Tag Archives: coaching

Coaching 442 – My “Aha” Moment

You can follow my education on coaching soccer on this blog.  I was a clean slate starting in ’06 and relied on coaching experience and coaching education to form my foundations.  At that time, the US Youth Coaching guidelines (through Reyna) were to teach and work toward a 433.  I took that to heart and tried to apply it and its concepts of short passing, ball on the ground, etc.

So, for one reason or another, I felt like I was caving to use a 442 – that somehow it was below me.  That I was selling out for direct, kick ball results if I used it.  How naive.

While reading Alex Ferguson’s bio and a few other books (I list them on the site), I learned that there are a lot of variations in formations and tactics.  And, the player’s tactical role matters more really than whatever formation you think you are using.

So, while coaching my U14s (they are a top Division 1 team in the Houston area), I continued to work and work and work with the center mids on spacing and building through the middle – taking advantage of the number advantage in the middle (as most teams we played used a 442 direct approach – even in the A bracket in Division 1).   But, week after week, I noticed we seemed to gain little advantage with the spare midfielder.  They continued to struggle with spacing – not giving enough space to each other or giving too much.  Most often, though, they would crowd each other in possession.  And, we were still scoring mostly on the counter.

So, I tried something new.  I wanted to create more space in the middle for the mids so I went to a 442 and, aha, we were able to build through the middle.  We actually possessed more.  It was an “aha” moment for me.  Here are my lessons learned:

  1.  U14 players, even elite college-bound ones, are still kids.  And, as I continue to learn, the hardest thing to coach is the middle because it requires more cleverness and the spacing decisions are not as obvious (no orientation point).  Quite simply, simplifying the approach can make it easier for them to play the right way.
  2. If your team is struggling with spacing, decisions, etc., consider a formation that is more simple so that they can use their mental energies on creativity on the pitch not on trying to remember where they are supposed to be for the formation.
  3. It is what I learned a long time ago with kids – less is more.  If you give them fewer players and more space, they will do more.  If you put more players in smaller spaces, they struggle.  They are not sure what is their job and someone else’s.
  4. I still think it is important to learn other formations – this team plays a 433, 4231, 352, and now a 442.  They are learning and my job is to educate.  Even it it means suffering a result.  As a coach, be open to ideas and learning.
  5. I am still learning all the time.  Just watching the boys play in a 442 taught me a lot.  As a coach, I feel like I should always be learning something new.
  6. I don’t agree that we should be told what formation to coach from a national standard.  As a coach, you should teach your players all different variations.  I don’t agree that US Youth Soccer should be telling coaches which formations to use and those ideas get dated.  The most important thing for me is to use a formation that best helps to teach ideas to my players – whatever that may be.
  7. When I am coaching for a result (like a Cup or competition game), even then my formation depends more on the players I have that day and their characteristics then some genera guideline.
  8. Be flexible, so you don’t get bent out of shape.

How do I help my kid get better at soccer?

IMG_0592I have been coaching soccer for over a decade.  During that time, I have also been raising 5 kids.  All of them play soccer, some at very high levels.  I think one question I get a lot from parents of the kids I coach is “how do I help my kid get better?”  So, here are some helps for parents who would like to see their child improve.

  1.  Two training sessions/week will not make your child an elite soccer player.  You need to understand this.
  2. Kids like what their parents like.  So, the first thing I do when I am asked this question is I ask the parent:  “how much soccer do you watch on TV?”  Almost without exception, it is little to none.  This is a problem.  So, you need to improve your passion for the game.  Watch it.  I mean all of it – not just the goals.  Learn why defense is so important.  Learn how keepers manage a game.  Learn how teams play through the back and middle.  Listen to an English game, when they applaud the defense for winning the ball and playing simply through the middle, and ask “why are they clapping now – there was no goal?”  If you spend your time watching baseball or american football, talking about baseball and american football, that is what your child will like (with rare exception).  So keep that in mind.  It starts with you.
  3. Talk to your child about soccer (professional), not about their game.  This will increase their passion for the sport.  We discuss league standings (Premier League), tactics coaches used, formations, etc., at the dinner table.  If you have a daughter, follow the national team — they are the top of the world.  Go to a match when you can.
  4. Take your child to a professional game or local college game.  For the players to see, up close, what top soccer looks like is inspiring. In some ways, I would recommend your local college team first as your player will have more access to the players and get closer to the game.  Your player’s team may even get to be collect balls on the sidelines.
  5. Play Fifa with them.  I know this is a big ask for many parents – but, if you want your child to understand and love the game more, (a) let them play Fifa (PS4 or Xbox) and, (b) better yet, play with them.
  6. Knock the ball around with them in the backyard.  No, don’t lecture them or try to make it “a session.”  Just go out and play.  Pass and receive – do a aim challenge (if you don’t have a goal, use a fence post), design a set piece with phantom defenders.  If you have 4 people, make a game.  We play 2v2, 3v3, with weird rules (the little kids’ goals count x3, only score with _______, volleys only, etc.).

All of these ideas are things you can do and you are spending time with your child.  One thing I have learned raising 5 kids, they like what you like if you make it fun.  If you are too serious about it, it won’t come off.

Soccer Camp Review: Manchester United Soccer Schools (“MUSS”)

We made the trip over the pond and took our 11-year-old to Manchester United Soccer School.  This is a 6 day camp.  The location of the boys camp was Denstone College – a Boarding School south of Stoke.

The Location – Denstone College

IMG_1945Denstone College is usually a boarding school for boys focusing on athletics.  As a result, they have a lot of playing fields available for training.  The residential and main hall looks like something from a Harry Potter movie.  In fact, they told us it was on a list of finalist for filming locations.  I have to admit, the drive in was concerning … Denstone is a small village in the middle of nowhere.  It is not close to Manchester so you start to wonder  what you have signed up for.  Then, when you turn into the drive, wow…

The dorm rooms were set for 6-8 boys.  They honor room requests (as best they can).  Since there are so many boys to a room, it is reasonably likely your player will be with his mate.  Each boy has a bed, desk, and about 6 drawers.  The bathroom facilities are nice – private showers and toilets.

Registration/Check-In

We showed up near the end of the check in so there was a slow-moving line.  As a result, we missed the junior intro but they said just come back for senior intro.  There is staff everywhere and you go from registration room with a personal escort (a coach) to your dorm room.  On the way, you stop to put your valuables with another staff member.  Seamless and easy and professional.

What You Get

IMG_1940 (4)Room and Board and a Manchester United Training Kit with a matching Rain jacket (great idea).  The kit is a long sleeve nike red top with logo and a pair of white shorts and one pair of black socks.  There is no need for extra money although people left players lots. We left our son $20 and he didn’t spend it.

For the two-week course, instead of going to Old Trafford, you got to a theme park (Alton Towers) — yes the one where there was recently a horrible accident on a coaster.  But, as my host says, this is a very cool park.

The Price

The price for the 6 day camp was about $1500 US.  By comparison, the Dynamo Residential Elite 3.5 day camp is $850 US.  If you go for the 2 week camp, they usually run some discounts for the second week.  But, on a day-for-day basis, they are about the same price.  Neither is cheap and this is where you have to decide what you want out of the camp. If you are going to get evaluated, don’t bother.  I doubt any of the MUSS coaches work for United.  If you want to know what it feels like to be a professional footballer, this is the camp.  The living arrangements, scenery, and closing day at Old Trafford make this worth it to me.

The Quality of Players

IMG_2002Mixed.  It is open enrollment so all levels.  There are high level players but the camp is not dedicated to them.   One thing that is neat about this camp is that there were players from 36 different countries represented of 188 players.  My son’s best mate was from Kenya.  That is something you will not get from other places.

One thing you have to remember as an American attending, your kid will be immersed in European culture.  And, in some countries, their young men use language that you normally wouldn’t hear in the US at 11.  That was the one negative (among very little feedback) we got from the player.

The Quality of Staff

As you are unable to watch training sessions, hard to say.  My son is coach-loyal (loves coaches) and he is just 11 so hard to get a read from him.  The only thing I did learn for sure was that in the games, he let them sort themselves out and didn’t mix in or offer help.  I wish coaches intervened more in these situations.  Our kids come from a family of 5 where the motto is if you ask for it, you get the opposite.  In athletics, they never ask to play a position or demand it.  From my experience coaching kids, especially in camps, some kids need some help to be team players.  The kids that are penalized are the ones with better manners.

IMG_2066 (2)The coach played in the Swansea organization through his youth.  Low 20s.  Very nice guy.  He did not complete the evaluation but let my son complete it.  He did tease my son for calling him Sir.  (It’s a Southern thing).

Professionalism

Off the hook.  These guys know how to run a professional camp.  From the first moment you arrive, there is no doubt what is going on and what you need to do.  All dressed in official clothes (Man Utd).   And staff are everywhere.  The opening presentation was impressive with a breakdown for the week as well as a summary of Manchester Ideals.  Very good.

Communication

The camp does a good job with a Facebook page for the camp and posting pictures.  We were in the first week so there was not as much as the later weeks.  My son is not one to bother with communication so we heard little for him but he was not homesick and had a great time.

Closing Ceremony

For the players, this was a great day.  For the adults, not so much.  The players arrived at Old Trafford, ate lunch, went to shop, locker room tour, walked through tunnel, and ended in a Director’s Box.  Van Gaal was doing a presser with Memphis Depay on the field when we were there.  The players were just feet away from the presser.  They then marched them out (in stadium seats – not allowed to get on field).  I think for them, it was amazing.  For parents, you were mainly there to collect your player.  Short presentation.  Each kid got a medal.

Overall

I didn’t know what to expect with this camp.  Previously, had sent kids to University of Texas, LSU, local college, etc.  I think where this camp grades strongest is that the kids leave the camp loving soccer more.  I am not sure how much more you want from a camp than that.  The location and surroundings are beautiful.  The staff is uber-professional and littered with former professional players.  My son left with a greater passion for the game.  That is the best ROI I could ask for.  Do I wish they would encourage better language … yes.  But, as my English friend told me, it is more a cultural thing.

In terms of player evaluations, I just do not think that camps are the way to go.  There is a camp in England called the International Football Development Academy (iFDA) that may offer more concrete information and feedback and is allegedly attended by scouts.  I am looking into it and will post information when I get it.

Conclusion

After picking him up, again, he is not that talkative (I had one coach assume from that he doesn’t like soccer.)  He is a shy kid but I asked him if he learned a lot about soccer and he said he learned the same stuff we already do but from a different perspective and he liked it.  I asked if he would want to go back, he wasn’t sure.  This was his first residential experience and he went alone.  I think he was most put off by the language of the other campers.  He wants to be a professional footballer.

After attending the Dynamo Camp, I asked which he preferred.  He preferred the Manchester Camp.  My older son, who did not go to the Manchester Camp but did attend the Dynamo Camp said that if he went next summer, he would prefer the England experience, but had a good time at the Dynamo camp.  I can review the Dynamo camp separately.

8v8, 6v6 and SSG: Coaching Fails or, Alternatively, Where a Little Bit of Information Goes a Long Way

225862_1070322646729_406_nSmall-sided (“Small sided games” or “SSG”) soccer has been introduced in the States.  It has, through the years, trickled down to even the smallest clubs.  Courses are taught praising SSG — and that we should “let the game be the teacher.”  We still have a long way to go.  Coaches attend courses and hear what they want to hear.  Then there are those who take it too far — whether by choice or laziness.

Letting the game be the teacher can be a crutch to a coach.  Why bother preparing coaching points, questions, activities — just let them play.  And, if I do that, then I am letting the “game be the teacher.”

But, if you coach/teach players U8-U13 (even older), “letting the game be the teacher” is not an excuse for lack of preparation.  It is not an excuse for ignoring the needs of your team.  In the U8-U13 ages, players are entering the world of team play — and advanced team play.  It is in these times, a little bit of information goes a long way.  What kind of information?

Here are some Coaching Fails for this age group where a little bit of information goes a long way.

1.  Your team concedes lot of goals on goal kicks.  The Coaching fail is not taking time to teach the players how to take a goal kick, where to take a goal kick, options to the kick, where your teammates can be, or maybe even a play.  I do not buy the excuse that we should avoid tactics at these ages.  A few minutes here and there, a bit of organization, and problem solved.  I have no problems with my teams conceding goals, but the kids work too hard to have them give them away because they do not have a few pieces of information.

2.  Your goalie doesn’t know when he can pick the ball up and when he has to play with his feet.  Again, a little bit of information goes a long way.  Even with rotated keepers, it doesn’t take much effort to teach them when they can pick up a ball — most kids, without the information — will assume that even an errant ball, or a rebounded ball off a teammate — is off limits.  What if a teammate passes to them intentionally – hopefully we are teaching our players to include the keeper.  Educate them on the Laws of the Game.  I hate seeing keepers concede silly goals because they just do not know.

3.  Your goalie doesn’t know she can play a higher line than the goal line.  Again, a little information goes a long way.   Plus, it is more fun for the keeper to get involved.  Just give the keeper a little of your attention in the game.

4.  Your team gives away the kickoff most times.  Players taking the kickoff do not know how far the touch forward has to be or can be.  Take a few minutes and teach them some options.  Better yet, give them 5 minutes at the end of practice and let them design their own kickoff.

5.  Your team does not know how to take an indirect free kick (or what the signal is).  Incorporate the hand signal in your scrimmage at end — randomly call fouls, direct and indirect.  I even let the kids act like they were fouled and they get to blame someone.  Then, teach them how to take an indirect kick.  Bring a phone – go to youtube – show them some cool ones.  Let them create their own.  Same for direct kicks – teach them the hand signal.  Show them some examples — let them make their own.  They love working on this.  

At the same time, let your keeper(s) practice setting up a defensive plan for the free kicks.  Teach them an offside line.  When do they want it?  How do they set it?  How can they make sure everyone is marked.  Let the keeper practice the instructions.  Put the wall in the wrong place — let the keeper fix it.  This can be incorporated into the flow of a scrimmage with little effort and disruption.

6.  Your team does not know how to set a wall.  Especially on an indirect kick — they can set the wall inside the box.  Let them practice.  Blow stops occasionally during scrimmage and let them work on it.

7.  This is a horrible one — your keeper doesn’t know how far out she can go before distributing the ball.  They think their area is the goalie box, not the penalty area.  Explain the difference to them.  Give them this information.  This is particularly true if you follow U.S. Youth Guidelines and rotate keepers.  A little bit of information goes a long way for a keeper.

8.  Your team loses possession because of illegal throws.  OK — so you have taught them to keep both feet on the ground — now teach them that the ball must go completely behind their head.  A little bit of information goes a long way.  I hate seeing kids making illegal throws because of this and not knowing what they did wrong (they say – “but my feet were on the ground!”).

9.  Your team concedes a lot of goals on corners.  Well  have you worked on it?  Do you have a plan?  Working on defending corners is great practice because you get to work on this key defensive point:  “can you see the defender you are marking and the ball?”  Or, for young players, how do you “mark” a player?  Give the information — give them a plan — then let them implement it, alter it.  Empower your keeper to control the exercise.

10.  Your team concedes a lot of goals off of punted balls (this is a small-sided games problem).  It bugs you — the other coach imploring his keeper to punt the ball.  It is a small field.  I hate it.  You hate it.  It is not promoting development.  It is particularly tough because players in this range have hard time judging balls in flight.  Plus, I do not want players this age heading punted balls.  So, what information can you share to help?  Have a plan.  If you know the field is small (8v8 and 6v6 fields vary), instruct your defenders to retreat when their keeper picks the ball up.  If your outside backs are pushed up, focus on your center back.  Have them retreat well inside your half.  Yes, you can tell them “don’t let it bounce” but part of the problem is that the player you put back there may have difficulty judging balls in flight (ask Sam Snow).  So, put them in a position to succeed.  There is nothing so demoralizing to a center back or a team to be winning possession, using creative attacks, involving their teammates, only to concede on punted balls to a “fast forward” to a team that emphasizes win at all costs.

Try this.  Tell your center back to retreat and, if under pressure, play the ball to safety.  If they can control it, great.  You get to teach the vocabulary “safety first.”

This is a real pet peeve of mine.  At U9-12, success from a punted ball is fools gold.  In a few short years, those center backs will have no trouble with the ball.  Why teams emphasize it is usually because the coach has made the game about him.

Well, those are just a few examples where a little bit of information goes a long way.  I am a big believer in incorporating the Laws of the Game into my sessions to educate the players on these items.  I think we, as coaches, have an obligation to share this information.