A Huge Mistake Well-Meaning Coaches are Making

Soccer-Coaching-MistakesThey try a bunch of different activities.

Doing this, creates no continuity in your training. Which means:

  1. Your players aren’t getting a simple digestible message (the philosophy).
  2. Your players can’t achieve a level of mastery in the skills associated with a particular activity.
  3. And you, the coach, aren’t achieving a level of mastery with a particular activity (execution).

The key is coming up with a small set of core activities that properly support the type of football you want to play – and consequently, the type of player you want to develop.

How small is this set?

Well, I don’t have a number but it should chiefly comprise of just:

  • a few technical,
  • a few on how you’re going to build,
  • a few on how you’re going to attack,
  • and a few on how you’re going to defend.

And you hammer these over and over and over again in all your sessions, until your players demonstrate consistent execution during match play.

That can take months to years, depending on the level of the roster, the level of the coach, and if you’ve chosen your activities wisely.

This is where our online coaching course helps. If you haven’t already, make sure to sign up.

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  1. Riggy says

    I totally agree with having a core amount of activities. I think its very easy to replicate a sample training session from “X” Academy; however, how does it fit into your philosophy and style of play that you want the players to execute in games. If you don’t have a clear philosophy and picture of what you want play to look like, you won’t be able to communicate that within your activities. I firmly believe that throwing all kinds of activities at players is simply a function of a coach’s lack of philosophy and vision. Once you know your philosophy and style of play, it makes structuring your activities much easier and possible.

  2. Tom F says


    Thanks. That short post was very helpful, a good reminder to be wary of the infinite stream of “drills” coming from so many directions. in my experience usually drills are introduced without any connection to a strategy or philosophy. Also due to there usually being no real philosophy.



  3. STL A-B says

    Good discussion Gary. I believe in the post and not flooding the message to the kids.

    A training/philosophy question for high level U10 age: If train 3x/week, 40 training weeks long, plus games. Is one day footskills, day two possession/passing focused, and day 3 tactical? Another example, I believe Arsenal focuses on week 1 – foot skills. Week 2 – Passing. Week 3 – Shooting, etc. My question is – With a goal of high level footskills, possession soccer, and tactical training what is an appropriate percentage of each throughout the week or year for a high level U10 team?

      • John Pranjic says

        My advice would be to focus on bigger ideas that relate to the game and how you aim to play it. Focusing on ‘foot skills’ is too broad. You should have some element of ‘foot skills’ in every session. Some element of ‘passing’ in every session. Etc.

        If you’re looking for an outline of how much time you should spend on foot skills each session… you won’t get two of the same answers no matter who you ask.

        US Soccer’s curriculum has all info if you’re looking for recommended guidelines.

    • says

      I first want to caution that understanding what Club X does will not come from reading some report or even books. There’s no way to properly appreciate context.

      That aside …
      Coaching is an art.
      It’s an art because there are way too many variables to account for. And that means, there is no recipe like the one you seem to be seeking.

      If indeed this is a high level U10 team (per my standard), I personally would never do what I gather your comment suggests.

      To me, the plan in your post resembles what a personal trainer does – not what a team trainer should be doing.

      If your goal is to teach possession soccer (whatever that means), isolated “footskills / passing / shooting”, is not what should be happening. You’re a team trainer, not a personal trainer.

      You can have a roster full of great passers / shooters / and “skilled’ players, and that does not create a possession-based team.
      See the 4 bullet points in the article:
      * HOW is your team going to build
      * HOW is your team going to attack
      * HOW is your team going to defend

      This is all tactical work.

      • Riggy says

        I agree that within the limited amount of time we see players during the week, we should be focusing on the big picture and technical work should be within the context of how they’ll use it in the game. However, to play devil’s advocate, how does set tactical training fit in to some of the research done on motor learning principles. One of the most prominent ones is random vs. blocked practices (where random = a game with opposition and unpredictability and blocked = activities done out of context and with no opposition). The presented case is that random practice is far superior to blocked practice when it comes to transfer to the game: (http://championshipbasketballschool.com/2013/09/15/john-kessel-learning-learn-improving-practice-motor-learning-science/)

        Wouldn’t set tactical training fall under blocked training? I use set tactical training myself in training based on my limited knowledge of it; however, I wanted to get your thoughts on it.

        • pg 19 says

          Didn’t watch the entire video, intend to though.

          My bit.

          Set Tactical Training (STT) for me, has allowed me to initially introduce the concept of playing out of the back. Its one thing to have the players watch this being done by say a pro team. Another getting them to recognize how “they” participate in the activity. As the season moves forward I can address technical issues (passing, receiving, body shape), movement issues (ex player that is 2nd in sequence to receiving the ball recognizing the queues of the play and getting into position early versus reactive) and angles of support (ex CB2 knowing the drop 5 yards when CB1 receives the ball in anticipation that either they will be played next and provide safety in the event of a turn over). STT is 5v0 but I think it differs from block training as this isn’t a drill where the ball and players are static. There is fluid and cohesive movement interconnecting all the backs and pivot.

          To make it more game like, a progression within the training session is to add an attacking unit and GK so the activity becomes a half field “phase” play activity with 5+GK vs. 3-5 attackers. The context of building from the back that was introduced in the STT now is given plenty of in game opportunities to be performed that are “game” realistic because the activity forces lots of repetition in this “phase” of play.

          Then you may move into a full sided scrimmage if you have the numbers or another team to compete with and again, the frequency of the STT concept may not be as high as it was before, but considering how much of the play in a game is centered around the “build up” there are quite a few opportunities for this to be implemented. I don’t normally have the numbers to do this so we often will end with the “phase” play activity.

          However, I DEFINITELY use our games as a training tool for the players. I am insistent that what we cover in training is also done in games. Often I use restrictions to force the players to use the concept that was taught in training, in games. Ex of the STT, I will require that the ball, once won by our team be played through either of our center backs or goal keeper before going forward. I’m not telling the players what “play” they have to use, but I’m forcing their play where the STT concepts are useful to their “problem” they are experiencing in the game.

          Otherwise it is kick and chase and maybe the concept is used a couple of times in a game. For me, I can’t tolerate so few applications of what is being taught to be used in matches.

        • Dr Loco says

          Riggy, thanks for sharing video.

          As a coach you must first understand your philosophy for player development. Based on your philosophy you must then create your own training sessions that will optimize development for your particular players. Every team is different so you can’t just copy and paste.

          Block vs Random to me both are needed depending on the age group and player abilities. Since your time as a coach is very limited you have to be very efficient with training and get to game-like situations as quickly as possible. If you have to dumb it down then do it. The goal is to optimize development and increase knowledge retention. Start slow or very slow if you have to then progress. Don’t just practice to look good in practice or because you have a big game. Train to develop future stars.

          The biggest issues I see is most coaches recruit the best athletes and players just to form strong rosters and never have a chance to experience ‘true’ player development. If you have strong players a coach does not have to do much just “let them play”…but that is not TEACHING.

          Coaches stop ruining players! Players you have no future if you are not developing. Parents find ‘true’ teachers for your kids or quit the sport now rather than later.

  4. Jeremy Hallam says

    I agree with this 100%, especially with a younger age group. I have seen the results of this first hand with my sons team (u11 and now u12). The new coach took over last spring and focused on ball movement and killing the “Go to Goal” mentality that the kids had developed. By the end of the season the kids were playing soccer instead of kick and run. At the beginning of this fall season the kids still seemed to be understanding the philosophy so the coach reduced the team ball movement drills in practice. Now the team has regressed and started with the “Go to Goal” thing again. Time to take a step back and return to the simple message agian.

    • Jack says

      It’s amazing how quickly kids an revert back to kick and chase. A friend of mine asked me to help him out with his team after starting the season 0-2 and hadn’t scored a goal. I switched from his Flat 4-4-2 to the 4-3-3 and showed them how to play out of the back and how we were going to attack……just those TWO things. We rehearsed the movements over and over again. The next 4 games we went 4-0 and scored 12 goals while only giving up 2.

      The next week he wanted to work on more Individual Attacking skills and ditched the rehearsing part of playing out of the back because he said, “I think they’ve mastered that part now”. I warned him and said, “we haven’t mastered ANYTHING yet”! But it’s his team so I said, “whatever you want to do”.

      Needless to say, we looked like a REC team the next game and became just another kick and chase team. It was awful!! He looked at me after the game like, “I don’t think we’ve mastered playing out of the back yet :) .”

      It just reinforced to me that kids can quickly revert back to old habits. It’s not that working on Individual Attacking skills is a bad thing….it’s not. Kids DO need to learn how to beat a defender when he’s got him 1v1. BUT, when a team is just learning how to play correctly it takes a LONG time to master it. It needs to be rehearsed over and over again. And as Gary says, sticking with just a few drills helps the kids master the basic way you want them to play.

    • El Doutor says

      Jeremy, Jack, I would be interested in any further observations you both have. I coach U11 and we have exactly the same issues; once the game gets going and the adrenaline is pumping, passing accuracy and decision making goes out of the window. I think U11 is truly a transitional year but I am sure every coach says that about whatever age they are coaching. Jack, how do you maintain game reality in practice? Our biggest issue is the middle to attacking quarter; we can play the ball out but once they get to the halfway line they start taking risks with the ball, the pressure is greater, there is less space, and we have no patience. When discussing possession games, many coaches insist on keeping it directional, and I understand why, but they have to be really comfortable as a team keeping the ball before they can think about working it forward. Of course that leads to lots of wasted possession and counter attacks and goals conceded. But we are in it for the long term. that’s what I keep reminding myself on those lonely evenings after a loss.

  5. El Memo says

    I think the main message is – CREATE A PHILOSOPHY FIRST. If not, it’s like teaching to read but not to comprehend. Once a philosphy is created, all the clutter and fluff is removed and you can concentrate on what matters to your game style. Hence, the proper curriculumn, hence the proper (small amount of) drills/activities.

    Drills/Activities Variations may help prevent being monotonous. But, a consistent clear message is needed and anything that clutters just prevents you from reaching potential.

    One thing that bothers me is how Coaching Sessions are supposed to focus on ONE topic. I guess I haven’t seen a soccer game when the players only used one of their skills (i.e. shooting but not dribbling, etc.,). If you concentrate on one topic and are tested right afterwards, you’ll do better than someone who works on it throughout the season. But, if you test at the end of a season on all aspects of the game, those that worked on them consistently will do better than those that worked on them separtedly. Studies support this fact.

    • Matt Emmert says

      Great point. That is the start of everything for a coach. It’s helped me to think about how I want the team to play in the four main moments of the game (in/out of possession, +/- transition) and get the general objectives down for each moment. For example, do you prioritize moving the ball forward immediately after you win it and take some risks with possession to get it forward or do you prefer to minimize risk and are comfortable moving the ball laterally or backwards so long as possession is guaranteed? These type of questions need to be answered until the whole picture is clear in the coach’s mind. And it takes hours. And hours. And hours, to get the whole thing pretty nailed down and then planned out so you can teach it all in a progressive way that makes sense and is effective. Actually the most important thing I’m working on at this very moment. Hope to finish a year plan (progressing concepts and the accompanying training sessions) in the next week or two. Been educational to put in the time to think and plan it…

  6. jesran says

    I think the only downfall to simplicity can be if it’s the wrong message…

    My boys play soccer and wrestle. We have good wrestling coach/trainers… soccer is another story. The better wrestling trainers deliver a “system” that they’ve boiled down to just the essentials. This is quite nice because in the end what you are learning from a trainer is their perspective on what works anyway. Rarely, does anybody have any true ground-breaking creativity that they have to show your kids right now so that they may be the first ones to utilize. Rarely, would you leave a set of sessions with a coach/trainer and think well he never taught me to X, so that sucked! Competing teaches to fill in the gaps. The only real problem I see is when you have a trainer isn’t right for you and they deliver what seems like simple truth. An example would be when a trainer has an unusual body type not like yours (heavy-weight and you’re a light-weight or vice-versa), but those people should know their limitations and shouldn’t be training everyone. A comparison to soccer would be trainers who are really good with little guys and individual foot skills and then fall to pieces as the team gets to near adulthood and needs tactical awareness and coordination. This is why people sometimes start teaching all over the map because I think they know they’re in over their heads… Other coach/trainers

    I think that is what we are seeing here with 3 Four 3 boiling down a system to its essence (possession for US Youth soccer). A system that is considered progressive and the best thing going by most of us here, but as much as we think of it we don’t touch the enthusiasm of the authors of this blog. As much as you and I agree with Kleibans’ philosophy on youth soccer, none of us have blogged about it as frankly or for as long as them. None of us have staked our reputation so heavily on possession either.

    So I thank you, Kleibans, for the spoon feeding. It certainly seems correct to me.

    P.S. Has anyone else notice that Caleb Porter’s TImbers are in first place already? He will start turning some heads soon at the US Men’s level using simple possession.

    • jesran says

      Sorry for the previous chopped up post…

      Kleibans=Correct Message

      Also, how do I know Caleb Porter’s message is simple? He has been professional league coach for less than a year and his success is stunning. Must be simple to be digested so easily by his players.

  7. Dr Loco says

    If coaches are making a huge mistake then they are not well-meaning.

    I have a problem with most youth coaches that think they are good. Frankly most coaches, parents, players do not know what ‘good’ is.

    A coach should do ‘no harm’ but many do. That is why coaches, parents, players like variety in training sessions and playing style. They foolishly think more is better – less damage can be done and players are bound to learn something meaningful.

    It takes intense focus on coaches’ and players’ part to keep it simple.

    Gary, thanks for keeping us learning.

  8. 808 Soccer says

    Hey Gary,
    Interesting yet very simplistic thought you shared. It is much appreciated but here on the Island of Hawaii, soccer tends to be more individualized with most clubs spending the majority of the time teaching kids “foot skills” and technique. I hate to see kids so reluctant to pass or try and dribble between 3 defenders after making a 55 yard run just to lose the ball at the end. Some coaches affiliated with pretty prominent clubs brainwash their players with this mentality by repeatedly telling them that the only their individual skill with get them noticed and they’ll learn tactical skills later in their careers. What a shame…

    • jesran says

      55 yard run just to lose the ball at the end… yes all too common and now the “fumbler” is 55 yards out of position.

  9. Wolfgang says

    It is amazing what a craftsman or an artist can produce with only a few basic tools. It is dreadful what the unskilled hack produces with the latest and greatest gadgets.

  10. Kana says

    One of the best age specific teams in SoCal I know of keeps it pretty simple. Each practice has same concepts: quick passing, movement, thinking, high intensity. Weaved into this is offensive, defensive, and transition play. That covers 90%+ of all practices. They cover set plays before big tournaments. About once a month the run, run, and run. Most physically fit out there.

    I’ve seen coaches have some pretty complex tactics going on. Complex movement and player transitions (positional interchange). That’s great, but problem starts with player id. Some players lack the speed of thought and/or foot skill and/or stamina and/or versatility and/or spped to make it happen. Square peg in round holes and they can’t see it becasue their philosophy isn’t aligned ot player id.

  11. pg 19 says

    Identify the philosophy; done. My theory on getting there, way too many variables. I understand what I want, not necessarily everything that goes into making it work the way I see it working.

    Admittedly, the issue I have that compounds everything to a significantly higher degree of difficulty is the inconsistency of the players I coach as I train the younger club teams that filter players into the high school program I coach. Various reasons for this but primarily it is a rec club program and players go out for reasons often tied ot the sport itself (fun, friends, fitness, being part of something).

    Regardless, the players I train are indoctrinated into the philosophy of developing the total footballer, whether they want to be or not. Granted they aren’t paying for my services so often there isn’t an appreciation of what I bring compared to someone paying me $2000 for their kid to be trained by me.

    That being said, the solutions I’ve found to work in some areas have been using in game restrictions to bring out desired play from the players. For 1v1 mastery, no passing. For building out of the back, we have to play to either our keeper or our two center backs whenever we win possession before going forward. The set tactical training is key for the players to understand one solution of how it can be done and that solution has several variables within it.

    The issue I’m having of late is getting the players to combine to get forward. I’m toying with the restriction of requiring that my attacking mids and three forwards having to combine with someone before making a break on goal and/or taking a shot. Not sure if anyone has had experience in making this in game restriction. Interested to know how it worked out. The team I’m currently coaching, a U14 team, isn’t at that level where our only issue is getting penetration into the opponent defenses. Lots to work out in terms of the building phase.

    However, one of the youngest players on the team starting doing a few things differently in our last game, to which we were outnumbered 11 to our 8 due to schedule conflicts with dual rostered players and last minute no shows (another symptom of rec club soccer). She played our left back position. Her fitness is rediculously incredible due to her participation in middleschool cross country. So she was brave enough to make long runs up field and still recovered coming back.

    She has great ball control, an attitude to take on 1v1′s and win almost all of them. But the element that came out from her was her timing her passes. Instead of passing early, she held on an extra second to draw her opponent closer to her before passing the ball. Then under that higher pressure, she still played a technically quality pass to her teammate. She succeeded in frustrating the opponent and also created more space for the pass behind the defender. It was composed, technical, tactical, and ultimately she used a little strategy againt the opponent. Not sure if I’m going to be able to bring that quality out in the other players, but at least there is a reference within the team.

    As for keeping the sessions simple, absolutely. If you’re all over the place, then there is very little gained in mastery of basic skill. In addition you waste an incredible amount of time teaching the activity. By sticking to a few simple activities that allow a lot of progression in difficulties or phases of play being covered, you minimize the amount of time of activity set up and players getting accustomed to the activity in hand. Add rules/restrictions where needed, or change numbers emphasize a different phase of play. I can name 3 activities that I use that I can implement with any age group I coach, regardless of ability, regardless of experience.

    • Kana says

      The philosophy is easy part. The devil is always in the details (training plan, player id, player/coach communication, which tournaments to play, what level to play at, which formation, experimenting with player lineups and positions, player release, and on and on and on . . . .

      I don’t care for Jose Mourhino, but he has reputation as knowing every detail of players, his team, and opponents. Wish more youth coaches had that passion and deep care for their profession. Most youth coaches don’t. Many coach 2 or 3 teams or even college and are overwhelmed. They see it as a job as $$$, as opposed to a passion for helping develop players to their fullest. LIke any profession, results are almost always based on what you put into it. I believe most coaches are going through the paces. This is a topic I would like to have Gary post an article on from his and/or his brother’s perspective as serious coaches.

      • Kana says

        Not suggesting a hatched job aimed at bashing coaches. What are traits of a good coach, commonalities between successful coaches, the role of communication (80%+ of being a good manager/coach is communication), the art of coaching.

        I recall from a Podcast you and Brian did with Jacques Pelham and Brian talked about how he visited South America and the difference between coaching. I also recall the Brian Wallace Podcast with Jacques. It was along same vein. I don’t recall details, but both Podcasts point out difference in professionalism, knowledge, how they approach the game and player id an development, and so on. I think we need more on this piece of the puzzle to hopefully aling more coaches to the gold standard (hope I’m not using that term out of context).

  12. Neeskens says

    U-13/U-14 is an interesting age.
    I’m seeing more teams trying to “play possession” but there is a lot of possession without purpose IMO..and maybe its a starting point..
    Its much easier to keep the ball when you’re playing in the back 1/2 as the boys make the easy decisions to play back and you can spend time “with the ball”.
    The next step seems to be helping them understand when to transition quickly ( every opportunity- see Pep at Bayern) and when you are in that 1/3 an attacking mentality is paramount.
    IIRC Zonal Marking 3-4 years ago compared Swansea possession based game when Rodgers was trying to impose his style of play. They connected a lot passes and won many possession “battles” but the amount of time in the back 1/3 was about twice that of Barcelona who spent the bulk of their possession in the attacking 1/3 or at least half.

    So its tricky because I can have several boys who when we were in the attacking 1/3 or half instinct seems to be to play safe and simple because they want to “keep the ball”. We build for those moments and then the attacking mid plays a ball wide rather than look for that little diagonal ball centrally..or we work hard to create 2v1 with our left back and winger against their right back and they don’t always seize the opportunity.
    So we seem to spend much more time in sessions emphasizing recognizing when they are one 1v1 and attacking or playing quick combinations to create numbers mismatches..look at the goal. Lots of sessions in that last 1/3 with emphasis on speed of play and getting shots. That has been the theme of this fall for this group it seems. I wonder if its common at this age?

    We also run into teams that are now trying to play possession based soccer but they just don’t have the personal ( It may be too late for them). We can high pressure those teams, play in their defensive 1/3 for what seems the entire game and its just a feeding frenzy..you feel bad a little but its a lesson for our boys on pressing as a team and the boys are rewarded for their work with many finishing chances.

    • jesran says

      You bring up several interesting topics.

      As for possession for possession’s sake and the accompanying ineffectiveness you describe in the final 1/3… consider the “goal-line cut-back”. It seems to be a main stay for possession goal scoring. Possibly because the opponents give you a run at the goal-line on either side of the net presuming you are going to pass it wide or shoot it directly at the goalie or off the side of the net.

      I know that is a terrible video, but all of us should be familiar with the play because it is so common in the pro highlight reels for goals scored from the run of play. It’s common because it works. Runnin the ball to the end line and passing it 1) keeps everybody onside 2) freezes the goalie who is glued to the post protecting a shot and 3) puts a pass behind the central defenders who are reluctant to touch the ball for fear of an own goal…. I might add a forth for you… 4) a pass that close to an open net gives a possession team no choice, but to shoot.

  13. Some Coach says

    Technical repetition withing the tactical build of the topic or session.
    I think isolated technical session doesn’t help a team or a player (to understand the game and his/her roles). Here in the US, players lack understanding of the game because they are distant from the game in the day to day bases (i.e. on Monday morning you hear about the NFL and College football, while a kid in Spain or even in Poland you will be hearing about Tata’s decisions, Messi’s smart trun, Carlo’s tactical switch ..etc).
    Why spend time doing passing lanes, when you rarely pass the ball same way in the game. So while you are coaching building out of the back, the repetition can be passing sequence or pattern that replicates that. This will cover the details, of body shape, correct surface to receive and pass ..etc

    Dribbling 1v1, for example switching the point to create the space wide for the wide forward to penetrate in dribble (when isolated with OB). You paint the picture and allow lots of repetition, so your center back don’t take off dribbling 1v1 because we worked on that yesterday. …etc.

    High level or low level or rec soccer … every player have the right to learn the game. It makes it easier to play with well understood roles.

  14. dr loco says

    “Here in the US, players lack understanding of the game because they are distant from the game in the day to day bases”

    This is not true. I see kids every week that don’t understand baseball, basketball, volleyball, soccer….

    Kids need to be TAUGHT by coaches!!!! They don’t learn by osmosis. Most coaches are nothing more than adult guardians that supervise kids’ extracurricular activities…”just let them play.”

    * HOW is your team going to build
    * HOW is your team going to attack
    * HOW is your team going to defend

    This tactical work is required in all team sports. Few coaches teach it in youth sports.

  15. Rob A says

    Great to see this in writing. Over the years, I’ve come to the same conclusion about my set. I’ve always wondered if it’s too few, but in reality it’s really not. The “base” activity may be the same but I can tweak variables (conditions, playing area, time, intensity, # of players) to change the game to tease out what topic I’m working on.

    But you’re right, having this small arsenal of “base” games has allowed me to really get to know the games and how they can be manipulated to teach the game. It helps practices flow better as well, because I don’t have to teach the players new games consistently. I can simply say “continuation game” or “endzone game” and roll a ball out.

  16. Paul says

    Well intentioned youth coaches is often an oxymoron. They often do things for their own good. Reminds me of a few famous quotes:

    1)“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
    2)“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”
    3)“The world is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”

    In summary: Lots of coaches with good intentions who can often be stupid and cocksure in their ways but they don’t realize there is a better way in front of their noses (3Four3 for example) . . . they just need to open their eyes to new ideas to get a bit smarter.

  17. Paul says

    I’m a fan of possession, pressure (defensive and offensive), and composed but quick attack. In watching several dozens of games just this year alone at youth level (U14 – 18), there is a common thread: majority of teams struggle in how to defend, build, attack as a team. Gary is right on this point. I’m pretty sure all coaches instruct players these matters, but somehow the best laid plans fall apart. We (including me) like to blame the coach. But player personnel is an equally big problem. It’s an uneasy subject, especially for coaches . . . but a problem nonetheless. I know it’s not possible given limited numbers for most teams at tryouts, but I like the model many professional clubs follow in choosing talent based on non-physical aspects. Such as composure, ability to read game, know when to slow things down / reset. Basically, they id smart players. Most youth coaches in USA consider only tangible elements such as physical, technique, speed.

    A large piece of the coaching art is identifying the intangibles.

    • Rob A says

      If player personnel is the problem, then it can take time but it’s the coaches’ job to build and develop players to play within a certain system and to have to meet the baseline of “soccer ability” required to play on a given team.

      I look for “soccer IQ” during tryouts but it’s difficult to see it in tryouts. Again, some of it’s natural, some of it can be taught—so if you have a physically gifted kid but has never had coaching that highlights the thinking aspect of the game, is it fair to hold it against him?

      • El Memo says

        You have to weigh everything. Yes, you can fill development gaps but you have to work with them individually and they have to work on their own. Will not be easy and commitment may not be there. Don’t underestimate individual skills and soccer iq training, it takes a long time to develop. It takes 6 to 9 months to establish a good habit or break a bad habit.

    • dr loco says

      Yes, blame the coaches because they suck! Any player can be taught but coaches don’t have the balls to be strict with players, parents, and directors. Everything is the responsibility of the coaches so stop making excuses.

  18. Wolfgang says

    So tired of player personnel and selection being used as an excuse to cover poor coaching.

    Gary has spent time and there have been many posts talking about the interwoven nature of multiple components related to achieving the Gold Standard. And yes player selection is an integral component of being the best of the best. But not selecting or having the ideal 11-16 players does not excuse a coach when his team does not play possession soccer.

    Possession soccer can exist at any level of soccer from pure rec to true pro. Why doesn’t it? Because coached won’t/don’t/can’t teach it. Any player and any team can learn to play possession based soccer.

    Start today. Take whatever team you have and start teaching possession soccer. If what happens on game day is not possession soccer then there are only two possible explanations. Reason 1) you have more teaching to do. Reason 2) you are not actually teaching possession soccer yet.

    For the well-meaning coach reason 2 is probably the most likely answer.

    • David Williams says

      I understand your point, just do not agree. To keep the ball well, your players need above average ability.When you have teams with players who struggle to run, have little coordination, then trying to get them to play a possession based style of play is possibly not the best way for them. I have coached lads who have no athletic ability, little understanding of time and space, unfit etc etc. You can teach any team to play possession, does not mean they will be able unless some serious work is done with the individuals.

      • Dr Loco says

        Do the serious work or stop coaching.

        Reason 1 and 2 are not opinions. If you don’t agree with facts then there is not much to say.

  19. Wolfgang says

    This article is evidence we still have a long way to go in soccer development in the USA.

    “Several players decide club and high school teams provide better route for future than Timbers Academy”

    • Vitale says

      Its better for everyone if High Schools can compete at high levels. Academies and Clubs want their monopoly on the best players, but they will never be as inclusive as High Schools. The Allianza tournament showed that the MLS academies have missed some top players from across the Country. When High Schools compete with the pay to play clubs, or even the MLS teams, there will be more good players getting a chance to play with and against each other. The challenge as always is finding good Coaching.

      • Rob A says

        The problem with high school is that it’s such a poor environment for development. Too many games in such a short stretch of time. Not enough training, not enough recovery time. Not enough off season contact.

        • Vitale says

          It seems like different regions have different schedules and seasons that HIgh Schools play. The Schools I’m familiar with play competitive games and train hard. One inner city public High School has had the same situation with kids rejoining after leaving an MLS team academy, and then playing in College. But there is another advantage that High Schools have- players are up against different age groups. A 15 year old sophomore who can compete with the 18 year old senior is going to get a challenge that he might he not come accross in the Club/Academy environment.

    • jesran says

      Good points in this article. High-school sports are cool no doubt. High-school soccer is not so cool for a variety of reasons touched on in the article…

      I think we should have 2 high-school soccer seasons; fall and spring. That way the coaches can get paid for 2 seasons and maybe take it a little more seriously. That way the players can play 2 seasons as they probably had all of their youth careers. I know the small town baseball and lacrosse folks will call foul saying it will take from their numbers, but let’s face it. THis is soccer, the worlds greatest and most passionate sport. And this is the USA the worlds most crazed sporting nation all the way down to glorifying their high-school teams as the article says. It is a natural fit 2 or even 3 seasons (futsal). It is inevitable. Let it happen.

      • Ryan says

        Jesran, would love to see two seasons. For us in the Midwest boys play in the fall and girls play in the spring. And then the club seasons are opposite of the high school season. Unfortunately for me, most of my players don’t play at the better clubs, just a local rec team in the off season coached by a parent. We can’t touch the players in the high school off season according to our state athletic association. So basically I get the guys Aug-Oct and that’s it. I am a coach willing to put in the extra time to make them better, but I can’t. All I can do in the winter is hold open gym for the guys, no coaching. The state athletic association just has it all wrong in my book. So many restrictions it’s crazy.

        • Rob A says

          That’s another problem with HS sports—the state rules were made up primarily for pointy football. In a less enlightened time, drill sargeant fooball coaches would have had kids practicing year round.

          But the OVERALL problem is that the mission of an educational institution is to EDUCATE scholastically. Sports are a secondary concern. Can both be done well? Perhaps but can soccer development be handled much better by a soccer entity?

          • dr loco says

            HS soccer or club soccer?

            It’s pretty much the same shit minus the parents and cost. Neither will develop players.

            If you want to pretend your kid is an elite player then send them to an academy.

    • jesran says

      Yes, unfortunately.

      I think again this is a symptom of poor coaching pool. In my opinion, kids should play small sided 4 v4 and at most 8 v 8 until U13, but for for that to be reality we’d need that many more coaches. Obviously with the quality coaches already stretched to near breaking point and the popularity of soccer growing in the youth ranks of the US there is no relief in sight.

      I think another factor overlooked as to “why we suck so bad” is because of the popularity of soccer amongst American girls relative to the rest of the world. Essentially this long-term good thing doubles our short-term need for coaches. Then add to it the alluring sensibility of year-round soccer and/or small-sided games and you start to ask yourself where are all of these coaches going to come from?

      I think this under-scores the importance of teaching an evolved version of soccer NOW to our youth (possession) because an even larger percentage of these players will be coaches soon. Do we want them teaching kick-and-run for yet another generation? Also, all of this points to the inescapable reality that growing pains hurt.

  20. pg 19 says

    Going to tackle two points.

    In regards to coaching kids that aren’t necessarily athletic, skilled, maybe new. You can still teach possession based soccer. Obviously, you will need to address the technical issues of simply being able to dribble the ball and keep it individually first. If the issue is winning, then you’ve already lost this process. If you’re patient and recognize that the kids you coach will be playing against kids similar in skill and athletic abilities based on the various placements of competitive and rec soccer teams, then with a little time, you’re players will start to exceed in capabilities relative to the teams they compete with. If you’re coaching athletically and skillfully poor kids in a competitive soccer league, then regardless of what you do, you’re going to lose and there is nothing lost in teaching possession soccer. Personally I’ve done that when I helped started a small soccer club and we first entered league play. None of the players now know of that desparaty in competitive abilities as its been a long time since that happened, like 6 years ago. Relative short time relative to the club’s existence. A generation almost in players.

    As for the high school team, it is a rediculously short season. However, if you read into any long standing competitive high school program, regardless of sport, you will find a coach that is heavily involved in the youth athletic programs specific to their sport and that they are instrumental in creating a curriculum of what is being taught very early on in the process. In a way, La Masia already exists in every high school sport for the schools with long standing history of successful teams.

    Saying the high school season is too short to amount to anything is a copout as well. The work is done years before said players enter into the program. Not when the season starts.

    • Rob A says

      It’s not a copout, more of the reality. Work may be done ahead of time, but the time spent on high school ball is time better spent elsewhere. The way I see things, up until high school we have players that are competitive with the rest of europe. Then something happens—our elite players’ development get sidelined for the win-first necessity of high school and college soccer. So while Europe’s and South America’s best talent is being groomed to be great players in their own right, our players are out trying to win Central High another wooden plaque.

  21. Alfredo says

    In reference to development, is there a formation that is “easier” or better for development to start with when teaching possession at the younger 11 v 11 ages (u11/u12)? Or does it really not matter? The Dutch and some other countries start with 4-3-3. I know a big part depends on the level of the players but lets say they are average to above average skill.


    Any thoughts or experience on this? I don’t know if this is off topic or not but it does affect development and I couldn’t find another related post.

  22. Some Coach says

    Gary. Question… With most teams that carry 18 in their squad, how can you maintain fluidity and consistency in the games while painting the picture in training. For example:
    When building out of the back, how do you rotate the subs (for say the other Right back) in the practice to keep the fluidity. The issue arises more when rotating the attacking players. I feel that the game moves from fluid game ancipated movement to reacting movements. Do you rotate your play makers?

  23. Brett says

    Technique is vastly important. It’s not to be a Neymar or Messi. That is specific to their game. They are very unique. At younger ages, we need to focus on the ability for players to possess the ball, make crisp smart passes. Ball possession and passing accuracy are critical foundation for olders. And the best way to not give the ball away is by 1-2 touch passing. Once we have these, building from the back, moving and defending as a team become easier. Sprinkle in composure and beautiful things will happen.

    As Gary points out, layer in more advanced things as they begin to master basics. One step at a time. Besides a common playing style, clubs need to adhere to a structured, logical, age appropriate player development model. This lack of consistency is often times the core of coaching problems. The system, not the coach. If you get that right, improving coaching can be more effective. Easier to align coach to established playing and development philosophy as opposed to the other way around.

    Not sure this alignment is ever perfect? I’ve not seen it. Even the USSDA club we are at is not optomized. Growing pains, but they are trying.

    • Kana says

      @Brett — The post I just submitted about Giovanni dos Santos directly talks to what you are saying. Great insight.


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