The best soccer coaches are well organized, communicate well, and are always proactive in their approach to developing players. But what goes on in their sessions? What would you see if you went to observe? I decided to find out what quality do a successful soccer coach have?
What are the 8 practical tips to be a successful soccer coach?
- Use small sided games regularly
- Practices are usually decision based
- The game is often the teacher
- Players rotate positions and practice in tight areas
- Players are coached to love the game and its challenges
- The coach provides ownership opportunities
- Risk taking is actively encouraged
- Coach and player creativity is practiced
The 8 tips for successful soccer coach mentioned above are essential to the development of fun, engaging and competitive practices. As coaches, we have a responsibility to work towards environments that promote these tips. The remainder of this article will provide further context around each of the tips mentioned thus far. Read all the way through to find our bonus tip on how to become a successful soccer coach.
1. Use of Small Sided Games
Use mini-football as a stable in the training program. 2 v 2, 3 v 3, and 4 v 4 games with many different variations and challenges. This allows players to experience more competitive situations. More chances to develop basic skills such as dribbling, receiving, passing, shooting and running with the ball.
Dedicate at least 30 minutes per a week to this idea with a theme in mind then design practices which allow players to play, but with lots of opportunity to repeat the purpose of the small-sided game.
Some ideas around small-sided games include line soccer to develop dribbling, so each team defends and attacks a line with a five-yard end zone attached to the end of each pitch, and goals are scored by dribbling into that end zone and stopping the ball.
If you wish to work on passing you could turn it into a condition the game so teams must make a pass in each half before dribbling into the end zone, so the players get to practice dribbling and passing. There are many versions of these types of practice coaches just need to be creative with the rules they impose on the games to ensure the game is realistic and the repetition of practice is evident within the game.
2. Decision Based Practices
Decision based practices which isolate components of the game are excellent versions of the bigger game which really help to simplify the game for the players. Good examples include 3 v 1, 2 v 1, 1 v 1, 4 v 2 type practices. Each of these practices will help to improve a player’s decision making under pressure.
Here is an article on this site about 2 v 1 SOCCER TACTICS: DRILLS
The skill required from the coach is to narrow the practice design down to 1 – 3 options so that the players choose the most effective one in the practice to be successful. For example, a 3 v 1 directional practice where the team of three need to get past one defender into an end zone to score. The decisions here are simple, pick the fastest route to scoring between dribbling it into the end zone or use passing until it is on to score in the end zone.
With repetition the players will begin to see its generally quicker to pass as opposed to dribbling because their attempts will be harder to complete and less successful. The players will begin to spot the triggers to dribble, such as space in front of them, limited pressure on the ball or they are isolated in a 1 v 1 against a defender.
HOW IT WORKS:
Field is set up as shown. blue 8 and red 6 are always playing against each other. Whites 2 and 3 use alternate attacks. In the image the whites are playing with blue 8 trying to get into the end zone behind red 6. If successful the whites will play with red 6 and blue 8 will become the defender.
This type of simplified practice can also be used to develop different components of the game, for example a goalkeeper is placed into each end zone and stops the attacking team from scoring (goalkeeper is fixed into this area). If the goalkeeper wins the ball they play with their player and the two whites to try and score in opposite end zone. When a goalkeeper wins the ball it can mirror build-up play from the back.
3. The Game is the Teacher
This term is used a lot and can be misinterpreted to the extent where coaches will just set up a game and basically just referee it. Letting the game be the teacher is not just about this. Its about the coach setting up a game then having periods of play where the players are not interrupted, within these periods’ players get to make choices within the game for themselves.
Trying to make this part fun but challenging for the players is important, encouraging players to be creative and to express themselves, is a huge component of letting the game be the teacher. Once periods of play have occurred, the part many coaches neglect, is not reviewing the players decisions for that period of play.
It is important here to get the players to think about their choices from the previous bit of play and then think about setting themselves a target or goal for the next period of uninterrupted play. This can either be something they want to do more of or something they want to get better at.
This is where the learning starts to take place as players will start to experiment with the choices they make and not be worried what the coach will think of them. The coach can help here, by encouraging their efforts, commitments and creativity to problem solve, whilst also offering solutions to any players who may require support.
4. Rotate Positions and Practice in Tight Areas
Getting players to play in a variety of positions and not specialize too early is important, especially up the ages of 12 – 14. Doing this will help them develop a better overall understanding of the game and when paired with some the ideas mentioned above can really help to develop their creativity.
Rotating positions will also expose the player to the repetition of the various moments of the game such as the in possession, out of possession or attacking and defending moments.
Different positions on the field will also help to improve a players receiving skills under pressure as they will be receiving the ball in different situations based on their position so when they play in defensive positions they will often receive the ball facing the pressure form an opponent whereas when they play as a striker they will receive the ball with their back to play and the pressure will be coming from behind.
Each position on the field exposes the player to different pressures and this can be beneficial. Playing in tight areas is something every top player in the world can do and getting young players in the habit of playing in tight areas under pressure is a great asset to every young player.
- Perception skills will improve because the player will have to get in the habit of scanning before receiving the ball due to their positioning on the field and the tight areas they practice in
- The players will demonstrate a confidence of having the ball when it is tight, they will, over time make faster decisions due to limited time and space
- The players use of their first touch should evolve because they receive the ball under various pressures and recognize where their touch should take them to relive pressure or open up passing options
- Their ability to use their bodies to protect the ball should improve as each time they have the ball the pressure will be upon them quickly and they must get good as knowing when to shield or hide the ball from the defender with their bodies
The coach needs to be cautious and set up a space that is realistic to the game, offers the the players enough repetition to be successful and places demands on them which test their ability under pressure. Coaches should observe how successful the players are when implementing tight areas and position rotation practices.
If the success level of the players is low or the players struggle to make decisions in bigger spaces already, then reducing the space so it is even tighter will make the problem worse and may affect confidence. The coach needs to look out for this and consider the needs and ability level of the group before implementing this idea.
5. Love the Game
Ask any young player why they started to play soccer and 8 out of 10 times the answer will come back as having fun and making friends. This should be at the forefront of a coach’s mind. It doesn’t mean that the coach cannot manage behavior or instill discipline in the players, it means that at certain times in practices try to make it fun.
For example, the coach could develop some fun pre-practice games for players to get involved in as soon as they arrive, games such as dribbling tag. All players have a ball and one player is it, the player who is it have a ball and carry a bib, if they tag a player, that player becomes it and the game continues like this. A real basic example but fun for the players involved.
Another option is to set up a game prior to practice, so as soon as the players arrive, they are into a game, as a coach you just have to give them some freedom to play without too much intervention.
Ending practice with a fun activity is another way developing players love and enjoyment of the game so for example, ice hockey-style soccer penalties where one team attacks and has a set period of time (5 seconds to dribble and score past the goalkeeper) and the other team take turns at being in goal for the shots.
Points are scored for scoring and saving the penalties. Roles swap around, so GK’s become attackers and attackers become GK’s. The winning team is the highest-scoring team. Fun, competitive and challenging activities are what coaches should be aiming towards when developing this social aspect of performance.
Young players must experience variety within the coaching environment and not to much rigidity in their games, a benefit of variety is fun and enjoyment, something to note for coaches is players are often more creative when they are having fun whereas practices which are too rigid will inhibit creativity
6. Ownership Opportunties
To fall in line with the fun and enjoyment point mentioned previously, there are times when the coach needs to allow the young players some free time. The coach needs to let the players have free time to play and set their own rules, boundaries or conditions for the practice.
This process may not have a technical benefit to the players but the freedom to make up these rules or conditions will develop the social side of the individual, encourage creative thinking and helps to encourage the players to take responsibility for their own development. This type of concept also ensures that the players begin to develop initiative, improvisation, risk-taking and even leadership.
All the traits mentioned will be traits that will serve the players well in the future.
These are qualities essential to life not just the game of soccer. Its important that coaches keep in mind their status as the coaches must be used positively to influence the young players to be good people whilst attending practice and away from practice.
The coach needs to be a positive role model and as much as possible demonstrate the traits within their own coaching so that the young players will see the positive examples of the coach.
7. Risk Taking
Younger players need to know risk-taking is a positive process and not something they should avoid. A player’s ability to take risks will have a huge impact on their perceptions as players and coaches need to catch the right moments in practice to praise the risk that the player has taken regardless of success.
Additionally, asking the performer questions about their thoughts behind the risk they took will help to develop the players analytical skills. Players should be allowed to experiment without having to follow the rules the adult game follows.
At times coaches need to remember this will mean that players may dribble instead of passing or shoot when they should have passed the ball or play a risky pass that may lead to a goal for the opponent. The job of the coach is to get the balance of risk to reward right and try to educate the players around the risk-reward concept.
Such as if I dribble here, I might get a chance to score as opposed to if I dribble here and lose the ball it may lead to a goal for the opponent. The risk-taking process encourages players to consider these things in the heat of a game and is a positive process for their development.
Once players reach their teens this may be a good time to start being more ridged with the ideas and rules placed around certain areas of the field.
Rather than punishing their errors think about rewarding their risks. Rather than creating too many rules allow some experimentation. The key for the coach is to ensure that the players do not fear mistakes or feel pressure they should be encouraged to review their mistakes at the right time and apply pressure rather than feeling it.
The coach is the person who can create this culture and environment by getting the balance right within their planning of practices and themes. The practices coaches design should allow some time for experimentation rather than you must do this.
They should place different levels of pressure on the player, from no pressure to limited pressure then full pressure and as the players move through these levels of pressure they should be able to experiment within the practice to find different ways to be successful rather than told this is how you must be successful.
Success looks different for every person so failure should be framed in a way that the performer is one step closer to success because they know that what they tried has not worked and there may be a better way.
BONUS TIP: Develop the Individual
Developing the individual is possibly one of the most important skills coaches can learn. My advice would be to master your understanding of some of the fundamental skills required by players to play the game and try to coach these to the players that need them.
Technical skills such as receiving, dribbling, passing and running with the ball. Invest some time in thinking about how these techniques can be coached to help a player gain an edge such as being aware enough to use a no-touch turn, experimenting with different types of passes to using changes of speed following a dribble.
Scanning skills, as a coach being aware enough to observe your players heads before they receive the ball and see if they are checking their surroundings, this will help the player know if they can turn, or if they need to protect the ball. Coach the players to look for pressure, space, opportunities to progress the ball forward.
Movement skills such as helping players to use deceitful movements to lose their markers, gain space or time. The coach can help the player to understand if the movement they make is for themselves or for a teammate.
These are simple concepts but things which should be coached to players long before we are teaching them tactical aspects of the game. I would encourage all coaches to dig into this type of detail within their own coaching and you will be really surprised at how quickly you can help your players.
Should include all of these tips into my coaching? No, each coach has their own ideas and is their own person, I would suggest trying to implement the ones which you can relate to most and the ones which you feel will have the biggest impact on your groups.
How long will it take to see an improvement? This is a difficult question to answer because it depends on lots of things, my advice would be to stay consistent and look for clues such as success from the players, attempts to implement your ideas, and greater engagement in comparison to normal
Find below some links to similar content on this website
- What Is A Coaching Intervention ? Soccer
- How To Create a Winning Mentality in Soccer? (7 tips)
- Becoming a Soccer Coach: How To Be Prepared