Category Archives: Soccer Formations

Sebastian Giraldo: The Often Overlooked Role of the Trainer as Teacher, Part III

This is the final piece in a Three-Part Series from Sebastian Giraldo, PhD, regarding the role of the soccer trainer as a teacher.  You can access the prior posts on the home page if you cannot find them.  There is also a search feature.  Many thanks to Sebastian.

The Trainer as an Actual Human Being

To this point, we have covered some basics on the important role of the teacher in student learning. Let us now move to understanding the teacher as a person. What characteristics do good teachers possess? Do trainers need different skills to succeed? You will quickly realize that research findings in regard to the characteristics of a successful teacher largely overlap with common characteristics possessed by a successful trainer.

1. Effective teachers care and show that they care. Caring can take on many vehicles but the important part is that the caring is acknowledged by the student. Research shows that students believe successful teachers to demonstrate gentleness, understanding, knowledge of the students as individuals, nurturing, warmth, encouragement, and overall love of children (I cannot claim the last one  <—-don’t worry, this is a joke). This leads to several implications for youth soccer training. Our players want us to connect with them beyond the soccer level. They want to be treated as individuals, listened to, and understood. Players want teachers who give them focused and sympathetic listening. If you understand your players through their problems and try to help them, they will value you as a teacher. I will use my dad as a perfect example here. Despite being 59 years old, he connects with younger players better than anyone on our GEF staff. This provides a glimpse into his personality .

Parents often tell us that he has a gift and some kind of magic in the way he handles kids. I don’t doubt that he is gifted, but I have also witnessed the effort and relentless work he has put into becoming a great teacher. He always tries to understand his players and students as individual people. He goes well beyond what is expected of a teacher to connect and gain the trust and understanding of his pupils. The lesson is that while he might have an aptitude for teaching, he is a person that has put work into his craft and understands that caring is an essential component of being an effective teacher.

2. An environment of fairness and respect is vital for learning. Effective teachers establish rapport and credibility by emphasizing, demonstrating, and practicing fairness and respect. When people attend GEF sessions for the first time, one of the first observations always has to do with the respect, discipline, and friendliness of the training environment. Be fair and respect your players and they will begin to open up (remember more effective teachers know their students on a more personal level) and will begin to buy in to the message of the training program. We often want to give instructions for every little detail of training, but in reality, as research demonstrates, the more we empower our youth the more committed they will be to their learning and the program itself. Treating players fairly and with respect will go a long way in accomplishing training goals.

3. A teacher’s enthusiasm for teaching and learning is an important part of effective teaching. Bottom line is that students view effective teachers as motivational leaders. Effective teachers know how to target individual student needs and be flexible in their teaching. This is a significant concern in soccer training as we have trainers that often develop a certain style and then stay committed to that style for decades. Effective teachers are flexible in their teaching and learn how to motivate players as individuals. High levels of motivation and enthusiasm in a teacher has been positively related to high levels of student achievement.

4. A teacher’s attitude toward their profession makes a large impact on learning. Effective teachers are not only committed to student learning but also to personal learning. This goes back to the commitment addressed earlier in regards to personal professional development. Effective teachers are constantly learning so that they can better know their subject and themselves in order to target students successfully. Teachers must be positive about their profession and their students. Every student can learn. Every player can learn and become a better soccer player.

5. The most effective teachers are constantly reflecting on their craft. We need to accept as trainers that we are involved in a profession that requires endless learning. This should be exciting for trainers and not daunting. We should constantly be searching to refine our craft and examine ourselves. The best trainers are often concerned about the art and science of training, improving lessons, how to better target player learning, and are willing to try new approaches (it is ok to fail). One of the best pieces of advice I have received in my professional experiences is the idea that my learning should never stop. Even from less experienced trainers or unlikely sources, try to learn something.

This discussion on successful and effective teaching has myriad implications for youth soccer training. One of my biggest concerns is that we continue to try to improve our soccer development programs without addressing one of the major problems. The majority of trainers are not trained to teach. Some of the research presented here can be easily applied to current soccer programs at little cost. If we shift from the perspective that soccer trainers are there to train kids in soccer and start viewing trainers more as educators, we are moving in the right direction. We always tell our GEF trainers “an average person could be extraordinary at this.”

Sebastian Giraldo

Co-Owner Giraldo Elite Futbol



Twitter: @GEFSebastian

Lessons from National D Course

US Youth SoccerI recently finished the National D Course.  As the instructors noted, the course material has changed in recent years.  Each license is progressively more difficult to obtain than in the past.  I received my “E” license in 2008 so I was unfamiliar with the “E” buildup to this course.  Several of the members of the class were recent graduates of the new “E” license and there seemed to be some transition.  Last spring, I completed the National Youth License.  In all, I have enjoyed each course and find that the participants are, generally speaking, engaging and interested in improvement.  Also, it is nice to be in courses with people as tilted on soccer as I am.  So, to the D…

The D course description says “The course combines field and classroom instruction relevant for coaches working with 13 and older players. This is the most comprehensive course offered and is preparatory for national licensing.”  Having completed the National Youth License in the last 12 months, there was a sharp difference in the material and focus of the two courses.  The National D is focused on 11 a side soccer.  Everything that is being done is, the sessions that are requested, represent a tighter blend of tactical with technical work.  To me, the NYL focused more on the technical (even though there needs to be some practical applications even then).  In any event, as a trainer, the D emphasizes an important principle:  your session plan should lead up to expanded small-sided game that “looks like soccer.”  Whatever portion of the game your are emphasizing needs to be done in a manner that, in the end, looks like a soccer match (7v7 on a shortened field or whatever you have).  This is a valuable nugget I walked away from the class with.  (It is also true for U10 sessions, it just seems to me that in the older kid sessions, the blend between technical and tactical is different — truth be told, that blend, in my opinion, should not necessarily be based on age but on the ability (mental and physical) of the players in your session).

For example, if you are working on zonal defending, your expanded small-sided activity should be numbers up for the defenders — and your defensive line should look like how it is played.  If it is 4 in the back, it should be 4 in the back in the expanded small-sided game.  If you are working on overlapping runs, you should structure your expanded small-sided game where there are opportunities to run from a position that looks like your left or right back.  The best way I saw this in the course was through the instructor-lead sessions, as well as the sessions of some of the participants.  If you are working on building up from the back, your expanded small-sided game should have all the parts you would use to build up in a match (keeper, back 4, midfield, etc.) I absolutely loved being a part of the instructor led sessions (high quality) as well as a bunch of 12 minute sessions with the participants.  There is so much to learn from other people in this game.

The course continues the concept of “guided discovery” as a teaching device.  This is a focus in all the courses and is a wonderful teaching tool.  Rather than micro-manage our teams, we need to guide them with questions and allow them to solve problems.  For example, if your fullback is having a hard time seeing when to overlap, you might ask the player: “Given the pressure on the outside mid, where can you go to alleviate the pressure on the outside mid? (easier question) or “….., what can you do to alleviate pressure on the outside mid?”  Or, even easier, “can you see how you can improve numbers on offense in the wide channel to assist the winger in attacking?”  There are lots of ways to ask, the main idea is to do it in the flow of the session and at a level that your players can understand.    If you have to freeze the session, be quick, ask the question or demo the point, and get out.  Knowing how to ask the right question requires preparation.  Trainers and coaches should take time to prepare questions as they do small-sided games.

The D has very little classroom work.  That is good and bad for participants.  For participants enjoying practical experience, it is a wonderful course.  And tiring.  Participants will have opportunities to be involved in all the practical sessions.  I find that it is best to volunteer as much as possible — it is a good way to understand the concepts and ideas that instructors are using in their sessions as well as the other participants.  While there will be some extremely talented players in your courses, do not be intimidated.  Participate.  I have found that the players fresh from college or professional soccer still enjoy the game and playing it during the course.  And, I have yet to see a “great” player-participant in the course be anything other than encouraging to coaches who aren’t at their level.  Plus, you get to play soccer! (And, if you are like me, I have been running sessions since 2006, it is nice to be a participant of the session rather than the coach!)   There is real value in being a “player” to understand what a session looks like from a player’s perspective — is it too confusing, too hard to succeed, too easy???  No better way to answer those questions than being in the sessions!

The D is a wonderful course for anyone interested in coaching soccer.  The course material is great, the practical components of the session are wonderful, and the opportunity to meet other great people in soccer, learn from them, share ideas, is priceless!

Q & A with Justin Neese regarding New US Youth Soccer Curriculum

Reyna Delivers New Curriculum – April 2011

The new US Youth Soccer Curriculum has been addressed on this blog several times.  The New Curriculum was published in April 2011.  Here are some prior blog links:

Possession, Possession, Possession: New US Youth Soccer Guidelines

“Go on son, take him on.”

Gaining Territory v. Possession: Part II

US Youth Soccer VISION Statement

And here is a link to the actual curriculum:  New Curriculum

And here is a link to Cladio Reyna presenting the New Curriculum: Reyna Presents New Curriculum

I sent some Questions to Justin Neese regarding the new US Youth Soccer Curriculum to get his impressions of its implementation and effect.  Just has posted on here before, but I will share his qualifications and background again.

Justin played competitive soccer throughout his youth and played four years of college soccer at an NCAA Division III institution, earning a bachelor’s degree in 2003 and a master’s degree in 2005. Since then, he has been coaching as a full-time profession on the collegiate and youth levels (3 years as a head coach at two different DIII institutions, and 3 years as a DIII assistant at two different institutions). He holds an “A” license from US Soccer in 2008, a Premier Diploma from the NSCAA in 2007, and a National Youth License from US Youth Soccer in 2003.  He has been an age group coach within the North Texas Olympic Development Program, a member of the North Texas Coaching Education Staff, and a member of the State teaching staff for the NSCAA.  He currently is the Assistant Manager of Soccer Programs for our hometown Houston Dynamo.

 Q & A with JUSTIN NEESE regarding US Youth Soccer Curriculum

What is the impact of the new US Youth Soccer Curriculum on youth soccer?

First and foremost, I think that the Curriculum is a fantastic piece of work and a massive achievement by Claudio Reyna and Dr. Javier Perez. I genuinely think that the Curriculum is a giant step towards the soccer nation that we are all trying to build because it defines the American style of soccer and the principles that flow from that style. To me, these concepts have always been somewhat vague and that the definition you got when you asked coaches, players, fans, etc. about these concepts varied widely depending on who you were talking to, who had one the last World Cup or Champions League, or who every happened to have won their Premier League or La Liga match the previous weekend. I think that having such an undefined style and set or principles was harmful to the growth of soccer in this country, to the development of our youth players and, maybe most importantly, I think that it hurt our confidence as a soccer nation and fueled a “grass is always greener,” second fiddle kind of mentality in our game that hurt our coaching and administration of the youth game.

For example, before the Curriculum, if you were to ask most youth, high school, or college coaches to define their team’s style, I think that you would have received a lot of different answers, and you would have been told that their team plays like any number of foreign professional or international sides. “Great,” you’d (and maybe I’d) think, “but my kid is an American and I don’t think that he will fit in with a Barcelona style of soccer.” The next two thoughts had to be very, very common, and I have to believe that it was an either or scenario: If the parents were determined that their kid play soccer, maybe they’d say “Where can we go where they play American soccer?” If the parents heard all of this talk of foreign teams and concepts, of all of the soccer nonsense that people like me are so prone to spout, they may start to think: “Maybe soccer’s not our game.” Beyond damaging our psyche and self-belief, I have to believe that the American soccer community’s over reliance on foreign “thinkers,” coaches, concepts and ideas has damaged the overall and systemic growth of our game in our country. Now that it is clear who we are, though, I have to believe that the tide is turning, and that we are taking steady and confident steps towards a future of “American” soccer.

Because it defines us and our “Way”, I think that the Curriculum also fills a cognitive and informational gap in our collective thinking in American soccer because it clearly and precisely spells out both the end product and the timeline; it defines the exact kind of player, teams, and games that we are trying to produce and it tells us that we are trying to produce it eventually, for the future health and wealth of our game. This was a vitally important piece of our developmental puzzle that I think was unclear over the last 40 years of organized soccer in the States because, without it, I think that it has been very difficult for a lot of very well-meaning youth coaches in our country to develop realistic coaching philosophies or long term development plans, and that this has caused our growth and development to stall or at least slow over the years.

The over-arching impact of the Curriculum is difficult to say with it being relatively new (and maybe unknown), but I think that it is clear that we can look at the Curriculum as a defining document in a relatively short line of seminal documents that have changed soccer in America.

What is the impact of the US Youth Soccer Curriculum on professionally trained academies?  

Of course, I think that the above applies to the Academy teams and Clubs, but I also think that the Curriculum has provided some much needed guidance to Academy clubs on the structure and development around their younger teams. With regard to how and what to actually coach younger players (those in “Zone One”) I think that the Curriculum does a great job, and that it offers solid advice, but I think that the real seminal works in this arena are the Vision Document (which you have already written about here), US Soccer’s Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States, Tom Turner’s Total Player Development and, from US Youth Soccer, The Official US Youth Soccer Coaching ManualSkills School and Player Development Model.  I think that these works and writers were the giants upon whose shoulders Reyna and Perez could stand in direction our new efforts and our new era.

Has there been a shift in teaching possession soccer, ball on the ground, short passes, etc., that you have noticed?  

Yes and no. It really depends on the level that we are talking about. By and large, I think that a lot of people at the top levels have found that their kids enjoy the game more, that they can win more, and that the game is “better” when they ask their players to play aesthetically pleasing soccer precisely because aesthetically pleasing soccer is also amazingly efficient, attack minded soccer that is difficult to break down and defeat. However, I think that a lot of people who are not at the top levels are having a difficult time coaching this way (despite what they might say), but that the cause of their problems is not the kids, the game, their opponents, leagues, fields, etc., the cause of their difficulties is that this kind of a game, the real game, is difficult to teach and they don’t have the knowledge base, educational spirit, or teaching skills to teach their players how to actually play the real game. The simple fact is that we may have a lot of “coaches” in American youth soccer, but we do not have a lot of teachers, and it is the teachers that we need now because they are the ones who are going to make our kids and our game strong, who are going to move us into a new era. This is exactly why US Soccer and USYSA have been saying for so long that we need our “best” coaches working with our youngest players. I also think this realization is the cause of the coaching education evolutions at US Soccer and I am trying to be as supportive as possible in these new endeavors and ambitions.

Is it hard for teachers of the game with a different philosophy to adapt their training sessions?  

Yes, but I think that it is more down to the above, than it is down to adherence to something more ideological.

Where do you anticipate the most growth of this philosophy to thrive?  

I think that the concepts and ideals presented in the Curriculum (and the other works noted here) have, in the past, found their home mostly in coaching education, in courses and coaching schools around the country. But, now that we have a well-organized base for youth soccer, now that we have organized Clubs that are professionally managed and run, and now that we have full-time professional Clubs with a noticeable stake in the present and future state and quality of youth soccer, I think that these ideas are going to find a new home with these organizations and in their leaders and, hopefully, in the hearts of all of the current players that these organizations impact so that these can go onto become our future coaches, administrators, parents and so that they can start from a better foundation than pervious generations have started.

Dribbling v. Carrying the Ball

Andrea Pirlo

I want to give credit to our Head Trainer, Thomas Shenton, who gave me the name for dribbling when you are not necessarily beating an attacker.  Watching the Euros this summer, I couldn’t help but notice Pirlo’s role on the Italian team–he didn’t necessarily beat defenders with the dribble, but he dribbled a lot.  The phrase for how he plays is called “carrying the ball.”  In fact, the Italian team ran their offense through him.  So, if you watched the Italians play, you would see an older, long haired Italian circling around the ball, receiving it, then “carrying” the ball around the field, drawing pressure to him, then distributing.  In the picture to the left, you will notice he is scanning the field with the ball at his feet – a typical Pirlo siting.

For the current Arsenal team, Santi Cazorla is providing a similar service.  It seems, though, that Santi eliminates defenders on the go too (what Opta would consider a “dribble”).  The soccer stat site, as I documented here, is a wonderful site to review statistics for soccer.  I cannot find, however, a stat that measure “carrying” the ball.  So, on, Pirlo is averaging 1.8 dribbles per game.  Given how much he handles the ball in a game, that seems a bit hard to understand.  This season, Santi averages 2.5 dribbles per game.  Another new Arsenal player, Lukas Podolski plays a different style–he “runs at defenders” with the ball.  He is more direct and dribbles forward (primarily).  He is currently averaging 1.5 dribbles per game in the Premier League.

Santi Cazorla

The highest rated “dribbler” for Arsenal currently is Gervinho, at 5 per game.  Walcott is second.  Again, this is not tracking how often he is dribbling, but how often he is dribbling passed a defender.  It is obvious from watching Arsenal that Cazorla has the ball the most.   All stats are taken from the site

I like all the different styles and am glad to have Podolski on Arsenal because that is something we have lacked (it would be nice to see more long shots too).  If anyone knows a stat that tracks “carrying the ball” or how to use the Opta stats to figure it out, I am interested.  I think “key passes” would be a good indicator for these type players (or passes resulting in scoring chances or even passes resulting in good service).  But, I think it would be interesting if there was a stat that tracked how long a player had the ball during a game (that is what I am looking for and cannot find).  I am sure it is out there.

For example, looking at key passes per game, Santi Cazorla is averaging 4.5 and ranks eight of all players.  Pirlo ranks eleventh with 4 per game.  The top of the list includes these players (some of which I know are not ball “carriers”):


1.  Clement Grenier (CM) – 7/1

2.  Leigthon Baines (LB) – 6.5/1

3.  Adel Taarabt (AM) – 5/2

4.  Antonio Candreva (AM) – 5/1

5.  Hiroshi Kiyotake (M) – 5/2

6.  Wesley Sneijder (AM(C)) – 5/0

7.  Iago Aspas (M) – 4.5/.5

8.  Santi Cazorla (CM/AM) – 4.5/2.5

9.  Aaron Hunt (AM) – 4/3

10.  Andrea Cossu (CAM) – 4/1

11.  Andrea Pirlo (CDM) – 4/2

Stats taken from  KP = Key passes/game; DRB = dribbles/game.

Interestingly, only one defender makes the list.  I am sure this list will change as the year progresses.

Playing your best passer and ball handler in a position where they will handle the ball more makes sense.  The more this type of player touches the ball, the better your chance that something good will happen.  These types of players tend to include other players and are good passers.  In youth soccer, if I have a player that handles the ball well, has good vision and some tactical awareness, I like to put them in the middle of field where they will involve the other players.  (At the same time, I make everyone play this spot, some just are better at it than others).

Lukas Podolski

While there is definitely value in running at defenders with the ball Podolski-style, carriers of the ball can have great effect in the game by dribbling sideways and backwards, creating space for other players.