Teaching the Laws of the Game in Your Sessions/Practices

The Laws of the Game have been in place in some for or fashion for over 150 years. Taking root in the Sheffield Rules of Football in 1858, the Football Association (F.A.) approved the Laws of the Game in 1863.  Association Football was said to begin at this point, while clubs that did not incorporate the rules played what we refer to as rugby.  Minus a few minute changes, they have remained largely the same since 1925.  As coaches, board members, professional trainers, referees, etc., we can help players, even at a young age, learn the Laws of the Game while we teach the game.  I have taught and coached the game from 4 year olds on up.  I find that even at the early ages, there are opportunities to teach the Laws of the Game.  I was impressed when reading the presentation from US Youth Soccer on how to Write a Training Session.  On the 5th page, it states:  “In planning the training session be sure to account for the modified rules to the Laws of the Game for the age group. During a match (scrimmage) in a session, enforce the rules of play. The coach is on the front line of teaching the rules to the players.”  Here is the link for the presentation.

For example, if you are coaching a 3v3 team of U6s, you can teach a few restarts.  My experience at that age is that the ball is constantly out of play and in need of restarting.  Too much of the time, game time for the players is sacrificed because the players have not been adequately taught how to restart the game.  They can understand it if we give them a chance.  A few minutes at practice each time, blending in to what your are already doing, and they can learn them (you will still have to remind them, but reminding is much easier than stopping their saturday match to position and tell them how to do it).  I also think it is important to use the proper language from the beginning: a goal kick, a kickoff, a corner kick, a throw in.   Believe it or not, they are dealing with much more difficult concepts on a daily basis.  For example, teach them what a Touch Line is — it is a “Touch Line” because you get to “touch” the ball with your fingers to put it back in play over the line.

But, even as they age, we can incorporate Laws of the Game in our sessions.  In a crossing session, you could include offsides.  To ease into the concept, try this — teach the players that “they are never offside as long as they are behind the ball.”  I find that statement to transfer to them easily and it teaches an important offside rule.  Have some fun with it — place different body parts for the off the ball player beyond the ball and ask the kids if it is offside.  They love it when you use your behind (answer is “yes, because you can use it to play the ball!”).  They will struggle with the timing of offside – I just keep it simple:  “It is not where you receive the ball that makes you offside, it is where you are when the ball is played).”

For direct and indirect kicks, in the scrimmage portion of your session, occasionally stop the game and restart with an indirect kick (they seem to get direct, although we cover it anyway).  I like to go over the hand signals on that day for indirect — tell them why the referee has his arm pointing to the sky and when it will come down.  My experience is that players generally struggle with indirect kicks.  Covering it in practice will remove the players from an otherwise stressful situation where, in the middle of the game, they are being screamed at from their coaches, the sidelines, etc.  Teaching a simple two player restart for indirects will take 10 minutes.  It can blend into your session during the scrimmage.

The same is true for kickoffs.  Goal kicks.  Throw ins.  These are easy fixes and part of the game.  Dedicating a few minutes in a scrimmage where you restart the game a certain way for the day is a great way of doing it.  Penalty kicks are great fun to end a session – but, if we do them, we should teach them the rules.  Where can the goalies stand?  How many people can be in the penalty area?  What is the penalty area (does it include the half circle?)  Why is it called the penalty area? When can players enter the area?  These are easy questions that many of us take for granted but, I would guess, if you asked your players, they may not know the answers.

Just as it is important to cover restarts as laws of the game, we can spend time on other laws.  I asked some U9 and U10s the other day what part of my arm can I touch the ball with?  Again, it was part of a scrimmage where a boy had lifted his elbow and played the ball.  So, we paused for 1 minute, used my arm, and pointed to areas to see what the boys thought.  They all agreed I could not use my hands.  But, the higher up my arm, the more disagreements there were.  Roughly half of them thought that they could use their bicep area.  Only half thought that they could use their shoulder. So, in 60 seconds, using my arm as a model, we covered the rule.  So, it was material relevant to the game and helpful to them.  And now they know that they can use their shoulder!  

For charging, are we teaching them how to properly use their body in defense?  At young ages, they all want to use their hands and arms.  While we tell them no, are we substituting the negative with a positive?  We could ask, “what part of your body can you use to touch the other player?”  The same with slide tackles.  Now that I work with mostly boys, they are always on the ground.  I personally do not like it.  I do not think they know how to slide properly and, similarly, many of the boys do not know how to avoid the tackle.  We could reinforce the rule at an early age — playing the ball is no excuse for a reckless challenge.

Similarly, we can cover dissent, language, dangerous play, etc.  In any event, while each session should not be a lecture on the Laws of the Game, there are opportunities to educate the players on them during the course of your session.

Everyone Should have Written Session Plans – Even Ex-Professional Players!

I Played Professional/Collegiate Soccer so Why should I Plan a Session?   

As a growing soccer nation, we are starting to realize the rewards of soccer experience with our youth coaches.  Now we have a generation of parents who grew up playing the game, teaching it to the next generation.  For many, they have the benefit of years of instruction, either professional or voluntary, but years nonetheless.

This is nothing new to other sports.  Our youth baseball coaches for years have been replicating their time as youth; replicating practice models, ideas for instruction, teaching methods, etc.   While there is no dearth of dads who “know the game” of baseball, if you ask professional coaches in the field they will tell you those volunteers are a real stumbling block to them.  Sometimes overconfidence is a bad thing….Back to soccer. (The education opportunities and requirements in soccer, as compared to baseball, set the sport apart at the youth levels).

If you never played, if you always played, you need to plan your session in writing.   Having a plan means the obvious – you planned.   “Thinking and writing are inextricably bound together.” (USYSA).  It is not enough to “plan it in your head.”  You need to put pencil to paper – draw a diagram for your games.  Write the questions you will ask.  Make a list of the equipment that you will need (including cones, jerseys, goals, etc.)  Lay out that equipment neatly prior to your session.  Consider how it looks to a parent and players for the trainer to arrive after the players with no equipment?  Consider the alternative — how might it look to the parents (and to the players) if, upon arrival, a session is laid out and you are there waiting on them?  And this is from Sam Snow, tuck your shirts in and remove your sunglasses!

If you are a parent volunteer, you have an advantage of intimacy with your players that professional trainers do not necessarily enjoy – planning ahead, taking full advantage of that knowledge, will make your session that much better.  Also, as you may lack the playing experience, writing and drawing out a session will help you visualize the activities you intend to use.

As a former professional or college athlete, planning ahead helps you to take advantage of all the prior experience, whether in games or practices sessions (and some of you can number the sessions in your life in the 1000s) in which you participated.   Can you think of some training or experience that you had in soccer that would be helpful to the players in your session that day?

Here is what Justin Neese, a former collegiate player and holder of an A coaching license, has to say about the importance of lesson plans:

“To me, it is actually easier to have a lesson plan (or any plan) than to have none because a plan gives me a structure and I feel more able to vary/ improve when I have a solid plan to guide my overall thoughts and objectives.”

Is there a document to help me plan my sessions? YES!  At US Youth Soccer’s website, coaches should subscribe to Coaches Connection.  Once a member, you will have access to written lesson plans for all ages and all areas of practice.  Here is a link to a great document teaching you how to plan a session, considering size, age, ability, fields, etc., that is wonderful along with a downloadable template for use in planning your session.  PLEASE CHECK OUT THAT LINK.  The presentation from USYS about how to plan a session (in writing) is fantastic.

How should I organize my activities?  Lesson plans also help you build on a theme for the practice.  Rather than just doing your favorite games over and over again, you can modify them to represent certain aspects of the game, be they passing, dribbling, shooting, etc. US Youth Soccer recommends building a session based on a topic that is reinforced throughout the session.  For example, consider warming up with a game that utilizes skill and agility similar to dribbling.  Then add the technical component (what can you teach the players about dribbling today?.)  Reinforce your teaching point with a game, leading to a small-sided game, leading, ultimately, to a scrimmage.  As an added bonus (and a topic for another day), can you think of a Law of the Game you can include in the session?  Most important, teach the game.  As Brendan Rodgers says, “It’s not about training players, it’s about educating. You train dogs, not footballers.”  We need to be teaching the game.

Should I have a plan for a Day? Week? Season? Year?  Yes.  How should your sessions build from one week to another? One season to the next?  Having a curriculum with a plan for a season, the next season, etc., that is communicated to your players and their families will build confidence in you as a trainer, as a club, and help parents understand what the big picture is.  Sometimes our fans, teams, coaches, even trainers, can lose focus.  The big picture may, for some, be the game this week.  But that is not the message we should send our players, their parents, nor are they expectations we should place on our trainers.

Last Saturday, our boys’ team suffered a tough loss.  In years passed, I may have expressed some of my frustration against the boys.  I think it was because the game was more about me than it was about them.  At the end, I told the boys to keep their spirits up – that this is a long journey and, while we strive to win (soccer is a competitive sport), it is not the main agenda right now.  (This team is a U11 qualifying team for division 1).  We are working on a picture that is years away – what are we doing today to paint that picture?  I can tell you, three years from now, I doubt anyone will attach any importance to one or two or three games (or more) when they were 10 and 11.

As clubs, we need to communicate these ideas to our parents.  Giving families written copies of the curriculum is a step in the right direction (we can address that topic later).  Planning your session, in writing, is another way to communicate to our players, their parents, our trainers and other volunteers that we are interested in the “big picture.”   At Gusher United, Head Technical Director Thomas Shenton recommends giving your written plan to the team manager each session.   In any field of work, it is never a bad idea to be (and appear to be!) prepared.


CONCACAF Champions League – Your Local Champions League on TODAY!

While I added story lines for the UEFA Champions League yesterday (and their games continue today), I need to plug our MLS teams’ participation in the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) that is also being played today.  Similar in shape and concept to UEFA Champions League (and its former Europe Cup), CONCACAF has been crowning club champions in its region since 1962.  The current form, CCL, was inaugurated in the 2008-2009 season.

The CCL features the top 24 club teams from CONCACAF’s three sub-regions: North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.  The competition is played in two stages — the Group Stage (8 groups of 3) and the Championship Round (featuring quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals).  The 8 winners of the groups advance to the quarterfinals.  They are seeded 1-8 based on points (3 points for a win, 1 point for a tie).  One plays 8 in the quarters, 4v5, 3v6, etc.  Semifinal pairings are determined with the winner of 1v8 playing the winner of 4v5 and 3v6 winner playing 2v7.

Teams are assigned to the Groups by draw.  Teams from the U.S. and Mexico cannot be drawn in the same group as well as two teams from the same country (unless one of them is a wild card entry).  I presume the former rule is to ensure competitive balance for the later rounds since only one team from each group advances.

Atlante won the inaugural title in 2009 beating fellow Mexican side Cruz Azul 2-0 on aggregate.  A year later, Pachuca defeated Cruz Azul for the crown on the away-goals rule (if aggregate goals are tied after home and away, the team that scored the most away goals is the winner).  Monterrey has captured the last two editions, overcoming Real Salt Lake (2011) and Santos (2012) 3-2 on aggregate both times. No MLS team has won the title to date.

The winner of the CCL qualifies for the FIFA Club World Cup.  Barcelona is the reigning Cup holder.

There are 5 MLS teams currently participating in the CCL.  Toronto is in Group 1 and has played 2 games, winning one and losing another.  RSL is tied atop Group 2 with Herediano, 6 points each after two matches.  Our hometown Dynamo is tied atop Group 3 with Olimpia, each with 4 points.  The Sounders top Group 4 with 6 points after 2 matches and the Galaxy are atop Group 5 with 6 points after two.  Here are the complete standings (to date) and the tiebreaker rules courtesy of the Houston Dynamo.

Here is the website for the CCL.  It has the tables, schedules, highlights, etc.  What is great about the CCL is that you can stream it for free.  Click here to register for free streaming.  Just add an account.  Tonight, you can watch the Galaxy play the Puerto Rico Islanders (7:00 pm) and the Sounders playing the Honduran squad Marathan (9:00 pm).  Also, for Santos fans, they kickoff the same time as the Sounders against Aguila.  Tomorrow night, the Dynamo host FAS from El Salvador in a big game.  FAS has not registered a point so this is a game the Dynamo need to grab 3.   As we are nearing the end of Group stage, pay attention and root for all of our MLS teams to advance to the next round.

We Need to Watch More Soccer – You Can Start Today!

Let me start by stating I am a recovered fantasy football (american version) addict.  I am 5 years sober.  When I was at my peak, I didn’t watch football, I devoured it.  Simultaneously watching 3-4 games at once, I would watch each of my players perform, whether they be for the Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns, or, yes, the Washington Redskins.  As an addict, I should have known I had gone too far when, in a game between the Cowboys and Redskins, I rooted for Michael Westbrook (and celebrated with him) for catching a scoring a TD against my lifelong favorite team.  Fantasy football ruined by football watching experience – it is hard now to even make it through the game.  But, it is not the only reason that I do not watch football anymore.

Yesterday, I told my wife that I wanted to watch the Cowboys play the Seahawks.  I have been uninterested in any professional game the last 5 years, to say the least.  I would have never expected this years ago, but I am just one of many average fans whose only complete game they watch per year is the Superbowl.  (And I like the commercials as much as the game!)  I feel less of a man for even admitting to such.  So…yesterday I tried watching.  But I just couldn’t get into it.  Start, stop.  Commercial.  Start, stop, huddle, penalty.  I lasted about a half of a quarter before I retired to my room to continue my new passion – The West Wing. I am on Season 3.  And, while I love The West Wing, I also enjoyed watching the Arsenal v. Southampton game from Saturday, even though I knew the result.  No commercials.  No huddles.  Very few penalties (we call restarts).  Beautiful shapes and geometric play by Arsenal.  It was a pleasure and a breath of fresh air.

I cannot believe I just said that.  I remember I used to be the one making fun of the soccer fans.  I was puzzled as to how they could defend soccer against the modern-day gladiator, made for TV, NFL.  But here I am.  And my message to all of you….WATCH MORE SOCCER.  As we are trying to alter the culture of soccer in our country, even from a play-paradigm, we need to watch more soccer.  It is one of the big items missing.  Even among our soccer volunteers and referees, very few of the ones I know are interested in talking about soccer, what is happening in the professional leagues or World Cup qualifying, or watching it.  Our soccer IQ and that of our children can be raised immediately if we just watch the game more.

For coaches, if you want your kids to understand the game better, have them watch the game.  Support your local college.  Watch it on TV.  We are dawning on the beginning of a golden age of televised soccer access — between ESPN3, FoxSoccerTV, FoxSoccer channel, we have access to MLS, EPL, La Liga, Serie A, World Cup Qualifying, etc.  The great thing about soccer is, unlike our other sports, you can watch it 10 months out of the year.  For parents of soccer players, sitting down and watching the game with your kids will help you better understand what it is that they are doing.  Since many of our soccer players are first generation players, parents can catch up on the tube or computer.

So, back to the title…the wonderful thing about soccer is that it gives all year round.  Like today!  Today starts the group stages of the UEFA Champions League.  Yes, it is European (no MLS teams), but it is a club tournament of the best teams from all the professional leagues in Europe (including Russia).  So, if you are wondering how strong La Liga is (is it just Barca and Real Madrid), check out Valencia playing Bayern Munich tomorrow.  How strong is Serie A (Italian premier league)?  Well, their champion play Chelsea tomorrow too.  What about La Liga and the EPL (English Premier League)?  Their champs play TODAY!

The group stages comprise 32 teams in groups of 4.  Each team will play each team in their group (home and away).  They are mixed up so that EPL teams are not in the same group as other EPL teams, etc.  They are also spread out according to a UEFA formula based on UEFA tournament success in prior years.  Unlike American football or baseball, soccer is a sport played all over the world.  So, beginning today, you can watch the best Danish club, the so-called Barcelona of Denmark, match up against the EPL, Croatians, and Serie A heavyweights.  There are some fun story lines:

1.  Can Chelsea repeat?  Chelsea are the improbable returning champions.  They won with a defensive, countering strategy, conceding possession to the Spaniards then the Germans in the final.  They have reloaded with Eden Hazard, Marko Marin, Victor Moses, and Oscar ($87 mm pounds combined).  Will the stregthening of their midfield line mean we will see a more creative, offensive Chelsea?  Are they stronger than they were last season?  In another great Round 1 match, Chelsea play the Italian champs Juventus tomorrow.

2.  How good is Barcelona without Pep Guardiola?  As you all know, Pep stepped down.  So far, so good for Barcelona.  They are 4 for 4 in La Liga, sit atop the standings, and also defeated Real Madrid in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup under Tito Vilanova.  They added Jordi Alba and Alex Song, a personal favorite, in the transfer window.

3.  Who will miss the cut in the group of death?  Group D consists of Real Madrid, Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund, and Ajax.  So, the winners of the strongest three leagues in Europe all in the same group!  You cannot ask for a better kickoff today than Manchester City traveling to Real Madrid.  What a game.  But, can the two-time consecutive Bundesliga champs parlay their domestic success into European success?  Watch out for Dortmund – although they lost Kagawa, a magnificent player, to Man U, they added Marco Reus to an already deep squad.  Reus, just 23, is already a German international.  He scored in the Euros and looks poised to replace Podolski on the left wing for the national team.  Just two teams from this group survive.  Come on Dortmund!

4.  Is the Danish teamNordsjaelland


 the David in the tournament of Goliaths?  They have been referred to as the Barcelona of the Denmark premier league.  Roughly half of their team plays on the Denmark national team.  Will they be the success story of the year?  Follow them in Group E for your David v. Goliath storyline.

5.  Is Arsenal stronger this year than last?  Arsenal, while never lifting the Champion’s League Trophy, have always had success.  When RVP left, people wrote them off.  But, as we have seen the last couple of weeks, Podolski can score and Cazorla will be the Player of the Year in the EPL – unbelievable that he attracted so little attention in his signing.  Their play the last two weeks at Anfield and at home against Southamption was magnificent.  With Cazorla dictating the pace, angles, and geometry of the attack, look out.   Arsenal travels to France today to play Montpelier, the returning French champion and the team for which Olivier Girourd, another Arsenal pickup and winner of the Golden Boot in France last season.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

6.  Will all of PSG’s purchases result in Champion’s League success?   Surely you heard of all the purchases at Paris St. Germain in the offseason:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva from AC Milan, Lavessi from Napoli, Lukas Moura from Sao Paulo, Gregory van der Wiel from Ajax – in total, $160 mm spent on transfers.  They started the season with three draws but have won their last two.  Will their retooling mean success?  Are they the new European power?

7.  How good is Bayern Munch?  Real good.  While they did not make all the big splash headlines of the other clubs, particularly the English and the Spanish, they did make a big signing: Javi Martinez for $40mm, the largest transfer fee in Bundesliga history. They didn’t need much.  With arguably the best keeper in the world, Manual Neuer (26), and the formidable front line of Gomez (27), Ribery (29), Muller (23), Robben (28), Kroos (22), Schweinsteiger (28), and their backline anchored by captain Lahm (28), Boateng (24), Badstuber (23), Alaba (20), and Gustavo (25), they were already set.  Add Martinez, who can hold at mid or support, and it may end up being the signing of the year (after Cazorla!).

8.  What’s up in Russia?  So, you thought the transfer season ended August 31 – that is if you set your calendar to EPL times.  The Russians have a different date and Zenit St. Petersburg secured two of the hottest players, in their peak years (not as +30s), from the Portuguese Super Liga: Hulk and Axel Witsel for $57mm combined.  While Witsel will not play this week, Hulk will and you can count on him to put it in the net.  It is not odd to see big hames head East, it is odd to see them do it in their early 20s.  Either of those players could have picked their team in the EPL.

So, there are just a few things to watch for.  A full schedule of games kicks off today around 1:45 pm.  Check out foxsoccer2go  if you want to watch them all (except for the one on their main channel, foxsoccer, they black that one out).  Some helpful links:


champions league home page (has all the standings, tables, etc.)

Enjoy your day today and WATCH SOME SOCCER!  My prediction, as last year, Bayern Munich.  Just too much depth and strength and a world class keeper!  You heard it here first!