Soccer Coaching Tips for Travel Teams
Premium Article for Soccer Travel Coaches
What are your objectives as a Soccer Coach?
What can you do as a Soccer Coach to help your players and team be successful?
Evaluating Rec and Travel Soccer Players
Soccer Formations and Styles of Play
Critical Soccer Skills

Some tips that can make a big difference (these apply mostly to Rec teams and young travel teams):

  1. Teach Coaching Rule No. 3 - This can be worth 2 goals per game and teaches your players how to correctly defend throw-ins, punts, goal kicks and free-kicks, which are most of the "re-starts" during a game. If you don't defend these correctly your opponent can score or advance into scoring position, but if you do, your team has the opportunity to gain possession of the ball.
  2. Putting your most athletic player at Stopper can be worth 2 or more goals per game. Read Stopper Importance for a letter from a U-13 coach who experimented by playing his most athletic player at Goalie the first half and playing a 2-2-1-2 formation, and at Stopper the second half and playing a 2-1-2-2 formation. The result was 1-1 in the first half and 5-1 in the second, for a final score of 6-2. Also see Stopper -- How To Select and Stopper Movement
  3. The following is from "Positioning Tips" on Premium: You MUST Control the "Center of the Field" (the area between the 2 goals). You MUST stay strong in the "Center of the Field" (between the 2 goals) or you will probably lose; let your opponent have the "wings". In fact, encourage your opponent to attack down the wings (aka the sidelines or "touch lines"), they will run twice as much as your players, your players will have plenty of time to "recover" by dropping back into a defensive position, and most opponents can't score from there; just DON'T give up the "Center of the Field" and allow easy goals). If you need to "hide" some timid, unskilled players think about a 2-1-3-1 or 3-1-4-2 formation and put the weak players at RMF or LMF, and strong players at CFB, Stopper and CMF.
  4. Try to find a Goalie who is better at Goalie than in the field. If you have a great team, you don't need to worry about this, but if you have a typical Rec team, you have some good players, some fast players and some slow players. You want to put your players where they can be successful and where your team has the best chance of being successful. Sometimes a big, slow kid can be a good Goalie if he has decent hands, can punt the ball, and stays alert and shifts from side to side to maintain good position in the goal. His or her weakness might be coming out on ground balls. You can test a player's hands by throwing the ball at them to see if they can catch it or deflect it (how to do this is explained in Premium at Goalkeeping (how to teach soccer goalkeeping). Tell this type of player that if there's pressure, to just come out and kick away ground balls (it's safer to kick them hard toward the sideline, or even over the endline so the opponent gets a throw-in or a corner kick than to risk a mis-kick in the Center).

New Premium Article for Travel and High School Coaches: Attacking Runs and Tactics To Create Scoring and Penetration Opportunities. This discusses tactics that can distract or confuse defenders and pull them out of position, such as a "Bent Run" (which I think is better than a Diagonal Run"), Checking Off, Crossover Run, Hook Run, Overlapping Run, Post-Up Run, and concepts of Third Man Running and Off-The-Ball Attacking such as Movement Off The Ball and Attacking by creating and playing the ball to open space, such as Through Balls and Switching the Play.

What are your objectives? Here are some ideas:

  1. Most coaches want to have fun. I think having fun is the most important thing in youth soccer. If it's fun players will want to come to practice - if it isn't fun players will stop playing or won't enjoy it. For most players, parents and coaches, it's more fun to win than to lose (I never regretted losing a well-played game where my team was competitive, but no one likes getting killed).
  2. Give your players a chance to be successful as players and as a team. This means teaching them the skills they need to know so they can have a chance of being successful. It means teaching players the basic skills they will need to be successful and motivating them to play hard and do their best. It also means choosing a Formation and "Style of Play" that suits your team and not forcing your team to play a Formation or Style of Play that doesn't suit them.

What can you do as a Coach to help your players and team be successful? I can think of several things:

  1. Keep things organized and set the example by being on time or early. If you have a problem with staying organized, recruit a parent who is organized to help you. There is probably such a parent on your team, and if you aren't organized and he or she is, that parent is probably hoping you will ask for help.
  2. Have fun, productive practices that your players want to attend. One of the keys to success of the Soccerhelp system is fun and effective practices. I used to have 15 year old Travel players who wanted to practice with my U-16 Rec team even though they weren't on it. The reason is that we had fun. All this means is that I was there on time, ready to start playing the SoccerHelp Practice Games. Because the Practice Games are easy to manage, it wasn't a problem having extra players. And yes, I still gave out patches to my U-16 team for bravery and other things. If you use our Practice Games and keep the players active, they will have fun and improve - it's that simple. If you have less than 80% practice attendance, you really should try our Practice Games and patches. Practice attendance is critical to having a good team. If your practices are efficient and effective (as SoccerHelp practices are), you can achieve 3 times as much per practice, and 4 practices will be equal to what it takes some coaches 12 practices to achieve. If you read the Testimonials, you will see that coaches have a 90% to 100% attendance and kids even practice at home in order to earn patches.
  3. Evaluate your players so you know their strengths and weaknesses. There are articles on Premium titled Evaluating Rec Soccer Players and Evaluating Select Players. Here are some things to you need to know about your Rec players starting at U-8 or U-10: speed (fast, average or slow), endurance, skills (passing/receiving, throw-ins, lofted passes (chips) and ability to clear the ball, toughness/bravery, aggressiveness. For Select Players also add: the ability to play quickly, and understanding the use of open space and movement off the ball (on Premium there's a list of Tryout Tips and a Tryout Evaluation Form for Select Players). For Rec players, have a 40-step foot race; a 10-minute throw-in session (so you can see who can make a long throw in - consider having midfielders take all the throw-ins); play "Small Sided Scrimmage Without A Goalie" to see who is a natural at various positions; play the "2 Team Keepaway Game" and watch for aggressiveness, leadership, "strength on the ball" and teamwork; and test Passing, Dribbling, Chipping and Clearing skills (use the Dribble Across A Square, Passing Pairs, Chips/Lofted Passes, and Dribble Around Cone and Pass Relay Race games to test skills). The articles tell you how to conduct the evaluations.
  4. Choose a Formation and Style of Play that suits your team instead of forcing your team to play a Formation or Style of Play that doesn't suit them. This doesn't apply to U-6, and if you don't use a Formation or Style of Play, skip this, but if you use a Formation or Style of Play (such as "Pushing Up" or "Defending Deep"), here are some suggestions. The biggest mistake many coaches make is to force their team to play a Formation or Style of Play that dooms their team to failure; the fastest way to help your team be successful is to choose a Formation and Style of Play that gives your team the BEST chance to be successful. If your team is losing most of its games and your players are unhappy, ask yourself if the problem might be the Formation or Style of Play. Premium has a great deal of information about Formations and Styles of Play. There are articles about 4v4, 5v5, 6v6, 7v7, 8v8, 9v9 and 11v11 formations; about formations that use a Stopper, and that use a Sweeper; about how far you can "Push Up" without giving up breakaways; whether you should "Defend Deep"; and about the responsibilities of players in various formations (e.g., Who should pressure an onball attacker in the corner near your goal? The near FB, the Stopper or the near MF? See Positioning Tips ).
  5. Teach your players the skills they need to be successful. The critical skills are: dribbling, inside-of-foot pass, receiving with the inside-of-foot, and kicking the ball (a Chip/Lofted Pass and how to clear the ball). If you aren't sure how to teach them, do the following (for U-6, just play the Practice Games - they teach dribbling, kicking and are fun):

    -- To teach Dribbling, simply play Dribble Across A Square , Dribble Around Cone and Pass Relay Race, and other SoccerHelp Practice Games at practice. If you coach U-6, play Hit The Coach, Follow The Leader, Soccer Bees, Animal Soccer and other Practice Games. Almost all the U-6 games focus on dribbling and kicking a ball so the kids will become comfortable with a soccer ball and enjoy playing.

    -- Over 75% of all passes & receptions are made using the inside-of-the-foot. To be a good player, a child must learn the correct technique for the inside-of-foot "push" pass, yet over 50% of youth players use incorrect technique. The result is passes that are inaccurate, don't have the right pace or don't stay on the ground. It's important to teach proper technique at an early age because if a child hasn't learned the proper technique by U-10, it's hard to correct the improper technique. To teach Inside-of-Foot pass go to "Skills" or on Premium to Overview Of How To Teach Inside-of-Foot Passing & Receiving, Diagnosing & Solving Problems With 2-Touch Passing With Inside-of-Foot, Diagnosing & Solving Problems With Inside-of-Foot Receiving, or Detailed Directions For Teaching Inside-of-Foot Pass. Here are some tips: Be sure the "plant foot" is pointing toward the target (The hips will face the direction the plant foot is pointing which means the kicking foot will naturally kick the ball in that direction. Try it.). Raise the toes so the foot is parallel to the ground and lock the ankle. Bend the kicking leg slightly (not a straight leg - there's no power in that). Strike the ball with the solid part of the foot just below the ankle bone, not with the front of the foot - the front of the foot is not as firm and will tend to bend, and passes will be inaccurate. Teach the proper motion by first having the player place his striking foot flat against the back of the ball (about 5" above the ground) and pushing the ball toward the target and following through toward the target. (A push and smooth follow-through; not a jab).

    -- To teach how to kick the ball, see "Skills". If you haven't been taught how to properly kick a soccer ball, I also recommend you buy a DVD that has a good demonstration of how to teach kicking. 3 that I recommend are: Just Kickin' It, Soccer Success One On One Coaching (Basic and Intermediate Skills) DVD, Mia Hamm Soccer Secrets DVD.

David at