The following coaching tips were learned from 30 years of soccer coaching experience. I am not claiming to be a soccer coaching expert, but I do know that the following areas are ones in which I had trouble, and I still see many “experienced” coaches, at all levels, having similar trouble today.
Keep practices economical: Don’t waste time with a lot of standing around. If players are standing for more than two minutes during any activity, that activity is not economical and needs to be restructured. Plan your practices using at least two of the four elements of the game — fitness, technical, tactical, or mental — for every segment of your practice. How long you practice depends on the age, ability, and skill level of your players. A good rule of thumb is to not make your practices longer than the time you play in a game. As an example, U-19’s and above play 90:00 minutes, so 90:00 minutes plus breaks is a good practice time.
Remember you are practicing to play the game so don’t spend a lot of time on things that are, at best, a small part of the game, such as free kicks, PKs, and throw-ins.
If you don’t do it in the game, don’t do it in practice. A lot of long distance running without the ball is not as game related as short sprints with the ball. The latter activity also works more on the type of fitness and skills needed for the game.
Always try to end practice with an activity the players like to do. This will be what they remember most about practice, and will make them want to come back for more.
Know your players, personally: You cannot coach someone without knowing what their needs are. Attempting to coach someone without knowing them personally is like borrowing a bicycle and finding out, once you get rolling, that the brakes don’t work. You’re headed for a crash. You need to know their previous training, what their family is like, what gets them upset, what calms them down, and what their physical and mental limitations are.
Ask questions, such as: What are your expectations? What motivates you? What do you think you can add to this team? And what can I, as coach, do to help you?
Play the parents as much as you play their kids: This may sound strange to you, but the failure of most youth coaches can be directly attributed to parents. To be successful you must have your players believing in you at all times. Parents can sow seeds of doubt that will hurt your effectiveness as a coach.
The answer to this serious problem is to spend time communicating with the parents. Make them part of the team. Give them a job. This will require them to take some personal responsibility for the success or failure of the team.
I have worked with a number of coaches who say, “I am here to work with the players, I don’t care what the parents think.” Those coaches always have problems, with both the players and the parents. Always remember that parents are the ones who pay the bills.
Coaching during the game: I would like to share a story with you about coaching during the game. While I was coaching a U-12 team many years ago, I had a young player who made a run on the right side of the field and received a great ball. As he headed to the goal, one-on-one with the keeper, I was screaming for him to shoot. He attempted the shot, only to hit a puddle of water that was hidden from me by the grass. The ball went maybe 10 feet, and the goalkeeper came out and collected the ball.
At half time, the player told me that if I had let him dribble just two more feet, he would have been out of the water and would have had a much better shot.
That single incident taught me how things look on the field is much different than what they look like from the sidelines. Since then I have waited to do my coaching during half time and at practice.
Don’t paralyze your players: I have seen many coaches paralyze some of their best, most creative players just by their coaching methods during games. Let me give you an example: While serving as Advanced Coaching Director, I was watching a U-16 advanced match. I noticed this very athletic and creative player who was doing many good things, but in his creativity, he would make a mistake every once in a while. As soon as he made a mistake, the coach would sub him out.
In the second half, after being substituted in and out about five times, he went in and just stood. I made my way around to the coach and asked him what player Number 14 was doing.After watching him for a minute, the coach started to yell at him about standing around, and looked to the bench for a sub.
I stopped the coach and told him the player was not standing, but was paralyzed by his coaching method of substituting him every time he made a mistake. The coach had turned a very useful and creative player into a mental paraplegic in one game.
Look for and encourage creativity. Don’t stifle it. Understand that even Pelé made mistakes, but he was encouraged to keep trying.