More positivity, ball work, and less shouting


This recent article from The Guardian highlights some exciting changes in the approach of the English FA’s approach to coaching education. 

In short, coaches are now being instructed to perform as more of a “guide on the side,” rather than the previous method of “sage on the stage.” These terms are not in the article, but I feel they are an appropriate designation in the move toward an approach to coaching informed by insights from education, pyschology, and, in my opinion, common sense. 

Perhaps most important, instead of finding fault and highlighting the negative, coaches will now attempt to “catch players being good” and use positive reinforcement. Jose Mourinho talks about the “emotional bank account” with his players – that is, for every negative/constructive criticism of a player, the coach needs to make four positive “deposits.”

Great advice for any walk of life.



Finishing in the Box: Sample Activity from the Volunteer Soccer Coach


Session #5: Finishing in the Box
Activity #3: 2v1 Continuous*Stacked


Time: Approximately 20 minutes.

Area: If you have a marked 18-yard box, use it and then mark out another one with cones to create a 36 x 44 yard (L x W) playing grid.

Activity: Divide the players into 2 even teams. Have one team line up opposite each other (see the diagram) behind the 2 cones level with the edge of the 6-yard box. Have the other team do the same on the other side. The balls should be divided equally and diagonally (per the diagram). To begin, you can play the ball into the middle. Players go to the other line once they have had their turn (e.g., attacker goes to the other attacker line). Any time the ball crosses a line (side, end, goal), the team whose possession it would be restarts the game from their side with a new pair (the defending pair stays in). Also, any time a ball crosses the end line from a shot (including a goal), the shooter must run around the corner while the 2 defenders drop out (the attacking team now becomes the numbers down defending team), and a new attack begins by 2 forwards to make it 2v1 (with the recovering defender who just shot the ball running around the corner). Play first team to a set number of goals (e.g., 5, 7, 9) and give the losing team a consequence. After the consequence, you can ask the guided discovery questions, while the players catch their breath. This game will take a few rounds for the players to understand. It is very important that you are consistent with the rules. I find it helps to communicate early and often; for example, if the ball goes out of play, I will say “red team’s ball.” Also, if someone forgets to run, I will remind that player (e.g., “Janie, you have to run”). If she influences the play, I will award a penalty kick to the other team, which will transition back into 2v1 continuous immediately following the kick.    

Possible Progressions:

  • Move the balls to the other side (move the players, too, so the wide player is always on the “weak side”).
  • Give 2 points for first time finishes (encourages combination plays, crosses, etc.).


Volunteer Soccer Coach Image

Are you a volunteer soccer coach with a full time job outside football? Then this book is for you! Minimizing jargon and looking to maximize the limited contact time you have with your players, The Volunteer Soccer Coach is a must-read practical book for coaches of all levels.  Utilising a game-based approach to soccer – where individuals actually play games rather than growing old in semi-static drills – author James Jordan offers 75 cutting-edge exercises across 15 detailed session plans which help players develop an attacking mindset, improve their skills, and, most of all, nurture a love for soccer.

Changing the Game in Youth Sports


Check out the following TED talk on youth sports participation:

Some takeaways from the speaker, John O’Sullivan (former professional soccer player and D1 college coach):

  • The single greatest effect on performance is an athlete’s state of mind
  • Youth sports used to be about children competing against other children; now it is often adults competing against other adults through their children
  • Children play sports because it is fun; winning comes in way down the list
  • Children quit sports when they don’t get to play, and when winning becomes more important than enjoyment
  • 90% of children would rather play on a losing team than sit the bench on a winning team
  • Competition is important, but being competitive comes from putting the needs and priorities of our children first
  • We can all start changing youth sports for the better by learning five simple words (watch to learn what they are)

Pass and Move: Fun Partner Gate Passing Game with Progressions


Gate PassingApplicability: Warm-up passing activity suitable for all ages (u8 and up) and levels. You can also precede this activity with Soccer Pong!

Area: 25 x 25 yards (W x L) or larger, depending on how many players you have.

Activity: Put players in pairs with a ball. Set up a number of 1.5 yard gates randomly arranged in your grid. The size and number of gates can vary depending on the number of pairs of players you have and their skill level. I would start with at least as many gates as pairs. Players score a point for each completed pass they make through a gate to their partner. Go for 30-45 seconds and have pairs keep count of how many points they get. See how many they get and ask how the top pair got so many. Get them to demonstrate. Repeat. Switch partners. Repeat.

Regressions: If your players are struggling with this game, make the gates bigger. The objective is simply to get them passing with their partner. You should always start an activity so that everyone can quickly find success. Once they understand the game, that’s what you can start to make it progressively more challenging.


  • Add restriction that players must use a certain foot or surface of the foot to make a pass and score a point
  • Replace some of the gates with pinnies (or different colored gates) and say that pairs must go through a cone gate followed by a pinne/bib gate
  • Make the gates smaller
  • Reduce the number of gates
  • Introduce a bandit (or pair of “bandits”) whose job is to stop pairs from scoring in gates. Change the bandit(s)
  • For advanced groups, mandate that the pass must go “over” the gate (chip pass)

Guided Discovery Questions:

  • What do partners need to do to be successful at this game? (See what they say, ask why, get them to demonstrate)
  • What is the best distance between partners so that you can be most efficient? (See what they say, ask why, get them to demonstrate)
  • What types of things can you communicate to make it easier for your partner? (See what they say, ask why)
  • How do you know where the open gates are? (See what they say, ask why, get them to demonstrate)

After you have added progressions: 

  • How has this game become more difficult? (See what they say and ask why)
  • What do you need to do to score more points? (See what they say and ask why)

Numbers considerations: Rather than creating two grids, just make your current grid larger to accommodate greater numbers of players.

Additional notes: Sometimes players will stand either side of a gate and just pass the ball back and forth. I love this! This means that they are using their brains! Rather than berate the pair that does this, celebrate them for doing the smart thing (remember, you gave everyone 30-45 seconds to get the ball through as many gates as possible). However, after you praise them, now tell the group that they cannot go back and forth through the same gate. Take this approach as players come up with new and innovative ways to scam the system! Simply modify the rules so that the players are forced to adapt.

How to Positively Cheer From the Sidelines in Soccer


PraiseIn my last parent post, Coaching vs. Cheering in Youth Soccer, I discussed the differences in how we might best support our youth soccer players from the sidelines. In short, I said it is best to leave the coaching to the coaches, and for parents to focus on cheering.

Well, the question has been asked, what constitutes positive cheering? This becomes especially important when parents have little or limited soccer knowledge. A big kick upfield is not always the best thing to do, nor is physical contact always a foul.

My advice for parents on the soccer sidelines is to keep everything positive. In fact, this is my advice to coaches, too. Instead of getting frustrated and upset with what your child or team is not doing, encourage the effort that they are putting in. If you praise their effort, then they will likely attempt whatever they tried to do again, even if it ended in failure the first (or the second time, or the third time…).

This is a difficult concept for many of us to grasp because we live in a culture where expertise is associated with how well we can critique something or somebody. My question is, who are we really helping when we get mad at a youth soccer player when he misses a tackle or a shot, or when she gets scored on, or when she makes a mistake?

Here are a few things to think about when making comments from the sidelines:

  • For whose benefit are you making the comments? The player? the team? The coach? The referee? Other parents? Yourself?
  • Are you trying to show what you know, rather than support your player?
  • Are you 100% certain what you are saying is correct? Really?

When trying to positively cheer from the sidelines in youth soccer games, here are a few things to consider:

  • Be specific – for example, “good pass, Johnny” or “nice shot, Jane” or “great effort, Luis.” Even if they don’t show it, the players hear you on the sidelines. If you are trying to coach them, you will put them off. If you recognize their effort and encourage them to continue, you will inspire them give their best.
  • Be genuine – kids know when we are giving false praise. Sometimes, it’s best to say nothing. Or, if you do say something, I have found it best to say something to the effect of “next play” – meaning, don’t dwell on the mistake you just made, make it right on the next play. These two words and your player’s name will help them refocus on the game and you don’t have to have any previous soccer knowledge or experience to do this!
  • Above all, be positive! Praise the other players on your team. The parents will likely respond in kind! Also, it is okay to praise the other team’s players when they do something good! Remember, this is recreational youth soccer, not the World Cup Final. Besides, next year, that player and his parents may be on your team.

Everybody is going to make mistakes, whether it is the player on the field, the coach in his substitute rotation, or parents’ comments on the sidelines. What if we were able to create a culture of recognition instead of negativity. Here are a couple of closing thoughts:

  • Have you ever been to your child’s game and ONLY said positive things?
  • Have you ever told the referee (s)he had a great game?
  • Have you ever thanked the coach after the game for coaching your son/daughter’s team?
  • Have you ever congratulated a parent of an opposing team on the effort of their son/daughter?

I guarantee, if all the readers of this blog committed to doing just one of these things on game day, we could start a positive revolution in youth soccer.

Remember, what gets praised, gets repeated.

I look forward to your feedback and input.

Have a great game day!