Squeezing the Juice

As a coach and a person, I've been working on my self-awareness. Basically figuring out my natural tendencies in order to leverage them. 

I know that my communication style is very direct, and by most standards in the US, harsh and critical. I'm very aware of it, and it's a variable I'm sure to account for. The players that have had the greatest longevity and improvement on my team have been the ones that have gelled with that style. It's something I look to test at tryouts, or even in conversations with parents.

It's also something I recognize I need to tailor according to the situation.  That could be a particular player that needs a different sort of communication, maybe after a loss the team needs a different message, or maybe for the first month everyone needs to hear a softer message. The most important aspect is that I've identified and reflected on it.

Earning It

I had the parent of a new player on the team send me a text, and ask what their son needs to work on. We've only had a week of training, so it's very early in the season. Nonetheless, this is a hugely positive sign, in my opinion. This is a parent who is involved, and critical (in a good way) of their son.

These parents are my favorite to work with. Their players are not always the best on the team, but they are also pushing them towards the next challenge. My least favorite question from parents is "Why didn't my son/daughter start the last game?" or "Why isn't my kid a starter?" The way this question is phrased usually insinuates they think their kid is already deserving of that spot. They've already written another player off in their head, or assume they know more than you do. The question is, in their mind, a rhetorical one.

The types of questions I love to hear are "What does X need to do to earn more playing time?" In both this question and the above ones, the parents are looking for more playing time. However in the last question, coming with humility and a willingness to work, shows a willingness to submit to the process of improvement. Playing time, and anything worthwhile in life, should be earned.

This is very much something I strive to weave in to the culture of my team. There's this weird idea that takes root in the minds of some that if you ask for something, you deserve it. Playing time, to play a different position, taking free kicks, you name it. Youth sports should be focused on a quality process, not some immediate outcome. This goes for the role of results in the youth game, individual improvement/playing time, style of play, etc. Asking and getting more playing time is not nearly as valuable for the team or the individual as earning it.

Coaching Licenses

I'm in the process off signing up for my D license. A couple thoughts I've had about it...

First, there's the cost. The D license, a step above the bare minimum of the E license, costs about $400. Not only that, but it's two weekends a couple months apart. So I need to set aside time, and probably find a place to stay. I imagine it will only gets worse as I try to obtain the higher levels.

Next is the actual value of the course. In that brief window of time, with however many coaches are in a course at a given time, how much can they really teach you? How in depth can they really evaluate what you've learned? Can US Soccer really testify that a coach with a D license has more knowledge and skill than one with a C license? As a young coach hungry for mentors and knowledge, I'm not convinced this is the best value-for-money avenue for me to improve.

Related to my first thought, who are these courses keeping out? If the DA and MLS clubs are only hiring coaches with, say, C licenses and higher, what do those demographics look like? This seems like the same problem with pulling pros from college soccer, in the sense that you're severely limiting the talent pool.

There's a lot more to talk about on this subject, and it's been covered more in depth by people far more articulate than myself. My main issue stems from this dilemma: are these licenses supposed to be educational, or certify a 'minimum level of competence'? US Soccer appears to be positioning themselves as if they provide both, which feels to me like a difficult line to straddle.

Parent Education Part 2

I'll be giving a slideshow presentation tomorrow to the parents of my U11 and U12 teams. It's the first time I've ever done something like that. I'll be focusing on two aspects of 'education':

  1. Sharing the details specific to my coaching style
  2. General, broadly applicable soccer education

The first aspect serves as part marketing campaign, and part insight. It's marketing in the sense that I want them to buy into my specific vision of coaching. This encompasses style of play, how training is run, the way in which to evaluate games, and more. I want them on my side. I also want to give them insight into the specifics of that vision. So the background on why I coach a certain way, how it plays out on the field... A behind the scenes look.

The second aspect is something I tried to build in because I want to leave this group with something tangible they can use on their own. A way of framing proper coaching, for example, and some trustworthy resources to educate them. Not just journalists or articles, but teams to watch, coaches to follow, and practices to use when watching games. The parents are the ones REALLY in charge of their kid's development, and even after I'm gone, I can help ensure this group takes a critical look at their soccer environment, and makes the best choices.


When I was just starting out, one of the mistakes I would make frequently is that I would presume too much of my players. The grids for a possession exercise would be too small, the amount of defensive pressure during attacking exercises would be too high, etc. Especially for the youngest players, I found the speed of play I thought they should be capable of, and the speed they actually were capable of were usually at least a level or two apart.

As I've gained experience, that's one area I've consistently improved in. Today was the first training session for my B07 team. We added some new players, and are moving from 7v7 to 9v9. We worked on building out of the back under pressure today, 5v2. For a so-so CSL Bronze team, 5v2 is a sufficient amount of pressure for them to overcome at this time. This team has some experience circulating the ball, but are far from mastering it. Additionally, the field we played on was horrible.

Especially when learning or refining a new aspect of the game, I've found that around a 50% success rate is the sweet spot. It should be easy enough that they know what it looks like when done correctly. For example if my back 5 turned the ball over every play, and never got close to building out, I would have no issue reducing the pressure to 5v1. As they learn and improve, you'll need to continue to ratchet up the pressure, reduce the space, and find other ways to push the players to improve.


Teaching restarts/set pieces can be difficult to work into your curriculum. At least in your first cycle with your team, I think it's especially important to cover:

  • goal kicks
  • corner kicks
  • throw-ins

These are probably 3 of the most common, so they'll have the biggest on game day. Goal kicks can be worked in when you're teaching your team how to build out of the back. Corner kicks can be worked in during attacking play in the final third. Throw-ins would fit nicely into either of these topics as well.

The second set of set pieces I've found it worthwhile to cover have been:

  • Direct free kicks
  • free kicks wide in the final third
  • deep throw-ins

Direct free kicks take the least amount of time to cover, and depending on how much complexity you want to layer in, could even be covered outside of regular team training. You could simply ID your best free kick taker, give them a couple pointers, and move on.

Free kicks wide in the final third are in a dangerous enough area of the field that it's worth rehearsing them to increase the likelihood of getting something out of them. They're also distinct enough that you need to practice them specifically. Like corner kicks, these make sense to cover when working on attacking.

Much like wide free kicks, deep throw ins represent a distinct, yet repeatable, scenario. Space is limited, and unless you have a player with a long throw, you'll have to get creative to get something out of them. These can also be covered when working on attacking.

It's important to prioritize properly, and I've only started layering in the above scenarios in my 2nd year with my 2006 team. I don't plan on adding any new routines for the upcoming spring season, merely refining the ones we've already worked on.


When you have your philosophy and your style of play dialed in, and put in sufficient work evaluating your players, putting them into positions comes naturally. You can see the qualities they have, and how they can be leveraged the best. You'll know if a player who is good in 1v1s and a good crosser is a better fit as an outside back or winger. Or if a player that can read the game defensively and pass is a holding mid or a center back.

I've found the players that I have trouble pinning down to a single position usually fall in to one of two extremes: the best players on a team, and the newer players. The best players are good enough in a variety of areas relative to the team that they can contribute in multiple positions. In that case, it's usually a simple matter of slotting them into an area that they can have the biggest impact. I've found it usually means putting them into the middle of the field, usually as a center back, center mid, or striker. If that doesn't seem to be the best solution, slotting them in to a problem area, and replacing a weaker player, is another option.

The newer players are more difficult. High and wide is usually a good bet. They can contribute offensively just by staying out wide and stretching the other team, and defensively if they get beat it won't cause as many problems if they're in a deeper or more central position. It's simpler to work on their positioning, and they can contribute by being taught to make good decisions off the ball.

I've found that if I can't find a position for a player, and they don't fit into one of these two categories, it's my fault as the coach. Either I don't have enough experience with scouting players, I haven't dialed in exactly what I want from each position, or I'm not paying enough attention when evaluating this particular player.

Performance and Results

If given the choice between a good performance and a good result, I think most youth coaches would prefer to see a good performance. Still, I think there are aspects that one could look for when the result is good, but the performance is poor

  • adaptation to the circumstances. If a certain play or player that is usually reliable gets shut down, can the team (and the coach) adapt effectively?
  • ability to close the game out to protect a result
  • mental resilience. when the game plan isn't proving effective, the players shouldn't resort to brainless kick ball, taking excessive risks, etc.
  • team first mentality, with everyone actively pulling in the same direction
  • laser-focus (from team and coach), and looking for an X factor to impact the game. Could be a pre-planned set piece, a quick restart, taking advantage of a sleeping defender, relentlessly battering a sub-par opponent...
  • assassin's mentality in front of goal if/when a chance arrives

Season Planning for Possession

It's a tired cliche that when planning your season, you start by working on defending. I'm convinced that if you want to have a possession-based team, that's what you should be working on right out of the gate. For example, Pep Guardiola's first training session with Manchester City seems to feature a heavy focus on building from the goalkeepers.

It makes sense when you think about it. If you could choose one thing for your team to do well, wouldn't it be retaining the ball? If you can do do that, your attacking and defending will both be easier. If you begin your season by focusing on defending, then that's what your team will be most proficient at in games. But is that really what you want your team's identity to be? Ideally, I only want to defend in short, intense bursts. Therefore, that's how I structure my defensive sessions.

On the subject of season planning... I want my team to have the majority of possession in games. Therefore I structure my season around possession exercises. I spend less time on defensive topics because I don't want to spend much time defending in games. That doesn't mean it's neglected, but it's important to prioritize training based on what you want to see in games.


These are some of my practical thoughts on recruiting:

  • do your homework. Get out to the fields, and assess the level of other local programs. Club, rec, all-stars, etc. You should be able to appropriately gauge what 'level' a player is. You should be able to gauge the level of your team relative to the local talent. It will make recruiting go much quicker f you know where you can and can't get appropriate level talent.
  • approach one player at a time. Handing out flyers to a whole all-star team is amateur hour. If your team is that desperate for players, that's a very bad sign. A phrase I've taken to recently is "One bullet, one kill." That should be your approach to recruiting.
  • If you're approaching a player brand new to club soccer, find the parents. See if the kid goes to them at halftime, or where they go after the final whistle. Let them know who you are, tell them you like their player, and make a targeted, incisive comment on their play. Then, just ask if they've thought about playing club soccer. If they say they aren't interested, shake their hands, smile warmly, and thank them for their time.
  • If they are open to discussing club... tell them why you think their player would be a good fit, what position, etc. They may want to know your background, your team, cost, etc. Be prepared to answer all that. Remember to involve the player in the conversation. This involves some charisma and some emotional intelligence. Most parents will cave to what their kid wants. The player wants to feel valued, and have their ego massaged.
  • I can't stress enough that you need to connect with the parents and the player on a personal level, and they need to connect with you. If it feels like they won't be committed, or like they want a low-pressure, recreational environment, you need to figure that out implicitly, or explicitly. It will make integration into the team easier. And to be honest, if you find you really have to push a family to join, that's not a good indicator for their longevity with your team.
  • One last piece of advice comes from Seth Godin: "People like us do things like this." Your team is not for everybody. Be honest, and play up both the pros and cons. The players you don't recruit, the players that choose not to join your team, and the players you cut, are just as indicative of the culture and team you are building as the ones you have.


Barcelona were hammered by PSG 4-0 in the Champions League Tuesday.

I found the following passage featured in this article from Sid Lowe fascinating: https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2017/feb/15/barcelona-luis-enrique-humiliation-paris-saint-germain-champions-league?CMP=share_btn_tw

El Mundo asked readers if they remembered that team who “respected the ball”, that reigned through an “endless series of indecipherable passes” and “cared for and nurtured the midfield”. The verdict was damning: “It no longer exists.” Juan Jiminez lamented in AS: “Barcelona used to be something else, something healthier.

I found this interesting, because after a heavy Spain or Barcelona defeat, most Anglo* journalists seem to focus on the winning team's ability on the counter-attack and/or superior physical presence. Another topic that has cropped up recently is the waning generation of Spanish footballers leaving their respective teams unable to play an effective possession-based style.

The reaction in Spain, meanwhile, seems to take up an opposing viewpoint. They point out that Barcelona has drifted away from their identity, and that they no longer bring the youth players along into the first team. While the outside world hammers them for their identity, there are many in Spain clamoring for a return to it.

*I generalize Anglo to mean American or UK based journalists. I'm fluent only in English, so these are the journalists I most consistently read. Obviously these are not homogenous groups of people and ideas, and I am generalizing.


One of my player's parents expressed an interest in playing up an age group this season. It got me thinking about if that was a good idea.

He most certainly has the ability in every facet of the game to play up an age group. Technically, tactically, and mentally he's a class above most players in this club. He's not a big player, but he's quick, and won't struggle physically against older players. It may actually be good for him to get to play against players in training who are a year ahead of him in some ways.

The question should be framed as such, however: is this the best environment for him to develop as a player? Some questions should be raised in this type of scenario:

  • will the players he trains with challenge him? Will it be too easy? Too hard?
  • does the coach have the knowledge and capability to teach the player?
  • is the overall training environment going to challenge the player? Meaning, does everyone hold themselves to high standards?
  • will he receive adequate attention to develop? Is the player more prone to succeed as a big fish in a small pond, or as a small fish in a big pond?

These are just the questions that immediately come to mind, and are intentionally topical. One could go far deeper into each. Whoever the decision-makers are in these scenarios, hopefully they have deep knowledge of the individual, the environments in questions, and enough data points to make an informed decision.


This week our club is holding tryouts. Over the years I've conducted tryouts for U10 boys all the way up to high school girls. I always think it's insightful (or at least entertaining!) to see what other coaches do for tryouts.

Today, my session for about twenty U10 and U11 boys (both teams will play 9v9) consisted of 4 exercises:

1. Passing Square and 8v2 Keepaway

Almost all of my sessions start with a rondo of some sort, and the ability to receive and pass is crucial. Additionally, I find it valuable to start with the easiest exercise first. You'd be surprised how many players of all ages and both genders struggle to pass the ball 12 yards under zero pressure. Also, by starting with the easiest exercise first, you can immediately identify the players NOT to watch the rest of the tryout. I've never seen a player that couldn't perform adequately in a passing square exercise go on to tear it up throughout the rest of the tryout. Today the grids were all about 12 yards by 12 yards, and were the same for both exercises.

2. 1v1s Attacking and Defending

I don't do anything too fancy with my 1v1s. Today I used a grid 12 yards wide and about 18 yards long. The attackers start with the ball, and need to dribble in control across the far side of the grid. After winning the ball, the defenders can pass in to a pug goal in either corner of the opposite side of the grid. Players stay as attackers/defenders for about 3 minutes, and then rotate to the other spot. I do this so I can get multiple looks at a particular facet of their game. For example, if a player does a ridiculous move to beat his man the first time, I'd like to get a second look right away to make sure it isn't a fluke. I use this to evaluate a player in all 4 phases of the game, and also to get a small peak into their psychology, and see how they react after winning or losing. It also let's you identify how players stack up physically.

3. 1v1s to Goal

For 1v1s to goal, it's basically a slightly larger grid than before, about 15 yards wide and 22 yards long. It's the same 1v1 drill, but now the attackers score on a goalkeeper. In addition to the uses of the previous 1v1 drill, you know get to see who your goal scorers and goal keepers are. It also forces the goal keepers to contribute with their feet in build up play.

4. Small Goals and Big Goals Scrimmages

The scrimmages were split into 5v5 to four small goals and 6v6 with goalkeepers in regular size goals. Typically I'll try to divide teams into about 3 groups in my head at this point: players for sure making the team, players for sure getting cut, and then the middle. This way, I can focus primarily on the performances of players in the middle, and really zoom in on the details. Sometimes I'll directly split teams down these lines, other times I'll put players from each category in each team. I'll be sure to put players I'm interested in into a role approximating where I see them in my team. For example, there was a player today I see as a center back, and I paired him with my current center back to see if he was a good fit there.


Team Defending

In a scrimmage with my 07 team Saturday, it was our first time playing 9v9, and it was also the first time we played with 2 centerbacks. An issue we had in the first half was that they were consistently too far behind the midfielders when we lost the ball in the other team's half. This allowed the opposing forwards time to receive the ball and run at our back line. Neither of my centerbacks are particularly quick, and this was a huge problem for us.

In the second half it improved, and I emphasized that the way we want to defend is by stepping up towards the ball, rather than dropping back to the goal. Several times in the second half, their forward would receive a pass to his feet, but this time the centerbacks were able to apply pressure right away and either steal the ball, or affect the attacker enough that we could get numbers back to defend.

The key to defending is to minimize the amount of space you need to cover. This goes for both high pressure or more passive approaches. However you plan to defend, it's important that everyone is on the same page, and is moving to defend as a unit. Take, for example, these 2 squares:

By shrinking each side by only 1 foot, the total area contained by the square is reduced by nearly 25%. If you imagine that there are 4 defenders within each square, in the first square they're responsible for about 16 square feet each. In the second, they are responsible for about 12 square feet.

The above abstraction can be directly applied in a coaching context. If you get every player to shrink a few yards closer together, it will have a tremendous impact on your defending. This is where the phrase 'greater than the sum of its parts' comes into effect. If your team turns the ball over in midfield, and the back line steps forwards to pressure while the mids drop back to defend, the amount of space the opposing team has to operate in will be dramatically reduced.

This doesn't apply just to a vertical axis, but horizontally as well. If the other team has the ball on your right wing, your left-sided players need to be shifting over.

My centerbacks didn't become more skilled defenders at half time, but by reducing the amount of space they had to cover, the were more consistently halting attacks.


Noticing Things

As I've gained knowledge and experience, I'm fascinated with how much quicker I'm able to interpret different aspects of the game. This weekend I was out scouting and recruiting players, and in years past, it's felt like a massive headache. So many kids seemed to be on the bubble, and I wasn't sure if they were at the required level, or below it. Or I'd follow a player, and one game he'd seem to be a class above everyone else, and the next he'd be a turnover machine.

This weekend, it felt like the kids that stood out actually had something different to the rest. A couple things I've started to consciously (and unconsciously) notice a bit more:

  1. when the play is stopped for a throw in, free kick, etc., what do they do? Are they scanning the field, moving into space, or just picking their nose?
  2. what's their reaction/attitude on the kickoff following a goal for or against them? Are they still locked in, and hungry on the next play?
  3. where they'll fit in to my team. They should fit a certain role right away in my head. If I find myself trying to shoehorn them in somewhere, it often isn't a great fit.
  4. how they shape their body and foot when they strike the ball. It's not the best comparison, but the best player's wield their foot almost like a paintbrush. They are capable of painting with heavier strokes, or caressing it more gently. It's not just important for them to have the ability to do so, but recognize when to use each tool.
  5. if they have sound decision-making. Watching each play unfold, whatever they end up doing should make sense to me. This goes for decision on the ball, and off the ball. Their pass and run selections, who or what space they choose to cover defensively... their should be evidence of a risk-assessment decision occurring. More than one or two "What the fuck was that?" moments is a major red flag.
  6. how they react when they find out they're being scouted/recruited. It's a little cliche, and easy to put too much weight in to, but the personality factor is hugely important. The ability of a player to transfer into a new environment is a huge factor. You can get some insight speaking to them for the first time, and if they can make eye contact, if they speak back to you in sentences longer than a few words... Their reaction when they finally are with your team is important too. The kids that I've found to be a good fit don't need to be babysat and have their hand held at all. This does NOT mean they have to be boisterous extroverts either! 


Today, my team trained in the rain.

It's not a big deal for 9 year olds... But it is for the school district we rent our fields from. The slightest drizzle, and ALL the fields are closed.

Since we have a tournament coming up, we trained on some local all-weather fields, unofficially of course.

Because such a small, uncontrollable wrinkle affected our training so much, it makes me really consider all of the little variables that could affect a team's development...






And the list goes on.

A truly serious club will be sure to account for all these variables, to minimize (or maximize) their impact on the final product. A truly serious professional in any field will do their utmost to maximize the variables they can control.

2 of my Best Purchases

The best purchase any coach can make, in my opinion, is a video camera. It doesn't need to be crazy fancy, but HD is nice. I bought this used Canon for less than $200. Along with the camera, I recommend buying a tall tripod of at least 70", and a high capacity memory card of at least 64 GB. I usually have a parent film, and having a tall tripod allows them to bring the camera up conveniently to eye height for most (the less inconvenient it is, the more likely they are to help out). If you are filming in HD, having a large memory card means you don't have to keep clearing out the memory before each game.

The only instructions I give the parents are to stay as zoomed out as possible, and to do their best to follow the ball. Again, convenience is key, and these are simple instructions to follow. Also, some parents tend to try and zoom in as much as possible, rendering the footage useless, as you can't follow the play coherently. Seeing the 3 or 4 players around the play, rather than just the guy on the ball, is what I want out of the footage. Whenever possible, have the camera person stand on elevated ground for an even clearer look at the game. At the 9v9 level, I've found having a parent at ground level still works okay, but at 11v11 it becomes even more important to have the camera elevated.

The other purchase I've found really valuable is a white board. The one I keep at home is about 24"x18". This one is about $25 on Amazon, but I found a cheaper at Rite Aid. I use this to plan training, brain storm exercises or patterns, write down thoughts or sequences while I'm watching games, and more. It's large enough I can draw legibly and fit a lot on it at once, but still small enough to fit somewhat comfortably on my lap. I do keep an 11"x14" one with me for drawing on at training, but I've found a lot more value having a larger one at home. I'm the type of person who needs to write or draw things out to better visualize them, and this is less wasteful, quicker, and less of a hassle than using pen and pencil.

***Honorable Mention: electric air compressor. It gives you no excuses not to have properly inflated balls every session.