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.
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.