Improving Buy-In From Your Team

Beginning last season, I have given a presentation to the players and parents to help prepare them for the upcoming season. In this presentation, I go especially in-depth on the style of play I want to implement, and discuss my coaching methodology.

I have found this to be INCREDIBLY beneficial, especially as I transition to a new club.

The main benefit I noticed this season is that it gave me instant credibility with the parents. As a no-namer joining the youth organization of an MLS franchise, there was a certain weight of expectation with my hiring, and I felt it when I introduced myself to the parents at tryouts and training sessions. Having something like this simple Google Presentation demonstrated to them that I was putting in work behind the scenes.

Another benefit for me personally was that it allowed me to reflect on my coaching. One thing I've consistently improved at over the years is simplifying and distilling my ideas on how I want my teams to play. In this instance, I had to get my ideas across to a room full of people ranging from the 10 and 11 year old players to parents, grandparents, etc. This made me focus on both the content of my presentation, and the tools I used to communicate with. For those of you who saw my last slideshow, this time around I cut back heavily on the distracting text. I tried to use more images and video, but cleaning up the visuals of the presentation is something I need to continue working on. As for the content, it hasn't changed too much. I spoke about how I want the teams to play, and how I want to get them there (my methodology). The ability to competently communicate your coaching style in an entertaining why is a hugely valuable skill.

Lastly, this allows me to get out in front of a lot of problems, and prevent them from arising. For example, explaining to the parents why we want to build from the back, and warning them that mistakes are inevitable, should help prevent dissent when said mistakes are made. Letting families know that players won't be shuffled to various positions all around the field will prevent conversations where the parent of the left back asks if their child can play striker next weekend. And extending an open line of communication by giving out my email and phone number will hopefully reassure them that I am a reasonable human being, and that they can come to me with any questions or concerns they have before they become major problems.

I heavily recommend any coaches reading this to start preparing a slideshow to give to your families before the start of your next season. Even if you've already been working with your current team, even if you think the families are already bought in to your style of play and coaching methodology, do it anyways. Maybe there is a family who will learn something new, or maybe it will help prepare you for a job and a team next season that you don't know you will have yet. At the very least, it will make you reflect on your beliefs, ideas, and influences as a coach, and for that reason alone, it is worth it.

Below is a video of the presentation I gave to my teams this season.


Practice Structure and Sequencing: Impulse/Reaction Training

To be honest, as soon as I published my last post on my practice structure, I hated the word choice for this part of my training sessions. It doesn't quite convey the somewhat nebulous idea in my head of what I want to get out of this part of training. Still, I heard it most adequately expressed by Jurgen Klopp, in the below quote:

You can’t tell the players ‘you stand here and, if this happens, you run there’. Instead, you have to train the impulse. It has to be an impulse to move into a ball-winning position immediately after losing the ball.

You don’t teach a situation, you teach the impulse until it becomes a natural action.
— Jurgen Klopp

In this particular example, he's speaking about how he gets his teams to win the ball back as soon as they lose it, a trait I coach in to my teams as well. The principle of training certain reactions or impulses to happen automatically is one I use in just about every session I coach. That is not to say I don't explicitly take players through particular scenarios, but the sequence this occurs in during a single training session, and through out a season, generally places this impulse or reaction as the first priority.

Typically in the 2nd part of a 'traditional' training session, a warmup is followed by a 'technical' exercise, focusing on the technical aspect of whatever the focus of the session is that day. When I plan training, I think about what action or sequence of events in a game is the most common and/or important part of what I want to work on that day, and use that for my (poorly named) impulse/reaction training. By transplanting a part of the game into your training, hopefully the technical, tactical, and physical elements are brought together as holistically and realistically as possible. While I do frequently use rondos as this 2nd part of a training session, I also like to use unopposed passing exercises, team pattern play, small sided games, or even finishing exercises. 

As an example, I knew that I wanted to work with my team on defending. When we attack, we build from the back, so insuring that we didn't give up any goals while we do so was important to me. Using the idea of training the players' reactions during play, I thought about what I would want to happen when we defend in this particular scenario. First, I'd want instant pressure from which ever players were closest to the ball. I'd also want the rest of the team to shrink together to protect the goal, and insure that the other team couldn't march straight through us and score. Below is an exercise I used that I felt encouraged the 'impulses' I wanted to see from my team when defending:


Part of the sequencing and exercise selection process means choosing things that you are ignoring as well. In the above exercise for example, some variables I didn't incorporate are: positions, a goal and goalkeeper, defending 1v1, man marking, and a million other things. I chose to focus intensively on players collectively shrinking and pressuring the instant the ball is lost, and how to pressure as part of a unit (only 2 players in this case) to win it back. Some of these details will be covered in later parts of a session or a season, or might be things I'll choose to cover even further down the line.

What I'm looking to get out of this part of practice is a very repetitive, predictable sequence of events that will carry on through the rest of practice, allowing me to layer in nuance at a later time. There's no doubt in my mind that Klopp does work on specific defensive scenarios, roles, and responsibilities. But by automating certain aspects of decision making and technique, you can get players operating more efficiently as a single, cohesive unit. If one or two players press like maniacs when defending, and the rest sort of jog aimlessly towards the ball, it won't matter how individually great those 2 players press; somewhere there will be space for the other team to exploit. In properly trained teams, there is a clear framework the team is operating from: we attack like this, we defend like that; when I lose it I do this, when I win it I do that. Hammering home these reactions, these impulses, is a fundamental part of establishing a true style of play.

*A link to the full Klopp article can be found here:


Practice Structure and Sequencing: Rondos

One thing that I've given a lot of thought to over the years is the structure of my practices. Every coach, team, club federation, and coaching education program has some sort of template they recommend or follow. The most common template usually follows this model:

  • Warmup
  • Technical Exercise
  • Tactical Exercise
  • Game

With such a basic template, there are endless ways to vary it, or blend elements together. Usually the sequencing involves starting at the individual level, and working towards the collective execution of a particular play or action. This was the template I was first introduced to in my E level license course, the lowest possible credential to coach competitive soccer. It's a valid template, but I have found myself consistently moving away from it, both in a practical sense, and in how I frame each sequence or progression in training in my head.

I would describe my sessions and exercise choice as looking more like this:

  • Rondos (basic)
  • Reaction/Impulse training
  • (Very) Structured play/game
  • Less structured play/game

Starting with rondos, rather than the type of warmup I generally see most teams doing, right away gets the players some meaningful touches on the ball. I've started off training with rondos with all my teams: girls high school, boys U14-U15, and boys U9-U11. At the younger ages, the players don't really need a classic 'warmup' routine, in my experience. At the older ages, I've set aside time for that type of work either in between rounds, or with one group in the rondos and one group outside stretching, doing dynamic movements, etc. Especially at club level training only 3 hours a week, setting aside 15-20 minutes each day exclusively for 'warming up' would be a massive waste of 15-20% of our time. In the rondos, generally 4v1/3v1 or a 10v2, I can also introduce the basics of that day's theme. If it's building out of the back, then I'll hammer home body shape and passing technique. If it's high pressing, then I'll focus on the defenders forcing certain passes.

I've found several advantages with minimizing variation in these basic rondos. The first is that after the the first couple sessions, you don't need to teach the drill itself. Especially at the younger ages, knowing which cone to stand at or move to next, what to do if the ball goes out, etc. is often a struggle with the introduction of each new exercise. Instead of having to worry about those details, players can instead focus on the technical and tactical requirements the coach has set. In a 4v1 rondo for example, the defender knows if an attacker kicks the ball out, they are required to take that player's spot on the outside of the grid. Once they've done this a few times, their reactions get quicker, and they end up sprinting to the outside of the grid immediately. BOOM! Now they are working on improving their attacking transitions! The opposite is true for the defenders. Once they understand that a bad pass means they must go into the middle and defend... Now they're sprinting to win the ball back in the first 5 seconds! This applies to pass quality, body shape, pass choice, communication, and a million other things. By keeping the exercise consistent, players can focus on their soccer, rather than on cones or pinnies or where a new ball starts.

Another advantage with keeping the start of practice consistent is that the familiarity can put them into a training mindset. Environmental factors trigger certain responses in everyone: the first cup of coffee in the morning, pulling up to the stop sign near your house, or the intro song to your favorite TV series are all good examples. However, so much of this is on you as the coach. If the start of practice is low-intensity, and you don't demand a high level of performance, then that is the attitude they will start every session with.

A benefit to my coaching is it eases the burden on me from a planning stand point. I don't need to reinvent the wheel to start every session. It is rather about small tweaks like changing the groups of players, grid dimensions, grid placement on the field, the length of each round, or what coaching points to emphasize. Much like the benefits to the players, I can focus on the impact I want to have on the way we play, rather than coming up with something new and novel out of nothing.

Below is a video of a the most frequent rondo progression I use, 4v0 and 4v1. The 2 parts were shot about a year apart, and the technical improvement is noticeable.


I'll cover the second part of my training in a follow up post.