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FIFA Soccer World Cup 2018 – Coaching Perspective

The 2018 soccer world cup is over with France as a deserved winner, although Croatia would have been equally deserving. As is common after a major tournament nations review their performance, draw conclusions about what worked and what didn’t and plan a new future. Some with the same coaches and some with new coaches.

Typically the nations who feel successful refer to their national soccer programs as being the right ones and plan to change little, the ones who feel they have failed question and analyze theirs.

Belgium is happy with their program, they are looking to develop the next generation, but the players questioned the coach’s game tactics in some games. France is basking inb their glory. England is celebrating its revival and the success of the youth program, Germany is questioning everything that has made them successful since a major program revamp stating in 2000. Argentina and Portugal are wondering if relying on Messi and Ronaldo was the right strategy and what to do next as they retire.

I find this very knee jerk and to some degree overcomplicating things. I strongly advocate the Four Pillars of Soccer , Technical Skills, Tactics, Physical Fitness, and Mental Preparation. Any program or team that develops these pillars into a strategic plan with specific goals, objectives and action plans will only need to tweak their program based on observation, and not to overhaul it constantly.

Lets look at an example. After disappointing 1994 and 1998 world cups Germany started a new youth development program, built academies, focused on adding skills to the classic discipline and work ethic of German soccer and develop a new tactical format. New players developed, youth teams were successful, and a new generation won the 2014 world cup. 2018 was a disaster with exiting in the first round. Now Germany is considering revamping their entire program again. But do they need to?

In terms of the four pillars of soccer Germany still develops skillful youth players. No need to change anything there. Tactically they actually changed their style in this world cup from quick passing and runs to more of a possession style a la Guardiola. Teams were ready for it and it didn’t work. Just go back to what worked before. Physical fitness – German players are generally fit. In this world cup the coach chose to start players who were coming off injuries and weren’t 100% fit. That was a mistake. Mental preparation was a disaster. The team was not hungry, not ready to fight and had an arrogant attitude that they would be successful, even though warning signs were there in pre tournament warm up games. So tweak the mental preparation. Does Germany need to overhaul everything? Not at all.

Other countries should do the same. Review and plan everything in the context of the four pillars of soccer and performance will be the best it can be. That is true for nations, clubs, and your team.

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Soccer Field Sizes For Youth Teams

Icon of a clipboard showing a page with a soccer strategy.

I had the opportunity of attending a soccer coaching licensing program recently. One of the topics was soccer player development in the context of practices and game play. There was much discussion about the number of players on the field for certain age groups and the corresponding field size. By coincidence I had also just reviewed the FIFA Youth Soccer Training Manual as well as Youth programs in England, germany, USA and Canada.

Before sharing my findings I would like to reflect on the game when I was a youngster playing soccer in Germany, and later in Canada. At all age groups organized soccer was played 11 v. 11 on full size fields and practices were on the same full size fields. Organized team soccer started at age 8, in today’s terms U9. Before that age soccer was played in school yards, in parks, just about anywhere one could fabricate goals and kick an object (not always a ball). Even while playing organized soccer street soccer was played every day after school. From a very high level point of view one could say that most of the skill, physical, and mental training happened outside of organized soccer. Arriving at U9 the training focus shifted on formations, player’s roles in the formation, and team play (i.e. passing, using space, etc.). Certainly skills were maintained and fitness improved, but the assumption was that the base was built between age 3 and 8 on the street.

Fast forward to today where the street soccer development doesn’t happen so much anymore, certainly not in the developed world. Therefore organizations and countries have had to rethink how these basic skills are developed. What I am seeing is that organized club soccer is now available from U3 up. Coaching curriculums have developed all over the globe and from a high level perspective they are consistent. The emphasis is giving kids maximum touches on the ball in practice and fostering the same during games. Fields and goals have been scaled down for games to allow 3 v 3 to 7 v 7 play. This philosophy has extended to U 12 as well where fields are about 3/4 size, nets are smaller, and play is 9 v 9.

The concept behind smaller fields is to allow more opportunities to touch the ball by restricting the size of the playing field. At U13 every country I have observed is playing full field 11 v 11. Here is the complication. Most European soccer countries start their national youth teams at U15 with international competitions. USA and Canada start national youth programs at U14. Now to be identified, invited, and selected for these national team takes a few years, you typically don’t just walk up for tryouts. This means that in North America players have had one season of full field soccer (U13) before they are supposed to be ready for U14 national teams. In Europe they have two years. I am not sure how a player can scale up the skills and learn game systems and formations in that short a time. I am also not convinced that the players being scouted are able to demonstrate their full potential.

So I reflected on the rationale for smaller fields – more opportunities to play. I made a point in the last 12 months to watch many U3 to U12 games and I could not convince myself that there was more action for each player. Recall that the training objectives for these ages (and up to U12) are skill development, not strategy or tactics. The kids are encouraged to apply these skills in games. Not surprising then is that the more skilled players still “hog” the ball and unlike in the past, no coach is encouraging them to pass. All the other kids move around a lot but they don’t necessarily get to touch the ball much. On top of that, with the smaller teams kids spend most of their time off the field. At U6, for instance, a lot of clubs play 3 v 3 but each team has 10 or more players. By definition the kids spend 2/3 of the game on the sidelines. At U12 and 9 v 9 rosters are often up to 18 players and kids play half a game.

I am not convinced that the basic premise for small fields is working. I believe the number of touches are generated in practices, not so much in games.

I do believe in playing on smaller fields and nets up to a certain age, probably up to and including U8. But even there I would encourage teaching players positions, line-ups, and team play so that they understand it’s not about the most skilled player running with the ball. I would also try to find a way to ensure that kids play at least 75% of the allotted game time. This may mean smaller rosters, split squad games, or other means.

Starting at U9 I would transition to full field with regular size nets. It isn’t as difficult on the goalkeepers as it might seem because chances are that the shots aren’t all coming in under the cross bar anyways. This would allow at least four or five years to get ready form the national U14/15 programs.

To recap:

We moved from playing full field 11 v 11 soccer at U8/9 with national teams starting at U18 to starting full field soccer at U13 with national teams starting at U14. Ten years of learning full field soccer to one or two years.

Food for thought ??

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Coaching Soccer Players 1 on 1

I just received a complimentary e-mail on our soccer web site and training materials from the owner of Coachable in Australia. Allan Edwards also pointed me to a very important concept he is advocating: The benefits of coaching athletes in a 1 on 1 environment. You can find more about that here: 1 on 1 Soccer Coaching.

This caused me to reflect on my own coaching experience, including my current role of being the goalkeeping coach for a competitive U 12 team. I realized that the one experience I haven’t shared much is the 1 on 1 coaching I have done to supplement team training sessions. It’s not that I haven’t done much of it, quite the opposite, I have done lots of it. But until I read Allan’s material it didn’t occur to me that coaches MAY NOT be doing this.

WHY 1 ON 1 ?

In team training sessions we tend to run soccer drills in various size groups. It seems the most practical way to teach a team and the most relevant to incorporate game situations. However, at any level of soccer, even at the Pro level, it becomes fairly obvious that not all players execute technique or tactics in the same way. Some are better than others, some are more motivated for certain drills, some are physically more suited for certain exercises. Which gets me back to our FOUR PILLARS OF SOCCER (TM) – Technical Skills, Tactical Development, Physical Fitness, Mental Fitness. All soccer players are different in how they learn, process, and execute any four of these pillars. So augmenting team training with individual coaching is critical. It allows you to understand what prevents an individual from perfecting a particular aspect of the game.

HOW 1 ON 1?

What I have always done is keep notes on every player. I evaluate them against the FOUR PILLARS, scoring then against various technical skills, tactical understanding/execution, physical condition, and mental approach to games and practices. I have done this in an age and competitive appropriate level from U3 to University teams. This provides a fairly robust understanding of the priorities for each player.

I then plan some individual coaching into a practice session. This is where a knowledgable assistant or co-coach is extremely valuable. One coach can run the team drill while the other can take individuals aside for some 1 on 1 coaching. In addition I have offered individuals to stay after practice/game, come before practice/game. I have also slotted special sessions focussing on a particular element of soccer, such as shooting technique. The players requiring extra development are invited.

The key is to understand why an individual is challenged executing a certain skill or tactical move. It could be lack of comprehension, body mechanics, lack of experience, etc. Once the reason has been identified then the proper corrective actions can be developed and trained. At this level of detail it is easy to understand that 1 on 1 coaching is not a common occurrence in a team practice environment. So some structured thought and plan has to be incorporated into the soccer seasonal plan.

The one position that makes it somewhat easier to coach 1 on 1 is that of goalkeeper. Typically a youth team has two keepers, a pro team three. Smart teams will have a goalkeeper coach and there is typically a fair amount of goalkeeper training set aside during a team practice session. By definition it is 1 on 2/3 and there is plenty of opportunity for some 1 on 1.

Case Study

I will use my current example of goalkeeper training as a small case study.

Regarding technical skills my two goalkeepers were dropping catchable high balls consistently. On first glance nothing seemed wrong. They got in position behind the ball, reacted fast enough to the ball, and had their hands on the ball at the right point. They were correctly taught the theory of forming a W with their hands and upon close inspection consistently formed that W. Until I realized that their hands were too small to get a good grip on the ball with their thumbs as closely together as shown in this picture. 

So I suggested to “open up” the W a bit, spreading their thumbs and getting their little finger around the ball more. After a few tries to get used to it they stopped dropping the ball. So what happened with these competitive U12 keepers who had received specialized training in soccer goalkeeping academies? What happened was that the academy has adult instructors who showed them the proper W grip, with their big hands. The group contained players of all ages and sizes and the larger players had no problem. But the instructors never realized that the precise hand position might pose a problem for players with smaller hands and fingers.

Another example was focussing on the ready position for various type of game situations. Goalies know that the closer the attacker is the more they have to crouch down, bending their knees. One of my keepers couldn’t crouch as low as necessary. I thought there was some laziness or lack of comprehension involved. When I took the keeper aside and talked about it new information came to light. The hamstrings hurt when crouching. There was no prior injury and I hadn’t observed the issue earlier in the season. An examination by a physiotherapist revealed structural problems in the lower body which was getting worse with growth spurts, but which can be addressed with therapy. In the mean time the keeper and I developed a different technique of stopping close-in shots to compensate for the lack of “crouchability”.

I am sure that you will have ample examples of players not doing exactly what they should. Before you pass judgment on their abilities, find out what is causing the issue and offer the player some methods of correcting it. The player will develop to a higher potential and the team will be more successful

Coach tom


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Soccer Injuries

Pro soccer player kicking a soccer ball. Link to soccer practice book for U16 to adult.

A major European soccer league analyzed frequency of injuries for soccer players. This information can be used for coaches of all teams to put injury prevention programs in place where possible.

Injury Frequency:

  1. Upper Thigh/Quad 26.4%
  2. Knee 18.0%
  3. Ankle 13.1%
  4. Lower Leg/Calf 10.1%
  5. Back 9.1%
  6. Foot 6.6%
  7. Head 4.5%
  8. Hip 2.5%
  9. Shoulder 1.9%
  10. Pelvis 1.8%
  11. Groin 1.6%
  12. Neck 1.2%
  13. Hand 1.0%
  14. Buttocks 0.8%
  15. Arms 0.8%
  16. Stomach 0.5%
  17. Chest 0.2%

Not surprisingly 67.6% of injuries are to the legs, with muscles accounting for 36.5% and joints for 31.1%. The muscle injuries can occur as a result of overuse or impact. Overuse can be prevented by proper stretching routines as suggested in each of our practice books. Impact injuries are not preventable by stretching per se, but stretching can help with a speedier recovery process. Joint injuries tend to be the results of accidents (poor landing after jumps, impacts from fouls, but also overuse). The same can be said for the injuries to other body parts.

It has also been observed that injury profiles vary greatly between teams. Some teams lose significantly more player-games due to injuries than others. Many theories have been postulated but nothing conclusive has been published.

My personal belief is that the entire program of balancing practice intensity, injury prevention programs, nutrition, and injury recovery programs can make a significant difference.

No matter at what level you coach, develop a program for the health of your players. At the very minimum have your players stretch before games and practices, have a cool down routine after a game, and have an injury treatment program in place (ice packs available, tensor bandages, etc.).


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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