As with any team sport or recreational activity, if it’s something you love to do, you also get enjoyment out of others playing the game as well, and there is no better way to help get others into a sport than to pass on your knowledge or just your enthusiasm by teaching or coaching them. With the popularity of the game of soccer or football worldwide, there is never going to be a shortage of demand for good coaches, whether it be for a local kids team or an enthusiastic adults team. It is also an activity that many make a career from, whether in the professional game or by setting up their own schools or academies. The question is how to get started…how to become a soccer coach.
We’ve already mentioned it, but probably the key to being a good soccer coach is enthusiasm and love for the game; you have to be able to transmit this to your players. Think back to your days at school and undoubtedly, the teachers you remembered and whose lessons you enjoyed, had passion for the subject they were teaching. Don’t underestimate how far positivity can take you as a coach, and how far negativity and lack of enthusiasm can hold you back. You are also a role model to the players, so your body language and behaviour will affect how the players behave and therefore perform.
Be a teacher
You will notice also from the examples we’ve used, but another important factor is to be a teacher of the game. The traditional image of a coach standing on the sidelines, barking out orders is not necessarily one that will make you successful. The late, great Johan Cruyff said, with reference to the English game, that there were not enough teachers. Remember your aim is to help your players to become better at what they do, and improve their understanding – telling them what to do when they’re on the pitch will only create players who need to be told what to do and where to do it, rather than thinking for themselves. Players, particularly younger players will make errors – but mistakes are the only way to learn, and your reaction as a coach is key to the player’s development. Help them to understand how they can improve and be positive and supportive when they make an error.
What is the best way to teach the game? Most of the top coaches say the game itself is the best teacher – get the players with a ball at their feet and allow them to play. There is nothing worse than seeing a soccer coaching session with the balls sitting in a net while the coach makes the players do shuttle runs for most of the session, before allowing them a quick game at the end. The players will learn very little from such sessions, and will probably lose enthusiasm for the game very quickly. Prominent English coach John Cartwright is a huge advocate of the game being the teacher, and uses the example of growing up in the days of playing football on the streets – learning to keep the ball from other players, often much bigger and stronger and developing skills as a result. In the modern day, we are often spoiled with much better facilities, but we should put on practices which reflect situations within a game and allow the players to learn how to deal with the situations effectively.
Show not tell
One of the early coaching tips I picked up is to “show, not tell”…it took me a while to appreciate exactly what that meant. Take the example of a personal trainer showing a pupil how to do a particular exercise. They demonstrate it first so the pupil will not get it wrong and injure themselves. In the same way, if you want to show a player how to perform a particular skill, it is more effective to show them how to do it correctly rather than telling them verbally. You will see players, particularly younger ones trying to copy skills they’ve seen players doing on the TV, so in the same way, demonstrating what you want them to do is the most effective way to teach them on the training field. Always remember as well to try and show them how to do something properly and not demonstrating a fault!
Of course, some of the best football coaches were never great players themselves, so how do you demonstrate something you are unable to do yourself? Here’s where knowledge of the players you are coaching can come in very useful…why not get one of your more accomplished players to demonstrate? It’s bound to improve the player’s confidence as well! Coaching mixed ability players is always a challenge, but one that can be overcome by setting individual goals for each player that is based on their ability and the progress they are making in improving. Even the best professional players work harder than ever in training to improve even more.
As with all subjects, soccer players need to be able to cope with what they are learning while also being pushed enough to improve. The drills and practices you set up for them should be as realistic to the game as possible, but also be relevant to their age and experience. Small children will learn very little from playing on a full 11-a-side sized pitch. Similarly, it is pointless trying to teach very young players about set pieces. Games with lots of touches of the ball where players can improve their touch, passing and spatial awareness are ideal. Adjust the space used for the exercise relevant to the number of players and their age and ability. If they are finding it easy, make the space smaller or provide more opposition. If it’s too hard, give them more space or make the exercise unopposed.
Plan to succeed
You may well have already worked out, but good planning helps to make an effective coaching session. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds, particularly at grass roots level where it’s unlikely you’ll know precisely how many players you are going to have attending your training session, however a good and well organised soccer coach have a contingency plan for different player numbers. Remember also to include in your plan the things you are intending to teach the players within each practice so that you and your players keep focused. It also makes sense to make a note of things that work particularly well or anything that the players seem to enjoy. Just like them, you are learning and improving every time you coach.
Learn and improve
Just like the players learning by watching you as their coach and other players, you can improve by watching other coaches in action. Whether it be other coaches at the club you coach at, coaches of other teams, videos on YouTube of professional coaches in action, or even better if you can see them coach live. Join your local football or coaching association, and there are often opportunities to watch leading coaches put on a session. Football associations also often have coaching seminars or conferences with lots of opportunities to watch the other coaches in action. Make sure you’re not just taking note of the practices they are putting on (ie where the cones are etc…) but also what the coaches are trying to achieve in terms of learning and goals. Listen and take notes of the coaching points they make to individuals and team units.
Being part of a coaching or football association is also a way to get on to coaching courses and gain qualifications. This is particularly important if you want to move further up the coaching ladder and perhaps earn some money from coaching. Professional clubs will insist on you having reached a decent standard of coaching before they will employ you The various courses available not only help you as a coach to improve, but also allow you to meet other coaches and discuss the various topics that come up in your sessions. To find out more about the courses and qualifications available, sign up below and we will send you a comprehensive guide to gaining coaching qualifications, as well as some great exercises to get your coaching off to a flying start and your players improving and loving the game!
Remember the best way to improve is to practice, so start coaching as early as possible. If you still play, volunteer to help in a training session. If you are simply an enthusiastic fan of the game, volunteer to help at your local club. Other coaches are always willing to help and guide, and as always, if you have any questions, please get in touch!