THEMES AND THOUGHTS2017-03-06T22:07:56+00:00

Themes and Thoughts


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Footwork and agility is perhaps one of the most important skills a soccer player can have at any level. The ability to move in any direction with speed is a huge advantage for any player in any position. We should spend significant time throughout the year working on footwork, with and without the ball and highlight the importance of this part of their game. We should pay attention to:

Balance: Are players over balancing in any one direction? This will cause an imbalance in body weight and in turn will affect a players footwork. We need to focus on slight weight adjustments and allow their feet to control movement, not body weight. The ability of the feet working independently of the eyes and head is also very important. Does a player have to watch their feet to move them cleanly? The eyes see where the body is going (not where it is), the mind plots the course, the feet move.

Touch/ Control

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Touch incorporates every aspect of control. From first touch to 2nd and 3rd. Every touch a player makes should come with purpose. Unnecessary touches reduce opportunity and increase danger. We should spend considerable time working on first touch then move on to touch manipulation. Can players control the ball with any part of their body? Once we become efficient with our touch we should begin to focus on our first touch taking us to where we want to. We should pay attention to a players footwork, body shape and head movement. Again, footwork plays a huge part here. Can players adjust to control the ball in relation to the pace on the ball, the elevation on the ball and eventually can they see where they want to take the ball before it reaches them (ideally before they even call for it), because why have the ball if you have no plan for what to do with it. Does the players body shape allow for a good first touch on the ball regardless of where they are going with it, are they protecting the ball from an opponent, can they see danger and opportunity around them before the ball is played, while it’s on its way and as it arrives. We need to work on touch with every part of both feet, the body and dependent on age the head.


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In the modern game passing has become an art form. Players need to be able to pass the ball with different parts of their foot different speeds, trajectories and angles. The ability to pass the ball efficiently relies as much on vision as it does on technique, however without the technique the vision is insignificant. Time should be spent on all aspects of passing technique ie inside of the foot, pinging the ball with the instep, outside of foot, 1 touch passing etc. Once we have become proficient with these techniques we should begin to emphasize the vision and awareness aspect required to utilize the skills you have worked on. Again the eyes see, the mind calculates and the feet perform the action. Players must be constantly looking and scanning everything that’s around them, around their team mates and making decisions based on what they see. In the same way we were taught to drive on the road we must help players understand that they must see everything around them, the dangers and opportunities.


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There is only one ball on the pitch and every player wants it. This is a basic fact that starts from the first time we touch a ball until the last. When coaching dribbling we should again pay attention to players balance, footwork and head movements (eyes). We always coach kids to dribble with their head up but never really go deeper than that. Where a player is with the ball is not important, it’s where they are going that is everything. The only way to see that is with the head up. Dribbling with the head down also causes an overbalancing and impacts the quality of the footwork. We should emphasize both of these points. Close control, lots of touches is the norm when coaching young soccer players however we should help players understand the skill in knocking a ball around a player to run on to or how to manipulate the ball in tight situations.

Engaging the Ball Carrier 1v1 and more

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This should encompass 1 v 1 situations and in a group. When engaging the ball carrier we must help players understand that the primary goal here is to restrict forward progress, NOT win the ball. In any system or formation, getting beat in 1v1 situations is the biggest threat to success. Again, we HAVE to emphasize that the primary goal is to halt forward progress. When players go in to 1 v 1’s with the express goal of winning the ball they make poor decisions and lunge or dive in to tackles. If the player misses with the tackle the we have created a danger for ourselves. We must understand that defending done in the right way greatly reduces 1 v 1’s and puts the focus back to team vs team. Speed of approach, angle of approach, distance to player, body open showing 1 option and patience are all things we need to teach our players. Once we are efficient with 1 v 1’s we should shift our focus to group defending/ closing down. Engaging the ball carrier in the correct manner will result in more turnovers won while eliminating opposing opportunities. Emphasize that players only tackle/ lunge or go to ground when they are 100% they can win or spoil the ball.


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As coaches we ask our players to communicate throughout training sessions and games. We forget that communication requires knowledge and awareness. Awareness/vision is purely knowledge of opportunity and danger and communication of this is the advantage we give ourselves. We should help players understand that communication is not providing commentary but providing vital information to their team mates. When communicating with the ball carrier players need to be assessing the opportunity and danger and then passing that information along. This requires all players to see what is happening around the ball carrier and the opportunities that are developing elsewhere. Where the ball currently is, is only part of the game. Where we can go with it is just as vital. Communication without the ball relies on the ability of all players to see the play develop, see what may develop and adjust together to deal with it effectively. Players with a lack of knowledge and awareness do not tend to communicate because they are not sure of what to say. It is our job to give them the knowledge, knowledge breeds confidence and confidence results in communication.


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Movement is possibly the most important aspect of soccer. Without movement we cannot create opportunity. As coaches we tend to set a formation and ask players to fulfill certain roles within the game. This, of course, is correct. However, we can restrict opportunities by restricting players to these roles. Soccer has never been more offensively minded while in possession of the ball or strategic when not in possession. Both require considerable movement, individually and as a team. We need to create space to possess the ball effectively, we must not stand idly in space and we must constantly recycle and create new spaces. This is all achieved by movement. Awareness/ vision play a huge part here as players need to assess where the space is, where it can be created and ultimately where It can be exploited. The converse is true when not in possession of the ball. Try to not restrict players to specific roles at the youth level, instead teach them the game and allow their judgement to guide them.

Game Tempo

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Soccer games are won and lost for many different reasons however game tempo can play a huge part. Whether in or out of possession we can control the tempo of the game. Playing at a slow pace can be advantageous at times however playing at a higher pace allows us to take advantage of the lack of time teams have to adjust to what we do. A high tempo while in possession leads to confusion and the inability to communicate in real time, adjust in real time or react to developments in play effectively. The same can be said when out of possession. The reason SWAT don’t call ahead before they break your door down is to cause panic and confusion when they do. While playing in the Irish Premier League an opposition coach was quoted in the press saying that “our team only tried to sneak in the back door”. Our coaches response was “we’re breaking down the front door, the back door, through your letterbox and down the chimney”. We beat them 4-0. It is the same when out of possession in soccer. If we press and defend at a high tempo we cause panic to the ball carrier and players about to receive the ball. Give any player, strong or weak, time on the ball and they can hurt you. However, when we work at a higher speed we take the time away from them and induce mistakes. There is a balance to be met here but I refer you back to the engaging the ball carrier section and again emphasize that players only tackle/ lunge or go to ground when they are 100% they can win or spoil the ball. Spoiling the ball simply means that you don’t necessarily win the ball but you do get it away from the ball carrier in to open play where we hope to pick up the loose ball.


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Composure is “the state or feeling of being calm and in control of oneself”. We must remain calm and composed at all times during the game. This state of calm allows us to make good decisions in real time while maintaining the high tempo we require. The only way to achieve this is to put players in high pressure situations over and over and over again so that they become accustomed to it. Once they become comfortable with pressure they begin to evaluate their options differently and more clearly. Small sided games, pressure rondo drills and games are the most effective way to put your players in these high pressure situations. Graceful players look so composed and calculated in these pressure situations however while their bodies bely calmness their minds are racing to plot a course for escape and opportunity. There is always a out of difficult situations on the pitch and players have to engage their eyes their minds and their bodies to perform the action.