This article is for the serious soccer coach to whom getting the best out of the team is important. For the competitive team coach the goal is to win the championship. For the recreational league coach there may come a game that you’d like to win, perhaps to go undefeated for the season, to come in first, or to end on a high note after an otherwise disappointing year.
In this article we will review one aspect of serious season or game preparation: scouting your opposition.
Scouting is more than talking to someone who has seen the opponent play, it is more than watching them play yourself. Scouting is about collecting valuable data that will help you develop a game strategy for playing this particular team. The data and the strategy must be shared with your team to get their acceptance and to give them the tools to implement your strategy.
There are two ways to get the data. One is to go and watch the opposition play, and if that’s not possible, get a video from the game and analyze it. I believe personal attendance is still the best. There are small things you can see that video may not capture – goalkeeper warm-ups for example. If you can afford to see the game in person and bring someone else to get the video, or obtain the video through other channels, go for it.
I suggest you keep careful notes of your observations. Below is a link to a scouting template we have developed that is fairly comprehensive. It covers team formation and strengths/weaknesses of each part of the team – goalkeeper, defense, midfield, attack. We have filled out the template with some examples so you can see the type of information you need to record. Use this template as is or use it to get you started on your own.
Imagine the coach’s advantage from knowing the weak spots of your opponent and being ready to exploit them. Happy Scouting.
To be optimally prepared for your soccer practice takes, …well, practice.
Set up ALL your drill grids/cones before the practice starts so that no time is wasted between drills. Sometimes the movement or addition of a few cones in a few seconds gets the next drill ready Spend no more than 30 seconds (60 seconds for very young children) explaining/demonstrating the drill and then step outside the drill grid to observe. The coach needs to really rehearse and be mentally ready to be this efficient and effective. When a correction is necessary, stop the drill and in 30 seconds explain what went wrong and how to fix it. Then step out again. “Teaching/talking” time should be no more than 60-90 seconds per 15 minute drill. Our soccer drill pages that go with each practice plan give you helpful tips on how to modify practices and what to do when the drill isn’t going as planned. Be ready to adjust your drill on the fly. Think through and perhaps use one of the techniques we teach: Visualization.
Break each exercise into as small a group as possible, each group running the same drill. My favourite example is shooting drills. I still see 11 kids line up in front of a goal for shots. In 10 minutes every child is lucky to get three shooting (ball touches) opportunities. That’s boring and ineffective. Instead I suggest setting up 4 goals with three kids each. One in goal (you find new goalies and train existing ones) and two take shots. Have a volunteer behind each goal to retrieve the ball and throw it back to the shooter (needs to control ball and dribble it to starting point – more touches). While the first shooter gets their ball back and gets ready, the second player shoots. Then rotate the goalie after two shots each. Everyone is busy all the time. There are variations so shooters sprint (fitness training) to retrieve their ball and dribble (skill, more touches) it back to get ready.
Have a good practice,
Here are the keys to running effective soccer practice sessions. This is based on observing 1,000s of practices combined with the learning from coaching certification programs we attended.
- Maximum number of touches on the ball for each player and constant movement with or without the ball are critical. To really develop soccer skills youth players need about 4,000 touches on the ball per week. I have seen practices where in an hour a player gets 30-40 touches. They stand in line, listen to the coach or are in extended scrimmages and aren’t involved. Our practice plans get between 600 and 800 touches per hour. In a situation where a competitive team practice 5-8 hours a week the 4,000 touches would be achievable.[separator top=”10″]
- Holistic session incorporating skill, tactics, fitness, mental elements all culminating in a game situation scrimmage at the end, and united by a theme (i.e. counterattack, zonal defending, etc.). Players need to know the relevance of each drill to playing the game and running a bunch of random drills doesn’t work.[separator top=”10″]
- Injecting a reasonable amount of humour and fun to give a mental break from the concentration and focus required for each drill.
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When we talk about soccer skills, we mean the basic technical skills of ball receiving, ball control, passing, shooting, and 1v1 moves. These skills are best and easiest developed at an early age. It has been stated that it requires 4,000 ball touches per week to develop excellent fundamental soccer skills. So what is the right age to start? The answer is as early as possible. When kids learn to walk, get them started with a foam soccer ball and have them kick it around as they walk. Then play games with them where you throw/pass them the ball and they kick it back to you. Keep this going as they develop and get older. Tapping a ball between feet while watching TV can generate tremendous ball control and feeling for the ball.
As far as organized soccer in clubs goes, it is difficult to achieve 4,000 touches on the ball, hence the “home work” mentioned above and playing pick up soccer with friends is recommended. But soccer coaches can help. When you plan your practices, make sure that players do not stand in line waiting for their turn in the drill. Instead, break each drill into small groups where everyone touches the ball at least 10 times per minute. Some simple things can help. Ask your players to “dribble” the ball from the parking lot to the field (and back). When a particular drill is done, ask players to walk the ball back using both feet, instead of picking it up or have the coach kick it back. Every touch helps.
The later in life kids start maximizing touches the harder it will be to develop skills. A young athlete with mediocre skills trying out for a High School or College team will be at a disadvantage against someone who has advanced their skill through repetition. At that stage there is little the coach, or the player, can do to make significant improvements.