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.
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