Winning Over Player Development? [Basketball Video]

Yes, a basketball video – because the content is completely in parallel to soccer. Besides, sometimes we have to change our view to improve our vision. Stan VanGundy from the Miami Heat discussed the importance of skill development in our youngest players. No matter the sport, the principle remains the same: at our youth stage, we must focus on player development and fundamental skills. This is the only way to ensure players will be able to compete successfully at the higher levels of the game. Sometimes, hearing the same message from a different voice or another context really brings it home.

Take note of how animated Stan gets at 1:58 of the video. His point is well taken. And think about the takeaway challenge at 2:40.

What’s your decision?

Soccer Formations: The options – 4-3-3

From the 19th Century, when Defense was virtually unheard of, to the superpowers of the modern game, formations and the shape of your team can and does determine the outcome of a Game, any Game, including yours. This article builds on the soccer formations overview article.

Of course, when choosing the formation and shape of your Team, you have to bear in mind the most important factor of all, your Players and their ability to both physically ( age specific ) and mentally ( age specific ) take on board your instructions.

But is it achievable ? Well, yes and no.

Of course every team needs a structure, for you Guys Coaching Kids from Under 12’s and upwards ( that have been playing the game for at least 5 years or more ) and feel that your Guys and Girls are ready for the next stage of their development, you might want to think about how you really want your team to play.

Introducing soccer tactics at this age is appropriate.

Soccer itself is really just a Game of space and movement, like a Game of Chess, but with real people and a ball.

Once we understand this, we can start attempting to move around our Kings and Queens, our Bishops and Knights into areas that help both them as individuals and their development, as well as our team.

In our last article, we looked at the 4-4-2 formation, its uses, its strengths and how to set your team up when playing that way.

This week we look at the 4-3-3 system, the system that was first seen in the 1962 World Cup with Brazil. The 4-3-3 is believed to have originated and was a variant of the 4-2-4 system that was, again, used by the Brazilian National Team in previous years with the extra Midfielder deemed to provide more defensive cover.

The team that brought this team to the worlds attention was of course Johan Cryuff’s Ajax of Amsterdam teams in the 1970’s.

Strengths of the 4-3-3 :

• Solid defense. A solid, organized four man defense will rarely be overrun by the opposition. A four man defense allows you to play in a man marking situation or zonal.
• The opportunity for your full backs to join in the attack and overlap in controlled situations and gain numerical advantages in important areas of the pitch.
• A midfield that can be played in a staggered set out which makes for clear field observation and an advantage in transitional periods of play.
• The width and depth given by a three pronged attack.
• The potential to pressure teams high up the field with at least 5 players in an area that can yield excellent results if the ball is won.
More recently we’ve seen Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea and Real Madrid teams utilize this formation to its maximum.

Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid 4-3-3
Jose Mourinho's Chelsea 4-3-3
Jose Mourinho's Chelsea 4-3-3

This system is arguably the most flexible there is, with changes being able to be made without disrupting the overall flow of the team.

The roles within the 4-3-3 at an advanced and intermediate level.

Within the 4-3-3 we see and use the same “ back four “ as we would with other systems such as the 4-4-2, but it’s the midfield area which is most open to a change of shape as and when circumstances dictate.

The recent popularity of a holding midfield player, or even two in some cases, can encourage more attacking options in front of him or them.

Dependent on the Coach and individual games in question, these players would play a very disciplined role in which first and foremost their job would be attempting to break down opposition attacks and disrupt opposition –play as much as possible as well as winning then giving the ball to the more attack minded players on the team, invariably in positions of the pitch that is in front of them.

This role was mastered by Claude Makelele who executed it perfect for Real Madrid, then Chelsea and finally his home town Club in the twilight of his career, Paris St Germain.

The “ Makelele role “ as it is now known, saw prominence in the MLS and other League across the world including the Premier League and the Spanish La Liga and where in previous years the role was dismissed as proof of a Coach’s negative view of a game, views changed with the acknowledgement that having a player play this kind of role can and would allow other more forward thinking and attack minded players the freedom to express themselves more which in turn could allow a team to be much more attacking than was previously believed.

Ahead of the midfield, many Coaches favor a three pronged attack in where a central striker is supported by 2 wide attacking players, on either side of him.

This allows width as well as depth to a team that maybe isn’t achievable in a less advanced area of the pitch, with a three man midfield.

The three pronged attack is also expected to be supported by midfield players, dependent on the choice of single holding midfielder or a pair.

With Makelele marshalling Chelsea we can see below that Frank Lampard was the midfielder who generally got furthest forward to support the three pronged attack.

Support wasn’t obviously just restricted to Lampard, Essien as well as the full backs, Cole and Ferreira, both got forward when the situation presented itself.

Lampard however was the key to success, his late and perfectly timed runs which were so difficult for defenders to pick up, saw him score an abundance of goals from that position which fired Chelsea to various domestic glories.

Chelsea Mourinho 4 Man Attack
Chelsea Mourinho 4 Man Attack

Variations to the formation can see the three pronged attack become more narrow with a “ link up man “ supporting a pair of forwards or even a central striker or target man with two attackers playing off of him.

A tactic that is very easy to achieve during a game when playing is the collapse of the wide attacking players into wide midfield areas allowing the formation to revert to a more defensive minded 4-5-1 which is ideal for when your team is not in possession of the ball.

Chelsea Mourinho 4-5-1
Chelsea Mourinho 4-5-1

Please note that although we try to keep the explanations of the various formations as basic and as uncomplicated as possible, we could go into much greater detail where many aspects are concerned but ultimately, it’s the Coach’s job to relay the information to his/her Players and give them a better understanding of this very important aspect of the game.

We hope with this breakdown of some of the more popular formations we see in the game, and with our continued help in answering any questions you have where possible, we can help you, your team and your individual Players make the transition into the World of Soccer formations and determining your teams shape, that little bit less daunting.

Managing Volunteer Turnover (Part I in a 2 part series)

Volunteer turnover is a problem in almost every youth sports organization.  Most youth sports leagues are 501 (c) 3 non- profit organizations and rely heavily on volunteers to handle most mission critical tasks ranging from registration, communication, team building, board members and the list goes on.

At Blue Sombrero, we work with thousands of youth sports organizations across the entire country and we’ve seen so many of these volunteers come and go, most of the time leaving in their wake panic and disarray as their replacement scrambles to make some sense of how to keep things a float.

Over this two part series, we will discuss some tips and easy to implement strategies to help reduce volunteer turnover and to make the transition easier.  We will answer the following questions:

  1. How to define your volunteer positions.
  2. How to Recruit.
  3. How to set your club up for success and encourage and reward your volunteers.
  4. What to do when a volunteer leaves.

In this article, we’ll focus on the first two.

Understand the Reality

The reality is that volunteers don’t stay forever.  They are under appreciated and over worked.  Most can only work nights and weekends.  Board members change year to year.  Despite all of this, the club (youth sports organization) continues to provide services to its membership.

Define your positions

Create a quality job description for every role at your club.  Don’t use buzz words or corporate double talk.  Describe in real words what the position is responsible for and list out what the volunteer does on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.  Explain how many hours they are expected to put in, when and where they have to complete their tasks.  This will help not only to clearly define each position but also to recruit new volunteers when the positions become available.

Here’s a snippet from a job posting for Blue Sombrero for a Marketing Manager to give you some ideas on how to write a good, quality job description:

(This is just a Sample Job Description)

Marketing Manager

Blue Sombrero is a leader in online registration and web design for youth sports. Since its founding in 2002, we have worked hard to create a service that will enable youth sports organizations to focus their attention where it matters most, the kids!

We are a smart, young and motivated group of people that works hard for our customers. We have been at the forefront of our industry, starting with soccer and expanding into all youth sports.  We are an extremely fun and creative group that is passionate about soccer and youth sports and the services that we provide. We continue to invest in our product and provide the highest level of customer support in the market. Simply put, we are proud of what we do and we consider our customers our partners.

Here’s who we are looking for:

  • You are fun, positive and motivated
  • You are creative, hard-working and willing to take on projects big and small
  • You are outgoing and sociable
  • You love soccer and youth sports
  • If you are a master at corporate double speak and smoke and mirrors, this is not the place for you!

If you were working for us, here are some of the things you would have done in the past few weeks:

  • Created an email marketing campaign for a new service we just launched
  • Edited articles for our company blog
  • Created a new video collage for our Meet the Team section of our website
  • Organized and executed our annual Admin of the Year contest and awards
  • Began to organize our 2012 Convention strategy
  • Managed the importing of contacts into for our sales team
  • Sent out communication to our customer base for scheduled maintenance and for Tips of the Week.
  • Coordinated with our PR firm for news releases and other marketing items

Here’s Some Other Things You Might Do:

  • Check in occasionally with customers to gather feedback
  • Help CEO with projects (no telling what that could be)
  • Coordinate lunch and office visit for occasional visitors, board members, etc.
  • Organize company night out, Braves game, Group Karoake, Sloppy Joe day, Finals of Champion’s League
  • Play some Fussball (aka Foosball), Nerf basketball free throw competition, Soccer Tennis and nerf “PIG”- we like to have fun and compete!

How to Recruit Volunteers

Communication is important when recruiting for volunteers.  Remember that your volunteers are coming from your membership and the more aware they are of all that you do on their behalf then the more open you are to their feedback and the more you recognize and reward your volunteer staff, the easier it will be to recruit new volunteers. Sounds pretty simple, right?

  • Communication: Create a consistent communication plan to keep your membership informed of what your staff is doing on their behalf.  Keep them posted on how often you meet, what you talk about, the decisions that you make, etc.  If you tell them, your membership will appreciate all that you do!  We recommend email as the best way to keep your membership informed.
  • Creating a feedback is important:  Your membership should feel that they have an outlet for their concerns and that they are being heard.  A frustrated membership will provide slim pickings for volunteer recruits.
  • Recognize & Reward your staff:  We recognize our best coaches and our best players frequently, so why don’t we recognize your best staff?  Recognizing and rewarding your volunteers publicly will go a long way in instilling a volunteer culture at your club and help make your volunteer positions more desirable.

Armed with a quality job description, quality communication, a feedback loop and an organizational commitment to recognizing and rewarding your staff, your club should have plenty of willing and able of volunteers to pick from.

Next in our two part series we’ll explore some more operational tips and guidelines and what to do when a volunteer leaves.

How to Know if Your Soccer Players “Get it”

Does He "Get It"?

As coaches, the only way we can develop players from stage to stage is if we can build on what they’ve learned. No matter if it is tactics or technical – we have to be sure before we move on. As we rush to put on our training sessions and move through our ‘session plan’, we have to be sure we’re not moving faster than our players. But, how do you know if they “get it”?

All of us have seen that look before: it’s blank with the head slightly tilted sideways. It’s a key indicator that the player might not “get it.” Or, you see a player perform almost right on the field – but not exactly. Or still, players chatting with one another and asking questions about the explanation, skill or demonstration. These may be a little bit harder to uncover that competence. And, if you see it in one player, there’s probably a good chance that others may need some further clarification.

Here are four simple tips to check in with your players to ensure they “get it” before you move on.

  1. Question: Probably the easiest way to see if they get it. But, also the easiest to fake on a player’s part. This is especially true at formative ages where social acceptance is critical
  2. Listen: How confident is the player in their response? Did you simply catch them not listening and in need of clarification?
  3. Observe: Can they demonstrate the topic and SHOW you they understand?
  4. Write: Coaching whiteboards are excellent opportunities for players & coaches to show understanding. (Hint: It’s very helpful if you don’t have one)

How do you ensure your players “get it” out on the field?

Friday Challenge: Observing the Game & Counting Passes

As coaches, we try to evaluate a soccer match based around what we see during the game. I found this neat little video, which tests your observation skills. Check it out and see what you think:

How did you do?

A special thanks to Mark Roberts over at Statzpack for sharing this with me.

How to Effectively Scout a Soccer Team – The Opposition

The first part of our “ How to effectively scout a soccer team “ edition saw us look at the benefits of what a good scouting system can offer you as well as looking at certain areas within scouting, specifically team shape. The second part covered practical tips for scouting an opponent.

This week we will look at defensive and attacking tendencies of the opposition and what we should look for within them.

Opposition: Defensive Tendencies

Soccer Scout (Photo:

The name of the game here is simple, we want to work out how we are going to score goals against our opposition and by looking at our opposition’s defensive tendencies, we might help our Team do just that by looking for ways to exploit and attack any areas of weakness that we see.

Some of the things to consider when looking at this part of scouting are:

  1. Preferred defensive formation both with and without the ball: Do they play with advancing full backs? Do the central defensive players play tight to the attackers they face or do they prefer to play in a zonal defense where they are more likely to be concerned about their positioning and a certain area rather than an attacker? Are the central defenders quick or do they rely on their strength? Are the full backs willing to come inside to a more central position to support the central defenders when the ball is on the opposing side of the pitch?
  2. Transition: How does the defense react and cope when they lose the ball? Does the defense organize itself well enough and quick enough with quick transition of the ball? If so, how do they do so?  Do they actively press in order to win the ball back? If so, where do they press, do they press in certain areas only, who presses and is there a noticeable trigger for their pressing?
  3. Distribution: Do they defense play the ball out from the back and start team attacks in that manner? Do they prefer to look for longer passes?  If so, are they to specific players and areas?
  4. Support? Does the defense get support from their midfield and attackers? Are more midfielders and attackers more defensive minded than others and if so, make sure you note which ones are. Also note the shapes and formation of how the defend in other areas of the pitch, do they defend in a different shape when rebuffing attacks than they do when attacking? Once again, make sure you take note of this. Do the attackers make any attempt to close down players on the ball? Do the midfielders track back and track their runners when required?
  5. Set pieces: Locate their aerial strengths. Who are they? Where do they position themselves? Why does they position themselves there? Is it to mark specific players or is it a specific area? If it is an area, locate and take note of what players are responsible for what areas or zones. Who doesn’t venture forward and how do they defend when they have attacking set pieces IE do they go 2 v 1, 3 v 1 etc defensively.
  6. Defensive patterns – Do they play with a high line? Do they look to play the offside trap? Do they defend deep? Are they willing and confident to pass back to their GK? If so, how confident is he where his feet are concerned? What foot is he more comfortable with? If not, it may mean that the GK nor the team are not very confident in the GK’s kicking ability.

Opposition: Attacking Tendencies

For all the good it does gaining information on a team’s defensive strengths and weaknesses, it is of course equally important to get a comprehensive understanding of what they do at the other end of the pitch.

Some of the things to consider when looking at this part of scouting are:

  1. Preferred attacking formation: Do they play with a front pair? Do they play with a lone striker who receives support from wide positions as well as midfield? How many players do they commit to the final third area of the pitch when they are attacking in a controlled manner and where are they positioned?
  2. Transition:  How quick do they try to break when they win possession of the ball? Do they counter attack in a direct manner or do they prefer to slowly build up controlled, strategic attacks?
  3. Attack preferences: How do they attack? Do they attack from the wings? Do they go through a playmaker who they look for to conduct their attacks? If so, what areas does he receive the ball from and from what players? Do they attack with a front pair who work in tandem, or do they attack with and use midfield runners who may get ahead of a lone striker and look to play off of him?
  4. Goals: Where do they come from? Who scores them? Identify the main threat, most teams have various sources of goals but there will also be a player that is there main goal threat, identifying that player and try to collate as much information as possible on him such as what positions he tends to take up, where he likes to receive the ball, how he likes to receive the ball IE to his feet, on the run, on his head etc.
  5. Set pieces: Who takes them? Where do they look to deliver the ball? Who comes forward and what positions do they take up? How is the ball delivered? Are in swinging or out swinging deliveries preferred? Who are the most dangerous aerial threats?
  6. Final Third: Be aware of any other things that you observe in the most critical area of the pitch, the final third. Any and all instances, patterns or attacking methods that you feel the opposing team is instructed to do should be noted where possible in order to be able to relay your report back to your team.

Remember, what you are doing here is to obtain and ultimately present information to help your players, coach and team as a whole. An effective Scouting Report will help the team and players to prepare themselves properly and improve their end results while helping them to understand the game and the different areas within it.

How to Effectively Scout a Soccer Team – Practical Tips

In a previous article, we already outlined the benefits of scouting. Now, we’re going to dig in and consider the important factors to consider when we are scouting. With the outcomes of our reports more important the further up the ladder we go, here are some scouting tips to hopefully help you prepare yourself to be able to get the best possible information you can out of your scouting sessions. These tips are in no particular order.

Scouting Soccer: Practical Tips

Soccer Scout   
Soccer Scout - (Photo:

1. Prepare for the weather – The climate can and will affect the level of the scouting reports we will produce. From driving rain to beating sun, we need to take the weather and what we can use against it into consideration. Sunglasses, umbrella’s, rain jackets, baseball caps and sun visors are just a number of things that can be used to help not letting the weather conditions affect your scouting reports.

2. Prepare your electrical equipment – You’d be amazed, but it can potentially happen to all of us and yes, I’ll admit it, it HAS happened to me ( embarrassing? Yes ). I have turned up for games with no battery charged in my video camera. There we go, I admitted it but I don’t mind doing so as it made me MUCH more organized and make sure that it NEVER happened again..

3. Prepare your documentation – Whether scouting a team or an individual player, make sure that you have the appropriate scouting forms with you. Scouting report forms can be easily accessed but designing your own will give you the best results as you can design templates for the specific parts of the game that you want to scout be it team play or individuals including defender, midfielder and attacker based templates.

4. Prepare your position – This is very important. Where you are positioned whilst watching a game can make all the difference between an accurate scouting report or not. Higher vantage points help you see things such as team shape and patterns of play much more easier. Add to that a centralized position as close to the half way line as possible and you may just be in a prime position to help you maximize the effectiveness of your scouting reports.

5. Prepare your Stationary – Much like with your electrical equipment, embarrassing situations can occur. Make sure your stationary is in order and you have all of your equipment ready to be used such as pens, pencils and even rulers if needs be.

6. Arrive early – Arriving early to a game gives you a great insight into how teams warm up, how individual players warm up and to view all pre game preparation. Something also worth considering is assessing team morale, viewing who are the vocals players and also taking note, if on player specific scouting missions, who are the better trainers and who warm up correctly.

Soccer scouting of course, isn’t an exact science, much like the game itself. We can however give ourselves the best possible chance of obtaining the information that we want by following these practical tips when and where we can.

Remember, what you are doing here is to obtain and ultimately present information to help your players, coach and team as a whole. An effective Scouting Report will help the team and players to prepare themselves properly and improve their end results while helping them to understand the game and the different areas within it.

How to Effectively Scout a Soccer Team

Scouting on both an individual player basis and a team basis is one of the most rewarding parts of the game. It can also provide a team and coach a real advantage – if it is done correctly. The modern day soccer scout uses a combination of both his own eyes along with the analysis of data that he has compiled on their assigned topic. At the forefront of what a scout does is his ability to convey the information he has collected to the relevant parties who are using it (player, coach, team). This is essential in the role of a Scout and their role within a team or club.

Scouting: The Immense Benefits

The positives that a good scouting system can give to your club far outweigh the negatives. Getting a good, positive Scouting Network set up will help you and your team prepare for various circumstances over the course of a season, so let’s take a look at some of those positives and how they can benefit you and your team.

  1. A good Scouting Network allows you to be in control of how your team prepares for what may lay ahead in future games, in advance, on the training ground.
  2. An effective and smart Scouting system can also help collect information on what your team and players are doing as well as future opposition.
  3. An effective and smart Scouting systems allows you and your players to grow into the game by encouraging better and more productive communication between yourselves and creating a better understanding of each other in the process.
  4. A good Scouting Network will allow you to create your own specific system and method of collecting that data that you feel will benefit your players and team. Simply remember: keep it smart, simple and to the point. This will undoubtedly help you to gain complete confidence from your players with your new levels of preparation while helping in their game time education and learning.

What Should I Scout?

Like all aspects of the game, the level and depth of scouting will depend on how you view the game and will be influenced by both the age group and ability level.

First of all, let’s look at what aspects we would scout an opposing team and how they like to play. The advantages of doing this well would be clear. Focus on what really matters. You need to keep it simple, precise and factual while trying to avoid your own personal opinion. By keeping things as matter of fact as possible, you decrease your chance of obtaining the wrong information. Here are sample aspects of what you should scout:

  • Team shape
  • Who does what
  • Where do they do it
  • How do they do it
  • Why do they do it
  • How does it affect their play
  • What Player is assigned what role
  • Attacking and Defending Set Pieces

These are just some of a number of things we would need to take into consideration when we are compiling a proper Scouting Report. Within any of the aspects mentioned above, we could breakdown and be more specific on each and every area. This would provide excellent insight and valuable information at our finger tips. For instance, we could look at “team shape” and examine additional aspects:

Team Shape

  • What system do they play?
  • How many Players do they attack with?
  • Do they attack from central positions or from the wings?
  • How is the space created?
  • What attacking patterns did you observe?
  • Who is assigned specific roles and what are they?

Remember, what you are doing here is to obtain and ultimately present information to help your players, coach and team as a whole. An effective Scouting Report will help the team and players to prepare themselves properly and improve their end results while helping them to understand the game and the different areas within it.

Next week we will look at how to keep yourself and your information organized, what is needed in terms of your “Scouting Check List” and other practical tips and advice.

Evaluating and Selecting Youth Soccer Coaches


Having fun at Soccer? (PopofAtticus)

In youth sports, when we think of talent and performance evaluation, we think of the coach’s or trainer’s evaluation of a player.   The youth soccer coach is a person who can have a great deal of impact on a young soccer player, either positive or negative, often making important decisions such as how much playing time a child will get, what position they will play, whether or not they will make a team and most importantly, the manner in which the game is taught.   The behavior of a coach towards a child can significantly influence that child’s self-esteem; whether that influence is for the positive or negative is going to depend largely on the coach.

As parents, we decide what teams our children will try out for.  Soccer clubs ultimately select the coaches for their teams.   So in combination, it is the parents and soccer clubs who have the input into who will be coaching the kids.  With so much influence placed in the hands of one person, the coach, it would make good sense that parents and clubs put some careful consideration into who these coaches are and the training, messages and philosophy that we are allowing them to expose our children to.

Consider that when we sign our children up for singing, dancing, music, ballet, art or any other type of extra-curricular activity, we put a good deal of thought into who will be teaching them, what their credentials are and whether the instructor appears to be a good fit for our children.  With significant time, and sometimes money, being invested in youth soccer, shouldn’t the same scrutiny be afforded to trying to ensure that the soccer experience will be a good one for our kids?

I think it’s high time that the tables are turned. Soccer clubs and parents interested in providing a quality soccer experience to youth players should wisely invest some time and effort in qualifying and evaluating their prospective or current coaches.  If a parent or club finds that the quality of a coach does not measure up, then go out and find a replacement coach who can do better.  Another option is to educate current, willing coaches so that they are able to provide the same quality.    Fully recognized is the fact that the vast majority of our youth soccer coaches are volunteers, and most of them are parents of one of the children on the team.    However, just because the coach is a volunteer does not grant license to dole out lousy coaching that will have the net effect of turning kids off soccer, stagnating and sabotaging the development of our kids.  On the flip side, just because a soccer coach or trainer is licensed and/or paid for their efforts should not lead to concluding that the coach is able to provide quality.

U.S. Soccer has published their guidelines for coaching youth soccer (free resource):

Best Practices

Soccer Curriculum

U.S. Soccer makes some very good suggestions in these documents.  But the key points are hidden is the details.  The message is there, but the problem is where the rubber meets the road; when you walk the fields and go from practice to practice and game to game, it is apparent that the message is not being effectively delivered to the coaches and trainers.    From my point of view, this is not based on a lack of communication by clubs to their coaches, but instead by the coaches’ unwillingness to hear and adopt unfamiliar concepts and their stubborn insistence to hold on to traditional coaching methods that may work well with other American sports, but have no place in the world of soccer.

There is one more thing to note here.  Some clubs require either state certification or licensing of their coaches.   Make no mistake about this:  While coaching licensing and furthering education should be pursued, it does not, in and of itself, produce quality coaches – there are many lower level licensed coaches today who have no business (beneficial to anyone but themselves) “coaching” soccer.

What should parents and soccer clubs look for, and even demand, in youth soccer coaches?   As you read on, you’ll find common traits, acceptable behavior, philosophy and coaching approach that should be common to all soccer coaches.  If you encounter a coach that does not exhibit these qualities, the suggestion here is to either find another team for the child that has a better coach, find a different coach for the current team or hope for club intervention so that the coach becomes willing and able to evolve to the point of becoming a better coach.

Establishing Guidelines for a Youth Soccer Coach

Below are suggested guidelines to be used by soccer clubs and soccer parents for selecting and evaluating youth soccer coaches.  Specifically, we will look at the mindset, demeanor and philosophy of a coach.

Purposefully omitted here are specifics of effective training sessions, such as working on ball skills, dribbling, passing, shooting and even tactics.   It is believed that within the framework of these suggested guidelines, each coach has a great deal of latitude and creativity as to what comprises their training sessions, what tactics and formations they employ and what approach they take in communicating with their players.  There is an abundance of resources that a coach can find in bookstores, on the web and at that will help in the formulation of training plans.  The training exercises that one good coach uses are not necessarily the same as what another successful good coach would select.

Basic Goals of a Good Soccer Coach:

  • Teach the Game:  A good soccer coach shall be able to impart knowledge of the game to players or all ages.  This coach shall also be able to teach skills and facilitate the player’s acquisition of skills.  The good soccer coach will also help develop the player’s decision making, introducing the right concepts and tactics at age appropriate levels.
  • Build Esteem: Confidence and esteem go a very long way in the development of a successful soccer player.   It is confidence that will enable a child to be successful both on and off the field today and in their future.  A good soccer coach will always have this in mind when interacting with players and making decisions regarding players.  There is no place for a coach contributing to the diminishment of self-worth of a any age child by giving them significantly less playing time than other players.  Likewise, ridicule, berating and other punitive actions should be left out of the coaches “playbook”.
  • Keep them wanting more:  One measure of a good youth soccer coach is one who can find many of his or her former players still playing and enjoying the game, at all levels of play, years after the coach’s last session with that player.  The good coach wants the young player to look forward to practice as the best part of the day.  This good coach instills a love and interest for the game that inspires the player to seek more soccer play outside of practice, and to seek more play in the years to come.  In the world of youth sports coaching, one of the biggest problems – and this goes across all sports – is the child with talent and potential who stops playing the sport because “it’s not fun (anymore)”.   Good coaches must consider themselves ambassadors of the game – pied-pipers of soccer – because they understand that it is the love for the game, and the fun of playing it, that keeps players wanting more, and this is instrumental in player development.  To those discipline minded coaches … FUN is not a 4 letter words.  FUN does not mean lack of order, focus or effort.  FUN as defined here is the full immersing into the game and the experience of joy through this active engagement.  The best learning in soccer will take place when the child is having fun.

Ajax Football Club’s world famous youth academy (aka De Toekomst — The Future) has produced some of the most talented soccer players ever such as Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Dennis Bergkamp.  The academy continues to be among the most prolific in developing top notch talent who become starters on some of the best teams in the best European leagues.  According to Jan Olde Riekerink, Ajax’s Head of Youth Development “ … enjoyment must come first. That’s the basis for all our coaching: if they don’t have fun, we don’t do it. We don’t make them run in mud just because it’ll make them stronger.”

PCA (Positive Coaching Alliance), whose mission is to transform the culture of youth sports to give all young athletes opportunity for a positive, character-building experience, has authored a coaching job description, which defines the expectations and traits for coaches that sign up for the program.

How many times have we heard something like this:

My high school coach was such a mean SOB.  He was so tough on us with all the yelling and running.  We all hated him.  He didn’ t put up with any crap or excuses.  But you know what, he was a great coach.  He really taught us how to be tough and play to win.  

 Here we have a self-perpetuating model where the kids who become coaches when they grow up act in the only way they have been taught.  They adopt qualities of the hard-boiled high-school coach that has been put on a pedestal.   So what do we do with these coaches when we have seen countless studies claim and substantiate that children learn more effectively in a positive environment, and that would be one which is free of fear of the yelling, abusive, overly-dominating and intimidating coach ?

I’ll close this topic with an anecdote from a few years ago.  I was searching for a professional trainer for a team of 8 year old girls I was coaching, and I was interviewing a highly respected trainer for the spot.    When I asked him to walk me through some of the drills he would conduct if he were given the job, I was corrected by the trainer for using the word drills.  He thought this was a far too military and strict connotation to associate with soccer training for young girls, and gave me the impression that he really cared about making sure his students had fun while training.   I actually didn’t think that one word could really adversely impact 8 year old girls. Nevertheless, I was impressed by the gentleman’s commitment to making soccer fun.    He got the job for the fall season.

As it turns out, this guy was a bit of a disciplinarian. There were mixed reviews from the parents.  Some thought that the discipline was just what some of the girls needed.  After all, they were 8 year olds who, for 10 straight weeks, were going to war for an hour on Sundays.    Mostly the feedback we got was that the girls hated the trainer and they were not having fun.    The trainer was not invited back for the spring season.

I can only hope that this trainer has softened his approach over the last few years.  As for me, I will continue to use the word “drills” (even if they are modified games) mostly because it just rolls of the tongue a little easier for me than exercises.

Qualities of a Good Soccer Coach

Referencing US Soccer’s Best Practices Document, you’ll find the following statements regarding the best qualities for a soccer coach specific to age:

Age 6 and under:

  • Patience
  • Good Humor
  • Willingness to see world through a child’s eyes

Ages 7-8:

  • Understand players’ capabilities and limitations
  • Ability to demonstrate (or use others to demonstrate)
  •  Appreciate the power of learning by watching

Ages 9-11:

  • Energetic
  • Stimulates Ideas
  • Plays while facilitating practice

Ages 12 – 14:

  • Sensitive teacher
  • Enthusiastic
  • Possess Soccer Awareness
  • Give Encouragement
  • Appreciation for Creativity and Independent Thinking

Ages 15 +:

  • Well informed
  • Experienced
  • Articulate
  • Disciplinarian

It can be inferred from US Soccer’s Best Practices that some of the attributes that are important at a younger age will also carry over to the older ages, at an equal or perhaps diminished level of importance, while others will no longer apply for coaching the older players.   The ability to demonstrate and stimulate ideas are qualities that would apply to all levels of coaching, something like seeing the world through a child’s eyes will not really benefit a coach of 16 year olds.

It is important to note that it is not until age 15 that we see mentioned of the word discipline.

Equally important to take note of is the absence of any reference to winning.  The good soccer coach will consider winning a by-product of successful coaching.  The good coach will recognize that in order to teach the game properly, he will be encouraging specific behavior from his players which may not result in wins in the immediate future.

A Love for the Ball

If we were to speak with any of the world’s greatest soccer players, current or past, they would tell you that they had an absolute love for having the ball at their feet.  This is a key element that you will find present in any successful soccer player, and they will spend hours of their time, away from any organized practice, just juggling, dribbling or kicking a ball against a wall.

US Soccer Federation advocates that in order for a child to become a skillful player, they should have 1 million soccer ball touches before they are 16.

We all realize that it is the very rare youth that will become the next Pele, Diego Maradona or Mia Hamm.  But if we put any credence into this concept of the more touches the better, then why do we have so many coaches yelling “boot it”, “send it” and “get  it out of there”?

Youth coaches should be allowing the player the freedom to discover the best thing to do with the ball with each touch.  Sometimes, that best thing may be a one-touch pass, but many times, the player should be allowed to dribble, to create or figure a way out of a tight spot, under pressure.

We want to develop players who want the ball, who embrace the ball when they get it, and to value their opportunities with it.

So we need coaches who recognize this and who do not yell pass, kick or shoot to the player with the ball, as if it is a hot potato, and the game demands you don’t get caught with the ball.

We want coaches who do encourage individuality at the right time, and do not yell or punish the player when they try something creative with the ball that does not work.

We want coaches who foster an environment where the player wants the ball and is eager to do something when he gets it.  Contrast this to a coach who instills anxiety in is players, who, in-turn, become less than eager to get the ball for fear that they might do something to make the coach angry.

Coach Guided vs. Coach Directed

Can you recall the images of Pat Reilly or Bobby Knight pacing the basketball court sidelines shouting impassioned instructions to their teams ?   Picture Vince Lombardi, with veins popping, yelling at his players while pounding the rolled up play book in his hands.  These are great examples of what a soccer coach should not be doing.

Let the Players Play the Game

Some of the most successful and influential professional soccer coaches of the modern era spend the majority of the time during a game sitting, observing and making either mental or written notes.  With the exception of an occasional reminder or word of encouragement to a player, these coaches do not instruct their players during the action of a game.   They realize the time to coach and instruct is during training sessions.

During games, a good coach will allow his players to play, free of constant instruction.  This coach will not tell a player what to do when they have the ball.  You will not hear shouts of “shoot”, “pass” or “kick it up field” from these coaches.  Instead, they let the player make their own decisions based on how they perceive the game situation.  This uninterrupted, undirected play is a critical element in teaching the youth player to think for themselves and learn from trial and error and from their own successes and failures.

You will find a good coach communicating with a player during games at the following times or circumstances:

  • Away from the ball, after a play, to correct or offer an alternative that might have worked better.  There is no time like when a play is fresh in a players mind to give constructive criticism.
  • Positioning:  A good coach may instruct a defender to move up the field to not give the opposition too much space or to link up with his teammates.  This is, of course done, away from the play and when the player does not have the ball.
  • Positive Reinforcement:  Delivering praise after a good play.
  • Encouragement (general or specific) and again, away from the play
  • At a substitution when some specific critique, advice or encouragement is warranted.

As some additional resources, Soccer America touches on this point about creating robots or creative players. And here is a video taking a more humorous look at coaching soccer. And for one more perspective on this topic, let’s read what Claudio Reyna, U.S. Soccer’s youth development director, has to say on letting the players play the game.

Making practices engaging and game-like

Most time spent in youth soccer training should be dedicated to games or game-like exercises.  While there certainly is room for skills training, once a player is shown the proper technique, they can work on these skills individually before or after practice, and be encouraged to incorporate them into the practices, scrimmages and games.

Coaches should develop session plans that revolve around small-sided games to goal, where the soccer principles of attacking and defending are prevalent in the same fluid and continuous manner that exist in a real game.   Long stretches of uninterrupted play are key.  Aside from water breaks, short “freezing” of play for coaching points are acceptable and advised.

Contrast this to the coach who creates drills with one or two lines, having the team queued up in these lines.  In a common two line drill, one player from each line passes the ball to the other as they run down the length of the field, where the activity ends in a shot on goal.  Not only is this an unrealistic scenario, as there is no opposition and no pressure, but if you do the math, you have 2 of 16 girls engaged in the exercise while 14 are standing around waiting for their turn.  Congratulations coach.  Your drill results in 12% productivity for your team; 88% of your team is doing nothing.

The funny thing is, this is probably the same coach who:

a)     Makes kids run laps after practice and games to improve their fitness, which they observe is lacking

b)    Complains to the parents about the attention span, behavior and focus of some of the players

The good coach realizes that his most effective use of the limited time he has with his team are game-like practices which keep each player engaged and moving.  The attention and fitness issues will typically take care of itself.

Coaches should look to avoid the 3 L’s of sports: lines, laps and lectures:

  • Lines:  As mentioned above, they are unrealistic, ineffective and unproductive.  They are to be avoided in practice and definitely in pre-game warm-ups, when the goal should be to get the players loose and comfortable with the ball, re-establishing their touch.   The last thing you want to see are players standing around waiting their turn before a game when this limited and valuable time can be more effectively spent passing and moving, playing keep-away or Rondo and performing a lot of the movements that will be demanded of the players during the course of the game itself.

This is not to say that there is no place for lines at all.  Some exercises do can only be done when moving players from station to station in sequence.  The important thing to understand is that when you do use them, keep the lines small and keep the time spent standing in line to a minimum.  Not only will you increase time on the ball and game-like situations, but you will also improve on fitness as a direct by-product of keeping the kids moving. At the same time, you’ll reduce the potential for boredom and distraction.

  • Laps:  Avoid this as punishment.  Advanced and older soccer players may want to use running as an effective training tool.  Let’s not give running a negative connotation in a child’s mind.  And let’s try to deliver fitness to the players as part of the practice, as the effective practice has lots and lots of running and movement that will build fitness.  The smart coach will conduct training that keeps players active, engaged, interested and running all in the context of soccer-specific drills and games.   And they will get more touches on the ball this way, whereas with running, there is none.  Running as part of practice:  let’s not turn our youngsters off to the joy of the game when there is an obvious and intelligent alternative.  At the older ages, as competition increases, running can be introduced, but should never take away from time with the ball and playing the game.
  • Lectures:  Know your audience.  A coach may have a lot to say, but the team, depending on their age, may not be capable at understanding it, especially after a long day at school.  The younger the players, the shorter and more to the point the message should be.

Another article from Mike Woitalla at Soccer America speaks about the effectiveness of long speeches with soccer players.

Recognize the Flow and Spontaneity of the Game

Unlike most other American sports, soccer is a game of fluid movement which develops based on the situation.  In baseball, a pitcher stands on the mound, a catcher behind the plate, an infielder in the infield and so forth.  In football, the center snaps the ball, to the quarterback.  The running back lines up behind the QB, the nose tackle directly across from the center.  In basketball, we expect the tallest player, usually the center to be the closest to the basket, both on offense and defense.  Contrast this to soccer, where it is not unusual to find a defender making a long penetrating offensive run, with the ball, or even a prospective run off the ball.  Similarly, a forward may find himself in a position to block a shot or intercept a penetrating pass.

A good coach recognizes this and allows all players to gain experience playing all positions, especially at the younger ages, knowing that this will create more well-rounded players.

A good coach does not instruct his defenders to not move beyond the midfield line.  Instead, he recognizes that the player should find the game and learn to develop instincts to move himself based on the position and movement of the ball and other players.

The good coach does not speak in absolutes but coaches based on situations.  Little Suzie, playing left midfield, would not be told that she should never set foot on the right side of the field.  Better advice would be that when her team is advancing the ball on the right side, her target as a left midfielder will be to move into space to the left of the center of the field where she can ask for a ball and be in a good position to attack, shoot or score.

You’ll not hear a good coach say “Never pass the ball to the middle on defense” or “Don’t make back-passes.  We are going the other way.”  In soccer at its highest levels, passing back to the keeper or to a central defender is a vital element of a team keeping possession, regularly used to relieve pressure on a player when other forward or lateral options are not present.  The young player should not be instructed not to pass back, but instead, encouraged to do so at the right time, so as not to lose possession of the ball.  Sure, the younger the players are, the more likely that the pass back is errant or the receiving player loses the ball, and this could result in giving up a goal.  But the player should be allowed opportunity to make those mistakes, and learn from them.  The passes over time will become more accurate, be hit with the right pace and be safely handled by the receiving player.  The good coach is not driven by a fear of losing games and fear of conceding goals.  This coach will teach the player the right time to make such a back pass, and when they make mistakes, which they will, use it as an opportunity to teach and help the player understand what they can do better the next time that the same or similar situation arises.

Here is an article that speaks to this same concept coaches who coach giving rigid, static orders, over-controlling and over-orchestrating players.

And for good measure, the following as taken from US Soccer Best Practices

…. the team of year olds who hold their positions and maintain a steady group of defenders who rarely, if ever, venture into the attack, looks like a well disciplined and well organized team.  However, U.S. Soccer does not recommend this as a proper approach to developing players at this age.  It does not develop good soccer players.  This approach hinders the player’s ability to experience and enjoy the natural spontaneity of the game.  It does not allow the players to have an equal opportunity to go and “find” the game based on what they see from the game, or to handle the ball and develop instincts for the game.   These are skills they will need at the older ages and that are often lacking in the older players.  This approach, while “successful” in the short term, fails the players in the long run because the environment does not allow the players to develop the tools they will need to be truly “competitive” i.e., prepared to deal with the game , at the older ages. 

Soccer is the Game

American soccer youth does not watch enough soccer, either by attending games or on TV.    We’ve heard countless stories of successful professional athletes who, as kids, had an idol in their sport that they looked up to, whose mannerisms and style of play they imitated and adopted.   Soccer coaches should consider encouragement of watching soccer as a tool in coaching.   A good coach will encourage a player to watch soccer at a high level, college or professional, and look for elements of the game that impress them, whether that is special dribbling skills, a fantastic shot or something more subtle like off-ball movement and first touches.  The professional game provides an abundance of ideas and examples for the developing soccer player, and encouraging these youths to gain an appreciation for the game can inspire their own creativity and elevate their own aspirations for the game.  The 13 year old girl who watches the US Women’s National Soccer team play and is in awe of how Carli Lloyd controlled a difficult pass and then within 2 steps, took a blistering shot, all while running at full speed may starting practicing this and eventually executing it on her own in competition.   Do not underestimate how often this does happen for those who do watch the game.  This is one of the most powerful and inspiring tools that can be used to aid in the development of youth soccer players.

Because soccer is the game, a good coach will:

  • Know, and be able to instruct, the proper basic techniques of the game, even if not able to demonstrate.
  • refrain from making references to other sports as examples of how things should work.  I recall a coach of a U9 girls soccer team instructing his girls in a shooting drill to look at the goal when striking the ball (no, not before shooting to pick out the spot to aim for, but actually to look at the net when striking the ball).  This may have worked well for him in hockey or basketball, sports with which this coach may have been more familiar.  But not soccer.
  • refrain from promoting off-season involvement in other sports to make them a better soccer player.

To be clear, this is not a statement to say that a child who plays soccer should not play any other sport.  On the contrary, if a child excels in and enjoys other sports, then they should not be denied the opportunity to play.  Let’s just not fool ourselves into thinking that spending time away from the soccer field on other sports is going to help a player’s soccer game.   Nothing will help teach soccer as well as the game of soccer itself.

Getting the Parents On Board

There is little worse than a parent criticizing the play of a child which the coach is advocating.  Or the parents applauding the 30 yard aimless kick of a 10 year old player on a team whose coach, during practice, instructs his players to dribble the ball and make an intelligent play when presented with space and time.

The coach should instruct parents that the only words the players should hear from them during the game are words of encouragement.  Even praise, at times, needs to be tempered, to try to avoid the situation above, where the less-than-soccer-savvy parent shouts words of praise and applauds, and gives positive reinforcement to behavior that in reality warrants a correction.

Guidelines and expected and acceptable behavior of parents should be established and communicated at the beginning of the season and reinforced throughout.

A Word on Winning

Once a quality coach has established his goals and priorities and communicated them to the team’s parents, the pressure to win should not be allowed to compromise the objective, which is player development.   Winning being the objective, unfortunately, is far too prevalent in this country.   We are a now society we (Americans), as the adage goes, do not like finishing 2nd.   Once winning becomes the focus, the result is a gravitation away from player development, and the future is sacrificed for the present.  This can be seen in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, in training, positioning decisions and game-day coaching.   So prevalent is the coach who preaches player development, but then makes decisions in practices and on game day that show how the need to win actually wins out over the goal of development.

Do not confuse the pressure to win, as discussed above, with the desire to win that all players should have when they compete.  A coach should challenge his players to fight hard to win every ball, to work hard on in training to improve their game, to be first to the ball and to try their best to win their battles and work individually and as part of a team to compete to the best of their ability and try to win each game they take part in.   Nurturing and developing this winning mindset is certainly something a coach should focus on.

But this is different than a coach who determines amount of playing time given to players, player positioning and in-game tactics all on maximizing his chances of winning.   In this approach, the coach will give some of his less impactful players significantly less playing time, or opt for long-ball (kick and run) style of play, instead of possession, because, for one reason or another, he feels the pressure and need to win.

More benefitting player development is the coach who is willing to sacrifice some short-term winning for the long term, bigger picture of developing the players they currently have over time, and not putting an over-reliance on the physicality, athleticism and intensity, the qualities that many “winning” pre-teen/teen players and teams currently exhibit.  But, this would be embracing a philosophy that says that results at the youth levels are not really all that important.   It takes a certain mindset and maturity for a coach to get to this point where he will provide equal opportunities to both the smaller, perhaps slower, but more skilled and intelligent player and the taller, stronger, faster player who is more likely to make an impact on the game today, due to his speed, strength and overall athleticism.

Touching on the point of accentuating the physical aspect of soccer ahead of the technical, here is a snippet from a recent Anson Dorrance interview in Soccer America:

SA: Why are the U.S. women’s and girls national teams no longer as dominant?

ANSON DORRANCE: We’re not as slick as we should be. We’re not as technical as we should be. We’ve relied on the classic American mentality and American athleticism because our genetic pool is so large, but we’re just not as polished and not sophisticated enough.

As a result these other countries, who could never get on the field with us, like a Mexico, now actually can steal a game from us. We have to get back to work.

The full interview can be found at Soccer America.

Now, bringing ourselves back to the basic theme of winning, in a recent interview, Xavi Hernandez (current Spain World Cup Champion, Current Barcelona UEFA Champions League champion and someone who was taken into the Barcelona youth academy at age 11), who was was quoted

… “Some youth academies worry about winning, we (La Masia – Barca training academy) worry about education. You see a kid who lifts his head up, who plays the pass first time, pum, and you think, ‘Yep, he’ll do.’ Bring him in, coach him. Our model was imposed by [Johan] Cruyff; it’s an Ajax model. It’s all about rondos [piggy in the middle]. Rondo, rondo, rondo. Every. Single. Day.”

Games do have winners and losers and players should be guided to accept a loss and learn from it.  I am not an advocate of the “we’re all winners here” movement.   The real world awaits our kids where coaches cut players, some students will not get into the colleges they apply to and they may not get the job offer they want.  We’re not looking to build a shelter from reality for these kids – that could cause more harm than good in the long run.  Disappointment happens, for everyone, and successes are sometimes reached by using that disappointment as motivation.

Summing up the desired philosophy on winning that a youth soccer coach should have:   Coaches should maintain the premise that winning can be a result of talent, skill, teamwork, dedication and hard work, properly directed passion and sometimes even luck.  Practice content and game day decisions should not be made to get the win while sacrificing player development.  The good coach will take the approach that the wins will eventually come as a result of the proper training and player development.  These wins may not come this weekend or even this season, but the benefits will show, and more of the players in their charge will have brighter soccer futures as a result.


Taking this new coaching approach requires that the coach buys into something that may be completely foreign and uncomfortable to them.  It requires:

  • letting go of previously learned coaching techniques that may work well in other sports
  • having patience and faith that even though the team may not win today, they will be better players in the long run
  • having the willingness to accept the counter-intuitive ideology of letting the game be the teacher

Parents and Soccer Clubs:  The first step is to understand the difference between good and bad coaching.  The 2nd step starts now by looking for quality coaching, and even demanding that our soccer playing kids are exposed to the better soccer training.    To this end, U.S. Soccer has put forth the right ideas, but U.S. Soccer, as an organization, are far too centralized and disconnected to the masses of kids, in formative youth stages, playing soccer across the country.   They simply do not have the influence they would need to successfully push the right ideas down to the thousands of soccer clubs across the U.S., and then to find a way to track the successful implementation of these ideas across the coaching ranks.  This is where you as parents and soccer clubs need to step in and make the difference that will matter in the long run.

My Personal Youth Soccer Coaching Philosophy

I’ve received a number of requests from readers to share my own personal coaching philosophy. These requests mostly came from the article about “How to Develop a Coaching Philosophy” as well as people who signed up to receive our free soccer coaching book. This is my letter of introduction to the parents of a competitive U11 soccer team. It also weaves my coaching philosophy throughout. Obviously, your philosophy would need to change based upon age, level and focus. I’m happy to share it with you as it has successfully helped me guide many teams to a shared vision, understanding and expectations for a great season. Yes, it’s long. But, in this case, I’m happy to trade thoroughness for brevity. Otherwise, I set myself up for a longer season.

Introduction to U11 Soccer

This note is for the parents, who at this age, U11, are still very much involved in your son’s soccer experience.  As a result, I believe it is critically important for you to understand the coaching philosophy I’ve developed over ten years of coaching as well as twenty-five years of playing. While your son will have the opportunity to learn it first hand, I think it is only fair to provide an insight to this refined thought process as you serve as an advocate for your son.

Who are You?

As an introduction, my name is Jerry Macnamara (most people go with JerryMac or JMac) and I will be coaching and training the team. It will depend on the needs of the club, but it is my hope to work with them for their entire youth soccer careers and send them into high school after the U14 season. I am also delighted to announce that the two head coaches of the U10 teams, have enthusiastically agreed to join with me in continuing to cultivate a positive experience for our players. While it is my normal tact to only take one assistant with me, I felt as if the quality of these coaches’ work with the kids warranted having two sound assistants in the fold for the season.

Haddonfield is an amazing place to grow-up! I was born and raised in the wonderful little community just as you are now. As someone who has traveled a bit, please believe me that while it may – at times – not seem like it, Haddonfield is an exceptional place to live and grow-up. I proudly represented our town at every level of soccer including winning two soccer state titles in high school. I was an average player, yet was still selected as Captain of our state championship team proving that everyone can contribute. I constantly battled to find playing time and believe that courage, character and hard work are some of the most important attributes to a successful player – and person. Those concepts reside in the core of my being. While not everyone has the pure talent to become the next David Beckham, everyone can display those core characteristics and find a level of success on a field by doing so. I am a true believer in the overall team concept where everyone can find a role.

I would consider myself a soccer aficionado and have been fortunate to make a living in the soccer industry. I began training teams in 1997 – my first boys’ team were successful in their own soccer pursuits, falling in the state semi-finals their senior year. Over the past years, I trained and coached a multitude of teams both on the boys and girls side. All of them experienced success – winning conference, regional and even, state championships. In short, I coach because I strongly believe in giving back to the community, because other people did it for me and I’m passionate about helping people grow and develop. I do not have any kids in the soccer program.

Enough about me, let’s talk about the upcoming year and the expectations:

Developing Soccer Players…And Young Men

I am a staunch proponent of allowing your son to own his soccer experience as sports provide a non-threatening environment for growth and understanding.  If he can’t make practice, I ask that he call or email me. If he has a question about playing time, he should ask about it. I believe it is important to understand accountability for actions – or inaction – as a vehicle for growth. Sports are a wonderful platform for understanding the world – I will always try to take those moments to provide more clarity into life – not as a substitute for parenting, but as another voice of reason and developing respectful young men.

Based around my track record, I am quite confident that I will help develop your son into a better soccer player. Our team will win games because we will develop faster than other teams. But, if I don’t cultivate kind, gentleman that will cross the street when they see me downtown to look me in the eye and shake my hand, I will consider my work a disaster. I’m sure to develop soccer players; I hope to develop quality young men.

During the season, we will examine soccer within the context of life.  Some will say that soccer is a microcosm of life: if you can learn to be successful on a soccer field, it will work wonders for your development and character as a young person.  All of the traits necessary to be successful on the field – courage, composure, creative thinking and hard work to name a few – are directly applicable to success in family affairs, school and life. Developing this understanding is critical to the overall success of the season.

Earning Playing Time

Playing time above the mandated club time requirements in games is based upon a player’s ability to positively contribute to the success of the team as a whole. At this level of soccer, simply showing up to practice does not entitle you to significant playing time; showing up to practice is a baseline expectation.  A player earns playing time in games by his actions, preparation and attitude before, during and after practice leading up to games. A player does not “get his chance” during the game. You “get your chance” before, during and after practice. The game each Sunday is a simple measuring stick from one week to the next to examine our development as a team and as individuals. A few – but certainly not all – of the traits I am looking for include: technical skills (passing, dribbling, etc.) positive attitude, courage, composed thinking, preparedness, creativity, maturity, understanding of player role, coachability and fitness.

Player Feedback

An area where I believe I excel is player feedback. I will continually provide players with feedback regarding what is going well and the areas of the game that need improvement. If a player would like to earn more playing time and is unsure what he needs to do to secure more playing time, please have the player ask me (part of learning responsibility and courage) and I will clearly review it with him again in a non-threatening manner. If you, as parents, are unhappy with your son’s playing time, please ask your son first the areas of improvement for him to contribute more to the team – and encourage him to put the time in off the field. I’m certain the player will know his areas of improvement. If the player doesn’t know, please have him come to me and I will be happy to explain the areas of necessary improvement in a different way.  If you still have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Please keep it positive and focus on your son’s play – not your son’s play relative to other teammates.

Competing and Developing…Not Winning

Even though we are in a competitive soccer environment, the goal of soccer at this stage is cultivating a safe, fun, interesting and challenging environment where players can learn the game and develop. I firmly believe that players who enjoy their experience will develop faster than those who do not. In short, the goal is to compete successfully. The goal is not strictly to win. Winning or losing is simply a by-product of playing the game. As we can all attest, there are many games we have been a part of where we played like warriors and “got unlucky” in a result, but had tons of positive experiences to take away from the match. Conversely, there are games where we’ve played like doggie-do and been fortunate enough to score more than the other team in the game. We take solace in the fact that we were “good enough” and “lucky enough” that day to find a way to win. We will always try to keep the focus on the process of player and skill development and fielding a competitive team. Sometimes that will be hard in waning moments of matches, but I remain committed to the philosophy.

I’m sure this will come up along the way, so I want to address it now. I’m a huge proponent of sporting behavior and modeling behavior. We will face teams that are short on players. I will play as many players as they have on the field. If they have 10 players; we’ll play with ten players. With a focus on developing players and cultivating a competitive environment, this is the right thing to do in my opinion. We want to earn it on the field. Besides, blowing out a team 6-0 because their players didn’t turn up doesn’t result in a “win” for anyone. My exception to this is a self-inflicted red card that leaves the other team shorthanded. In this case, we play man up.

If someone had to pin me down, my goal for each season is to win 50% of games and have all the games decided by 1 goal. Why? The means we were: a) appropriately placed in a competitive division by the league and b) were in competitive dogfights each week which ensures we have to be at the top of our game and promotes development. Please don’t get caught up in wins and losses…enjoy the journey of growth and development. I promise we’ll win our fair share of games…it’s just not the metric we will use to determine “success.”

Baseline Player Expectations

May I suggest the following list of priorities during the competitive soccer season: Family, church, school and then soccer.

My baseline expectations of your son are simple as a young player on the cusp of greatness:

  1. Show up on time every time for everything; it is not your parent’s responsibility to be your golden chariot and they are never the reason you are late. Things like a bike, car pool or the Amazin’ TTE (Ten Toe Express) are always available to you to ensure your timeliness. If you are late, you will work on your fitness.
  2. On-time means the following: Cleats are already tied with appropriate soccer gear on, mentally focused on having your best practice ever and taking touches on a ball ready for me to start the team. Appropriately dressed means the following: shinguards on with soccer socks over them just as required in a game; dressed for the weather in comfortable athletic clothing (no cargos, or dress-type shorts or bow-ties). Your bag and water bottle are placed in a safe and out of the way place. On-time does not mean sprinting from the car as I’m calling the team in together. Typically, it takes a player ten minutes before the actual start of practice to ready himself in this manner.
  3. As the weather becomes colder, please dress in layers to ensure your comfort. After living in Toronto, Canada for a few years, please believe me that it is incredibly hard to focus when you are cold.
  4. Bring your own water bottle or hydration supplies. We will work hard and I would expect you to get thirsty. For your body’s sake, take care of it and bring water to every practice. We will take appropriate breaks to hydrate.
  5. Bring your own soccer ball to practice – the same one you will use to juggle and practice in your backyard this summer. If you do not bring a soccer ball, you will have the opportunity to work on your fitness that day.
  6. If you are going to be late or absent for practice or a game, it is your responsibility to call me. It is not your parent’s job to call me.
  7. Don’t be late or absent. Your team is counting on you.
  8. Excused vs Unexcused Absence: An example of an excused absence would be your grandmother’s 100th Birthday dinner. It’s unique, special and family. An unfinished school project is not an excused absence. You have chosen not to complete your work in a timely manner and as a result failed your team. Plan and use your time wisely.
  9. Please schedule all avoidable appointments (dentist, eye exams, etc.) outside of our practice times. There are 168 hours in a week – I’m only asking for about 3 hours practice time total. We will only have the opportunity to meet for a limited period and your teammates are counting on you to learn, grow and develop during each practice – as well as on your own time.
  10. Come to practice and games prepared and with enthusiasm. Make sure you eat your Wheaties every morning and arrive ready to practice with a purpose.
  11. Take accountability for yourself. No excuses – do the work. I’m not your parents, teacher or best friend. Anything you’ve tried to get away with, I’ve already done and been caught for – don’t kid yourself. We’re out here to give our best – not fake giving our best.
  12. Learn and exercise the following mantra: Learn. Commit. Do. Learn what you need to do. Commit yourself to doing it. Do it with everything you have.

Baseline Coaching Expectations

The baseline expectations I have for myself as a coach and leader of young players:

  1. To create a fun, challenging and interesting environment that encourages player development in a safe way.
  2. Bring a passion and energy to everything that we do.
  3. Take a moment to reflect on the experience and what we learned.
  4. Be prepared with a plan.
  5. Be on-time for practice and games.
  6. Hold myself accountable.
  7. Hold my players accountable to the highest standards of sportsmanship and safety.
  8. To never place winning above player development or “doing the right thing.”

Areas of Growth in Soccer

We practice two and sometimes three times per week for 75 minutes each. I believe the game is the best teacher, so we will work to be active on the field as much as possible. I will come prepared to each session with a plan that meets the team’s needs. Again, the focus is on skill development, cultivating positive thinking, creative players and, as they are now mentally capable in understanding time and space, we will start to mix in tactics to cover positions, set plays, etc.  We will concentrate on four areas of the game:

Technical: We will hone individual fundamental skills. These are critical to the overall success of the team and your ability to positively contribute. Technical skills can be developed by yourself on a field or in your backyard by simply taking touches on a ball. Dribble, dribble, dribble. Juggle, juggle, juggle. The ability to confidently dribble is the single distinguishing factor for players at this age level.

Tactical: We will work towards understanding the flow of the game and critical concepts like “time” and “space” on the field. Understanding how the game works will enable us to create advantages on the field and showcase our technical play as a team. During the summer, check out ESPN2 for Major League Soccer’s “Soccer Saturday” – it is a great way to develop a better understanding of the game. Always keep your eyes peeled for soccer games, so we can inspire our players.

Mental: We will work towards individual composure and confidence on the field culminating in excellent team effort and the ability for teammates to positively address concerns on and off the field. I will work very hard to help cultivate confidence within your son and will encourage at every turn. It may be the most important aspect we cultivate.

Fitness: We will overcome the sedentary “Nintendo” generation by working our way into finely tuned individuals that can hit the field for the full match on a larger field. When the body is weak, the mind falters easily. To compete successfully, we must be strong physically and mentally. Typically, I work fitness into practices through increasing intensity and not in your traditional sense of fitness. We kill two birds with one stone.

Do the Right Thing

Please remember that when our players are on the fields, in the community, or in the game, we are no longer solely representing ourselves. The player is representing your family, your school, your community and your team. Please behave in such a manner that if your actions were on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper you would be happy to cut it out and send it to your grandparents. Always remember: There is never a right time to do the wrong thing.

Sideline Behavior & Referees

The South Jersey Soccer League has strictly mandated clubs and coaches to be responsible for their fans. As a certified referee and longtime coach, I take this mandate seriously. Referees are paid roughly $30 per game and are critical to the overall success of our league; imagine if we didn’t have referees!  This is a youth sport and not a multi-billion dollar World Cup final that is going to impact the rest of our lives.  Please keep the game in perspective. To those ends, the team rule for sideline conduct is simple: Keep quiet on the sideline with regard to referee’s calls. Please rest assured that I will vigilantly protect our team’s safety on the field.  With regard to missed calls, offside, tripping, handballs or any other perceived infraction – real or otherwise – start with this thought: the referee is going to miss at least ten calls per game – out of approximately 800 decisions during a game. That’s an amazing “correct” rate! My experience is that it evens itself out over the season. Give the referee a break. Imagine if you were getting paid a small stipend to allow kids to have fun and grow and someone showed up to yell at you for every micro-managed mistake. I fully anticipate that we will have the best behaved sideline in South Jerseys. Given a kids-first, soccer-cultured perspective, there is absolutely no reason for us misbehave. After all, the kids are watching and the thought must be: “What are we teaching our kids?”

In my younger years, I certainly could be heard from the sidelines. I’ve learned this isn’t the best method of coaching to develop creative and thinking soccer players. If I’m simply yelling direction, my players become drones conditioned only to do what they’re told. You’ll find that I am generally very quiet on the sidelines of games. This is the players time, not mine. My coaching occurs on the sidelines with the players standing right next to me. You’ll note they’ll be like ducklings following me. These players will be learning – even if they are not in the match. Unimpeded by trying to play, watch the ball, make decisions and take direction, the players on the sidelines are the ones you can coach and positively impact – not the ones on the field. It also keeps them “into the game” and developing, so they can perform when they get back out there.

Everyone Has a Role…Here’s the Parent Role

Providing player direction is critical to the success of the individual and the team. I appreciate the respect, love and energy you will have for your son on the sidelines.  As a parent, grandparent or significant other in the player’s life, your voice holds exceptional importance to them – good and bad.  It is everything from adulation, “Great job on your report card” to reprimand “I told you to take out the trash.”  I ask that you use your special voice only after the game to praise and congratulate your player. I, along with the other coaches, will take care of the changes that are required for the entire team to be successful. Since you will not have a handle on the technical and tactical aspects that we are cultivating for the team during practice, it would be unfair for you to use that special voice to distract the players or undermine what we are developing as a team. I think we can all agree the kids are confused enough already at this stage. It would be unfair to confuse them further with instructions like “Kick it!” or “Run!” as those are concepts we coach “against.” For instance, we don’t want to “kick it”, we want to pass with purpose; we don’t want to “run”, we want to come back to the ball to help our teammates and make ourselves available for a pass.  Your child – and the team – will grow faster if you allow the coaches to have one united voice that is clear and understandable for the entire team’s benefit.

When in doubt, we should all adhere to the following code of conduct:

  • Players – play
  • Referees – ref
  • Coaches – coach
  • Parents – cheer

Communicating with Me

As with all of us, we’re very busy people. I run my own company, do this for the love of the game, spend a multitude of hours on the fields with kids who aren’t mine, so I ask that you respect my time; it’s the only way this relationship works. (Note: Yes, my least favorite part of coaching is tracking down parents for answers. Please don’t be “that” parent.) I have found the most efficient method of communication is email and will keep you abreast of upcoming events/changes/etc. as it happens or as I know about them.  In general, I live at my desk and am usually extremely prompt in answering inquiries. I have secured email addresses from the soccer club database, but have found in the past families have multiple email addresses – work, home, personal, etc.  Please forward along all of the email addresses you would like for me to send the relevant information.

Other tips on being a great soccer parent? Read how to make it into the Parent’s Soccer Hall of Fame. I will make myself available to anyone at anytime to discuss the season. Please let me know.

I’m Psyched!

As a non-administrative note, I am incredibly enthusiastic to take on this challenge and create a positive culture for and with the team.  Personally, I have had tremendous experiences with teams in the past and despite all of the “official-ness” of the above in simply communicating our platform, I think you’ll find me very fair, fun-loving and interested in developing players – and people – for success. I love to coach and take the role of cultivating positive experiences very seriously.  I look forward to meeting all of you along the way and an incredibly fun journey for everyone.



What do you think of my philosophy? What’s your philosophy?