Ever tried to sell a house? Most probably, yes. The accepted truth is that the sale is won or lost in the first ten seconds. Certainly, it can be lost in that time. The same is true with a coaching session. Get off to a good start, and the chances are the session will be a success. But begin chaotically and there is a mountain to climb to get things back on track. In fact, it is worse than that. Being a soccer coach is a bit like money in our bank account. If we have plenty of credit, we can afford to let it slip a little and still have some cash in the kitty. But once we go overdrawn, charges mount and it becomes harder and harder to get out of debt. The answer, all too often, is bankruptcy.
It doesn’t matter hugely whether you are coaching the Under fives on their first steps in the game, or a team of veterans who have seen it, won it, lost it and done it. The principles of a good coaching session remain the same. Good organisation, plenty of action, a sense of enjoyment and a feeling at the end – from everybody – that progress has been made. So, for this blog, we are going to take a group of under fourteens as our sample. The elements we cover apply to any group of any ability, it is just that we might need a little more or less input depending on the experience and skill level of our players.
The Coach as Artist
Artists see the big picture. They know where they are going, and how they are getting there. They can break down elements of the picture into their constituent parts. No coach can be successful without this sense of a picture of their team and where it is going to end up. This picture underpins the coaching process.
Actually, though, the picture is pretty much always the same. It is going to show a group of players who have improved technically, physically and mentally by the end of the season. Who have acquired new skills. Who have an improved sense of teamwork and collaboration and who have enjoyed their soccer. This last point is, of course, crucial. No player is going to make much progress unless they enjoy themselves.
However, the coach produces the picture using two fundamental principles:
- An overall plan which breaks down the process of coaching. For our Under 14’s this might include improvement of technical skills, for example passing, shooting, dribbling; developing an understanding of tactical plays, such as an offside trap or set plays. Perhaps learning about different formations.
- A session-by-session appraisal of the progress being made collectively and individually. The overall framework above ensures that the coach follows a programme, however these on-going assessments allow sessions to be directed at the needs of the players. For example, perhaps our U14s are still playing too many long balls. Some one and two touch rondo sessions will help to address this.
The Soccer Coach as Director
In other words, somebody who is highly organised. A good session begins with the coach arriving before the players and setting up whatever drills her plans have dictated. Clearly, some help is advantageous here. Although, that is not always possible. They have a written note of what they will be doing. This includes an outline of activities, how long they will run for and notes for work with individuals, or comments to say. However, the plan is flexible, so that changes can be made if numbers, weather or progress dictate. All the equipment is ready to go; enough bibs plus a couple of spares, plenty of cones, balls already pumped up and ready to play. What we learn from these two points is that the coach begins his or her work well before the players arrive to begin theirs.
A well-prepared coach is a happy one, which leads neatly to…
The Soccer Coach as Disciplinarian
Which doesn’t mean yelling at the players. That rarely, if ever, works.
The good coach sets up some simple drills so that as our Under 14s arrive, they immediately get down to work. These drills are very simple, very familiar ones which need little or no input from the coach. Instead, he is able to deal with issues that may arise as the players come in. The U14s will see what their mates are doing, and just join in. This means the session begins actively.
Discipline matters arise from players having nothing to do. If the expectation is that on arrival you begin a drill, then that is what players will do.
The disciplinarian in the coach recognizes that the most tedious bit of any session is when he or she is speaking. So, keep it to a minimum. Let players do, rather than see or listen. For our U14s, two minutes of exposition is more than enough.
‘Right, team, tonight we’re going to focus on our first touch, so lots of short, fast drills to help with this. Then we’ll build up our passing to make it crisper. We were good at the weekend, but sometimes delayed our passes for too long. That put us under pressure. At the end we’ll see if we can put what we’ve learned into a game.’ And off to the first drill. What more needs to be said? Players know the aim of the session, why they are doing it, and have the anticipation of a game at the end. Individual comments are saved for individuals, not the whole group. As in a good performance, pace, pace, pace is all.
The Soccer Coach as Medic
The drill set up for the players as they arrived will already have loosened muscles. But a good session will still include a warm up element. Usually, this will be a familiar drill which needs little or no explanation. It will include some ball work and will relate to the overall theme of the session.
However, sometimes it is useful to do warm up work without a ball, perhaps to help with fitness for example. There are some good jogging and sprinting exercises in this video:
The Soccer Coach as…themselves
What we hope comes through from the tips above is that a good session is well planned and active. It is also not overly prescriptive. It begins dynamically because the coach is organised and thus relaxed. Therefore, it is not just the players who will have fun, but the coach as well. In fact, both sides must have a good time for either to have one. So, coaches should also be themselves and enjoy the fruits of their hard work.
Finally, we should never forget that if a team is 3-0 up after ten minutes, usually they will go on to win, even if they make a couple of slip ups along the way. But go 3-0 down and the players lose confidence; however hard they try, rarely will they get back into the match. Coaching is just the same. Start well, and it’s a piece of cake.
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