By Katie Warlosz – Soccer Coach and Club Trainer
Have you booked the venue where you intend to practice?
Are all the players aware of the time and venue of the practice?
Do you have the correct resources for your practice? i.e, soccer balls, pennies, cones, first-aid kit?
Do you have a list of emergency contact numbers in the event of an accident?
Prior to the commencement of each practice, give yourself at least 20 minutes to plan what you intend to cover during the session.
What aspects of soccer do the team most need to work on?
What aspects of soccer would the team benefit from recapping over?
Therefore, what will be the objectives (learning outcomes) of the practice?
How can you make this topic fun and enjoyable for the children?
How can you integrate maximum participation into your practice?
In order to achieve maximum participation throughout the practice try to avoid line drills wherever possible. If they cannot be avoided, reduce player waiting time by making multiple lines. Maximum participation refers to the concept of involving every player throughout the practice. More involvement means more touches, more goals, more decisions, more choice, more passes, more learning and more fun!
When planning your soccer practice, it is advisable that you follow a gradual progression structure. For example, a 90 minute practice may flow in the following way: -
0 – 05 min
Registration and explanation of practice objectives
5 – 15 min
15 – 35 min
35 – 55 min
55 – 70 min
70 – 85 min
85 – 90 min
Cool-down and discussion of learning outcomes
Be flexible with the timing of each activity type, because some exercises / games may take longer than you expect. However, try to stay within the progressive structure of your plan. This will help the players learn what you are trying to coach to them in an easier way. Do not be afraid to go back a step if the players are finding the activities too difficult. Also allow players time for quick water breaks.
Ensure that you have a contingency (back-up) plan in the event of bad weather, or in case you cannot go ahead with plan A. Can the same practice be coached indoors or in a small space?
The warm-up should be an integral part of your soccer practice, since it helps both the physical and psychological preparation for physical activity. Warm-ups are important for the following reasons: -
When devising your warm-up ensure that it starts gently, and progresses to complex patterns of movement that will cover a greater range of motion that you are likely to need in a soccer game. Consider the following steps: -
Step One: Moving joints – slow circular movements of the joints in both directions (Note: The neck should only be moved in semi-circles)
Step Two: Gentle aerobic work – Try to use soccer balls wherever possible
Step Three: Dynamic actions – movements that are likely to be used in a game. For example, leg swings, jumping for a header
Avoid static stretches to limbs prior to exercise. With static stretching the nervous system is relaxed instead of excited. As a result, the muscles fire slowly and there is no increase in core temperature. This means that mixed messages are sent to the muscles.
Unopposed activities allow the players to develop particular soccer skills without the pressure of an opponent trying to steel the ball. For example, shooting through cones to a partner with no defender present. The light intensity of this part of the practice makes it a suitable time for the coach to deliver coaching points to the players (not all at once). This section of the practice can be made competitive by racing the players against each other or by timing them. However, start off with no element of competition and gradually build up to it.
Opposed activities consist of exercises where the players attempt to perform particular soccer skills while under a certain degree of pressure from an opponent. For example, three attackers try to maintain possession of the ball, and one defender forces them to make a weak pass, or tries to steel the ball. It is important that the degree of pressure in this section of the practice progresses from passive (very light) to full pressure. Immediate full pressure on a player may force them to make errors before they have had a chance to experience success at the task.
Conditioned scrimmages are very similar to regular scrimmages. However, certain restrictions are placed on each team in order to practice what has been covered during the session. For example, a passing conditioned scrimmage may involve passing over an end-line to score, or playing two-touch so that players are forced to pass. Conditioned scrimmages are a good way for coaches to practically demonstrate the learning outcomes of the practice.
It is very important that players are given time at the end of a practice to play soccer in it’s truest form. Try to make this part of the practice as realistic as possible, by letting the play flow without intercepting to deliver coaching points. This will give players a chance to express themselves, as well as give you the opportunity to assess how players are developing and get ideas for team selection.
COOL DOWN AND DISCUSSION OF LEARNING OUTCOMES
If the players being coached are teenagers, ask them to take a few minutes at the end of the scrimmage to stretch their muscles. Recommend that they take a warm shower or bath when they get home and inform them that cooling down is an effective way of reducing post exercise muscle soreness. At the very end of practice, or while the players are stretching, the coach should have a brief discussion with the players about what they had learned during the session.
Ensure that you arrive at the venue at least ten minutes before the practice is due to start. This way you can carry out the following necessary safety checks before the players arrive: -
Arriving early will also give you time to set up your cones and markers for practice and allow you to meet and greet players and parents as they arrive.
When setting up your cones and markers, try to use as few as possible and color code them if you can. Children will find it hard to figure out boundaries with many cones of different colors. Also, to safe time position your cones and markers so that you only have to make minimal changes during your practice.
Always take a register or count the number of players attending the practice before it starts. This way you will know how to divide the players into groups / teams and you will know if anyone has gone missing. For safety reasons, check that all the players are wearing the correct clothes and footwear for soccer. They must also take off any items of jewelry and may not chew during the practice. The coach should also abide by this to set an example.
When conducting the practice, or talking to the players as a group or team, try to position yourself where everyone can see and hear you. This is most likely to be in the middle of the group or in front of them. Stand yourself facing the sun so that the players do not have to look into it. That way they can see you clearly without squinting.
Challenger Sports soccer coaches recommend using the ‘Question and Answer method’ when communicating with players. The ‘Question and Answer method’ consists of the coach asking the players questions about basic coaching points and encouraging them to come up with the answers. For example,
Coach: "What part of the foot do we use to make short passes?"
Player: "The inside of the foot."
Coach: "Well done Peter, does anyone know what part of the ball we kick and why?"
Player: "The middle, so that it stays on the ground."
Coach: "Excellent. Now show me passing with the inside of the foot please?"
If the players cannot come up with the correct answer, give them some clues so that they can work it out for themselves. Try to target questions to everyone in the group, rather than singling out one player. This way, most of the players will think of the answer in fear of being asked in front of their teammates.
When coaching new or difficult topics, the players may not know the answers to the questions. When this is the case, the coach can give a practical demonstration or an explanation. However, when communicating in this way, always remember the KISS Principle: -
‘Keep It Short and Simple’.
Since young players have a short attention span, they will stop listening and think of something else after the first sentence. Therefore, avoid lengthy explanations. Certainly do not use any offensive words or make any controversial statements! Young players look up to their coaches and may repeat what they have heard when it is not appropriate. Be positive when communicating to the group or to an individual player. There are many affective ways of telling a player that they need to improve their skills. For example: -
Negative language –
Coach: "What do you think you were doing wrong there Katie?"
Positive language –
Coach: "How do you think you could do that better Katie?"
Try to reinforce positive behavior where it is due. Aim to give each player some positive feedback by the end of the practice so that they leave feeling like they have achieved something, even if it is the smallest of things. When coaching soccer, express your enthusiasm and love for the game as you communicate with the players. There is nothing worse than a coach who talks with a monotone voice and stands with his/her arms crossed for the entire practice. Be energetic and upbeat, and your players will sense that you want to be there.