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Four Pillars of Soccer Coaching

One commitment I have made to myself is to remain involved in grassroots soccer coaching, at the club level. Last year my son and I coached his daughter’s U10 (7v7) team, this year we’re coaching his son’s U7 (5v5) team. My granddaughter was recruited by a competitive team and now plays U12 (9v9). This gives me the opportunity not only to develop the teams we coach, but also to observe many other teams as they practice and play the game.

In our particular club the structure is to start with 3v3 at U3 on very small fields and add players and increase field (and net) size gradually to regular 11v11. I like the approach as it allows for more involvement and ball touches at younger ages. Our club also has a technical director/club head coach whose responsibility it is to oversee both coach and player development. The club conforms to the regional umbrella soccer organization’s mandates and programs. Sound familiar? Sound good?

It would be really good if the program that was developed by the umbrella organization were based on all four pillars of soccer and applied consistently throughout the club. To review the four pillars, which by the way, are used in each and everyone of our soccer practice books:

  1. Technical (Skill) Development
    • ball control – receiving, second touch, passing
    • 1v1 moves
    • shooting, heading
    • shielding
    • etc.
  2. Tactical Development
    • systems of play suited to number of players on field
    • learning positional roles
    • essential game elements – overlaps, give and go, switching play, etc.
    • recognizing other team’s tactics
    • etc.
  3. Physical Development
    • speed
    • endurance
    • strength
    • agility
    • flexibility
    • etc.
  4. Mental Development
    • focus
    • concenetration
    • confidence
    • decision making, anticipation, perception
    • team atmosphere and environment
    • peak performance states
    • etc.

What we see dominating in our particular organization is skill development. The result is teams/players on the field who can control the ball, but don’t really know what to do with it. At the younger ages they bunch up, at the older ages they hang on to the ball too long.

I recommend that coaches train all four pillars from the beginning. Our practice plans, which I use for my own teams, are structured as follows:

  1. Warm-Up – moving with ball and without ball, dynamic stretching. Less/no stretching at younger ages
  2. Technical – drills that teach or reinforce essential skills
  3. Fitness – typically aerobic and anaerobic exercises, with ball involved. More game like for younger age groups, but the heart rate goes up.
  4. Tactical – tactical element appropriate for age group. For example we’ve had no issue teaching our U7 team’s two defenders for one to attack the player with ball and the other to cover open players. Took a while, but possible.
  5. Scrimmage – a game in which positional play and/or tactical elements can be trained and reinforced

This model works. Last year our U10 Girls learnt a 2-3-1 formation, improved skills and positional play and improved endurance. The team had fun as we included siblings/parents in the scrimmages. We were organized during games and with some good fortune went undefeated (13W – 1T -0L). This year our boys team has learnt a 2-2 formation which we expanded to a 2-1-1 to introduce the concept of midfield. Fitness isn’t an issue with 6 year old boys so we added more skill training time. A challenge is the mental aspect as these kids are full of energy and have a relatively low attention span. So we keep emphasizing listening skills and teamwork concepts (passing) and keep them busy with a varied program. We adjust drills during practice when we see that players have even seconds of idle time, which they use to pursue their own interests. Again, we are the team that looks like a soccer team and other teams just aren’t having as much fun during the game.

The point I want to make is that regardless of the program that is handed to you from your organization, be aware of these four pillars. If what you’re given includes them – great. If it doesn’t, then modify your approach to maximize the learning opportunity for your players.

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Soccer Speed – The Essence Of Excellence

Today I will introduce the concept of the seven speeds of soccer. It is a German concept and credit must be given to the inventors – Gero Bisanz, Gunnar Gerrisch, Jurgen Weineck, and those who expanded it with relevant soccer drills and wrote a book on it. The book is called “How to Improve the 7 Speeds of Soccer” and is part of the Performance Soccer Conditioning series. It has been authored by experts from across the soccer and training spectra – V. Gambetta, J. Luxbacher, J. Osorio,  R. Quinn, N. Sedwick, and M. Thyron.

Speed is more than the physical speed of a player, such as when sprinting. Yes, physical sprinting speed is an important aspect of a player’s or a team’s performance. But when considering the number of sprints during a game relative to the length of the game it becomes evident that there is more to speed than running fast.

You have likely observed players who are a little older yet they get to the ball before a younger, physically faster opponent. How is that? It’s because the experienced player likely perceived the situation faster, anticipated the game faster, made a quicker decision as to where to move to, reacted to the final ball motion faster, moved into position without the ball quicker, got the ball and then likely played a quick pass increasing the speed of the game. And there you have them – the 7 speeds of soccer:

  1. Perceptual Speed – the ability to observe, process, and integrate the game as it unfolds around the player, using visual and auditory senses.
  2. Anticipation Speed – the ability to predict future events based on previous experiences, observations, and intuition.
  3. Decision Making Speed – The ability to develop options and quickly decide on the best one to execute.
  4. Reaction Speed – The ability to react to events such as opponent, teammate, or ball movements.
  5. Movement Speed without Ball – The ability to move at maximum physical speed
  6. Action Speed with Ball – The ability to handle the ball at maximum physical speed, 1v1 moves, dribbles, passes, shots.
  7. Game Action Speed – The ability to pull all other speeds together during a game, considering technical, tactical, and physical circumstances to increase the pace of your team’s game. That is what I described in a previous article as catching the opponent out of shape and out of balance – play the game faster than the opponent.

I will expand on one of the speeds in future articles, completing this particular topic around September.

Coach Tom

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Soccer Season Planning – Transition Phase

All competitions are over, the season is done, time to relax. Well maybe. The sixth phase in your soccer season plan is the transition from the competitive phase that just finished to the next one. Some call it the “off-season”. Regardless of the competitive environment, the coach and/or the team needs to get ready for the next season.

In the transition phase the team and the coaches typically have some time away from each other. This is a good thing since coaches and players need to work on different things, they are not depending on each other to get ready for the next game or practice.


In the off-season players need to go to maintenance mode. It is no longer about learning tactics, achieving peak performance states, or competing. It is about maintaining skills, fitness, and getting into a positive mental space. Right after the last competition there can be some down time, totally turning off. Then the maintenance program starts. Depending on the competitive environment and the age of the team, participating in another sport can be beneficial. For example, if the soccer season ended in November and restarts the following May, then playing basketball, volleyball, or ice hockey in the winter months can be considered. However, it is always recommended to also maintain essential soccer skills. Let’s look at what this means for different competitive environments:

Recreational (house league):

Typically you won’t see the same team next season as teams are put together by the club. But you can still encourage the players to do some individual soccer practice before the next season. Encourage them to get a soccer ball, or any ball and just play with it. They can take friends or siblings to a park and do some shooting on net, some passing, and play pick up games. If there is no one to play with, they can dribble around the yard, setting up some obstacles. It’s always good to kick a ball off a wall and practice receiving. Be creative and make a list of what they can do. Encourage them to stay active and participate in another sport if possible.

Competitive Youth/School/College/University:

Assuming this is a continuous program and the team will largely stay together for the next season (plus recruits, minus departures), players can get more specific training plans for the off-season. The expectation is that when the next pre-competitive phase starts they must be ready to compete for spots on the team. An example of an off-season skill/fitness maintenance schedule is available by clicking Off Season Training. This one was for a college team with a transition phase from May to August.


Professional players’ off-season programs are similar to the above from a skill and fitness maintenance point of view, but the exact programs are more scientific and include health management, physical fitness measurements, injury rehabilitation, etc. In addition there may be the business side of professional life. Contract management, searching out a new club, sponsor deal development, etc. Off-season programs are much more geared towards the individual athlete.


As coaches we also stay busy during the transition phase. First and foremost coaches need to assess their performance so they can work out an improvement plan. Then we need to start strategizing for the next season.


Get some feedback from your players and if applicable from their parents. There may be an end of season get together and it would be good to hand out a survey form at the last game and ask for it to be returned at the final event. You want to look for what worked well and keep those aspects of your coaching. Things your “customers” didn’t like so much are opportunities for self improvement. Decide if you will coach again next season and which club/team/age group you will coach. If it’s different than the past season, familiarize yourself with next season’s environment. For example if you coach an older age group, the number of players on the field may change, the length of the game, the number of games/practices per week, the size of the ball, etc. You can use that information to plan your next season. Remember the pre-competitive phase is likely very short so you need to be ready to go before you get there. If you’re really keen you may want to develop a mini project plan for yourself.


Soliciting feedback from the team is still good. You are also likely to get an evaluation from your club or your Athletics Director in an educational environment. You may undertake some coaching development by attending seminars, courses, or going through the next level of certification. Typically you will be stepping up the recruiting program to get new players into your program. Ideally you have a list of prospects already and now you need to contact them and persuade them that your team will be the best choice for them. In order to recruit the right players you need to know which gaps to fill. The gaps are based on players you know won’t be coming back, the evaluation of your players (leading to tough calls of exiting some), and the specific skill/tactics/fitness/mental areas your team needs to improve relative to the competition. You also want to review last season’s program with your team staff (if you have assistant coaches, trainers, managers, therapists, etc.) and decide what changes need to be considered for the future. Then embark on a strategic planning process using whatever process you are familiar with supported by whomever you want to include. If you have team staff and they are available I strongly recommend to include them. At the end of that process you should have a renewed vision and clear goals and objectives for the next season. You also need to develop the execution strategies to deliver the plan. When the next pre-competitive phase starts you need to be ready. If you’re interested in a strategic planning template, check out Sauder Consulting.


Again, all the elements of the competitive program apply. And just like professional players the professional soccer coach has business interests to focus on as well as career planning and management.

Happy Coaching

Coach Tom

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Soccer Season Planning – Tapering Phase

coach talking to his team of competitive pro girls

The tapering phase in sports annual planning typically refers to a reduction in workload that precedes key competitions. It is intended to allow athletes to have the physical and mental energy for the main competition.

In soccer there typically is a regular season and I don’t believe that each game is a main competition. The regular season and practice/game planning falls into the competitive phase. This is why I suggest that the tapering phase occurs after the regular season, but only if there is another competition to follow. There are many examples of post-season competitions in soccer:

  • many leagues have play-offs, particularly in educational environments (High School, College/University), but also in professional settings. The North American MLS has play-offs, European leagues have promotion/relegation games.
  • at the professional level there are international club competitions which have the championship game played after the national leagues have concluded play (such as UEFA Champions League)
  • at the international level there could be summer tournaments, such as EURO, Copa America, FIFA World Cup
  • in northern climates there are indoor competitions, quite often in tournament format. The outdoor season may end in November and indoor tournaments start in January. So there could be a tapering phase just prior to the tournament.

The objective of the tapering phase is for your athletes and team to be regenerated and at peak performance for the key competition.

Specific deliverables are:

  • each player and the team are 100% ready for the main competition
  • the opponents have been scouted and a game plan is prepared
  • the team is ready to adjust the game plan depending on unforeseen events (for example opponent has different formation than anticipated)

This is the time when training may focus on specific aspects of the four pillars of soccer (technical, tactical, physical fitness, mental fitness) that need improvement based on a review of the regular season. It is recommended to work with the entire team, with functional units (defense, midfield, offense), or with individual athletes as required. But always keep the future opponent and game plan in  mind when selecting areas to improve. For example if the season showed that the team was weak in pressing the opponent and got caught out of position and balance, but the game plan for the next game is to absorb pressure and counterattack, then you may not want to work on pressing the opponent in their half. Again, it is the prioritized combination of learning from the season with the next game plan that should drive practice design.

Training volume is low, but intensity is high. A key focus should be mental preparation so that individual players and the entire team enter the key competition with confidence.

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Soccer Season Planning – Main Competitive Phase

competeAll the preparation is done, the first competitive/regular season game is tomorrow or the day after. Your team is entering the main competitive phase, it is what the game is all about – playing it. I haven’t stressed the point of setting a competitive season goal for your team yet. That is because most coaches start with the goal of winning the championship, or qualifying for promotion. In recreational situations no standings may be published, but our competitive nature still wants to win. Once you work with the team, perhaps having played exhibition games, scouted the opposition, or maybe just had one practice, you will have a better idea of how your team fits in its competitive environment. Whatever goal you may have had at the beginning, now is a good time for a reality check and come up with a goal that is realistic and attainable. Below are some examples based on the environment you’re in and the knowledge you have:

  • win the championship
  • avoid relegation
  • top three finish
  • win half our games
  • have a .500 record
  • win just one game
  • make sure everyone has fun and wants to play again
  • develop each player to be better by the end
  • have the team play better soccer in the last game than it did in the first game
  • etc.

Feel free to pick any of the above or add your own. Then let the team know, and parents if appropriate, what you think the goals are.

Having set the goals before the first game. the main objective of the competitive phase simply is:

  • Meet the goal(s)

 The specific deliverables at the end of the competitive phase are:

  1. Report on achievement of goal(s), lessons learned, what to do different
  2. Feedback to each individual player on performance, strengths, weaknesses, action plans (if appropriate)
  3. If you will coach the same team next season, thoroughly review the team`s performance, player performance, and your own coaching performance. For the latter get some feedback.
  4. Review of your coaching plans

What to do with all the information will be reviewed in the next article on the tapering phase.

In the competitive phase the practice volume (frequency) drops to low, but the intensity stays high. Players need recovery time between games (if they played the whole game) and practices must be scheduled accordingly. You have a different strategy for players that see little or no game action. Their practice frequency can stay elevated and separate sessions can be scheduled for them.

There are various schools of thought on how to structure practices inside the competitive season. The two most popular ones are:

  1. We need to stick to our pre-competitive phase vision and prescribed practice plans because players and team are not performing as we hoped. So regardless of game performance, you stick to the plan to develop the team.
  2. We need to conduct a thorough match analysis, determine what areas need improvement, and design the next practice to correct the last game`s errors.

I leave it to you to think about the pros and cons of these main approaches. What I suggest is a combination of the two. Assess the team and player performance against what you expected. Analyse the game and note what went well and what went poorly. Design the next practice on items that appear on both lists:

  1. things that weren`t done at all
  2. things that were attempted but not executed well
  3. mistakes

For example, if your game strategy was to switch play a lot to unbalance the opposing defense, and you observed that you hardly switched at all, figure out why not. Did your team forget? Did they try but the opponents didn’t give enough time to execute? Did your team execute but the final pass went to the opponent? Each of those scenarios may lead to a different next practice focus.

I do recommend to incorporate the four pillars (technical, tactical, fitness, mental) into each practice, however, the amount of time you spend on each varies based on the main focus of the session.

The length of this phase also depends on the circumstance of the team. For university/college teams this might be two months, a bit longer if play-offs are involved. High School seasons in northern climates can be as short as four weeks with up to three games per week. That makes scheduling practices and taking any corrective action difficult. Some creative ways are to have a mini practice before the next game (modified warm-up), have chalk board sessions with walk through tactical drills, etc. For recreational teams this phase is typically 3-4 months with a game per week. This actually offers the opportunity for more than one practice a week to really develop the players. For competitive or professional teams this phase can be as long as 6-10 months.

Coach Tom

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Soccer Season Planning – Pre-Competitive Phase

Soccer coach going over play on writing board

Following the preparatory phase is the competitive phase, the heart of the season. It is divided into pre-competitive and main competitive components.

Soccer coach going over play on writing boardThe main objectives of the pre-competitive phase are:

  • Getting ready to play the first competitive game
  • Fine-tuning the system of play with all players knowing their positions, as well as their own and their team mates movements with and without the ball
  • Being ready to switch to alternate formations during a game or for the next game
  • Having each player and the team mentally ready to compete at top intensity
  • Developing speed

 The specific deliverables at the end of the general preparatory segment are:

  1. Starting line up and substitutes defined
  2. Game plans developed for the first 20% of the season
  3. Practice and training plans developed for the first 20% of the season, for team and for individuals (starters, subs, non-roster players)
  4. Injury rehabilitation being executed with specific return to action dates
  5. Opposition scouted and strengths/weaknesses identified
  6. Final schedules communicated

For the four pillars I suggest one main theme: EXECUTION SPEED.

Practices and drills focus on key specific skills required to execute the game philosophy and system of play. If possession soccer is it, then accurate passes at high pace to target players and into space are called for. Likewise ball receiving and control. If a fast break style is the philosophy, then longer passes, switching side of attack, accurate crosses might be the focus. Tactically repetition at high speed is called for. Use small grids for possession and larger grids for a counterattacking system. Find a way to incorporate full game scrimmages or more exhibition games. Fitness training is focused on speed. A good mental training strategy is to introduce players to visualization, discover their ideal performance state (IPS), and to develop pre-game routines for players to achieve their IPS at game time. For more information on the ideal performance state, check this article Ideal Performance State

The players need need lots of 1on1 discussions with the coach to make sure they buy into their roles.

Practice volume drops to medium and intensity steps up to high. Reduce practice frequency and aim for a high work/rest time ratio.

Continue to play exhibition games and keep scouting the opposition as permitted.

The length of this phase depends on the circumstance of the team. For university/college teams that only get together two to three weeks before the first competition this phase should be three days to one week. For competitive teams this phase could be two weeks. For recreational teams that get together a week before the first game this might have to be built into the pre-game warm-ups. Be flexible.

Coach Tom

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Soccer Season Planning – Specific Preparatory Phase

Last week we started our series on soccer season planning with the general preparatory phase. Today we continue with part II of season preparation, the specific preparation phase.

Soccer coach going over play on writing boardThe main objectives of the specific preparatory phase are:

  • Eliminating technical skill deficits for each player as much as possible, based on the assessment of previous phase.
  • Developing the main game philosophy, system of play, and training all tactical elements to execute the philosophy
  • Training players to execute their positions in the system
  • Developing alternative formation options to respond to game situations
  • Developing endurance

 The specific deliverables at the end of the general preparatory segment are:

  1. Competent in executing system of play appropriate for the team
  2. Depth chart for each position in each system (who starts, who is first alternative, etc.)
  3. Endurance developed to play 90 minutes at 100% effort
  4. Players have bought in to their role on the team
  5. Game schedule reviewed and practice plans and game strategies developed for first two games
  6. Any injured players entered into rehabilitation program

Communication remains critical. I suggest to have a team meeting before any practice and a quick recap before departing, regardless of how long the practices are.

For the four pillars I suggest practices and drills to focus on specific skills that need improvement, players can be grouped according to their skill level. So a group could be working on receiving/passing, another on shooting, etc. Tactical elements must be trained according to the overarching game philosophy with the anticipated players in their future position. Emphasize accuracy over execution speed. Step up speed when players master execution accuracy and timing. Fitness training is focused on endurance. If you have lots of time then runs are ok, but never sacrifice working with the ball for jogging. The players need to be managed to be emotionally ready to take on roles they perhaps weren’t expecting, such as different position, not starting, etc. Play as many small sided games in practice as possible but start adding full team against full team games. With a large enough roster that is easy, with kids teams you may have to recruit parents and siblings to fill the second team.

Practice volume remains high and intensity steps up to medium. For example one or two daily practices with higher aerobic requirements in the drills and a medium work/rest time ratio.

Continue to play exhibition games and keep scouting the opposition as permitted.

The length of this phase depends on the circumstance of the team. For university/college teams that only get together two to three weeks before the first competition this phase should be one week. For competitive teams this phase could be two to four weeks. For recreational teams that get together a week before the first game this might have to be built into the pre-game warm-ups. Be flexible.

Coach Tom

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Soccer Season Planning – General Preparation

Soccer goalkeeper holding a soccer ball between his arm and his body

Project management - Project planning conceptLast week I presented an overview of soccer season planning, the various phases, and how they may differ for various team situations. In this post I will start the review of each phase/segment. I will discuss each phase from the perspective of:

  1. Our four pillars of soccer (technical, tactical, physical fitness, mental fitness)
  2. Practice volume and intensity (peaking)
  3. The type of games to be played
  4. General events

Specific objectives are suggested and examples of various team situations are provided.

The first phase in soccer season planning is the preparatory phase. It consists of a general preparatory and a specific preparatory segment. Today we will review the general preparatory segment.

The main objectives of the general preparatory phase are:

  • For the coaches to assess the players and communicate the strategy for the upcoming season
  • For players to get to know the coaches and their team mates
  • For players to understand the expectations of the organization and the team
  • To review the competitive environment

For competitive teams that need to select players, this is the ideal time for try-outs. For competitive teams with a given roster this is the time to understand individual players’ strengths and weaknesses. For non-competitive teams with a fixed roster (recreational) it is also the time to understand individual players and their families where applicable. The specific deliverables at the end of the general preparatory segment are:

  1. Development of the season plan (individual/team development, practice sequences, team goals, competitive goals).
  2. Selection of the team
  3. A general idea for the system(s) of play and player positions in the formation
  4. All required personal, health, insurance, contact, travel data collected
  5. Defining the desired team environment and culture
  6. Expectations understood and agreed to by all

In all cases I suggest to start with a group meeting to outline the program. In the case of recreational youth/children soccer parents should attend the meeting. Appropriate handouts must be left with players/parents. Contact lists, club/team/organizational policies are provided to all.

For the four pillars I suggest practices and drills to focus on basic skills (such as passing, shooting, goalkeeping, 1v1 moves, etc.), basic tactical elements (flank attack & crossing, switching point of attack, etc.), fitness assessment (endurance, speed, strength), and development of the desired team atmosphere (disciplined or relaxed, fun or competitive, etc.). Play as many small sided games in practice as possible, they could be wide open or functional, such as defense against offense, midfield against midfield, etc.

Coaches must be prepared to keep notes, statistics, and observations on each player – preparing a form in advance will be helpful.

Practice volume should be high and intensity low. For example one or two daily practices with low aerobic requirements in the drills and a low work/rest time ratio.

If possible play exhibition games starting with playing against lower level/caliber teams and ending with higher level/caliber. In highly competitive environments you may not wish to play against direct competitors so you need to find appropriate partners elsewhere. For example I used to have an agreement for my U16 competitive girls team to play against an U14 competitive boys team.

In competitive environments you do want to scout your opposition so that you can prepare for the future game against them. This scouting can start at any time so try to find out when and where they play/practice and observe yourself or have an assistant observe. Do follow the scouting and privacy rules of the league you play in – it is not ethical to “spy” in leagues where scouting is prohibited.

The length of this phase depends on the circumstance of the team. For university/college teams that only get together two to three weeks before the first competition this phase should be one week. For competitive teams this phase could be two to four weeks. For recreational teams that get together a week before the first game this could just be two hours. The less time available for this phase the more prepared you have to be and the faster you have to be in the analysis of information and translating it into the season plan.

Coach Tom

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Soccer Season Planning

Project management - Project planning conceptPlanning a soccer season is a very important aspect of coaching soccer. I define a soccer season as an entire year, from the beginning of one season to the beginning of the next season. Within this annual cycle are the following phases:

  1. Preparatory (Pre-Season) Phase
    • General Preparatory
    • Specific Preparatory
  2. Competitive Phase
    • Pre-Competitive
    • Main Competitive (actual game playing)
  3. Tapering Phase (immediately after competition is over)
  4. Transition (from end of tapering to next preparatory)

One might argue that this applies to competitive or professional soccer and is not relevant for recreational soccer or very young kids. I would say that regardless of the team situation, all phases apply. What differs between levels of competition, type of league, age of players, etc. is the amount of time and energy expended in the planning and execution of these phases. Before I elaborate, let’s remember the four pillars of soccer:

  1. Technical skills
  2. Tactical understanding
  3. Physical fitness
  4. Mental/Emotional fitness

When you plan your season you need to develop all four pillars. Depending on the phase of the season the emphasis, intensity, and frequency of each of the pillars varies.

So we have a three dimensional issue to deal with:

  1. Competitive Environment of the team
  2. Phase of season
  3. Pillar of soccer

Let’s look at one example, a University soccer team in Canada. There is an outdoor competition from September to November and an indoor competition in March.

With students arriving on campus around labor day weekend there is a very short preparatory phase (two weeks), a very short yet intense competitive phase (eight weeks maximum), a short tapering and a short transition to the outdoor off-season (December). Then starts a longer preparatory phase for the indoor season (January-February), followed by a very short tournament style competitive phase (three weeks). From April to September are the tapering and transitioning phases for the next outdoor season.

Over the next few weeks I will discuss application of season planning (periodization) in various situations with specific examples of how to structure soccer practices and games in the context of the four pillars. Stay tuned.

Coach Tom

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Coaching Soccer – A Complex Job

Girls youth soccer team sitting on the field and listening to their coachMost of us have or have had a job, a position, a career. We are accustomed to a job description (or position profile) at any level of an organization. Typically there is a document that describes the accountabilities, responsibilities, tasks, skills, education requirements, and scope of the position. It is understood that in order to get the job, one must demonstrate competency.

Coaching a soccer team doesn’t usually come with a job description, other than “soccer coach”. We know the key responsibilities of running practices and managing games, and with any luck we know the rules of the game and of the club we play in.

I would suggest that the job of soccer coach is a complex amalgamation of many jobs one finds in the working world. Let’s look at the coaching position of a recreational youth soccer team.


As coach of a soccer team you are it’s top executive. True, there is a club structure and a league coordinator, but as far as running the team goes, you’re it. It is your job to develop the strategic plan for the team. Your team will need a vision, goals, and strategies of how to achieve them. How do you do this if you don’t know the players, league, or even club? For the vision you can say things like “At the end of the soccer season our team play will resemble soccer you see on TV. Players will work together as a unit, passing to each other, and creating scoring chances. Positions will be held and everyone knows what to do.  Each child will be a better soccer player.” Or ” Everyone will be involved and have fun”. The vision really reflects your personality, your style, and what you know about the sport. You then need to communicate the vision and let your actions be aligned to it. As the leader of the “enterprise” you need to ensure that all stakeholder needs will be met – the children, parents, club, community, game officials.


It is very likely that you will need help as the season goes. The minimum team staff would have you work with a co-coach or an assistant coach. As teams are more advanced it would be common to have additional people helping you, such as a soccer goalie coach, a fitness trainer, a team manager. You are now a leader of a management team which requires interpersonal skills, planning abilities, setting the agenda, synthesizing a program, running meetings, etc. You will accept input realizing that the final decision on tactics, line-ups, substitutions, etc. is yours.


Your relationship with the young players is most closely to that of a school teacher and students. You need to learn about each player and decide which soccer skills they need to develop most. You need to know their physical abilities, social skills, and understanding of the game. You need to develop a curriculum that develops the entire team as well as each player. Then you need to implement the curriculum. These are your practice plans, the soccer drills within the practices, the season plan – stringing the right soccer practices together.

Production Planner

You will likely get a game schedule from the club and if you’re fortunate you will also get a practice schedule. Often you have to schedule the practice(s) yourself. Each practice and each game is a unique event (production) and needs a plan. What are we practicing next? What does the team need to work on, which soccer drills can I get to develop individuals and the team? What formation are we going to play in? Which players will play which positions? What are the planned substitutions? You also need to plan all the things you need – cones, pinnies, goalie shirts/gloves, hurdles, balls, ball pump, stop watch, etc. You need to set up the drills without wasting practice time, so plan it out.


Every team will have a mix of children and parents, all with different needs. You will get the super supportive -they will do anything you say and help you where they can. You will get the quiet ones, going along. You will get the ones that complain, no matter what you do – some do it overtly, others behind your back. The key is to know who is who and what your strategy is with each of them. You will find children who will be sad, upset, different from week to week. Take them aside and ask if you can help, encourage them, give them confidence. Joke a bit.


Things won’t go as planned. Players who said they’ll show up won’t, and vice versa. Soccer practice drills will not run as smoothly as you thought. Players get injured and need attention. So you need to be flexible, able to improvise, deal with the crisis while keeping the event going.


It is a good idea to write handouts and notes for players and parents throughout the season. Sharing your vision and goals, season schedule, nutritional tips, substitution policy, attendance expectations, club rules, etc. at the very first time you meet the team is recommended. Updates on how the season is going, explaining some key changes and decisions can be done via e-mails. A mid-season and end of season report will be appreciated. A personalized note on the accomplishment of each player will go a long way to building confidence and a passion for the sport. You can never communicate too much.


Quite often, in particular if you’re coaching by yourself, you will be confronted with injuries. The practice or game will be interrupted with a player in discomfort or pain. It helps if you have some knowledge about first aid, injury assessment and immediate treatment (ice, wrapping, etc.). It is good to have a first aid kit and be aware of how to get medical treatment if required. If the parents/guardians are there at the time, they will look after this. But what if they aren’t? You need a back-up plan because somebody has to accompany the injured child and somebody has to be with the team. That is one of the key reasons to have an assistant coach. If there is none, designate a parent/guardian to either accompany the injured or stay with the team.

There are likely many functions and skills that I missed, but it should be clear that coaching a soccer team is a complex job. We recommend to get all the help you can. Go to coaching courses, talk to experienced coaches, learn from club resources, and read our soccer practice books.

Coach Tom