How do you know a coach is any good at player development? I’m specifically addressing those coaches who are implicitly chartered with that goal.
Well, here it is:
1) The coach must have a clearly possession-based style.
2) The coach must be a winning one.
Metric 1 (possession)
First and foremost, if the coach is not ramming possession, possession, possession into the players, he’s not a good coach. PERIOD!
There is practically zero tolerance in this requirement.
But he can’t just be preaching it; he has to know how to teach it , and his product must reflect it – an extremely difficult, and patience-testing endeavor.
And please for the love of god, be careful when judging this! Because if I had a nickel for every time someone incorrectly stated their team plays possession – or even on the path to learning how – I’d be on the Forbes 400.
So what follows is a decent and simple way to do an assessment:
* Count how many 5-touch (minimum) sequences a team has during games. If it’s a rarity, the coaching is likely poor and players are not being developed (unless the process just got started). This isn’t much to ask, but once you start counting, you’ll realize just how common team’s fail.
* Against inferior opposition, it should be complete and total dominance (death by passes) – even 10, 15, or 20 touches should show up.
* Even when facing better player-for-player raw talent, 5-touch sequences should still be making appearances. If not, then sorry buddy, more work needs to be done.
Metric 2 (winning)
Contrary to what many misguided, but well intended, people believe – a truly exceptional coach is also a winning one. Winning of course, being judged by ones collective body of work.
But be careful how to interpret this…
The converse is NOT generally true: That is, a winning coach is a great coach.
Let’s make it abundantly clear. A winning coach says absolutely nothing about his capacity to develop players.
I don’t care if he’s won state titles, national titles, or prestigious tournaments. It’s all meaningless, if Metric #1 is not satisfied.
So there you go. Two macro-level objective criterion, where the first is non-negotiable. Tag on the second and you just might have something special, at least for the particular age group being assessed.
Cheers and happy counting!
What about building strong individual technical skills? Also every team needs some strong dribblers and excellent finishers. Surely there needs to be a metric for technical skills right?
Gary Kleiban says
Coaches should definitely be working on their player’s technique.
As for a fundamental metric, however, there are many reasons for not including it. The biggest ones off the top of my head:
1) Technique is overwhelmingly due to the players themselves working on their game. Not the coach.
2) If you observe a team with one, several, or 10 players with exceptional technical quality … again it is predominantly credit to the players, or the coach’s eye for talent and subsequent recruiting. I can put my grandma in charge of a gold or premier team that has said players, and a year later, those guys will still have their technical quality, perhaps even improved.
3) In contrast to #2, if one watches a team full of players with miserable technique, it just doesn’t imply the coach is terrible. Give Bielsa or Wenger a Bronze team, 2 maybe 3 team training sessions a week, then go watch one of their games. Those players are still going to be terrible “skill-wise”.
4) Let’s say you go watch a coach’s training session and you see he’s doing a lot of technical work. So what? Any monkey can buy a book or dvd, then lay out cones and have his players do the circuits.
But yes, technical work should definitely be done during training. It’s just that observation of technical skills during a match doesn’t necessarily correlate with a coach’s work. Actually, it most often has nothing to do with the coach and everything to do with the individual.
saw the video.. it is NIrvana for me. I’ve been emphasizing possession forever but tough if the team keeps changing to pick up better players and then need to break bad habits of the talented ones that you pick up. But, although I’m a Real Madrid supporter I think Barcelona plays better soccer. My problem currently is that we spend much of training on small sided competitive games all emphasizing possession and good decisions. But, our finish is suffering as we don’t spend enough time in training actuall finishing to a goal. How do you balance training sessions so you have enough time for everything? I keep the framework or our training the same (individual dribbling and feints as a warmup), progressive drills to address a need and then either small sided game or offense vs defense to goal (defense counter attack to wide goals). Do you have a similar repetitive structure or do you change not only drills but entire training in season structure? And, can you give us just one drill that has really worked for you for you in having team change fields in possesion drills…
Gary Kleiban says
Truth is we don’t have enough time for everything. Two days/week (on occasion 3) is pathetic. If we had 4 per week, then it’s doable. You’re not alone. Historically our teams have had difficulty finishing too. But we have to prioritize. Possession is by far the highest value add for development (individual and collective). Everything else is, and should be, secondary.
I would say 40% of our sessions don’t change, the other 60% is tailored to what we think the team/individuals need at the time. For instance, if finishing during games has been horrific, we dedicate half the time on subsequent sessions exclusively on finishing. Hell, if we’re really pissed off, 100% of the session will be finishing. This will continue until we’re satisfied or something else takes precedence.
What’s really advantageous is when one of our teams has the attention of many coaches (ie Brian, myself, John our physical fitness guru, Danny, or others). Then sessions can be broken up and further tailored. For instance the back 4 and D-mid with Brian, strikers doing finishing with me, others doing fitness work with the ball, etc …)
I’ll be working on producing training-specific content.
Gary, it looks you doing functional training at early ages.
Is making sure players play diferent positions a priority at all for you up to U12?
Yes and no. A key to fully understanding and being able to run the possession curriculum, is to have players that can manipulate the ball under high pressure situations. I’ve noticed that many of 3four3 coaches expect players to master this on their own, without really paying mind to the child’s schedule and workload outside soccer; i.e. School and homework, chores, distance to travel to practice, other extra curricular activities…. So it is absolutely necessary to address these in the beginning of each practice, maybe 10-15 min worth and can be used as a warm up.
Specifically speaking, one can use particular skills and ball manipulation techniques that fit the lesson of the day or week.
The fact that a coaches job is to develop players should tell you that technical work is of utmost importance, especially if you don’t have the luxury of top notch players to start with. The true measure of a coach is if he can turn average players into stars, not winning with star players.
Very good points, on the point of individual skill/team development i reference a quote by Edgar Davids about Ajax (paraphrasing): Ajax recruited from street soccer players and taught us how to play combination 1-2 touch football to “ENHANCE” their ability”. He goes on to mention that at 10 years old playin in the streets in Amsterdam, his brother was better but when he left for ajax he was by far better than his brother after training and being developed…..we got a sayin here at Joga, “The street produces the player, and the coach/academy develops it”. Just like Messi, Dinho, Cruyff himself grew up and then the clubs help mold/enhance.
I guess the problem i got with soccer in the U.S. is the lack of focus on street soccer and reaching the inner city, the top doesn’t care and that drives me crazy!! Like Barcelona is a great academy, but brazil and argentina still produce overall better players by using street soccer plus academy to build players.
Kephern, is Davids still playing? His work at Juve and at Barca was very admirable. For sure, he left a hole when he left Barca.
I like your suggestion about the potential role of street soccer to develop a higher-quality “funnel” of prospects to be developed here in the US. You probably know this already, but I would only add that street soccer is just as pervasive in Europe as it is in South America. In my case, it kills me to how, when we lived in Europe, my kids played soccer night and day– in the back yard, in front of the house, at school, on the street– in addition to their club practices. Now here, they play far less often. Who is ever around to play with?
In the US, with all the social competition in the suburbs, we program our children’s lives so much that there is no room for a more organic and purposeful, less mechanical and obligatory, way of going about play. Moreover, everyone is above average, and we also want instant results; and by the way, most of us don’t know much about soccer, but we all know how to get those “results”– how hard can it be, right? Is it any surprise, then, when many parents seek simple, monolithic solutions and a linear path to success for their children in a sport like soccer?
And so, you have rightly observed that in the inner cities, many kids don’t have structured, programmed lives, and hence it presents a great opportunity to have a street ball version of the game take hold. Boy, if that ever happens, I will bet you see some creative geniuses emerge from that mix.
Alberto, About the programming and structuring our kids in sports…guess why a lot of kids skateboard in the US rather than play street soccer? No parents or coaches at the skate park or just on the plain street sidewalk telling them what to do and how to do it.
SP, you have got to be joking me?
Do you really thinks that having parents around would promote kids toplaying street ball?
I played street ball with the kids on the block on the street or at the park down the street sinse I could remember. The real excuse should be that today’s kids don’t have the same passion for the sport. We would all gather up to play on sunday afternoons after watching La Liga, Seria A, EPL, Portuguese Liga & others. Most of us all had fathers who loved their futebol & watching it at home with their kids, that is what gave us the hunger of going to play after watching games. we wanted to be the Davids, Donadonis, Bagios, Figos, Rui Costas, Maradonas, & the list goes on based on what league we watched. we would even spend 30 minutes before & after playing street ball just talking about the games we saw & we thought the better players of the day were. That is what made us play street ball.
Unfortunely there does not seem to be much of that anymore today. I think I learned half of what I know today playing street ball, Possesion, passing & dribbling all came from those sunday afternoons with the boys from the block. playing with our t-shirts or shoes as goals & forcing us to play small ball & keeping the ball on the ground.
That’s what street ball is all about.
I hope one day to pass on the same love for the gme to my son where he can call up a few friends & just have street ball pick up games.
SP, disregard my first sentence just read your final sentence over & got what you were trying to say. Completely understand it now.
My bad. but the rest is true… we need our parents to pass on th epassion of the sport on to there kids.
Gary Kleiban says
Sounds like my childhood!
Rui Costa, o Maestro
What a player
I still remember when we came into Benfica first team as a teenager and would took control over the tempo of the game
Old school playmaking
While all of these theories are valid not one person has actually tried to answer the question. What can be done at the youth level to enhance a child’s experience? I think SP is closest by saying that the parents should have little to no involvement in their children’s soccer experience. As a coach I’ve seen many kids become burned out by the everyday rigors of playing in a “league,” trucked around by overzealous parents. Yet in some magical way these burned out kids recapture that innocence and beauty not only in their play but also their attitude when they’re out kicking the ball around with their friends on the street. I agree with Gary; we must be “facilitators” on the pitch…not “orchestrators.” Let the kids dazzle us with their technique and ball mastery. Let us as coaches show them the way.
David Williams says
Children should be guided not pushed along a clear development pathway that is designed by knowledgable coaches, with a clear end vision. It is important that coaches know how they want there team to play at 25 and thus design a coaching curriculum to teach the children in small steps. At Premier Skills we have that vision broken down into our 5 different levels of coaching.
Stage 1 develops the individual, through playing in small areas that have safe areas around the pitch to allow children to keep the ball, try tricks and thus gain more confidence. Gary talks about possession as key and yes it is vital, but remember football is NOT a team game, but a game of individuals that learn to combine together. Making more than 5 passes on a regualr basis is a bit of a mis-nomer, the important part is to keep the ball until you are in a position to score, whether that be 1 touch or 100 touches, although I fully understand where Gary is coming from and a team that can play possession based football will ultimately make 5 or more passes on a regular occurrence.
The mistake 99% of coaches make is changing what they coach each week, what children need is the time and repetition to master the style of play and skill. One of the big debates in football is how we go about this, some believe you have to work on technique as a individual, gradually introducing opposition, some think playing ssg and allowing children to play is the answer. Personally I believe children do not need to be shown how to make a pass with the side of the foot, playing the game and natural development in the neuro pathways will sort that out, far more important is when and where to pass.
Gary Kleiban says
Hi David. I’m trying to follow you here, but I’m having a hard time.
I’ll just say this:
There is a gold standard to developing a footballer. One that is used across the footballing powers of the world (and it’s been around for a very long time). That gold standard is based on ball possession, and it’s what we follow.
Anything to the contrary is not the gold standard.
El Memo says
I think people get confused with the term possession when talking about the younger age groups (U5-U9). They think that if you play possession you must pass – which is a requirement at the older ages. But at the younger ages it means individual possession or trapping/receiving and dribbling. Lets remember for interdependence to be present one must first be self dependent.
I would like to get your take on development of not just a U11-U14 group, but U5-U7, U8-U10′ etc.,
I coach many teams but have been coaching U8 and U9s for a while now, and have found that we can have set tactical plays. We play it back to our outside backs work it around the back when possible, get it out the other side, then get it across to the back post and score a walk in. We get our backside defender in on the back post. Most of the time it consists of 5 consecutive passes. For sure the focus is on having a great first touch, being confident on the ball, and so on, we work very hard on being successful in the 1v1, which is to say attack when the time is right, usually the rule is when there is 1 opponent between us and the goal, but also when the numbers are wrong, lets play it back and reset out of the back, see if we can get out the other side….. They can do it, I would say if we are going back to U5, maybe we talk about making a pass after individual possession, or maybe two passes, also level of ability will dictate how many passes. I give the players a number to shoot for, when we win possession we are trying to get a set number of passes, usually 5, sometimes less if we are over matched, as we play older teams, sometimes more than 5 when we are superior to the other team. It was not always easy to watch when we made bad decisions in the back early in the year. But we continued to ask the boys to do it and today the results are there. We trained last night with our U11 team and the U8’s were very comfortable on the ball, no panic and passed better than their older counterparts…..
Hope this helps…..
Rob A says
Gary:”Truth is we don’t have enough time for everything. Two days/week (on occasion 3) is pathetic. If we had 4 per week, then it’s doable. You’re not alone. Historically our teams have had difficulty finishing too. But we have to prioritize. Possession is by far the highest value add for development (individual and collective). Everything else is, and should be, secondary.”
I think it’s comments like these that make me appreciate your blog. It’s like a support group for possession-oriented coaches (in a good way). We spent the majority of the past few years building up to be able to play a possession style, since my current U11s were U9s . . . laying that technical foundation to be able to play the way I think the game should be played. Last season we dominated matches in that the game way played almost entirely in the opponents’ half. But lots of opportunities to score were squandered.
It’s good to know that others out there go through similar difficulties.
This season, I’m modifying training to spend more time establishing the context—still possession oriented, but giving the players more context. Last year, we did a lot of non-directional possession activities. This year, I’m giving them the chance to see how, using our style; we play out of the back, build up the attack, and generate goal-scoring chances in the attacking third. Conversely, defenders are working their butts off to win the ball back, so they work on that aspect of their game—gotta have the ball to play possession soccer.
Jason Seabury says
So I’ve been scratching my head ever since you posted this because of the second metric for judging a coach: winning. I’ve read a lot of your other thoughts on the crutch that winning vs. development can become and I understand where you are coming from. My experience, though, is that where concern about winning exists, especially at the lower ages, jungle ball is created. For instance any coach who asks his U9’s to circulate the ball across the back, or to drop the ball to the keeper, is going to give up goals as a result and probably lose here and there. So it is logical, is it not, that the players need to be told: I don’t care if you make a mistake while passing across the back and give up a goal…I just want you to try. Or, is there another message?
So I read your new post on playing down. Your philosophy on this point is squarely in line with my own. I literally shouted “YES! That’s right.” At the end of practically every sentence. I love the last paragraph especially: it’s ok to play up to see where you’re at but it’s a mistake to do it all the time. So, this new post now makes me wonder whether I am peeling back yet another layer of your philosophical onion.
Would you agree that a coach could be judged as “good” if the two metrics described above are present but the team is playing at a second or third tier of competition in the local club league? Is the importance of winning more about putting the players in a position to play the right way and win games for the good of their progression in learning to possess the ball and do it with the confidence that playing that way is the key to success? Does that question make sense? Let me know if it doesn’t and I will ask another way. Your view on winning is one you’ve written a lot about and it’s the one part of your philosophy that doesn’t entirely make sense to me. Been bothering me for nearly a year. I really hope I’m getting to a point of understanding.
Gary Kleiban says
As with all my posts and comments, I won’t be able to answer thoroughly here. But I’ll try to provide something …
First, the bottom line:
If a coach can consistently play both remarkable football AND win, then it’s more likely something better is going on there.
I think there are some legitimate reasons behind the ‘winning vs development’ meme, but I think most arguments are misguided and in many cases as you say, a crutch.
Anyways, on to some of your comments:
“My experience, though, is that where concern about winning exists, especially at the lower ages, jungle ball is created.”
* I think there is truth to that. And educating the consumer on the importance of style of play vs winning and abandoning style of play is a worthy cause.
* I also think, however, jungle ball persists primarily due to poor coaching.
* In your example you cited U9s. Well, at the top U9 level anyways, jungle ball will make frequent appearances regardless … it’s a long road to consistency.
* One reason I wrote “stop playing up, start playing down” is precisely as a solution to the “pressure to win” excuse/reason. If the environment is too ‘competitive’ for the players AND coach to learn, change the environment on as many occasions as possible.
Next we’ve got:
Q: “Would you agree that a coach could be judged as “good” if the two metrics described above are present but the team is playing at a second or third tier of competition in the local club league?”
I would say there’s a possibility this coach is good, for this level.
Is it possible said coach, if good, can execute the same at higher levels? It’s possible. But as alluded to, the ‘higher levels’ are another animal.
Q: “Is the importance of winning more about putting the players in a position to play the right way and win games for the good of their progression in learning to possess the ball and do it with the confidence that playing that way is the key to success? ”
That’s one element.
This is a game. A game whose objective is winning.
Certainly we can talk about the short term vs long term aspects, but there is no doubt that getting the players and consumers to buy into what you’re doing is critically helped by winning.
Far more important, however, is that if one is doing the necessary things to “play the right way” (in other words, my definition of coaching quality), you should be winning games. Period.
Jason Seabury says
Your answer is helpful and as always I am grateful for the time you invest in helping the slower among us sort out the details. When I first started following this blog, I was after what I assume many who come here are initially looking for: quick fix answers about how you guys got a team to play like the one we see in your videos. What I have come to understand is that what you have to offer is a description of your philosophy and a little of the methodology through which that philosophy is transmitted to young players. I appreciate now — although I hated you for this at first — that you do this in a metered way. It has forced me to do the work of really struggling through an overhaul of my own philosophy. I have to do my own thinking. There haven’t been too many handouts and that’s a good thing. It’s taken me a while to even start to be able to ask the right questions. But when I do, you have been good to answer as fully as you can and I appreciate it. Thanks!