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Replacing Punishment/Warm-Up Running

You’ve just finished a drill in practice. Your players are under performing massively, and they don’t seem focused on your instruction or practice at all. You immediately feel the blood begin to boil and order several half-field sprints to try and get them focused and to show them that they need to take practice seriously. After they slump to the ground and you begin to tell them why they just ran, I must tell you that there is a better way.

It’s true that the beautiful game isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon of a game with players having to play for at least an hour at some of the younger age groups and a full ninety minutes at some of the higher levels of play. So the players just gained some valuable conditioning, right? True, I can’t deny that running will help them to be strong in the first minute and in the 90th, but can you tell me that there isn’t a better way? No.

The next time you want your kids to run, make a simple switch that will help out massively in the end. Incorporate the ball. Have them have to dribble the ball, pass the ball, or even shoot the ball. The running will still be there, and the conditioning will still be improved, but if you let them work with the ball, then they will also improve the most important aspect of the game: control on the ball. ALWAYS make sure your kids are working with the ball.

Why should you do this? Because kids sometimes can go a whole practice with only 50-60 touches on the soccer ball. That’s a sad fact that will show on game-day when they flub a pass or mis-control an easy touch…sure they can run for hours because you ran them so much, but they can’t handle the rock. Change this one aspect, and immediately that 50-60 will change into numbers like 300-400. Adding a ball to your warm-up drills? It gets the kid’s blood pumping AND gets their feet ready to execute the necessary skills to play the game at the highest level.

You can’t look me in the eye and tell me that you’ve never subbed that one kid onto the field and hoped that the ball never fell to their feet because you don’t trust their skills. This can fix that. This can give every player the amount of time necessary to become very strong with their feet, and give you peace of mind when you make that substitution.

This statement is from experience, and if you just try it for a few practices, then you will see the vast improvement that this can give to your team. Go get ‘em coach!

By: Andrew McCole, soccer coach, soccerprose.com

Running the 4-2-3-1

With the fall air beginning to creep across soccer pitches everywhere, and the games starting to come thick and fast at the amateur and professional level, it’s time to crack open the coaching books of tips and tricks. The main problem that a lot of coaches will face during this new season is keeping the ball out of the back of the net. No matter how good your strikers are or how many goals you can score, if you can’t keep the other team from scoring at will then you won’t have a very productive season.

A formation to fix this situation needs to have enough defensive cover to handle the most attack minded teams, but the ability to still put enough goals into the back of the net has to be present with this. That’s where the 4-2-3-1 comes into play. It has the defensive capability to quell most attacks, and the ability to push enough players forward to make sure that you are still scoring enough goals to win.

In order to run this formation you need to have a few players that won’t mind helping out with the attack, but still getting back to help with the defending. You also need a striker that can help to hold up the ball while players get forward, and a striker that might can handle putting goals away as a lone striker. You also need players that can sit right behind the striker that know when to push forward and when to stretch back. This formation is set for more intelligent players over physically gifted players. Players that can make decisions quickly on where and when they are at certain places on the field will be better suited for this formation.

The age group that can use this formation is mostly appropriate in the U-14 and up age groups. These kids can understand the need for defending and won’t have the one track mind that has them only wanting to score goals. You can also make slight changes to this formation with older kids, by telling one of your defensive midfielders to become a wide outlet during attacks you can make this even more attacking.

The perfect 4-2-3-1 is set-up like this: 4 defenders, 2 defensive midfielders, 3 midfielders that stay more central than out wide, and a lone striker that either has amazing footwork or is big enough to hold the ball up while your midfielders catch up. The 2 defensive midfielders sit about 10 yards in front of the defense and connect the passing from defense to attack, and also stop any attacks before they can even get to the back four. The three midfielders almost all need to act like central mids, with attacks out wide only being used on fast breaks so that the team doesn’t get too spread out.

This set-up is incredibly defensive. It won’t provide as much attacking as most of us like to see, but it will keep the score close enough for you to always snag a close win. It can also be reformed into a 4-2-2-2 to give you another striker if you feel that you need more up front, but this formation will cause you to have to play everything down the middle. The 4-2-2-2 has no players out wide, and it isn’t advisable if your attacking depends heavily on crosses and headers.

The only way to truly beat this formation is by getting ahead quickly and then forcing the other coach to break out of such a defensive formation, but their isn’t really another formation that perfectly combats it. If you really wanted an option though, I would play a 4-5-1 and hope that you can clog up the midfield enough to make the two defensive midfielders seem useless.

Good luck fellow coaches! Let’s hope the wins start to rack up!

By: Andrew McCole, soccer coach, soccerprose.com

The Team Captain

Your team is down by two goals. Your voice is gone, destroyed by a frustrating first half that saw you attempting to create a working formation on the fly to combat a college bound winger on the other team. You have no tricks left in your bag, no subs on the bench that would be seen as an improvement at any position, and none of your subs are really even asking to get out on the field. You call one player over to the sideline; you whisper in their ear that this is the time to earn the armband that is on their arm. Your player re-enters the game and you see them huddle with a few players before the next dead ball is kicked. Three late goals and a victory later, you know that only one thing really changed the game- the team captain.

A team captain is a leader; a leader that knows when to step-up and knows how and when to talk to his fellow players. They might not be the fastest. They might not be the strongest. But, when your game is on the line, they are the player that the entire team looks to for inspiration. Does your team need one? Let’s find out.

With certain age groups, such as younger teams, the team captain needs to be sort of a “moving” captain. This is where multiple players, throughout the season, take up the mantle of being the captain. A coach can use this to get the most from his players by saying that his MVP of a previous game will be the captain of the next game. This allows all of the players to feel the responsibility and to see if you have a growing leader within your squad that can become a future fixture with the armband.

With older groups, a steadier methodology is needed. Perhaps using multiple captains on the field at once, but with very few (if any) captain changes throughout the season. You can choose to have a defensive captain and an attacking captain, or even make your seniors or last-year-players captains throughout the season, or even just go with one captain for the whole team.

Does your team need a captain? Not always. Some teams don’t have that true leader, and the coach’s voice needs to be the only leader on those teams. You also will have teams that seem to have a good leader, but their lack of tact with their criticism would cause making them captain to be a disaster.

However, if your team has a true leader, or even a player that plays hard and always gives positive encouragement, then you should look into purchasing a captain’s armband and giving it to a player. Make sure that you are picking the best captain, and not necessarily the best player. I’ve seen many good players disappear under the weight of the armband, and you need to be sure that a player can handle the responsibility that being a captain brings with it. I’ve also seen many players overstep the bounds that being a captain brings. You don’t want a player that feels the armband makes them superior, you want a player that feels the armband makes his team superior.

So before you let your team walk out on the field for the next game, seriously consider giving out the “C” for one of your players. The best part about naming a captain? If it doesn’t work, you can always change your mind. If it does work, then you are a coaching genius.

Go get ‘em coach.

By: Andrew McCole, soccer coach, soccerprose.com


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