Coaching – How much is too much?


I saw the above infographic on Twitter yesterday (@LBfutbol) and it got me thinking about coaching youth soccer here in the states. In America, I feel that we live in a society that places a large emphasis (and value) on rationalization and specialization. These two movements intersect in American youth soccer in a number of significant ways.

  • Does it not make sense for parents to get their son/daughter playing soccer from the earliest age?
  • Is it not logical for them to desire a safe and structured playing space for their son/daughter?
  • Should parents not want the “best” coaching possible?
  • Is it not logical that these parents want coaches with playing pedigree and coaching “qualifications”?
  • Does it not make sense that those coaches who have playing pedigree and coaching qualifications (badges, diplomas, licenses, etc.) should want to be well compensated for their time?
  • Is it not right, then, that parents should demand “quality coaching” as a return on their investment?
  • Do many coaches not feel the need to “perform” their coaching role to justify their position?
  • Is not a large part of this performance “doing” something, “saying” something?
  • Is this a good use of practice time?
  • Given the attached infographic, would coaches be preparing their players for the games more by allowing their players to play more?

If you are interested in implementing a game-based approach to soccer training, check out my book, It Pays to Win on Offense: A Game-based Approach to Developing Soccer Players that Score and Create Lots of Goals

It Pays to Win on Offense is currently sitting at #5 in the Top Sellers for Soccer Coaching e-books on Amazon.

Also available is my new book: It Pays to Win on Defense: A Game-based Soccer Training Approach to Developing Highly Effective Defenders,

Principles of Attack


Below is a basic summary of the principles of attack. These principles can frame all soccer activities. All coaches should know these principles and use them to inform how they think about practices and games. Furthermore, this vocabulary should be integrated into coaching as much as possible.

Penetration: Trying to score, moving the ball forward as quickly as possible; for example, it could be a forward pass or dribbling the ball forwards.

Support: Moving to help the player with the ball; for example, usually going toward the player with the ball or making an angle for a pass.

Mobility: Moving with or without the ball to unbalance the defense; for example, this can be multidirectional and can be directly or indirectly involved with play.

Width: Creating space from side to side on the field. This usually involves a player/players going towards the touchline, although width can be created anywhere on the field.

Depth: Creating space from front to back on the field. This usually involves players being in advance and behind the ball when your team is in possession.

Improvisation: Coming up with solutions to problems “on the go.” This is where players creatively problem-solve during games/practices and is arguably the most difficult offensive principle to teach.

Coaches should focus on one attacking principle at a time when teaching. What often happens is that we start coaching everything and it becomes very confusing for both players and coaches. I would suggest building an entire practice around one principle. For example, to do a session on dribbling, you might start with the Gate Dribbling Game, then play the End Zone Game (work through the progressions), then finish with a Scrimmage, but you would only coach/ask guided discovery questions related to penetration (as it relates to dribbling).

My new book, It Pays to Win on Offense: A game-based approach to developing soccer players that score and create lots of goals, is over 100 pages of games and activities that focus exclusively on how to coach attacking principles.

What Makes a Great Warmup Game in Youth Soccer?


Why should warm-ups be the same every day? Many coaches consider this part of practice “lost time,” but they don’t know that they are already setting the tone for the session. In my experience, the best warmup games activate the primary muscle group the players will be using, gets them in a competitive mindset, and connects to your session’s topic. Also, they should be fun and include lots of movement!

For example, if I am planning on doing an attacking dribbling that day, I might start with Freeze Tag, Sharks and Minnows, or Gladiator.

My new book, It Pays to Win on Offense: A game-based approach to developing soccer players that score and create lots of goals, contains 7 warmup games that are lots of fun and easy to set up.

What is Game-based Soccer?


I recently published a book, It Pays to Win on Offense: A game-based approach to developing soccer players that score and create lots of goals

The “Game-based Soccer Approach” emerged out of trying to answer the following questions:

  • How do we motivate our players to give their best every single day?
  • How do we foster a competitive mindset and mental toughness?
  • How do we get the most out of our practice time?
  • What is the best way to maximize player development?

Game-based soccer (GBS) training is the philosophy that all practice activities can and should be turned into a game. By “game,” I mean that there are winners and losers. The players can be competing against themselves, each other, in teams, or all together against a target. There should always be consequences for the losing person/team in this approach. It does not have to be a big consequence, but the players should develop a mindset in which it pays to win. Consequences should depend on the activity/game, but they can range from 10 sit-ups to a short sprinting exercise – it should be just enough to motivate the players to try harder to win next time!

How do you get the most out of your players in practice every day?

Follow the link to read more about my book: It Pays to Win on Offense: A game-based approach to developing soccer players that score and create lots of goals

Light crew: What to do when only a few players turn up to practice?


At some point, it’s happened to every coach at every level: only a few players turn up to practice. After the practice plan goes out the window, how do you still put on an engaging and meaningful session in which your players can get better?

This happened today at one of the sessions I visited. We played World Cup the entire practice with just 5 u10 players.

With one player going in goal (and rotating after each game), we started with every player for himself, sometimes rolling two balls out at a time (initial rounds were played to 2 goals).

After a few rounds, we played with two teams of two and went through the following progressions/tweaks after each round:

– First team to score 2 goals
– First team to score 2 goals, but goals could only be scored with left foot
– First team to score 3 goals; goals with left foot counted double
– First team to score 3 goals; goals from outside the 6 yard box counted double
– First team to score 2 goals; goals can only be scored with a first time finish
– First team to score 3 goals; goals scored off a first time finish count double
– First team to score 3 goals; goals scored from outside the 6 yard box count double; goals scored off a first time finish count double; first time finishes from outside the 6 yard box count triple

We played with each set of rules 1-3 times (to allow rotation of goalkeeper and mixing of the teams) with a lot of success. I asked guided discovery questions at water breaks or in natural breaks (e.g. After a goal had been scored or between rounds).

I would recommend this set up for 3-7 players and it is very easy to implement.

What sessions do you run when you have a light crew?


Focus, Focus, Focus: Doing More by Doing Less in Coaching Youth Soccer


As coaches, we seem to have a natural impulse to correct everything on the field, all of the time! We also want to construct amazing and imaginative practices and end up having to 10 minutes to just explain it!

In this post, I will demonstrate how you can use Target Ball once per week for 20-30 minutes per session for 10 weeks and focus on something different every time. I have found Target Ball to be hugely popular for U8 players and above. Because they get used to the game, you can set it up quickly and get into playing with minimum fuss.

Here is the basic progression I would use (change them as you like, but you will see they go from simple to more complex concepts/skills. Also, you can and should still use the Target Ball progressions (as outlined in this previous post).

So, you should only stop the game in order to coach the focus for that week. This is where you can use the Guided Discovery Questions and highlight players doing it right (or “catching them being good”):

Week 1: Side foot passing technique
Week 2: Shooting with the side foot
Week 3: Making the field bigger on offense (spreading out)
Week 4: Possession
Week 5: Switching the point of the attack
Week 6: 1v1 attacking
Week 7: 1v1 defending
Week 8: Position of the weak side defender(s)
Week 9: Getting the defense to step up from the back
Week 10: Pressing high up the field

Of course, these are just sample topics, but the point is that if you want your players to really learn something, you have to keep your message focused on ONE THING! You don’t have to reinvent the wheel for practices; find a game they like and use it as a vehicle to teach soccer concepts/skills…one at a time.

The Use of Small Sided Games for Technical and Tactical Development in U6-U10 by Adrian Parrish


The content of this post is excerpted from an NSCAA coaching webinar presentation write up. The NSCAA is the world’s largest soccer coaching organization. Find out more information about the NSCAA at

About Adrian Parrish, Technical Director, Kentucky Youth Soccer Association

Adrian joined Kentucky Youth Soccer in October of 2005 as the Association’s third full time Director of Coaching. In this role, Parrish is responsible for the Coaching Education Program and the management of the Olympic Development Program. Adrian was the former DOC for Amherst Soccer Association in Buffalo, and Coaching Education Instructor for New York State. Adrian, a native from Louth in England has played extensively at youth level and played with Boston United, a semi-professional team playing in the league below the Football League. Adrian possesses a USSF “A” License and the US Youth Soccer National Youth License. He is currently the US Youth Soccer Region II Coaching Chair, is a Region II Boys ODP staff coach, a USSF Coaching Educator and on the US Youth Soccer National staff.

Summary of Presentation

At the start of Adrian’s presentation he compared two common terms one hears regularly in coaching – a ‘drill’ and a ‘game.’ Adrian suggested that a drill is associated more with a regimented activity that has a definitive and prescribed response, often with players waiting in lines for their turn. With young players it is important to play games and stay away from drill-like activities. Similar to the other presenters, Adrian mentioned a coach should be prepared to see large disparities in player ability and cognitive understanding between individuals in the same age group.

Adrian mentioned the idea of a slanting line approach – whereby a coach is able to offer challenging activities to children of varying abilities within the same session, by manipulating variables such as differences in technique and pressures of time and space. Another concept he introduced is anchoring an activity – an approach where the coach remains in the same space, but manipulates different components of the game to change the emphasis and challenge to the players. Before describing the practical activities, Adrian referred to ‘marrying techniques with tactics’ – suggesting that a coach can find opportunities to teach basic tactical concepts while focusing primarily on technical training. To do so, he suggested that a coach should use low order and high order guided discovery questions.

Adrian shared 6 activities that progressed in complexity and challenge.

Common to all activities however were a number of objectives:

1. High-energy – in the vast majority of occasions, the best approach with young players is to get them active as quickly as possible and to manage the session in short duration bouts of high-energy activity interspersed with drink breaks and short rest periods.

2. Soccer realism – a responsibility of the coach is to correct movements that are not realistic to playing the game. For example, in the first activity – tail tag – Adrian suggested that players should be encouraged to face each other as it is unrealistic that in a game a player will run aimlessly with his or her back to the play.

3. Become a storyteller – being able to relate to young players is essential particularly with the U6 and U8 age groups. To this end, Adrian advised coaches to become familiar with activities built on characters and stories children watch and listen to on TV and in books.

4. Technical emphasis – Adrian provided a cautionary note suggesting that we should avoid getting caught in a trap as children moved from the U6 to U8 and U8 to U10 age groups. Some coaches transition too quickly with young players from almost exclusive focus on technique to spending an inordinate amount of time working on tactics and correcting issues with game performance.

5. Challenging activities – finding the right balance between activities that players can perform too easily and those that invariably result in failure is important. It should be noted that a growing body of research suggests young players need to be challenged and in doing so they will experience necessary failure as they strive to reach a higher level of performance.

6. Move from simple to complex – it is easier for coach to manipulate variables to increase the difficulty of an activity than try to recover from setting the bar too high for the players at the beginning. Once the coach becomes intimately familiar with the ability levels of individuals and the group, it also becomes easier to select content that caters for the majority of players.

7. Add a scoring mechanism – challenging players to complete a set number of repetitions, beat a time restriction or better a previous score are all ways to help players focus and add a modicum of pressure.