Category Archives: Soccer Philosophy

Coerver Coaching: Review of Youth Diploma I Course

I attended the Coerver Youth Diploma Course in Arizona June 2015.   Charlie Cook was the instructor.  The same Charlie Cook who played for Chelsea and several other professional organizations.  What a wonderful guy.  He was free with his time and he allowed me to quiz him quite a bit.

This is a much different experience than a USSF course.  I hold a National Youth License (fantastic course) as well as an E (2008) and a National D (2013).  There was no assessment part of this course.   The ratio of classroom time to field time was about the same, but the Coerver coaches run all the sessions.  And, for every session, they had Coerver players present so you were able to see what youth Coerver players look like and how they respond to the activities.  That being said, they still need participation from the coaches.

I absolutely fell in love with the philosophy.  I am very picky about player evaluations and am generally unsatisfied with the level of focus paid to that aspect of soccer.  For me, the first thing I rate in a player is how do they touch the ball.  That is what I define as “technique.”  The USSF courses are big picture course – helping coaches to run a team session.  Coerver is laser-focused on ball mastery and individual skill, or what I refer to as technique (how you touch the ball).    In fact, it is the foundation of their philosophy.  Finally, I am among like-minded people.

So often I listen to coaches rate players based on obvious factors – speed and aggression.  I call those factors fool’s gold, especially at the young ages.  I appreciate those characteristics but, in my experience, those factors get nullified post-puberty if the kids are still playing.  Yes, there may be some with truly special speed, but, for the most part, evaluating players on speed and aggression pre-puberty is lazy.

So, Coerver is concerned primarily with how you touch the ball.  to help that, they believe in repetition with hundreds of different ball exercises.  You can download the app for free.  For $10, you have access to all of their moves.  If your idea of getting you players to touch the ball better is juggling, Coerver has a whole new world of ideas you need to check out.

Here is the biggest advantage Coerver has over regular coaching sessions – in every other aspect in our “pay for play” youth soccer world, your player is trained within a team construct.  Despite all of the “player development” talk that goes on, coaches are concerned with winning.  If their team is not winning, the parents go elsewhere. If the parent goes elsewhere, they lose their paycheck.  So, as a coach, while you may pride yourself on “player development,” you also have to perform for your employer (parents).  Coerver doesn’t have that problem.  Since they do not have teams, they are not bothered with team concepts in their sessions.  The focus is on the individual.  You are paying them to help your player improve ball mastery.

Here is a link to their site where they list the dates for the courses and itinerary.  Coerver Youth Diploma



Can a parent-coach be a professional soccer coach?

224637_1070321326696_8617_n***Note on this blog*** I realize now after writing this that I have wanted to get this out for a while.  This is a bit more personal than my usual entries, but these ideas have been banging around my head for a while.  I would appreciate your feedback. ***

I have been coaching soccer for many years.  I, however, never played professional soccer or even college soccer.  In fact, I did not even play high school or club soccer (my town and school did not have it).  I am a trial lawyer.  What business do I have coaching soccer kids?  What business do I have being paid to coach soccer teams?

I get this some time.  I am paid to coach so, in coaching speak, would be considered a “professional” coach — not to confuse that with a coach for a professional team.  Here are a few questions I would ask as a paying parent:

1.  What constitutes a professional coach?

2.  Why would I want a coach who did not play professional or college level soccer?

3.  If Clint can do it, why can’t I? (a lot of people assume if they see a “parent-coach” coaching they should be able to as well or that they are qualified too)

I.  A Professional Coach

I guess you could define a “professional coach” a couple of ways.  Most people I ask assume it means (1) they are paid to coach, (2) it is their full-time job, (3) both (1) and (2), or (4) a former professional player (or near professional player) coaching.  While I can see value in all the choices, I do not think any of them does service to the term “professional coach.”

To me, to be a professional is more about how you do your job than either your background or how your are employed.  A “professional coach” is “professional” because he or she treats the coaching job as a professional.  How so?

1.  Coaching education.  Your coach is professional if they are constantly educating themselves in the art of coaching.  This means staying current with coaching courses, badges, and engaging in coaching dialogues with other coaching professionals.  Courses and licenses are great assets to network, collaborate, and learn.  They are offered through U.S. Soccer Federation ( and National Soccer Coaches Association of America ( among other sources.    It means the coach immerses herself in material that will help her be a better coach.  Books, magazines, etc.  In law and medicine, two “professional” occupations, we regard working in either field as “practicing law” or “practicing medicine.”  There is a reason for that.  It is because to be a professional in those fields requires upkeep.  The same, to me, is true in coaching youth soccer.  A “professional” coach is an educated one.

2.  Preparation.  A professional prepares before a session, before a season, before a game.  If your coach is treating the job as a professional, she will have planned her sessions ahead of time — for the week, for the month, and for the season.  She will use that planning to prepare herself on how to communicate the ideas for the day, week, month, and season to her team.  She will not “wing it.”  A professional coach is a prepared one.

3.  Communication.  A professional learns how to communicate ideas.  I love the quote that the biggest illusion about communication is that it has taken place.  To me, the biggest challenge for soccer coaches, especially former players who do not have children, is how to communicate ideas to youth players in a manner that they understand the concept. Do not assume because you told the kids some complicated soccer expressions and they nodded their heads that they understood.IMG_0506

Proper communication does not mean blaming the kids or team because “they don’t get it.”  It means changing your concept of how to use words to communicate ideas. It means seeking out phrases and word choices, by trial and error and preparation, that resonate with your team (whatever their age or sex).  If coaches do not work on phraseology, and think about it in their preparation, to me, they are not professional coaches.

Again, in the practice of law, we study and consider the use of words.  What words can we use to communicate a certain idea?  We consult psychologists, consultants, and the like, to assist us.  Many may not know this, but Dr. Phil got his start by being a jury consultant for Oprah Winfrey’s beef trial in Amarillo.  He is an expert in communication.  Soccer is no different.

Just because you played soccer does not mean you know what words to use to convey your knowledge to a 10-year-old girl.  A professional coach spends time considering that.  Some examples:  instead of the vague coaching expression “spread out” try “where can you find space?” or “how can you make the field bigger?”  To help a center midfield player who doesn’t know where to go — try “move to the ball” (since, for youth, most of them will runaway from the ball and turn into a forward).  This will be discussed in a separate blog.

4.  Studying the game.  A professional coach studies the game.  He watches soccer and is aware of current trends in the game.  This is helpful for a lot of reasons but one big one:  if you want to inspire your players in a love of the game, incorporate professional games into your sessions.  Encourage the players to watch soccer.  Talk to them in breaks about saves made, goals scored, in matches that are televised.  Talk to them about your local professional team and encourage them to support the team.  See if you can incorporate a moment from a match they know about in your session.  Help make them lovers of the game.  Does your coach do that?  You want your kids to improve – they need passion and love for the game.

5.  Inspire/Motivate.  Along with the ideas above, a professional coach inspires players and motivates them to do improve.  Objective feedback is critical — it cannot always be positive — but at a young age it needs to be around 70/30 (70% positive, 30% critical).  Motivate and inspire them to do better.  A professional is enthusiastic about her job.

6.  Teacher.  A professional soccer coach is a teacher.  Combining all of the above with the most important below, you have to teach to coach youth soccer.  If you think that you are just a coach — then you are not a professional soccer coach.  If you think youth soccer “coaching” is about game management, you are wrong.  It is about teaching.  Teaching the concepts of the game.  Teaching techniques on how to touch a ball.  A teacher tells why you are setting an offside line, not just to do it.  A teacher tells why we generally play the direction we are facing, not just to do it.  Why.  Why.  Why.  If you are not interesting helping with the “why” because you only want to “coach,” to me, you are not a “professional coach.”  You are a remote-control coach.

7.  Pays attention!!!  I saved this for last because I think, of all the items listed, this is the most important.  A professional coach pays attention to his players.  He is constantly evaluating each one — looking to identify weakness and strengths so that he can build exercises that overcome the former and improve the latter.  A professional coach needs to be a “careful observer.”

***A note on humility*** Many people confuse confidence for arrogance.  I am totally fine with a confident coach.   I think it helps to inspire and motivate.  An arrogant coach, on the other hand, has a hard time being a “professional” because it takes humility to be 1-7 above.  It takes humility to educate yourself because you have to admit you do not know everything.  It takes humility to get badges because you are faced with failure and criticism (nothing like watching yourself coaching on video and listening to criticism from your colleagues and superiors in front of everyone!).  It takes humility to prepare because you have to acknowledge you need it.  It takes humility to work on your phraseology because you have to acknowledge you need help communicating.  It takes humility to teach “why” because you may not know the answer.  It takes humility to inspire and motivate because you are lifting others, not yourself.  It takes humility to pay attention because you have to accept that they deserve it. To me, humility is a defining characteristic of a professional coach.  Give me a confident but humble coach and we have the makings of a true professional.

I look back at my coaching past and have had the privilege of training some of the most advanced players in our area and even our state.  None of these kids, by the way, had any experience playing soccer.  Our town did not have a youth soccer club.  We all lived North of town and, one year, made a team (2006).   Early on, my sessions were, by my standards now, not well-organized.  I lacked experience.  I never played.  I was not educated.  But here is why those horrible sessions worked — and those girls improved — and they stayed playing soccer:

1.  They happened.  We practiced a lot!

2.  I cared.  Probably too much.

3.  I educated myself — books, courses, conversations with other coaches.  I was constantly searching for information and help.  I was not afraid to ask for help and welcomed any perspective of advice that was offered.

4.  We had fun.  During all the experiences, good and bad, we had a good time.

5.  Most importantly, I paid attention to the girls.  I was willing to dedicate energy and focus to each of the girls.  This is different from showing up and running a practice.  It is more active.  I considered each players’ needs and tried, with some strange exercises, to help them improve.  It means, when you are preparing for your session and when you are at practice, you do not have your cell phone.  You are not talking to other trainers.  You give the players your full and careful attention.

Interestingly, for a group of girls in a town without a soccer club, they are now juniors and sophomores and freshmen.  They all still play.  I coached them for between four and five years.  Several will play college soccer.  There is still no club in our town.

I have been asked advice before on how to coach a team by someone who lacked experience.  I always say the same thing – just pay attention and you will be fine.

II.  A word about former players and professionals

I work in the soccer field and most of my colleagues are former players.  I think it is great.  They offer a wealth of experience that, when accessed, is invaluable.  They have been in thousands of training exercises and can recall, if they put the effort, ones that they really liked or helped them learn a difficult concept.

By their presence, they can inspire young players.  But, a prior playing career is no excuse for an apathetic approach to coaching.  In other words, just because a coach was a former “professional” player does not, in my mind, make them a “professional” coach. I have seen countless former professional players struggle mightily or organize a training session, to communicate ideas (sometimes great players don’t necessarily know how to communicate those ideas to youth players).  I have seen former national team players completely frightened by the prospect of coaching six-year olds in a soccer session.  Most importantly, I have observed former professional players violate the most important rule above — not giving the players their full attention.  There are not shortcuts to being a professional coach.  It takes effort, education, self-evaluation, humility, focus, and a willingness to adapt.

III. Parent-coach Trap

I work in a small club and my kids also play in the club.  While I coach teams that my kids are not on, I also coach my kids too.  In fact, I am always coaching.  Our family plays soccer all the time – in the back yard, on Sunday evenings with our adult team, in our living room.  It is part of our life.  Some people see my involvement and assume that they can do the same thing because they are a little league baseball coach or have coached a soccer team in the past (in recreation).  Please consider this: all of the above standards on professional coaching apply to you just as they do to the former professional.  If you are not willing to educate yourself, collaborate, prepare, work on your phraseology, study the game, and inspire and motive young players, teach (learn the whys of the game), study,  you are not a professional coach.

My experience is that, generally speaking, parent-coaches are biased towards their children.  Show me a parent coach, and 90% of the time their kid is the forward.  If you listen to them coach, 90% of the comments are directed to their kid.

At the same time, I obviously think you can be effective as a parent-coach.  If you qualify as a professional coach (as listed above – not whether or not you receive wages — that is not my definition) and you can set aside bias, you may be a great asset to a team your child is on because you are already invested in it.   It can also provide a great opportunity to connect with your child and spend time together.  In the long run, as a parent, soccer coaching is not worth it if disconnects your from your children.  So, being a round them in a soccer climate can be wonderful and strengthening.  As long as you are willing to share that focus and attention (and even love!) with the other players, it can be a positive.

Ajax Video Review Part I: Heroes of the Future, The Ajax Training Concept (age 7-12)

D381-2I purchased the video set from Ajax titled Heroes of the Future to get a glimpse at Ajax’ storied youth development model.  I will post about different parts of it in a series.

1.  Recognition of Talent

Everyone is born with different hereditary differences and whether a player will develop into a star may be based on genetics.  Here are characteristics they look at:

  • Technical – how a player touches the ball; ball control
  • Tactical – ability to read the game and make decisions; anticipation
  • Mental – discipline, self-knowledge, and the will to win
  • Physical – agility and good acceleration

Characteristics are the traits you inherit – for some, you can do nothing to improve them (like height), but for others you can stretch them (within limits).  Skill is the process of improving your characteristics.

2.  Key Determining Factors

The two factors are (1) the Playing Concept and (2) biological considerations (emphasizing different skills at different ages).

3.  Integrated Approach

The 4 skills are interwoven in soccer training.  Depending on the age, depends on the amount of focus.  For example, Technique is worked on from 7-9 — you must learn to master the ball.

  • Technical – heavier focus from 8-12
  • Tactical – heavier focus from 12-18
  • Physical – throughout

Ajax has their players participate in judo and gymnastics at young ages to compliment physical development of agility and acceleration.  Ajax refers to this as “multi-skills” and they see this as critical in the 7-12 ages for proper development of the motor system.  In other words, playing other sports and doing other activities other than soccer is seen as not only healthy, but as assisting the development of soccer-related physical skills (agility, coordination, speed, strength).

4.  Self Confidence (7-12)

Coaches are critical to players being creative.  Coaches must be careful (1) what they say, (2) when they say it, and (3) how they say it.  Never give negative feedback to players during play, especially at young ages.  Give praise when they do something well.  There is no need to praise all the time as it marginalizes the praise when it is earned. Be specific with your praise.

5.  Age Considerations

While coaches will work on all 4 categories throughout the soccer education, you will work on some more at some ages.  In the young ages, more time should be spent on technical work and Ajax likes the use of repetitions.  For example, repetitions of dribbling sequences.  “The best way to learn is to constantly repeat the same move in the same situation.”  What I get from this is that static dribbling exercises are encouraged.  Everything does not have to be dynamic.

Do not criticize decision-making at the young age (7-12).  That is a tactical approach that is focused on from 12-18.  The “have you made the right choice” question is reserved for the 14-18 ages when training is more focused on teams and less on individual play.  “You mustn’t clutter players’ minds with team tactics too early…too much emphasis on team tactics can be detrimental to a player’s development…that is why in the large part of the program, team tactics are subordinate to individual talent.”

6.  Passing

Ajax is most concerned with the accuracy and speed of the pass as opposed to who the pass is played to.  This is where they advise staying away from criticizing decision-making; rather, design exercises where good decisions are easy to make.

7.  Individual Learning Plan

Each player has his own individual learning plan.  You must discover the specific skills a player has.  One player may have vision but lack speed, or vice-versa.  Here are the questions they pose for each player:

  • What characteristics does he have?  What skills does he have?
  • What skills does he need for his position?
  • In what area should he improve?
  • What is the best way to achieve that?

It is different for every player.  As a coach, you must be honest with the time spent on developing a skill with a player.

I will share information from the other videos one by one.  Very interesting stuff.

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