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Fundamental Soccer Blog

Advocating the Use of a Routine

by Koach Karl

Sean McCann, PhD; U.S. Olympic Committee Performance Services, Sport Psychologist wrote an article entitled, “Routines, Rituals and Performing Under Pressure” in which he strongly advocates the use of ‘Routines’ because ‘Routines’ help elite athletes…

  • Do the right things
  • Prevent dumb mistakes
  • Avoid doing the wrong things
  • Make useful behavior automatic
  • Reduce thinking and decision making
  • Enhance feelings of control and confidence
  • Stay active and focused on useful behaviors
  • Increases the sense of familiar in a new environment
  • Increase the opportunity for the brain to focus on the proper things

His article ended with these profound words, “An initial investment of energy in developing good habits will create a great return down the road. I see this all the time in sports, and I’ll never forget what a great coach once said to me. “Why are all these coaches screaming from the sideline? If they had done their job in practice they wouldn’t have to say anything during a game.” If a coach develops great routines, and the athletes develop great habits, then the habits make them great players.”

Today one will find that great players developed great habits in practices by youth coaches who developed routines with ACTIONS

Activity! Appropriate soccer activity has to be a youth coach’s main objective when planning and running a practice session.

Coaches need to remember that, ‘Players come to practice to Play –SOCCER’ and not soccer related games.  A flexible ‘Routine’ can fulfill this goal by giving you the luxury to organize individual (1v1), small group (i.e. 2v2; 2v2), large group (i.e. 5v5; 5v3) and team games (scrimmage) into every practice session.

Consistency!   The key to creating good soccer habits will come from good consistent repetition.

They needed to find a source which would provide them with just such an approach.  Fortunately, they did not have to go very far to find such a source.  The source was already part of every child’s’ life and found in every community.  Yes, their local schools had already prepared the children to function in a very specific routine that needed only minor adjustments to fit their needs.  And here is a sample of just such a school routine which is adjusted to the FUNdamental Soccer ‘9-Step Practice Routine’:


a. Recess

b. Bell Rings

c. Enter the classroom

d. Take out appropriate book

e. Check Homework

f. Quiz on Homework

g. Introduce ‘new’ material

h. Work on new material

i. Combine old and new material

j. Review old and new

k. Assign new homework


a. Pre-Practice

b. Team Cheer

c. Practice Begins

d. Warm-up

e. 1 + 1

f. 1 vs. 1

g. Half-time

h. Small Sided Games

i. Scrimmage

j. Cool down

k. End Practice

Teach less!  A fact: When your players and the ball are moving, soccer learning is taking place.  When the players and the ball stop moving, soccer learning stops!

Ask yourself – Does it happen in the game i.e., Lectures, Lines, Laps, Wearing street clothes and hats? Etc..

If the answer is YES -then do it in practice.

If the answer is NO -then do not do it in practice.

Remember your Players came to practice to Play Soccer and prepare for the next game…!

Interest in playing soccer needs to be developed. You will be faced with players who are not interested in playing our wonderful game and you need to adjust accordingly. Give appropriate attention to the disinterested player but not at the expense of the rest of the team.  Make your practices so much FUN, by playing soccer, so that the disinterested player will want to join.  Always remember that when you are working with younger players to be as helpful, understanding and patient as when you were with your own children when he/she was learning other skills in life.

Organize your practice sessions in such a manner that it becomes apparent it is a rehearsal for the game day routine.  You can accomplish this by using a sequential ‘routine’ which allows your players to learn what is expected.  Be wise and avoid — variety.  You must realize that the introduction to something ‘new’ at each practice session may lead to some confusion and confusion, many times, leads to disinterest.

No Lapse. No Lines. No Lectures! Soccer coaches know that running ‘around the field’ never happens during the game – So they did not practice it!  They, also, knew that their players were brilliant at standing in lines – No need to practice something they can already do!  Finally, these coaches took into consideration the attention span of their players, somewhere in the 15 seconds or less range, and adjusted the length of their talking accordingly   – They were very brief!

Create a practice environment that Minimized Listening/Lecture time and Maximized Touches with the ball and Playing time. In other words allow your players to play the game of soccer in practice as individuals (i.e. 1v1), in small and larger groups (i.e. 2v1 & 5v3) and with the team (i.e. scrimmage.  This playing environment forces your players to make decisions and learn, on their own, what would/could happen in the league game.  Allow your players to experiment and fail their way to success in each and every practice!

However, we have observed that a ‘routine’ which allows coaches the flexibility to adjust their sessions to the skill level, interest and needs of their players is lacking one vital ingredient…

Self -Discipline .

These coaches began to focus on teaching the art of self control because they realized that today’s bickering could be tomorrows’ back-talk.  That today’s pushing and shoving could result in tomorrows fight.  That today’s disruptive practice player could become tomorrows ‘red-carded’ game player.

Create practice session rules and expectations through individual and team discussions.  Let your players decide, with help when needed, what is appropriate and inappropriate in practice.  They stated that it was actually fun to have their players vote on their own practice session rules.

They found that the secret to good practice session discipline was their acting firmly, fairly, consistently and matter of factly when the players actions went against their own established rules.

No longer were players allowed to dress in their every day clothes and wear hats while practicing – they had to dress like soccer players ready for inspection.  No longer were they allowed to idly chatter once practice started – that was to be taken care of before or after practice.  No longer were they allowed to just mess around – disruptive behavior resulted in the player(s) being carded and possibly dismissed from that particular practice.

 Their quest was to correct, mold and perfect player’s actions and reactions in practices –Today.  They realized that the way a player practices is the way they can be expected to play in the game – Tomorrow.

Their immediate goal may have been teaching their players how to behave in their practices -Now.  What they did not realize was that the long term results would be to also prepare their players for future practices and other coaches.

What a wonderful long term result from using a flexible ‘Routine’: Future Coaches Being Able to Focus Strictly on the Players’ Technical and Tactical Development – Priceless!