The mainstay of the soccer coach is soccer practice. Most coaches spend hours each week coaching players during practice. The uninformed, lazy coach just rolls up to practice without thinking about how the practice session is designed or how they will run it. That’s a recipe for poor performance, lack of motivation and no improvement from players, other coaches, and parents. However, the smart coach leaves nothing to chance. They prepare before, have key principles they stick to during, and critically appraise their performance after the practice. Here, we’ve put together the 39 top tips for soccer coaches to run smooth practice sessions. These tips will ensure you’re developing not just quality soccer players but quality coaching habits and attitudes in your own practice. So, if you want sour best tips for coaching soccer practice, read on.
- Leave your emotions/stresses/ego at home. You might have had a stressful day. Maybe someone cut you up in the car on the way to practice. Maybe you hope to be a pro coach one day and feel like amateur or kids coaching is beneath you. No matter what stresses you have, no matter how much you want to achieve in your career, you need to leave all that at home and be fully present at the soccer practice. You owe it to the players you’re coaching.
- Know where you’re going. Simply put, you should prepare the journey to practice so you don’t get lost. You’re the coach, so you need to be there early, preferably before any of the players turn up. So don’t get lost on the way!
- Check with the site manager. It’s always good practice to give the booking or site manager at the soccer practice location a quick call to check that you’re still booked in for the slot you anticipated. Do this with enough time to let the players know if anything us amiss. Best to be sure!
- Check the traffic and give yourself enough time. Check the traffic on the route you plan to take. You can use a popular app like Waze to anticipate the journey time and make sure you leave enough time to get there early.
- Check the weather – make sure you have the right clothes. Keep an eye on the weather during the day so you can anticipate what it’s likely to be like when practice comes. And tailor your clothes to fit in with the weather. As the coach, you should try and look the part. If it’s cold, get some jogging bottoms or leggings. If it’s going to be extremely wet or rainy, bring your large waterproof coat.
- Plan your session beforehand. One of the most important things to do as a soccer coach is to plan out the practice beforehand. Ideally, you should have the whole training block prepared months before practice, so you at least know the core skills you are going to work on. Use this site or other resources to plan each step of the practice, from intro to warm up, to drills, to game time, to cool down. This really take the guesswork out of the practice. And you’ll never have to try and make stuff up on the day!
- Choose the right drills for the right age group and ability. While you are planning the practice it’s really important to choose the correct drills. If you’re coaching experienced adults who have good technical ability, the drills and tactics you can practice are likely to include a higher level of technical requirements, as well as complexity in design. But, if you’re coaching kids, you need to keep it much simpler. These all exist along a continuum of complexity, so make sure you’re choosing the right ones for your players’ age group and ability.
- Understand WHY you are doing each drill. Don’t just randomly pick a bunch of drills to do in the soccer practice. That’s a guaranteed way to prevent player development and lose the interest of the players. You need to choose the right drill based on the specific needs of your group of players. However, you also need to take into account the time of the season, how demanding the games have been, your opposition, the state of the players, the ‘fun’ element etc. We’ve written a detailed blog post about choosing the right soccer drill to help you decide what to use and when.
- Bring the right equipment. If you’ve planned your soccer practice well, you should know what type of equipment you are going to need. So, you can make sure you’ve got everything you need, and can get it ready so you don’t forget it. Not sure what equipment you might need? Check out our post with the top equipment for a soccer coach.
- Check the state of the equipment. It’s always good practice to check the state of the equipment you’re going to use. As the coach, it’s your job to make sure the environment is safe for the players. This includes checking the equipment isn’t broken, damaged, or potentially dangerous. If it is, don’t risk it. Get some more or substitute in a different drill for the one you had planned.
- Ask for support (if you need it). If you know there’s going to be times when it’s too much for just you to set-up the practice and coach the players, ask for help. If you’ve got an assistant, their role should be very clear to them. However, you could ask one of the senior players to help you. If you’re coaching kids, you could ask one of the parents to help. Whoever you choose to support you, you should be very clear to them about their role. For example, you may only want them to set up or take down equipment. Or maybe just to help collect footballs, or to help watching over drills that you can’t oversee.
- Remind everyone of start time and location. If you have a group communication channel for the players and you’re able to contact them, it’s always great to remind them earlier in the day of the time and place of the soccer practice. This could be the difference between only getting 6 players show up for practice, or having a full squad there on time, ready and raring to go.
- Pack your bag and double check it. Pack your bag early and double check that you’ve included everything you need for the practice against your plan. We’ve written an in-depth post that outlines what should be a soccer coach’s bag.
Arrival & Session Start Tips
- Get there early. If you’ve planned your journey well, you should be arriving early. You should aim to get to the location at least 30 minutes before the scheduled start time. This should give you enough time to prepare what you need to ensure soccer practice starts on time and runs smoothly.
- Set up the equipment for the first one or two drills. You should aim to get the equipment put out before the practice starts for at least the warm-up and the first drill or two. If you’ve planned well, you should know what these are, and how much space you need. Once these are all set-up, the next drills can be set-up by you and/or your support while practice is happening.
- Early arrivals can support you. If a player or parent has arrived early as well, they’re the perfect person to help you set-up the equipment before the session starts. Ask them for help. Make good use of them and be clear about how you want the gear laid out.
- Check off your expected attendees against your list. You should have an expected attendee list that you keep with you. As people start to arrive, you should discretely check them off against your list. This will help you keep check of who does or doesn’t show up for practice. Over the course of a soccer season, you can clearly see how the attendance of each player is tracking. If your team selection is based on attendance at practice, having some solid data to work from can really help your decision making and support your discussions with players.
- Identify any new people or first-timers. It’s not uncommon for players to bring friends with them, or for new people to turn up to your practice, Therefore, you need to identify these people early. As coach, it’s your job to help them fit in quickly and make them feel welcome. A good tip is to introduce them to one or two other players before practice starts, or to ask a senior player to keep an eye on them.
- Give players a few minutes before practice starts. Once most of your players arrive, giving them a little time to mingle and chat before soccer practice starts properly is a great tactic to increase moral, friendships and understanding between players. This is also a great time for you to take interest in your players (and/or their parents) so use it wisely to ask questions and build some genuine rapport with them.
- Give players an overview of the session plan. Once you call the soccer practice to start, you should give a very brief overview of the session ahead. Telling the players what to expect can help them to get mentally prepared for what’s to come. You should especially outline the reasons why you’re about to do what you have planned. For example, if you have a very technical session planned with drills to improve control and passing, tell them you want to spend a few weeks improving this part of their game. Don’t forget to tell them how this can carryover into the matches they play.
- Check for injuries. You should always check with the players if anyone has any injuries or potential niggles that could stop them from performing properly in the session. If anyone does have pain or an injury, ideally, they should not take part in the session. Another option is to scale back some of the drills to allow them to do some pain-free work separately.
- Visual check of the playing area. As we have mentioned, it is the soccer coach’s responsibility for making sure all players are safe during the soccer training. As such, it’s vital that you carry out a visual check of the playing area you’re about to perform on. You should check for anything that could cause harm to the players. In addition, if you’re playing on grass or a field, there may be areas of the field that are very wet, or there may be divets/bobbles or holes in the field. If this is the case, use your equipment to clearly mark them and amend your playing area to make sure you stay clear of these areas. Tell the players if there are any areas they should be avoiding
- Visual check of all players’ gear and kit. It’s also good practice to check the clothes and equipment the players are using. Although you don’t need to do an official boot check (like a referee might do before a game), you should certainly be aware of what players are wearing and advise them if they need to change anything. For example, wearing shin pads if you want them to, or removing jewelry, or replacing their footwear with something more appropriate to the playing surface.
- Decide on the Goalkeeper’s training. If you have any goalkeepers in attendance, you need to decide if they will train with the outfield players for all, some or none of the soccer session. If you want them to do some of their own training, you’ll need to decide on their drills beforehand (as with the normal session). You will also benefit from having an assistant to take those drills, or pairing multiple goalkeepers up so they can support each other with the drills.
Tips for the Soccer Practice
- Feedback – a lot. Feedback is absolutely fundamental to the development of all soccer players. Players need to understand if they’re doing something right, or if they could improve. You should aim to give feedback to every player at every drill or routine. It’s best to keep feedback to a single issue at a time, and keep it sharp and to the point. The less you have to make the players think, the better.
- Stick to your plan, but be flexible. Although having a plan for the practice is absolutely essential, you also need to be flexible enough to adapt it on the fly if needed. Maybe fewer people turn up than expected. Maybe you lose a few soccer balls to the bushes/garden, or a piece of equipment breaks. These situations may mean the drills or routines you had practiced might not work. Therefore, you need to know how to amend or adapt the drills to cater for this. Or even have whole new drills in your back pocket you can use at short notice to solve these problems.
- Use your players first names – often. In his 1936 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie discusses how the use of someone’s first name can positively influence their perception of you. This is still true today. As a soccer coach, you need to bring your players onto your side to encourage them to follow your direction and leadership. So make sure you use players’ first names wherever you can.
- Demonstrate each drill. Quickly. As you introduce each drill or routine, you should be able to demonstrate it with some basic competency. You may need to pick a player or 2 to demonstrate it with them, and you should be able to talk them through it in simple terms to demonstrate it to the rest of the players. However, do this as quickly as possible for them to be able to get going and do the drill themselves. Remember, you can always add complexity to the drill once players have started doing the basic version (see next!).
- Start slow, start easy. You should consider starting each drill in its simplest form. This means players don’t have too much time standing around watching demonstrations. Then, when players have got the hang of the simple version, you can progress it by adding one progression at a time. Or you can increase the difficulty or complexity. However, these progressions should be well thought through, and your experience as a soccer coach should come into play. The most experienced coaches are usually very good at deciding when to scale drills up or down based on the abilities of their players.
- The carrot beats the stick in almost all cases. We’ve talked about giving feedback, which is super important. However, it’s important to think about the type of feedback you’re giving. You should be giving positive feedback wherever possible. As a rule of thumb, at least three-quarters of your feedback should be positive encouragement. Highlight the good things your players do. Encourage their effort, even if the outcome isn’t positive.
- Negative feedback should be specific. If you do need to give constructive feedback, make sure you make it extremely specific so the player knows HOW they can improve next time. Simple negative comments like ‘no good’ or ‘you’re not doing it right’ are completely pointless and do nothing but demotivate. And highlight your inadequacy as a soccer coach! However, specific instructions such as ‘next time, get your head over the ball’ or ‘keep your eye on the ball’ are far more helpful and allows the player to focus on changing something the next time they do the drill.
- Keep it fun! The point of soccer practice is to develop the love of the game in players, especially younger players. The best way for players to improve, is for them to keep playing the game. And the best way to get them to keep playing and coming to practice is to make sure they enjoy themselves. If you’re coaching young players, their love for the game will mean they have a greater chance of continuing to play as they grow older. This is the best way that they are likely to improve over time.
- Keep players moving. Try your hardest to minimize the amount of time your players are just standing around doing nothing or watching. For example, you can make sure you are setting up the next drill while players are finishing the previous drill. A great idea is to have one game or drill that they always go to in between your main drills. For example, you could set up a little soccer tennis net to the side of the practice field. In between drills, you can send players to play soccer tennis for a couple of minutes, while you set up the next drill. This also keeps the session fun and keeps players interested.
- Demonstrate the right behaviors yourself. As well as practicing technical and physical skills, don’t forget you should also be practicing the right behaviors and decisions. You, as the coach, should set the example here and demonstrate the behaviors you want to foster in your players. If you get angry, can you expect them to stay patient and calm? If you are being inpatient, can you expect them to demonstrate patience? Show them how you want them to behave.
At the End & After the Soccer Practice
- Summarize the session. At the end of the session, you should get the players together and briefly summarize the session. You should remind them of the skills you’ve been working on and why. You should highlight anything they did well, as well as something they could improve on. You should also tell them how the next session is going to build on what you’ve been practicing. Additionally, you should outline how the skills you’ve been working on could translate to the next game or a game situation. This allows them to better see the context of the training session.
- Ask for feedback. If you have senior players whose opinions you value (or parents who you know particularly well), you should seek their feedback about your performance within the session. You should ask them open questions about what they thought went well or not so well. You can use their answers to develop your own soccer coaching practice and design better sessions in future practices or training.
- Praise individuals. If you’ve been particularly impressed with any individual players, you should be sure to mention it to them (and their parents, if you are coaching young players). You should be specific about how they performed. You should also take this as an opportunity to individually praise effort from players (not just outcomes).
- Ask players to help you with equipment. If you need to collect equipment from around the playing area, you should make sure to ask your players to help collect them. Many hands make light work. You could even include this within the cool-down section to kill two birds with one stone.
- Follow-up communication. If you have a group communication method, follow-up with a thank you message to those players that showed up to practice and include a positive message about what the session achieved. A little extra love to the players could be the difference they need to perform in the next game, or to turn up to practice again.
There you have it, out top tips to help you design and deliver a great soccer coaching practice session.
You don’t even need to use all of these tactics. Just pick one or two each time and make sure you implement them.
Then, before you know it, you’ll be doing most of them without thinking.