at speed, take on defenders and cut through them or attract defenders to them thus opening spaces for teammates to dish a ball off. Players need to be able to use their hips and legs to lie to defenders, use the ball as bait, get defenders to commit and pull it away and blow past them. They need to be able to attack defenders at speed and get them off balance and accelerate away from them. They need to be able to be creative in tight places. Solid players are being developed but not many special players. Special players can make something out of nothing, they can be a huge impact player and take over a game. This requires a high soccer IQ and very high level of skill. I work with very talented players in college and they have never been shown how to hit a side volley properly. Here is a link to help with volleys https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1y4yvj9mxI&t=3s
Coaches need to lead by example. They need to earn players respect and inspire players. Players will work hard for a coach they respect and admire. Coaches need to be in shape, and they need to have a very impressive skill set with the ball to inspire players. Coaches need to have a good understanding of how to hit the learning sweet spot for the group they are coaching. If something is too easy, players will not be challenged and will be bored and lose interest. If something is way to challenging and way over their heads the players will check out. You have to find that sweet spot in the middle where you are putting players in a challenging environment that they can benefit from. In keeping with the idea of keeping players engaged, if a coach is to interrupt and make a comment during an activity, do it quickly and to the point so the players understand you and then get back on with the activity. I’ve seen coaches that talk way too long and players check out.
Let’s talk about coaching licenses for a minute. To be candid I am of the view that the courses are a big money maker for US soccer and don’t actually help coaches much. I have been advised by college coaches I’ve worked with that they aren’t very helpful but just something you kind of have to do under this current system. I’ve often thought if a coach is learning something in those courses they shouldn’t be coaching at a high level. If you have played soccer at a high level all your life through college, there won’t be anything new for you in a course. The other issue I see with them is they focus on tactics and how to run a practice 100% but don’t go over anything like interpersonal skills, how to run a parent meeting, technical skills, how to strike a ball, moves on a ball, relating to players, how to build confidence in players, etc. I’ve always said if I had a kid I would rather a 22 year old with no license fresh out of college soccer, coach the team, rather than someone who played soccer minimally who has an A license. Having played your whole life, learning from successes and mistakes, having had good and bad coaches and understanding what works, and the real experience is the most valuable thing. Also looking at other sports like basketball for example there is no such licensing system. I have coached with A licensed coaches who literally could not kick a ball properly. So if a coach tells you they have a certain license, smile and say that’s great but then throw them a ball and tell them to please show you what they will be teaching your kids.
It is important for players to understand FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION. If our function
is to score goals and prevent the other team from scoring goals, then we will form
ourselves accordingly. What I am getting at here is that players need to
understand the “WHY” behind everything. Sometimes players can get caught up
in doing what they believe a coach wants them to do, without understanding why.
Players may make the mistake of playing their position and always staying in their position because they think they have to, when in actuality a run that may pull them “out of position” may help in the attack to lead to a goal. Players need to be able to express creativity on the field and have the confidence to do so. We are creating Ronaldo’s not Robots.
Coaching from a WHY perspective as opposed to a WHAT perspective is very important. Good coaches coach from a WHY perspective so players understand concepts and tactics of the game. When you know why you are doing the things you are doing you do them naturally. If players only know what they are doing and don’t understand the concepts behind them, then the team will not be successful. When players understand they WHY’s of the game like the bigger concepts, they can play any position on the field successfully. This leads me to my next point which is that young developing players need to play every position. Players need to be versatile and be able to play any position and this will help them understand the game better and be better players both technically and tactically.
A key concept for players to understand is that positions are relative to one another and we move up and down the field as a unit. Another key concept is that offensively we expand and stretch out the defense and thus have more space to work with and defensively we contract, and force the opposing teams to play to tight areas and force them to play back.
Creativity- offensively this comes into play a great deal. Sometimes players will think “I am in my position so I am doing my job.” This leads to “foosball soccer” On the attack we are moving off the ball to positions of support, making runs into open space (behind defense, thru balls) overlapping runs (An example would be a wing back making an overlapping run getting into the attacking third). Defensively players need to understand defensive organization, cover and support, marking off the ball, and individual defending topics such as 1v1 defending, angle of body, speed of approach, containing, etc.
With tryouts coming up let’s talk for a bit about how a tryout should be run to find the most quality players. Tryouts need to put players under the microscope. If you are playing 11v11 or 9v9 the whole tryout you have a very limited scope of what players can do. You need to watch them individually with the ball, do 3v3s, 5v2 rondos, have them finish balls on the ground and out of the air and give them many reps to see what they are capable of and how consistent they are. They also need to play 11v11 games in addition to all these other things. Years ago I was invited to the Indy 11 tryout in Indianapolis. Sixty select players were invited. At the end of the tryout the head coach called me and said after talking with the other coaches they unanimously agreed that I was number 1 out of all 60. This was one of the nicest compliments I ever received. But I was very grateful that they ran the tryout in a way where I was really able to showcase how many more skills and abilities I had, by putting us under the microscope with the above mentioned activities.
In closing I hope coaching will get better and special players will be developed from better coaching, so that players can reach all their goals and dreams. In an effort to help accomplish this I will be periodically running courses for coaches to attend, in order to teach them new skills and activities for their players to benefit from. The courses will be free for all coaches. This way coaches can help develop very skilled, and passionate soccer players!