While your weekly training sessions are one of the most important aspects of coaching soccer, you must have a good plan for game day as well.
Picking the starting team.
Many coaches decide based on last week’s performance. This is a mistake. You must pick a team based on performance at practice. Other variables factor into the equation as well. Attendance, punctuality, effort and work ethic all should play a part.
The quality of the warm up can also tell you who is focused and ready to play. I have made many changes to my starting team based on warm up mood.
It is important to remember that inconsistency is common in young players; so last week’s star could very well be this week’s villain. We also want players to believe that there is a clean slate every week. This motivates players to be at their best at all times and does not allow anyone to enter a stagnant comfort zone at practice.
The opposition changes every week, so you may need to make adjustments to exploit weaknesses in the opponent and, at the same time, utilize the strengths of your own players.
Some coaches make adjustments at half time. It is fine to make adjustments during the first half if you have noticed a match-up problem with one of your players and an opponent.
The other team may be very athletic or technical, so you may have to adjust your collective defensive scheme (line of confrontation). There may also be a weakness in the opponent you wish to exploit, before the other coach notices that he/she is in trouble.
Coaching from the sidelines.
You should have done your coaching during the week at practice. The game is a tool to determine if what you have done during the week has had an impact on their soccer behavior. Screaming instructions constantly and commentating the game for the players is not coaching.
Your interjection should be reserved for issues that require immediate attention. This also lets your players know that when they hear your voice, it is an urgent matter.
Stay off the referees. They have a different perspective of the game and are correct most of the time. This also teaches your players to respect the officials and the game. The referee very rarely determines a game.
The half time talk.
The astute coach will take notes during the game (mental or written), so that he/she has specific points to address. Your list may be filled with issues of concern, but you can only talk about three at the most. Any more and the message is lost.
Avoid general terms like “we are not defending well.” Be specific with the aspect of defending that is a problem. Be sure that we speak to the players individually if they are part of the problem. It is also important to find aspects of their performance that you are pleased with, so that we do not destroy the players’ confidence.
The team may also be playing very well, so there may not be much to critique. If this is the case, stress what the team must continue doing to be successful.
Post game talk.
At the end of the game allow players some time to themselves. I usually give them about three minutes to get a drink and calm down. The conversation should be short and must address what was said at half time.
Was there an improvement, or consistency in performance (individual and collective)? The coach should now be thinking about next week’s training sessions. Do issues need to be revisited, or can we move on? Being able to evaluate your team is a critical part of coaching soccer.
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