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UEFA Soccer Nations League

The draw for a brand new competiiton, the UEFA nation’s league has just been completed. Here is what this league is all about (adapted from http://www.uefa.com/uefanationsleague/index.html#/)

What is the basic format?

  • The format of the UEFA Nations League will feature promotion and relegation. The 55 European national teams have been divided into four leagues (A-D)in accordance with UEFA’s national association coefficient rankings on 11 October 2017.
  • League A includes the top-ranked sides and League D includes the lowest:

League A

  • Teams will be split into four groups of three, with the group winners then contesting the UEFA Nations League Finals (semi-finals, third-place match and final) in June 2019 to become the UEFA Nations League winners. One host country will be appointed in December 2018 from among the finalist teams.
  • The four teams that finish bottom of their groups will be relegated to League B for the 2020 edition.
  • The top four ranked teams that do not qualify for UEFA EURO 2020 will enter a play-off in March 2020, with one finals place on offer.
  • GROUP 1

    •  Germany
    •  France
    •  Netherlands

    GROUP 2

    •  Belgium
    •  Switzerland
    •  Iceland

    GROUP 3

    •  Portugal
    •  Italy
    •  Poland

    GROUP 4

    •  Spain
    •  England
    •  Croatia

League B

  • Teams will be split into four groups of three.
  • The four group winners are promoted to League A, with the four sides that finish bottom relegated to League C for the next competition to be played in 2020.
  • The top four ranked teams that do not qualify for UEFA EURO 2020 will enter a play-off in March 2020, with one finals place on offer

GROUP 1

  •  Slovakia
  •  Ukraine
  •  Czech Republic

GROUP 2

  •  Russia
  •  Sweden
  •  Turkey

GROUP 3

  •  Austria
  •  Bosnia and Herzegovina
  •  Northern Ireland

GROUP 4

  •  Wales
  •  Republic of Ireland
  •  Denmark

League C

  • Teams will be split into one group of three and three groups of four.
  • The four group winners are promoted to League B, with the four sides that finish bottom relegated to League D for the 2020 edition.
  • The top four ranked teams that do not qualify for UEFA EURO 2020 will enter a play-off in March 2020, with one finals place on offer.

GROUP 1

  •  Scotland
  •  Albania
  •  Israel

GROUP 2

  •  Hungary
  •  Greece
  •  Finland
  •  Estonia

GROUP 3

  •  Slovenia
  •  Norway
  •  Bulgaria
  •  Cyprus

GROUP 4

  •  Romania
  •  Serbia
  •  Montenegro
  •  Lithuania

League D

  • Due to a decision of the UEFA Executive Committee, Armenia and Azerbaijan cannot be draw in the same group.
  • The four group winners are promoted to League C for the 2020 edition.
  • The top four ranked teams that do not qualify for UEFA EURO 2020 will enter a play-off in March 2020, with one finals place on offer.

GROUP 1

  •  Georgia
  •  Latvia
  •  Kazakhstan
  •  Andorra

GROUP 2

  •  Belarus
  •  Luxembourg
  •  Moldova
  •  San Marino

GROUP 3

  •  Azerbaijan
  •  Faroe Islands
  •  Malta
  •  Kosovo

GROUP 4

  •  FYR Macedonia
  •  Armenia
  •  Liechtenstein
  •  Gibraltar

When will the UEFA Nations League take place?

The UEFA Nations League will take place as follows:

  • The UEFA Nations League group games will be held over six matchdays, during the ‘double-headers’ in September, October and November 2018. The UEFA Nations League Finals competition for the teams that win the four groups within the top division is scheduled for June 2019.
  • For the UEFA Nations League Finals, the group winners of UEFA Nations League A will play in a knockout format (semi-finals, third-place match and final) in June 2019 to become the UEFA Nations League winners. One host country will be appointed by the UEFA Executive Committee in December 2018 from among the finalist teams.
  • The play-off matches will be staged in March 2020 (see below).

Will qualifying for the UEFA EURO change?

 How the play-offs for UEFA EURO 2020 work

The changes to UEFA EURO qualifying will make it more streamlined. The equation is now simple: ten groups with the top two teams in each group qualifying automatically, and the other four places being awarded to European Qualifiers play-off winners, in which the 16 group winners of the UEFA Nations League will be in contention.

The UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying draw will be made after the completion of the UEFA Nations League and allow for the four UEFA Nations League Finals participants to be drawn into groups of five teams.

But the key principle of the qualifiers remains: that every team can play every team.

  • The European Qualifiers for UEFA EURO 2020 commence in March 2019. There will be two matchdays in each of March, June, September, October and November 2019. In total, there will be five groups of five teams and five groups of six teams (ten groups in all) playing over ten matchdays (the same number as now). The winner and runner-up in each of the ten groups will qualify automatically for the UEFA EURO 2020 final tournament (June 2020).
  • The last four EURO places will be won through the European Qualifiers play-offs, which will take place in March 2020 and which will be contested by the 16 UEFA Nations League group winners.
  • If a group winner has already qualified via the European Qualifiers, then their spot will go to the next best-ranked team in their league. If a league does not have four teams to compete, the remaining slots are allocated to teams from another league, according to the overall UEFA Nations League ranking.
  • Each league will have a path of its own and each path will feature two single-leg semi-finals and one single-leg final. The winner of each path will win a ticket to UEFA EURO 2020.
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Soccer Pro vs Soccer Club

There is a very interesting battle going on between professional soccer clubs and their players, mostly in Europe. It is a battle over who controls the player.

With the increasing amount of transfer fees, players are becoming key investments and assets for professional clubs. They are meant to pay dividends in several ways

  • through winning championships and therefore bringing in significant money from competitions such as the Champions League
  • from increased merchandise sales
  • from increased TV revenues
  • from selling the player at an even higher transfer fee

With these investments clubs are very keen on protecting the health and capabilities of their assets. After all an injured or unfit player does not perform and their revenue potential for the club drops. So clubs have developed a plethora of increased rules and conditions to ensure the performance of their players. For example:

  • Nutrition – clubs prescribe what players can eat and drink at what times
  • Sleep – how much and when players sleep, at home or on road trips
  • Use of cell phones and devices – not in the bedroom, during team meals/meetings/etc.
  • Medical tests – daily blood tests and analysis, saliva analysis, weight
  • Recreational activities
  • Training requirements during the off-season
  • Analysis – players are “wired” during practice and games and information on heart rate, speed, distance run, breathing, etc. are fed instantly into data bases

There is not much left in a life of a pro player that is not controlled.

Players also benefit financially. Their salaries have risen exponentially somewhat in line with the transfer fees. But at the personal level some players are struggling with all the control by the club and they are acting out. Drinking binges, absences, unauthorized travel with and to friends and family. I believe that as humans they are struggling with the lack of control over their personal lives, not unlike children with strict parents acting out.

Clubs and players interests come together in the contract between them. Contracts stipulate the obligations of each party as well as minimum future transfer fees for which players can be sold. This is the key – can be sold. The club is under no obligation to actually accept an offer.

So why are more and more players provoking a transfer by acting out against their club and the contracts they signed? Let’s look at a current example. Top Borussia Dortmund striker Aubameyang is rumored to be in touch with Arsenal for a transfer. He has a few years left in his contract, but he wants to go. Why? Because Arsenal is offering him a higher salary and he believes there are fewer restrictions on his private life, not as much discipline. Dortmund wants to keep him, at least until the end of the season in order to achieve the club’s competitive and financial goals. But he wants to transfer now. So what has he done? Skipped practices, came late to meetings, went on unauthorized trips, etc. The club took disciplinary action and benched him for the last two games. The focus of the team has shifted from competition to the conflict. The fans are upset, team mates are split between supporting the club and Aubameyang, the media are having a field day. The result? Two ties in the last two games against lower opponents scoring just one goal. That does not help anyone.

But, the club has to be careful. The less he plays the more his transfer value declines. The player has to be careful as well. The less he plays and the more his value declines, the lower his salary potential gets. So it becomes a very tricky dance until the situation resolves itself – most likely in an immediate transfer. I should mention one other key fact: At the end of the contract players can transfer for free, the club gets nothing. So it is in the club’s interest to extend contracts and sell a player before it’s expiry.

It is a sad situation that players would essentially blackmail their club to get an immediate release. Some players at least wait until the end of the season and come to a reasonable agreement with their club. But it is an understandable situation and the clubs are not without fault for escalating the financial parameters.

The questions are: Has soccer become too much of a financial business? Has it moved away from being a sport? Is it any different from any other pro sport?

I don’t have the answers but what concerns me most is that it has become more about money than the game. And that is not a good model for our children to grow into.

Maybe it is time to scale back a bit on controlling players’ lives, on making them less of a machine that is tracked and analyzed every minute of every day. Is it all really necessary or is it done just because clever entrepreneurs have developed the tools and information systems to facilitate the controls? Time to determine what is actually essential and relevant and cut out the rest. At the same time the transfer fees need to be held in check and a mechanism needs to be developed that prevents clubs making more money from clever transfer strategies than from playing good and successful soccer.

FIFA is trying with their financial fair play program – a good start. I look forward to its success and to FIFA taking the holistic view and also look at standard contracts and enforce their application. There are professional leagues who are more successful – no transfer fees (trades), salary caps, penalties for breaking contracts, etc.. Although FIFA is the largest and most profitable sports organization in the world, it can learn from its peers.

 

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Pep Guardiola – The Best Soccer Club Coach Ever?

There have been long club winning streaks in the top European soccer leagues, and Pep Guardiola (currently Manchester City) has been involved in a few of them. Here is a quick overview:

ENGLAND

It is 16 straight victories and counting for Manchester City.

Under Pep Guardiola, City has won every league game since snatching a 2-1 victory over Bournemouth on Aug. 26 thanks to Raheem Sterling’s goal in the seventh minute of injury time.

A 2-1 win at fierce rival Manchester United on Dec. 10 made it 14 in a row, a record for a single English top-flight season, and beating Swansea three days later gave City the mark for consecutive victories in any English league.

Having beaten Tottenham 4-1 on Saturday, City now faces Bournemouth, Newcastle and Crystal Palace — teams currently lying in the bottom seven of the league — to round off 2017.

SPAIN

Fittingly, Guardiola set a record of 16 straight wins in the Spanish league while coaching Barcelona in the 2010-11 season. Real Madrid equaled that mark under Zinedine Zidane in 2016.

Barcelona went on to win its second Champions League title under Guardiola that season, in addition to its third consecutive Spanish league.

 

GERMANY

In the 2013-14 season, when Bayern Munich dominated the Bundesliga like never before to clinch the title in March, the team did so on the back of 19 consecutive wins culminating in the 3-1 victory at Hertha Berlin that sealed Guardiola’s first German championship.

Bayern was unbeaten at the time and had racked up 25 wins from its 27 games. The streak started on Oct. 19 and ran through March 25.

 

ITALY

Inter Milan holds the Serie A record at 17 straight wins, established during the 2006-07 season under Roberto Mancini.

 

FRANCE

Defending champion Monaco holds the record for consecutive league wins with 16, starting in late February and crossing over into early this season.

 

In every league Guardiola has coached he has set the record. I haven’t always been a fan of his questioning some player selection and tactical decisions in key games. These decisions came in Champions League games and potentially cost titles. But there is no doubt that he has taken top teams and delivered better season results than his predecessors. In watching Manchester City games this season it is also commendable that Guardiola has moved away from his “carved in stone” possession and ball control/circulation style. I am seeing a good balance of fast transition soccer, vertical play and ball circulation. Even at his relatively young age, Guardiola is certainly amongst the best club coaches in history. It would be interesting to see him coach a national team.

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Soccer Formations – Recycling 3-5-2

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

If you’re watching soccer on TV frequently you will hear a lot of talk about three center backs in a 3-5-2 formation. Teams all over the world are (re)inventing this system of play.

Historically the 3-5-2 was played with a sweeper and two central defenders. There were three central midfielders, typically one of them being a defensive, or holding, midfielder. The outside midfielders, also called wing backs, provided attacking width when in possession and tracked back to be outside defenders when defending. The two strikers were central.

Today the three defenders are playing in line, zonal, no more sweeper. The three central midfielders are arranged either with a defensive midfielder, in line, or with an attacking midfielder. While the execution of the 3-5-2 has changed a bit, the advantages and challenges haven’t.

The advantage is that the central defensive zone is typically packed with three defenders. That makes it difficult for the opponents to penetrate and provides lots of coverage. The same is true for central midfield. When attacking this system offers a lot of punch with typically 4-6 players being deep in the opponent’s end, or in the penalty box. Variability can be provided by strikers and outside midfielders exchanging positions or central midfielders and outside midfielders.

The challenges are a few. The outside midfielders do an enormous amount of running up and down the sides, with little support, turning the formation into a 5-3-2 when defending. Rarely do the central defenders overlap and thus offer a bit of a break for the wingers. When defending against a team playing with a flat back 4 the 3-5-2 is vulnerable to being doubled up on the wings by overlapping defenders. This will draw a central midfielder or central defender wide for support and open up holes in the middle for opponents to exploit with quick passes and switches. And finally, the 3-5-2 will become predictable and easy to defend and exploit.

All these challenges are reasons why the system fell out of favour.

I believe coaches are looking to change their shapes to challenge the opposition, which is good. I have always advocated to coach teams to be able to change formations within a game and not hold on to a static system of play. In that context the 3-5-2 is best as an in-game option, not as a sole and permanent tactic.

For a review of ALL systems of play and their advantages, challenges, and responses to opponents check out our book Soccer Systems of Play & Strategy

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Cognitive Soccer Skill Development – Exerlights

In our Seven Speeds Of Soccer I emphasize the importance of four cognitive skills (perception, anticipation, decision-making, reaction) and their speed. Our Soccer Drills & Practices incorporate the development of these critical speeds into training programs for all ages.

When the technical, tactical, and physical fitness components of the Four Pillars of Soccer have been developed to the near optimum level for individuals or teams, then the difference will be in the mental, or cognitive area, of the game. This is a realization of many national and professional team coaches. What this implies is that cognitive development lags the others, regardless of age and competition levels of the teams and players. This is why so many teams have benefited from our practices.

We have just leaned about a brand new and revolutionary training tool from Germany called Exerlights. Typically players wear pinnies to create small groups or designate roles within soccer drills (blue vs. red, green player is target, etc.). Exerlights uses LED strips on players with the ability to change colours instantly. There are also LED strips that can be attached to goals, again with goals changing colours instantly. All the activity set-ups are programmed into an App which is controlled from the coach’s handheld device.

Here is how it works:

Imagine a small sided game, 4 “red” vs 4 “blue”. There are four goals, two at each corner of the playing area. Team Red attacks the blue lit goals and team Blue attacks the green lit goals. So far it sounds like a typical soccer practice activity. The coach may introduce variations, such as asking teams to attack the other goal now, introduce a neutral player, rotate players between teams etc.

Exerlights has pre-programmed changes to both player and goal colour. If a player’s colour changes, they now belong to the opposite team. If a goal colour changes, teams have new targets. This forces players to always scan their environment (360 degrees) to be aware of which team they belong to, which goal to attack, which function to perform. At the same time they may be moving with or without the ball and make regular game action decisions. It is easy to imagine how the cognitive skills are first challenged and then developed.

Watch a You Tube Video and be amazed.

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National Soccer Development vs Pro Clubs

Probably starting with Holland in the 70s, many nations have embarked on national soccer strategies. These strategies typically include:

  • An overarching philosophy of how the game should be played. It has included possession soccer, counterattack soccer, prescribed tactics, player decision-making, certain systems of play, or a balanced approaches between skills, tactics, physical fitness, or mental training.  Ultimately it is driven by how the governing body envisions the national teams (now from U15 to adult) to play, and play consistently. Regardless of a particular country’s vision, having one is a better than having none.
  • A player development path starting with toddlers all the way to professionals. This typically includes development targets at various age levels. It addresses when and how skills should be developed, when tactics are introduced, when is full field 11 a side started, etc.
  • A coach development program to ensure that coaches understand the vision and are training their players and teams in accordance with the vision and player development path.
  • Professional club academies to ensure the best talents are honed and prepared for professional and national team play.

All of this has yielded positive results at youth tournaments and adult tournaments for some countries, and not for others. Germany, Spain, and Iceland are examples of success. Holland, the pioneer of national strategies, has struggled recently.

Up to the professional team level these national strategies work extremely well. Consistent player development at local clubs, regional select teams, and youth national teams ensures that players understand the requirements and are able to seemingly migrate to more competitive environments.

But once they enter the professional team academies, things may change. Now the club philosophy, which is based on competitive success and making money, takes over. It is dictated by technical directors and head coaches. These leadership positions, particularly head coaches, are quite often occupied by individuals from different countries. They have grown up in a system that could be quite different from that in the country they coach in. They may struggle with local players and often look to retrain them to comply with their vision. That is difficult. Or they buy players from their nations to have players that understand them better. This leads to a mix of players with totally different training and game philosophy backgrounds. I believe this is why some excellent players from one nation can’t get any traction under certain coaches at the club level.

National teams may also face a challenge. They are made up of players who grew up in the national system and understand the philosophy. But then they play on club teams and get retrained only to come to the national team and be expected to play what they learned in the first place. This is likely why some national teams (often with foreign coaches) struggle, even though they have excellent talent.

So what is the solution?

Having national programs of player, coach, and national team development is good and cannot be changed.

Pro clubs may need to rethink their strategies. Do I buy the best coaches and players and hope that they will retrain themselves to align with the club philosophy? Or do I

  • align my club program with the national strategy
  • hire coaches and technical directors that understand the national strategy
  • focus on local national talent
  • add select import talent who is intelligent and able to adapt their entire youth training to a new strategy quickly.

When you look at star-studded teams fail and “average” teams succeed, look behind the curtain at their strategies.

For national teams, coaches have to stay true to the nation’s vision and systems. They must rely on, or quickly retrain, their players’ ability to remember what they learned, regardless of how they are coached at the club level.

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European Soccer Transfer Fees Skyrocket

With the close of this summer’s transfer period in Europe a new record was set.

Just looking at the top five leagues (England, Italy, France, Germany, Spain) an astonishing $ 5.2 billion USD was spent, and that is for only one of the two annual transfer periods. The five-year growth in these five leagues is exactly 100%, starting with $ 2.6 billion in 2013.

The breakdown by league in 2017 is as follows:

  1. England: $ 1.8 billion
  2. Italy: $ 1.2 billion
  3. France: $ 0.8 billion
  4. Germany: $ 0.7 billion
  5. Spain: $ 0.7 billion

A single player record was set by Paris St. Germain acquiring Neymar from Barcelona for $ 262 million. That more than doubled the previous record $ 120 million Man United paid for Pogba in 2016. Ronaldo at $ 110 million in 2009 looks like a bargain, even adjusted for inflation.

These transfer fees are fuelled by foreign ownership money flowing into clubs, mostly from China, the Middle East, and the USA. There is a financial fair play system that is supposed to keep this escalation in check. The system is intricate but in essence it requires clubs to spend no more than $ 45 million more on transfers than they take in over the past three years. I am not sure how that is supposed to help as it only enforces a difference, not any maximums.

The result is that the clubs who attract the most money are buying the “best” players. The players take a significant share of the fees and huge salaries. Most important, player agents are making exorbitant commissions. Will buying expensive players win championships? Not in my opinion. It still takes good coaching, team chemistry, and 11 players on the field supporting each other. How much does the potential money from transfers play in the players’ heads? Will a player really support a Neymar so that Neymar’s value and income increases further?

The other side effect is a whole new economy in soccer. Clubs can make more money through transfer fees than through ticket and merchandising sales. Some examples:

In 2016 Borussia Dortmund paid $ 18 million for Ousmane Dembele and sold him for $ 120 million to Barcelona in 2017. That’s more profit on one deal than the club made in the past five years combined through soccer operations.

This year Dortmund paid $ 8 million for 17-year-old talent Jadon Sancho to Man City. The strategy is to develop Jadon and then generate a transfer fee of $ 100 million or more in three or four years.

And lastly, clubs are recruiting and developing local talent in the hope of hitting a future transfer jackpot.

So while the fans are cheering their team and enjoy high quality soccer on the pitch, club management are focusing on growing transfer fees, or growing soccer players’ value. At some point we need to wonder about the purpose of soccer. Is it sport or corporate business? Can it really be both?

 

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FIFA Soccer World Cup 2018 QUALIFIERS

Soccer World Cup 2018 is going into the final qualification games. Here is an update as of 5 September 2017:

UEFA (Europe – 14 Teams)

Qualified: Russia (host), Belgium

Virtually qualified: Switzerland, Portugal, Germany, Northern Ireland, England, Spain, Italy

Notable nations at risk: Netherlands

Notable nations not qualified: Hungary, Czech Republic, Austria

CONMEBOL (South America – 4 Teams + 1 Play-Off Chance)

Qualified: Brasil

Virtually qualified: none – tight race between Uruguay, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Ecuador

Notable nations at risk: Argentina, Chile

Notable nations not qualified: none

CONCACAF (Central/North America – 3 Teams + 1 Play-Off Chance)

Qualified: Mexico

Virtually qualified: Costa Rica

Notable nations at risk: USA

Notable nations not qualified: none

CAF (Africa – 5 Teams)

Qualified: none (only five group winners qualify)

Virtually qualified: Tunisia, Nigeria

Notable nations at risk: Morocco, Senegal, South Africa, Ghana

Notable nations not qualified: Cameroon, Algeria

AFC (Asia – 4 Teams + 1 Play-Off Chance)

Qualified: Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia

Virtually qualified: Australia & Syria will be in play-off to determine who will play 4th place CONCACAF team

Notable nations at risk: Australia

Notable nations not qualified: China

OCEANIA (1 Play-Off Chance)

New Zealand will play the 5th place team from South America in a play-off. That could be Argentina !!!

The draw for the 2018 tournament groups will be December 1, the tournament will run in 2018 from June 14 to July 15.

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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.).