Recently named to US Youth Soccer’s Recommended Reading List, “It Pays to Win on Defense” is a book for soccer coaches who are looking for the most effective way to engage all of their players all of the time in order to teach them how to best keep the ball out of their own team’s goal! The book provides an all-encompassing framework for instilling the skills and mindset necessary for highly effective defenders. By combining educational theory and making everything a competition, coaches can maximize their practice time and teach that defending concepts are not just limited to certain players (e.g. the centre backs or the defensive midfielders). As I tell my teams, when we don’t have the ball, EVERYONE is a defender. Therefore, EVERY player on your team needs to know how to defend and defend well!
I believe in a competitive, game-based approach to soccer. Game-based soccer 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 a few sit-ups to a short sprinting exercise – it should be just enough to motivate the players to try harder to win next time!
Using a Game-based approach helps to create an environment in which every player is incentivized to compete at his or her highest level. This is where the biggest developmental gains are made, both individually and collectively. How do you set up an environment where players are always incentivized to give their best? Make everything a competition with consequences for the losers. As the coach, it is up to you to determine the most productive ways to define competition for your team; for example, some games are more suited for competing against an external target, a player competing against his previous best score, or two individuals/teams facing off against each other. The goal is to make the consequence just enough to incentivize the player/team that lost to try harder next time and also to encourage the winning team to up their game so that they don’t have to do the consequence.
How do you create the most effective learning environment with your team?
I believe that the warm-up sets the tone for practice. If you can have a quality warm-up, it gets everybody buzzing for the rest of the session. How do you achieve this? I have found that there are usually one or two players on a team that can be energizers for the group. An energizer pumps up her teammates and raises the energy level. Thus, when selecting a warm-up activity, pick one that your energizers will love.
I remember coaching a young lady named Jasmine Pratts. If anyone had the mindset of a defender, she did! She loved to defend. What I mean by that is, she had the mentality that she was going to stop you from playing your game. She would bump, nudge, capitalize on a bad touch, and if she got you in her sights, she wouldn’t leave you alone. Of course, I started her as a forward her freshman year! Shows what I know! She didn’t play her sophomore year, but she returned as a junior and was simply outstanding. Jasmine was an older player on a team primarily composed of freshmen. We were young, scrappy, and we had the kind of talent that on its day could be amazing. Because we were young, though, we had our bad days, too.
In April of that year, we went to Augusta and played a very strong Westminster team with a number of girls who would later play in excellent college programs (University of GA, University of Florida, and Wellesley College to name a few). We got pounded 8-1…that’s right, we lost by 7 goals to a team that would score 100 that year. It was a long bus ride home. How do you recover from a loss like that? Well, it starts in the warm-up of the next practice and you have to get your energizers doing their job. What did we play? Knockout (Sharks and Minnows in this book). This was Jasmine’s favorite game because she would hound you until she kicked your ball out – in fact, she took pleasure in it and she got everyone else moving, forgetting the disaster of the previous game.
Anyway, we got things back together and went on a run to the state championship game, squeezing through the semi final with a 1-0 win. Guess who we were slated to play…Westminster. The team that just 6 weeks earlier had demolished us! You can talk tactics all day long, but when the whistle blows, the players are on their own. This was the game where Jasmine stepped up and marked their star forward out of the game. I have never seen something like it before or since of how such a strong player was effectively taken out of the game. The girl did not get a kick. Jasmine epitomized the mindset I am trying to communicate in my new book. The score of the game? We won 5-1…It pays to win on defense!
My latest book, It Pays to Win on Defense: A Game-based Soccer Training Approach to Developing Highly Effective Defenders, is now available from the Amazon Kindle Store.
Basically, It Pays to Win on Defense is a book for soccer coaches who are looking for the most effective way to engage all of their players all of the time in order to teach them how to best keep the ball out of their own team’s goal! The book provides an all-encompassing framework for instilling the skills and mindset necessary for highly effective defenders. By combining educational theory and making everything a competition, coaches can maximize their practice time and teach that defending concepts are not just limited to certain players (e.g. the centre backs or the defensive midfielders). As I tell my teams, when we don’t have the ball, EVERYONE is a defender. Therefore, EVERY player on your team needs to know how to defend and defend well!
Whether you are an experienced coach or a volunteer parent just starting out, there is something for everyone in this book. “It Pays to Win on Defense” includes 50 games that bring defending situations to the fore, hundreds of guided discovery questions, and many regressions/progressions to tweak every activity to match your specific training needs.
Let me know if you have any questions.
I coached David O’Shaughnessey for two years. He was a standout high school basketball player, who went on to play the sport collegiately at the D1 level. As a soccer player, he transformed from being an average utility guy to a true soccer star. I asked David (or “D.O.” as everyone calls him) to write a few words about my methods, specifically, how he felt my “game-based” approach helped him. As always, he went above and beyond:
From my experience, whether in basketball or soccer, I always improved the most under coaches that structured practice as competitions. I grew up playing defense and center midfield. During my junior year, Coach Jordan moved me to Center Forward. I thought it was a stupid move, and that I wouldn’t be any good because I was terrible at taking people on. I felt so out of place at first.
I remember several distinct changes in Coach Jordan’s coaching style between his first and second year. At times the first year I felt that practice got too drill/technical oriented, and that we spent a large majority of practice conditioning. I personally thrive of off competition and get bored doing non-competitive drills, so at times I would get frustrated with the practices and not enjoy them. However, Jordan’s second year practices had a different structure. We didn’t do nearly as much technical (i.e. footability) training or direct conditioning. Instead of starting practice with a 12 minute run, we usually opened practice playing intense games of target ball, which instantly got the competitive juices flowing. Most parts of practice revolved around some type of competition; it could be a 1v1 tournament, small-sided games, possession games, or large field scrimmages. I thoroughly enjoyed practice that season because we were competing the whole time. Usually the losing teams had to run sprints, which provided some incentive for less competitive people to give 100%.
I know that having more competitive and “live setting” practices drastically improved my attacking ability. I became much more comfortable with the ball at my feet and playing in tight spaces, since that’s what a large amount of practice involved. I also became more comfortable taking people on in games. The footability-type drills from the year before could only get me so far, and the daily experience of going at defenders in a live setting not only grew my technical ability, but it also increased confidence.
Not only did I enjoy soccer more Jordan’s 2nd year, but I feel like I made more improvement in that season than the previous 3 seasons combined. I went from being an average starter and scoring 8 goals to team MVP and scoring 25 goals in one season. Our team won the state championship the 2nd year. We were not as talented as the team the year before, and we were probably the 4th most talented team in the state. I attribute this to the change of focus on practice and the increase in competitive, game-like simulations. All of the players enjoyed the sport more, which can go a long way to improving as an individual or team.
The 2 minute clip above shows highlights from an all-important region game (2008) with everything on the line. Fast forward to 1:11 to see what D.O. was all about.
It Pays to Win on Offense: Game-based activities that will immediately improve all of your soccer players’ attacking instincts and abilities is a a book for soccer coaches who are looking for the most effective way to engage all of their players all of the time in order to teach them attacking soccer concepts. The book provides an all-encompassing Game-based Soccer framework for instilling a relentless, attacking mindset in players. By combining educational theory and making everything a competition, coaches can maximize their practice time and teach that attacking concepts are not just limited to certain players or limited to specific positions on the field.
James Jordan is a professional educator and a soccer coach. He holds the NSCAA Premier Diploma, USSF National Youth License, and a Doctorate in Education. Using Game-based Soccer techniques developed over the past decade, his teams (boys and girls) have won six high school state championships and one Classic 1 boys’ club championship.
With only his third touch of his debut game for England last night, Harry Kane scored his 30th goal of the season. Kane currently sits atop the Premier League scoring charts, but does that mean he is world class? Perhaps the 21 year old is just a flash in the pan. Perhaps not, though.
Looking at Kane’s attributes, we see that he has an impressive array of tools with which to contribute to any team:
Goals: 30 in all competitions. In the Premier League, he has 19 goals (10 with his right foot, 5 with his left foot, and 4 with his head).
Technique: Kane’s first touch is quality. He rarely gives the ball away and often looks to receive in tight situations. He is right foot dominant, but can score, pass, and cross with his left. Strong in the air, at 6’2 he is more than a handful for opposition defenders if he needs to mix his game up, too.
Tactical sense: For a 21 year old, he has an acute sense of being in the right place at the right time to score goals. However, no less impressive is his ability to find pockets of space in the middle and final third. He is not afraid to play 1 and 2 touch when necessary to keep a move flowing, but he also recognizes when it is on to hold play up.
Dribbling ability: For a big man, Kane has duped many defenders this year with his electric change of pace. Combined with his impressive first touch, he presents a credible threat on the dribble and has the confidence to beat players and leave them behind.
Work rate: Often deployed as a lone striker for Spurs in a team that is known for pressing teams. Covers a lot of ground for his teammates.
Attitude: The only headlines Kane is currently making are about his goals. Doesn’t appear to talk back to referees, or get involved in duels with other players (a la Diego Costa). Seems a genuine guy.
Overall: Kane has the tools to become a world class striker. Let’s not get carried away, though. He needs to do this all again next year, and the following year to be considered world class. Furthermore, he needs to play and score goals in the Champions League and he needs to play and score goals for England. Assuming Kane remains injury free, he may repeat his feats of this season next year, but for the last two, he probably needs to move to a bigger club. It is unlikely Spurs will make the Champions League this season, so, unless Kane transfers to a top 4 team, we won’t begin to know if he can do what he does on the biggest stage. If he does move, it could upset his game. I recommend he stays with Spurs for at least another 2-3 seasons (like Gareth Bale did). He’s only 21 and he’s not world class yet.
Do you want to learn how to train strikers like Harry Kane and develop the attacking mindset in all of your players? Read my book, It Pays to Win on Offense: A Game-based Approach to Developing Soccer Players that Create and Score lots of Goals.