After talking with one of our player’s parents tonight it seems that a brief message on our practice organization and coaching philosophy would be helpful.
This message is not going to be brief – it’s going to be very long, so if you do not have time or do not care – please feel free to stop reading right now
Some background. I came from Ukraine: we moved with my family to the United States in 1996. As far as I can remember (and that means about three years old), I played soccer. it’s fact of life in those countries: you go on a street – you play. That’s one of the reasons why the “street soccer” coaching model works for me.
This model was first formalized and applied in Netherlands in 1970s and is the single biggest reason why this country with population less than the state of New York consistently performs exceptionally well in international competitions. Since then, this system became recognized and widely adopted throughout the world and is currently officially recommended by the United States Soccer Federation and United States Youth Soccer Association for utilization at all levels.
My coaching resume includes E-level coaching license (total of 28 hours of courses) and over ten seasons of coaching in youth soccer (including seasons when I had two teams at once that’s over 150 kids). For my E-license, I had luck and privilege to have former training director of the national US Youth Soccer Association as an instructor.
Throughout all the classes, “street soccer” approach is emphasized for its simplicity and efficiency. The main idea is that soccer is a self-learning game: if you put kids into situation when they have to play soccer they will have no choice but learn key principles even without realizing that they are learning. Soccer presents concrete problems – infinite set of concrete problems – and players need to solve them all the time. They need to learn to recognize established patterns (e.g., two attackers running against a single defender) as well as adjust and improvise in surprising situations (e.g., being a single defender against five attackers).
Key principles of the game are: technique, decision making, communication, and endurance. In conventional approach – when you predominantly do drills in a practice, – you can only target and improve one of these areas at a time, sometimes two. With only two 90-minute practices per week improvement rate for all four areas is fairly low. With the “street soccer” approach – when you do specialized scrimmages – players simultaneously exercise all four principles at the same time, which usually means that improvement rate is approximately three-four times higher when compared to conventional methodology.
“To play soccer” means to have all main characteristics of the game: have competition between two teams governed by basic soccer rules, have one ball, have boundaries, have defined directions and rules for scoring. By using such activities you can build a practice.
At the basis of each practice is a single purpose – or a subject. This makes each practice effective through targeted specialization. Subject examples are: first defender (“pressure”), first attacker, second defender (“cover”), second attacker (“support”), third defender, third attacker (that’s it: there are just three of each ), short passing, long passing, shooting, basic team shape, two players combining, handling crosses, role of wing midfielders, just to name a few.
Starting with U10 level, usual practice consists of a dynamic warm-up and four activities. Warm-up is something to get players going. Activities are built by the principle “from simple to difficult” as follows: 1st activity (~10-20 mins): no-pressure exercise; 2 (~20 mins): limited pressure small-sided game, 3 (~20-30 mins): full pressure small-sided game, 4 (~30 minutes): single scrimmage with highest numbers of players per team possible (e.g., 6v6 for a team of 12, or 8v8 if we can scrimmage with another team).
All activities including warm-up are targeting the practice’s subject. Such, if the subject is “second attacker” (or “attacking in twos”, or “short passing”) then I usually start with “free-for-all in twos” on a single goal (players are paired together, each team of two is playing against everybody else. everybody is scoring on the same goal). The first “official” activity is “no pressure”. As an example – for passing practice – I like to make boys run around the field aimlessly in pairs and pass on a whistle to each other. “Limited pressure” during the second activity is achieved by creating lopsided numbers: for example a team of five playing against a team of two; the “five” can score by completing seven passes in a row without turning the ball over, the “two” can score in cone goals. Or – you can add “neutral players” such that they are always on offense; this way for example you always have four attackers going against two defenders in a game with six players, etc. The third activity is a scrimmage of equally numbered teams with small number of players on each team (four vs. four is ideal), with or without modified rules (e.g., instead of a single goal each team may have to defend two goals, etc.).
This is practice organization. Now – a little on how coaching happens in this approach.
First – instructional session, or “improvised lecture”. Happens between warm-up and the first activity, and for this age group it should last (ideally – I can never make it happen ) under five minutes. This is when you discuss with players subject of the practice and demonstrate any techniques or situations if necessary. This is however information only, main body of coaching happens during second and third activities, and it happens through means of providing feedback.
During each practice, feedback should be provided strictly on the subject: there should be no points on defending given when practice’s subject is passing, etc. Feedback is classified by its degree of intrusion into the activity: from least intrusive to the most intrusive. Such, you can just talk to a player one on one and ask him why he performed one or another action, or – you can talk to him one on one and tell him why one action could be better than another, or – you can yell some feedback without stopping the game flow, or – you can stop the play and make players freeze and discuss concrete game situation, what happened, and what could have happened.
While observing game play, you need to concentrate on a single team: it’s easier to watch four players instead of eight. As result, you will be providing feedback to one team with the hope that the other one picks up your points.
Feedback should not interrupt game flow too much: during the second activity (“limited pressure”), you should wait about five-seven minutes into the game to let players get the feeling for the rules and objectives. During the third activity (“small-sided game with full pressure”), there should be no more than two-three “stop-freeze” interruptions during entire game.
There is no coaching during the final scrimmage, just observations (and having warm feeling from noticing players executing the points that they learned in previous activities ).
Couple more words on practice specialization and having just a single subject. I know it may be frustrating to see players not being able to pass properly and shoot and defend and spread out and execute all the points at once – but unfortunately that’s reality Another reality is that you cannot fix everything at once: you need to be patient with kids and address one problem at a time. Some times you can go through all the basics in a season, and other times – you have just three practices halfway through the season because of rain outs and try outs, but that’s something you can’t control. The main premise of going through a single subject at a time still holds
Those of you who made it this far – thank you very much for your patience
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