Before a coach steps onto the practice field, he or she must know two things: the goal of the training session and the method and activities that will be used to achieve that goal. The less experience a coach has, the more the coach needs to be prepared. Start preparing for the next practice the instant a training session or game ends. Writing down your thoughts is highly recommended.
A common (and highly recommended) coaching tool is organizing your practice session around a single theme such as dribbling or 1v1 defending. For new players, most of the practice themes should be skill-based. In other words, most of your practices should focus on passing, shooting, trapping, etc. rather than on tactical issues such as formations and set plays. Repetition is very important to building skills as "muscle memory" comes into play, so single-theme practices are very effective for player development.
A single-theme practice does not mean that a coach can never introduce other topics or include other skills during a practice session.
Now that you understand the purpose of the warmup activity (getting muscles ready for action), you should plan a warmup activity that gently prepares the body for the rugged work ahead. This is not the time for power kicks and full-speed sprinting. Light passing, jogging with the ball, dribbling games all work well to loosen up muscles while the players are still getting many touches on the ball.
The warmup period should also mentally prepare your players for the practice. Be clear about the purpose of the day's training session and the key points to be covered. However, this is not the time to make many corrections. Positive reinforcement where appropriate (e.g. That's what we're looking for today, Suzy!) and some friendly socializing is about all that's needed at this point.
NOTE: ALL players need to go through a warmup, so make sure any late arrivals warm up individually before joining the main group.
One-on-one teaching is wonderfully effective, and this phase of the practice is crucial to developing proper technique and building confidence in your players. Plan activities here that require many repetitions. This helps your players, but also provides time for coaches to move around and make corrections individually. Watch carefully before making a correction, pinpointing each player's key mistakes. If a mistake is common to a large group of players, stop the activity and demonstrate again for the whole team before resuming.
Repetition can become boring, so building in a competitive element helps to keep players focused. For example, you could have pairs of players competing to see how many passes they can complete in a minute. Then, switch the activity slightly (e.g. use your left foot now) to add some variety.
Once players are comfortable executing a particular move or skill, it's time to put the skill into action in a more competitive environment. Pressure comes in several forms. There is the pressure of limited time, the pressure of limited space, and the pressure of defenders. Plan activities here that gradually increase the pressure on the players while they're executing the skill. Force them to make the same decisions (pass? shoot? delay? tackle?) in practice that they'll have to make during a match.
2v2 activities and 3v3 small-sided games work very well here. For example, during a dribbling session, you play 3v3 games and require goals to be scored only when players dribble past a line instead of shooting through cone goals. When appropriate (e.g. practicing corner kicks), use the real field markings or spaces to reinforce the match-like conditions. Again, limit your corrections to the key technical points related to that practice's theme.
Whether you're playing 4v4 or 11v11 in league, eventually, the team needs to work in a larger group. This reduces the number of touches each player gets on the ball (an important reason to maximize touches early in the session); however, it simulates actual match conditions much more accurately. Typically, you will plan a half-field scrimmage with certain restrictions that emphasize the theme of that day's practice. For example, when practicing throw-ins, you can make every re-start a throw-in instead of doing free kicks.
Use the "Freeze" method to make corrections. Stop play after a mistake. Ask your players what happened. Demonstrate the right technique or tactic, and restart play right where it stopped. The freeze method is most effective when used sparingly.
The players come to play, so make sure you include time for scrimmaging without restrictions and without many interuptions. No matter how tough the practice, players always seem to find the energy for a spirited scrimmage at the end of a training session. You can join in as a player or ref if you want, but if you do, don't revert to your role as a coach. You can only be one person at a time.
Free play is a condition where individuals play without restriction on time or space. Minimal directions are given on what to do. Exploring self and ball allows players to develop natural abilities. The absence of lines avoids wasting time and forces the coach to increase his/her observational powers. Free play can be incorporated in the warmup period as well.
This is probably the most frequently forgotten or ignored part of a practice plan. Players need to stretch again and cool down after strenuous exercise. With younger players, you can probably limit this phase to a few minutes of stretching, water-sipping and final coaching comments (lots of positive reinforcement), but it is important to have some logical conclusion to your session. Don't let your players simply wander off to Mom and Dad when the scrimmage is done.
There are four major components to soccer: technical, tactical, physical/fitness, and psychological. Economical training is training which is organized to include more than one component of the game in a single activity or practice session. Standing in a line of 10 players to take a shot on goal is not economical. Running laps around the field five times without a ball is not economical.
Although the concept of economical training might appear to be contradictory to the notion of
Economical training allows you to make the most of your training sessions, given the typical limits on practice fields and practice times in most areas. It also requires a little more preparation. Take the time to look over your practice plan and find ways to make it more efficient. You'll get much better results, and your players will be grateful they don't have so many laps to run.
There are sample practice plans available on this Web site as well as lists of
Keep your practice plans stored in a common place to compare from week to week. If you compress your notes to a 3x5 index card, it's convenient to carry around at practice, but also makes the basis for a filing system. This makes it easy to adjust and plan ahead to make sure you're covering the basics consistently. For example, you might discover you spent three weeks on dribbling and shooting without ever working on tackling and trapping. You can also highlight your notes to indicate which activities worked well and which need to be modified or eliminated from your repertoire.
If you've done your
A convenient way to save time is to use multiple cones to set out several grids in advance of the practice or during water breaks. By planning ahead, you might even find ways to turn two small grids into one large grid quickly as you move from small group to large group activities. You can also use different color or different style cones to indicate different areas to be used at different times during the practice.
New coaches frequently get concerned because they have never played soccer and aren't sure how to demonstrate a particular skill or technique. There are several ways around this.
If we are to develop good players there should be a duplication of match conditions. The KEY characteristics of a soccer match that we strive to duplicate in practice are:
In your practice sessions, scrimmages generally have all of the above elements. At the start of practice there may be none. So one of your challenges as a coach is to constantly work toward building the practice up so these match conditions are included.Updated 6 April 1999