Category: Youth Coaching

Getting Better as a Youth Soccer Coach

When I was a Soccer Youth Head Coach, in England and America, I sometimes struggled with how to manage the well-intentioned, high level of energy, that parents and/or guardians brought to the Soccer pitch.

At that time I hadn’t concieved my Possession with Purpose analytical approach, but if I had, I would certainly have followed it.

Why, because I think and feel there is great value in understanding some of the basic activities of soccer, mesauring those activities, and using those results to drive improvement.  And the earlier in the development of soccer the better in understanding that while this game is measured by wins, draws, and losses, it isn’t just about scoring goals – it’s about preventing them too.

If you’re an aspiring soccer Head Coach, new or old, I think this approach in leveraging parents/guardians to help you help the team is a great step towards getting better.

If that resonates with you, or even if it doesn’t, I think it’s worthy you take a few minutes to consider what I offer.

Before digging in, you should know up front, this entire approach works from my Strategic Possession with Purpose Family of Indices; the same analysis offered up at the 2014 World Conference on Science and Soccer.

And the same analysis used to evalute professional team performances within Major League Soccer, the English Premier League, the Bundesliga, La Liga, World Cup 2014 and the UEFA Champions League.

The End State is to measure team performance – ignoring results (points in the league table) in order to track and trend (analyze) individual and team performance with the intent of driving towards improvement.

In statistical terms the relationship (correlation) of my analyses (the Composite PWP Index to Points in the League Table) without counting points is (R2) .86.

In other words 86% of the time my own Index reflects the outputs in the League Table without counting points.

AND…. 86% of the time the winning teams execute the steps within PWP better than the losing team!

With that said here’s what to do.

  1. Split the pitch into thirds and place one parent at the entry point into your own defending final third and one at the entry point into your opponent’s defending final third.
  2. Next, place two parents at the middle of the pitch.
  3. Then place one parent at or near the end line on your defending side of the pitch and then one parent at the same position on the opponent’s defending side of the pitch.
  4. Give each parent a clipboard and pen (waterproof if necessary) and have them begin to count and keep track of certain ‘team’ data points.
  5. The two parents in the center of the pitch are to count and document (all) passes attempted and passes completed for each team (throw-ins and free kicks included) across the entire pitch.  If you have four parents then have two track passes attempted and two track passes completed, one for each team.
  6. The two parents at the entry to the defending final third are to count and document passes attempted and completed (within and into) the defending final third for each team. This also includes all throw-ins, crosses, corners and free kicks that are not specific shots taken on goal.  If you have four parents/guardians then have one each track passes attempted and passes completed separately for each team.
  7. Finally, the two parents on the end lines are to count and document shots taken, shots on goal, and goals scored for each team.

At the end of the game you will have a complete data base (by volume and percentage) that gives you the information to identify your team’s possession percentage, passing accuracy, penetration per possession, ability to generate shots per penetrating possession, what percentage of those shots taken were on goal and what percentage of those shots on goal that scored goals (your team attacking).

And since you collected data on your opponent you will also have all the data on how well your opponent did in those same categories against you (your team defending).

Pretty much meaning you’ve just captured the ENTIRE bell curve of activities I use to measure team performance at the very highest level in the World.

With that data you can now determine, analyze, and document/chart/track ways to improve your attacking as well as defending team performances.  And as each game occurs you continue to build a data.

This information is then used to help you develop new training plans that look to help the team improve where weaknesses exist.

I do not recommend keeping track of individual performance unless you have enough parents and players who are mature enough to deal with individual weaknesses.

This approach should have application at any level of soccer – to include premier, as well as select, recreational, ODP or elsewhere.  As a matter of opinion, I’d offer the closer you are to a higher level of play the more important this approach becomes.

Outcomes from this approach give data to set targets for improvement and the ability to measure the success in that improvement.

In addition, this approach also reinforces that Youth Soccer Development is not all about winning, it’s about getting better while trying to do the things teams need to do in order to win.

If any team wishes to take on this challenge, as a youth club, anywhere in America, send me your data and I will give you one month of analysis that includes preparing products I develop in my analysis of professional football clubs.

I may even publish those products, as examples, for others to learn from in future articles.

And if you are located in the Portland or Beaverton area send me a note and I will make every effort to visit a training session, and or game, to help better explain this approach.

Finally, my general analysis may also include some recommendations on what training plans/programs may help focus your team on key areas to improve.

Bottom line at the bottom:

There is value in understanding and tracking the basic activities that occur in a game of soccer.  It not only helps the players understand their larger role in this team game it also helps the parents understand the greater detail and responsibility you have as a coach to help others get better as a ‘team’.

In case you missed it; this year four Head Coaches from teams who finished near or bottom on the CPWP Strategic Index have already been sacked in MLS:

CPWP Strategic Index Week 31 MLS

And last year five of the six worst teams in performing the PWP steps had the Head Coaches sacked!

End of Season 2013 MLS Coaching Changes

Pretty compelling evidence that teams who perform better have Head Coaches who last longer… if you want to have success as a Youth Head Coach then I strongly suggest you adopt the measurement methods and analysis associated with PWP; with or without using Parents/Guardians.

If there are every any questions please feel free to contact me through Linked-in or through twitter; my twitter is @chrisgluckpwp.

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark.


Gluck: Coaching Youth Soccer Part III

I’ve waited a few months to put pen to paper on Part III, Coaching Youth Soccer because I wanted some more practical experience in our current environment – especially with the US Men’s National Team not making the World Cup.

For me this gets down to the nitty-gritty on teaching tacticsMore and more we see individual player performance evaluated through the use of individual statistics; so much so that the practice has found its way into youth development.   

I see this as a two edged sword:

  1. Good Side:  There is value in preparing players for professional development and the rigors they will face if they reach the highest levels of the game – video analysis is now part of the game as much as teams measuring player heart rate and kilometers traveled.
  2. Bad Side: There is some value in preparing players for professional development when counting event-based statistics.

Why the bad side?

Decisions made in soccer are constant and only some decisions result in an event-based statistic.

  • Sometimes the tackle not made adds far greater value than the tackle made.
  • Sometimes the shot not taken adds greater value than the shot taken.
  • Sometimes the backward or lateral pass adds greater value than an unsuccessful forward pass.
  • Sometimes the substitution not made is better than the substitution made.

All told, the best types of individual statistics are those that measure decisions made and whether or not they are successful or unsuccessful in preventing the opponent an advantage that leads to a goal.


  • Event-based statistics are an outcome based upon a decision relative to the linear play of soccer where it’s assumed that progress is either measured by:
  1. Forward ball movement
  2. and regress is measured by negative ball movement

As such, I figure my next in the series of Coaching Youth Soccer is discussing statistics.

  • Which and why to use,
  • When, and
  • How to apply them.

In case you missed it here’s my first two articles in this series:


I’m good with some individual statistics, like heart rate, kilometers traveled, finishing (Quality = goals scored per shots on goal) and goals scored (Quantity = number of goals scored).

As for ALL the other individual (event-based) statistics?

After five years of research, NO INDIVIDUAL (EVENT-BASED) SOCCER STATISTIC, outside of goals scored, has EVER had a strong correlation (an “r” > than .4 or < -.4) to points earned in the league table!

Soccer is a game where decision making at the highest levels drives results.

Event-based statistics don’t measure decision making – they measure an event AFTER a decision is made.

Sometimes the lack of an event-based statistic tells more about a player.

Most professional soccer games are made up of 13,500 to 18,000 decisions, per player, per game.

With 22 players on the pitch that’s roughly 300,000 to 400,000 decisions made (by both teams)  not counting the referee, linesmen, or coaching staff.

Opta usually measures about 80 possessions per player, per game.

With 22 players on the pitch that’s roughly 1,760 events occurred (by both teams) not counting the referee, linesmen, or coaching staff.

1,760 events occurred divided by 300,000 decisions made means (potentially) only .59% of the game is truly measured.

Are we measuring the tail of the dog, instead of the dog, when we rely solely on measuring event-based statistics in soccer?

So which statistics should we measure to try and capture what isn’t measured on the soccer pitch?

  • Team wise – these:
    • Possession
    • Accuracy
    • Penetration
    • Creation
    • Precision, and
    • Finishing

These team statistics measure event-based activities that can be used to intuit good or bad decision making in three areas of the pitch, the defending third, the middle third, and the attacking third.

These team statistics measure quality, in other words they intuit success equals a good decision.

These same statistics also provide quantity – the greater the quantity the more likely a team will make a mistake, yes?

The answer, for the most part, is no…  teams that show greater quantity also show greater quality and better results over time.  Why?

Those teams can afford to pay for players who are not only technically gifted but also mentally trained to minimize making mistakes by (consistently) showing greater control of the ball.

When you cede possession you cede control – when you cede control you increase your opportunities of making defensive mistakes that will cost you the game.

When do these team statistics get measured?

Every game – both your team and your opponent.  Possession with Purpose is built on the foundation that both teams play the game – therefore it’s just as important to know the success of your opponent, against you, as your own success against them.

In every instance, in every year and league measured, the difference between the two teams performance measurements has a greater correlation to points earned than either your attacking statistics or your opponent’s attacking statistics.




Using PWP as a Youth Coaching Tool

Since the inception of Possession with Purpose one of my goals was to try and develop a strategic set of indicators that can be used to assess team performance in both attacking and defending.  

The idea that it would garner the global interest that it has is unexpected – since publication the approach has been presented at the 2014 World Conference on Science and Soccer and the accompanying academic paper is scheduled for publication later this year through Routledge.  Needless to say I’m pretty ‘chuffed’ with those results.

But here’s the thing – I didn’t create my analytical approach for publication, I created it to be used by those who teach/coach the game of soccer to our youth.

Bottom line for me is an approach like this is intended to reinforce two things – 1) soccer is more than a sport it’s a passion, and 2) there really is more to this team sport than simply scoring goals.  And our youth will never – ever – get better if all they think about is being the one player who scores the goal!

So where am I going with this?

Over the course of the last three years I’ve been approached by three different youth organizations, or coaches who coach youth soccer.  In those discussions the coaches wanted to take my approach and apply it to their team.  Needless to say I was interested in how those efforts took place and offered that I would publish an article, at their behest, to document their observations (un-edited) on the approach and how they gained value from the approach.

So that said, Mr. Carr has provided me this feedback for your consideration.  What follows below is a direct quote from his document he sent me today:

I’d been keeping rudimentary statistics for my son’s club teams since his last season of U9 Academy. At first it was something I did because of my interest in sports statistics, and it kept me occupied during games instead of getting too engrossed in the game like some parents get.

But the stats I was collecting weren’t telling me anything other than what was obvious: goals, shots, etc. Then I read Chris’ Possession With Purpose, specifically in his blog post, “Getting Better as a Youth Soccer Coach”. In my son’s second U10 season I began to track events in the game as stated in that article and was able to not only track more events during games, but was able to identify trends in our own team as well as the opponent for future reference.

​I track each game live (no video review) so I may miss an event here or there, but it doesn’t really affect the overall trends. I share each game’s stats with the coach after each weekend, and also when I identify any trends that he might find useful in what he instructs. He loves the information and builds elements of it into his training plans.

For example, when I first started tracking I noticed we were letting too many pass completions in our defending third and he worked more on defensive positioning, anticipating passes and closing down defenders to some good results. He can also see how the stats correspond to what he observes during the game.

We don’t share the information with players because they’re too young to really grasp it yet, and he feels it interferes with them focusing on the important items of individual player development (touches, foot skills, patterns of play, etc.) For older youth players it may have more value to the players themselves. We mainly use it to identify points to work on and to establish a general style of the opponents we play for future reference.

It hasn’t been shared outside of our team yet because I wanted to get enough data first to see how it worked with our team.​ I do share with a couple of parents on our team who are stat junkies like me and they like what it shows. Sometimes it tells a story that contradicts what they saw at the game themselves. The great thing about PWP is that it’s team based — even though I track individual stats they aren’t the focus; it’s the team stats and trends that reveal the most about each game and season.

What I’ve been able to determine from our team over roughly 30 games is that total possession and passing accuracy don’t mean as much as you’d think in terms of determining a win versus a loss. For our team it’s final third penetration (pass attempts and completions in that third) as well as limiting too much possession in your own third. If your final third penetration (number of pass completions in final third divided by total pass completions) is 20% or above, you have a really good chance of getting a result in the game.

The former stats are important, as in you’d rather possess than not, but it’s not the tell-all stat that most think of when they watch halftime stats on TV. My son’s team has moved from a season of 6v6 at U10 to 8v8 at U11, but the overall trends are basically the same, even with the addition of two players on the field and larger field dimensions.

In closing:

I’m hopeful that others will take the thoughts offered, and analytical approach used through Possession with Purpose, and build from it.

And while some may think the outputs stemming from Possession with Purpose can’t be used, at the very highest level of domestic soccer in the United States, be advised – it’s not true.

Best, Chris

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

I also co-host the YellowcardedPod as well as the Rose City Soccer Show, and appear, monthly, on Soccer City PDX, the local Comcast Sports Northwest TV show covering the Portland Timbers.



Soccer Parents – Are You Getting What You Pay For?

Are you wondering whether or not the money you are investing, to help your child learn HOW to play soccer, is giving your child the best return?

If you are (perhaps?) these questions may add value in your decision making.

  • Does the head coach have a training plan (curriculum) set up for the next year and do they make it available to you?
  • Does the head coach have a performance plan set up to measure how well the child progresses as part of their individual training plan?
  • Does the head coach keep game statistics like passes attempted/completed both across the entire pitch as well as within and into the attacking final third?
  • Does the head coach constantly ‘direct’ (tell/yell at) players on where and when they need to be in certain places on the pitch?
  • Does the club, the head coach works for, have a training plan (curriculum) set up for each years’ expected development of the player and do they make it available to you?
  • Does the club Coaching Director have a history of dropping by training sessions to assess their head coaches?
  • Has the Coaching Director/Club published their coaching philosophy?
  • What is more important to you (as a parent) having your child on a “winning team” first, or first ensuring them the best opportunity to develop all their skills, regardless of result?

Now, the less obvious questions.

  • Does the head coach offer verbal guidance to players (on a regular basis) during training sessions?
  • Does the head coach watch and offer singular words or phrases during a game, to remind players about fundamental thinking they should be performing while playing the game?
    • These catchwords or phrases should not be ‘directions’ but key words that have meaning and help support their in-game thinking.

The most frequently used skill by a youth soccer player is not first touch, passing, shooting, running, or dribbling; it’s thinking and making decisions; what I call “mentality”.


In an 80+ minute game your child will probably make as many as 5,000 decisions with about 98% of them occurring while playing ‘without the ball’.

In other words they need to know where to be, when to be, and why to be where they need to be.

Don’t believe that?

Look at it this way.

  • In an 80 minute game most youth players average 50 or so touches (time where they possess to control the ball).
  • That’s roughly three or four total minutes of possessing the ball – in real time – per player for both teams per 80+minute game.
  • Said differently – for roughly 77 minutes during an 80 minute game players are playing soccer without the ball.  Every time a teammate or opponent touches that ball during the 77 minutes the child is making a decision on where to be, when to be, and why to be relative to ball location, their teammates and opponents.
  • And since 21 other players have an opportunity to touch that ball during those 77 minutes that equals (3 decisions – where, when, and why) times 77 minutes times 21 other players who could be possessing the ball.
  • Roughly 4,851 decisions without the ball.
  • That doesn’t take into account the decisions the child has to make while in possession of the ball.

A few other thoughts for your consideration.

Fact:  When I attended a training session run by the Coaching Director of a local soccer club, associated with the Portland Timbers, he told me that when his team loses (in a Developmental Soccer Academy league) the next weeks’ training is nothing but running.

I watched that training session and he was right – they spent ages running.

  • After 45 minutes or so of just running the lads split into 5 or 6 aside teams where two teams played and the third team ran.
  • The losing team of the small sided game than ran and that rotation lasted for the rest of the training session.
  • At no time did the coach provide any verbal guidance on any aspect of play.

My takeaway was winning is more important to this coaching director than child development.

I would not want my child anywhere near this coach.  And yet, he’s the coaching director?

How long do you think a coach in Major League Soccer would last if all their team did was run the following week after losing on the weekend?



Gifted Players.

To many times I see one or two dominant (athletically gifted) youth players who ‘control’ the ball (and game) through extensive dribbling against other players not as gifted.

What this really means is the other eight or nine field players on the team are simply ‘watching’ that player win them games.

If you happen to be the parent of a player who is athletically gifted, great, but help influence the coach to help them learn team play by playing in other areas of the pitch.

Good scouts will always spot athletically gifted players no matter where they play on the pitch.

The more they learn positions other than the dominant striker position the more prepared they will be to play at the next highest level.

If you happen to be the parent of a player who is not athletically gifted – neither you or your child should give up.

Encourage them to master the mentality part of the game quicker – there is always room for mentally strong players – the greatest example I can offer to local soccer supporters is Jack Jewsbury.

Never blessed with great speed, Jack just seemed to know where to be, when to be and why to be where he needed to be.

Many will disagree – but I’d offer it’s better to have a star player on a team where they don’t always get the ball in the attacking final third and score goals.

The more often a coach relies on one player to win the game the more the coach enables selfish soccer; selfish soccer doesn’t create great team players.


In closing:

If you’re a parent who pays to have their child trained in soccer, and the coach gets paid for providing that service then you have every right to ask they provide you their training plans and published philosophy.

It would be rude to your child if you didn’t.


Thanks in advance for your patience – this may have been more than you wanted to know?

Best, Chris

If interested, here’s my approach on Coaching Youth Soccer Part I and Coaching Youth Soccer Part II

If you have questions or need assistance let me know. @ChrisWGluck

Gluck: Fourth Year Anniversary Edition

My thanks to everyone who has supported my web site the last four years!

It’s been a learning experience for me and, I hope, for you too.

As the new year starts I’ve got at least five new articles planned; here’s a quick synopsis on what to expect:

  • Following up on Coaching Youth Soccer Part I and Coaching Youth Soccer Part II, I’ll be offering Coaching Youth Soccer Part III – digging into which team statistics to use, why, when, and how to use them.  For those who don’t know me these three articles highlight my coaching philosophy into one three word catchphrase “muscle memory mentality“.
  • Two new individual soccer statistics:   This (may?) be controversial – My intent is to submit two new, professional level, individual, soccer statistics that could transform the player market value system.

Said differently; are private statistics companies, like Prozone Sports, OPTA, and InStat (along with player agents) manipulating the player market value system by ignoring what might be the most logical, intuitive, individual soccer statistics ever?

  • Expected Points – An updated version of my previously created Expected Wins series of articles.  A follow on to what was offered at the World Conference on Science & Soccer 2017, Rennes, France.
  • Expected Goals – A new way to calculate this over-hyped soccer statistic that brings it a bit closer to reality.
  • World Cup 2018 Total Soccer Index; to include predicting the winners after round one is complete.

For now, in case you missed one or two, here’s my rundown on the top five articles in each of the last four years.

In Closing:

  • I called for Jurgen Klinsmann to be sacked after WC 2014 because his tactics and in-game adjustments weren’t up to snuff.  Three years later the rest of the american mainstream soccer media world agreed and Klinsmann was sacked.
  • I called for Sunil Gulati to be ‘ousted’ after WC 2014 because his leadership in helping youth development and head coach selection weren’t up to snuff. Three years later the rest of the american mainstream soccer media world agreed and Gulati is out.
  • In hindsight – I wonder where we’d be in youth soccer development if we’d have made those decisions three years ago?
  • No, I do not favor Caleb Porter as the next US Men’s National Team head coach.  I like Caleb, he’s a stand-up guy and always took time to share and listen.  That said, in my opinion, he’s not (consistently) good enough at reading in game situations and making tactical adjustments that lead to better performances; the exact same issue I had with Jurgen Klinsmann.  .
  • I’m hopeful either Eric Wynalda or Steve Gans are elected as the next United States Soccer Federation President; electing Kathy Carter is a NO-GO in my view as there’s perceived ‘collusion’ between MLS and SUM.  As a retired Air-Force veteran perception is reality until proven otherwise – some may disagree?

I wish you all the best for the new year.




Gluck: Coaching Youth #Soccer Part II

In my most recent article, Coaching Youth Soccer Part I, I spoke about decision making.

If you struggle making decisions you’ll struggle knowing how to play soccer.

For what it is worth here’s how I teach decision making as part of coaching players how to play soccer.

My main training tool is Rondo.  My training plans are mostly made up of “Rondo” sessions intended to use EVERY INCH of the pitch.

The critical part of these sessions is coaching muscle memory mentality/actions players need to have relative to where they are on the pitch and how near or far the defenders are.

An expectation going in is the players have already begun to master technical skills they need to control the ball. 

Muscle Memory Mentality; using Rondo.

  1. Five vs four or three or two Rondo’s can be used to teach how to play soccer across the entire pitch.
  2. Set up controls and boundaries for ‘recycling and penetrating passes as needed’.
  3. Let them know which part of hte pitch they are working in and reinforce what technical skills they need to execute based upon defenders and pitch location.
  4. For example, if you set up your rondo session in the defending final third do not encourage dribbling skills – encourage controlled passing and quick ball movement (two-touch soccer preferred) while allowing them opportunities to ‘clear the ball’ and/or recycle the ball to the keeper.
  5. When setting up the same rondo in the attacking third encourage one touch soccer as well as dribbling skills leading to shots taken.  Also recognizing that ‘if it’s not there’ they should recycle the ball back to open space and restart anew.

All told one rondo session of five vs four or three or two can be set up to represent any area of the pitch.

To change things up add ‘tactical passing/ball movement’ requirements where the players can be rewarded with a shot on goal/point when they’ve successfully completed the task.

I ensure all players are trained in all aspects of the rondo session.

A winger who learns how a fullback is going to play by playing that role is going to be a better winger.

A forward who learns how a center-back is going to play is going to be a better forward.

As the end of the training session nears put them into competitive scrimmages where they can practice what was trained.

In closing.

I work to help the players better understand how their technical skills can be used relative to: 

  1. Decision making,
  2. Positional Shape,
  3. Communication,
  4. Control, and
  5. Risk.

It takes training to turn ‘guidance’ into ‘instinct’.

When your play becomes instinct you naturally do it quicker.

Best, Chris

Gluck: Coaching Youth #Soccer Part I

Soccer is a global sport – and some say it’s the largest, organized, youth sport in the United States Why, in a country with such a huge population of youth soccer players, do we see ourselves failing to qualify for the World Cup? 

I don’t think it’s because we aren’t teaching players the mechanics of technical skills used in soccer I think it’s because we aren’t teaching players HOW to play controlled soccer once the mechanics are mastered.

In order to do this I submit coaches must know HOW to teach players HOW to play soccer. 

  • Decision Making:  In an 80+ minute game your child will probably make as many as 13,000 to 15,000 decisions with about 98% of them occurring while playing ‘without the ball’.
    • That’s roughly three or four total minutes of possessing the ball – in real time – per player for both teams per 80+minute game.
    • Said differently – for roughly 77 minutes during an 80 minute game players are playing soccer without the ball.  Every time a teammate or opponent touches that ball during the 77 minutes the child is making a decision on where to be, when to be, and why to be relative to ball location, their teammates and opponents.
    • If you want to read the details on how I got to those numbers additional information is provided after the end of this article.

If you struggle making decisions you’ll struggle knowing how to play soccer.

  • Players need to know where to be, when to be, and why to be where they need to be. 
    • Between 95% and 98% of a game players play without the ball – therefore it’s critical to help them understand where to be, when to be and why to be.  
  • Positional shape.
    • When your team has the ball or doesn’t have the ball.
    • Players need to know where they need to be in relation to teammates and opponents when they do or don’t have the ball.
    • In a 90+ minute game players play without the ball 98% of the time, this is pretty crucial.
  • Two touch passing.
    • In a 90+ minute game most teams average over 450-550 passes per game.
    • When playing controlled possession-based soccer players need to be able to receive the ball under pressure, turn, and pass the ball, under pressure, in order to retain possession.
    • The more they train two (and eventually one) touch passing the better.
  • Dribbling.  Why is dribbling a controlled possession-based skill?
    • Dribbling is a location specific skill that should only be taught to players who have FIRST mastered the first/second touch and the ability to turn the ball in at least three different directions.
    • Dribbling should only be used where risk, time, and space warrant its use.  Dribbling should rarely occur in the defending final third unless there are acres of space from the nearest opponent; and that’s usually not dribbling with the ball – it’s running with the ball and that’s a different technical skill.
    • In a 90+ minute game, most professional players run eight to nine kilometers, only 200 of those kilometers include close movement with the ball at the feet; dribbling doesn’t occur as often as we think.
  • Standardized communication.
    • Every coach (and club) should have a standardized list of seven or eight words or phrases that have meaning to the players so that they can communicate with those players when on the sidelines.
    • Directing players where to go and what to do, during a game, is NOT my preferred method of coaching; for me that approach is thinking for the player.
    • I’d prefer not to think for players, this is the time for them to learn, make mistakes, and think for themselves.
    • Some words and phrases you may hear from me are: 1) control, 2) risk, 3) settle, 4) keep it simple, 5) shape, 6) push-up, 7) clear, and 8) overload.
    • If I’m saying these words during a game it means the “team” needs to do better in those areas.
  • Recognizing/creating overloads.
    • Creating time and space is crucial.
    • Pass and move the ball to create overloads on the pitch.  Where an overload exists there should be more time and space to penetrate and create shots to score goals.
    • When playing controlled possession-based soccer this approach is the best approach when moving the ball from your defending final third, through the middle third, to the attacking final third.
    • The greater the amount of overloads created the more likely to retain possession and gain penetration in order to score.  Where an under-load occurs, be patient and recycle the ball (move the ball) back to where an overload exists.
    • Some may have heard the phrase “back to square one”.  This phrase originated in soccer and means when all else fails (and you can’t move the ball forward) move it back to the goal keeper (square one) and restart.
  • Recognizing/mitigating under-loads.
    • As offered above, teams look to create overloads in order to gain additional time and space – players need to see these overloads occurring and take appropriate steps to mitigate.
    • Mitigating under-loads is associated with risk; sometimes a coach is willing to cede time and space.  When the coach works this out with the players then they’ll know where to and where not to mitigate under-loads.
  • Control.  (Defending final third, middle third, and attacking final third)
    • There is a considerable amount of training associated with learning control and what and how it applies relative to the three thirds of the pitch..
    • Learning what it means in those different areas of the pitch will take months, if not years to master.
  • Risk.   (Defending final third, middle third, and attacking final third)
    • Like control, there is a considerable amount of training associated with learning risk.
    • Learning what it means in those different areas of the pitch, with different scorelines, will take months, if not years to master.
    • Like teaching control, the earlier this occurs in the development of a player the better.
  • Muscle Memory Mentality.
    • Continued, consistent use of these concepts helps players establish a muscle memory mentality on HOW to play soccer to the point where how they play becomes as second nature to them as tying a shoe.  I hope that makes sense?


In closing:

  • Consistency of purpose and possession with purpose have value.
  • Standardizing HOW to teach players HOW to play soccer at the very lowest level helps establish a strong foundation (base of the pyramid).
  • To ignore the concepts of controlled possession-based soccer is ignoring one of the most fundamental concepts of the game.  Fact:  Teams, at the highest levels of domestic and international soccer, who play a controlled possession-based style, regularly earn more points than teams who don’t.
  • Said differently, there are roughly 8,250 square yards on a soccer pitch, if a team only makes use of around 7,000 square yards (by consistently playing counter-attacking and direct attacking soccer) then your ability to create time and space is only 3/4ths of your opponents.
  • Follow this link, if you want to read Part II of my coaching philosophy. 

Oh… for me it’s important to remember to remind the players to have fun and encourage them to think on their own.

Mistakes are made in soccer – as a coach I’m not judging players on their mistakes – I’m looking for them to learn from them.

Best, Chris


Additional details on estimated number of decisions.

  • Decisions:
    • 21 other players have an opportunity to touch that ball during those 77 minutes
    • Figure change of possession about every 20 seconds (that may be on the low side for an estimate) = three renewals of possession per minute.
    • Three decisions (where to be, when to be, and why to be)
    • All relative to the other 21 players
    • Mathematically that’s
      • 21 players x 77 (minutes) x 3 (renewals) x 3 (where, when, and why) equals ~ 14,000 decisions without the ball.
  • That doesn’t take into account the decisions the child has to make while in possession of the ball.
    • How to receive the ball on the first touch is decision #1,
    • Then what to do with the ball becomes decision #2
      • Turn the ball #3
        • Which direction, left, right, backwards, on-wards? #4 – #7
      • Keep the ball and dribble #8
        • Which direction???  #9 – #12
      • Pass the ball #13
        • Which direction??? #14 – #17
      • Strike the ball #18
        • If space and time exists (where – far post – near post #20 – #21)
      • Clear the ball if in defense #22
    • In every instance the player makes those decisions based upon the location of defenders and teammates – so when dribbling from one area to another the cycle of decision making begins anew.
    • If a player controls the ball at least 50 times during a game that’s as many as 1,100 decisions made playing with the ball.
  • All told that’s roughly 14,000 + 1,100 decisions per game.

Training soccer in America. Gob-smackingly obvious – or is it?

A long time ago I was a soccer Head Coach – I still am – but since I’m not actually coaching now I don’t have the agony of making tough decisions anymore – that’s down to others.  

That said, my inactivity as a coach doesn’t keep me from adding my own two cents/tuppence worth every now and then.

This is one of those “thens”…. and what I think ‘right looks like’ when it comes to training soccer here in America.  To lend balance of my thoughts I’ve asked Coach Reed Maltbie (a current coach with affiliation to US Soccer) to submit his additional thoughts at the end of this article.

Resources that may add value before, during, or after you read this are the US Youth Soccer Coaches manual and the U-12 training activities; a prime age, I think, to begin in-depth mentality training.

In addition – here’s a summary (verbatim) from US Soccer on the U-12 training activities:

  • In an effort to understand and improve the U-12 player we have to begin opening the player’s eyes to the thinking aspects of the game. These areas that count on players seeing and responding depend on the concept of decision-making. In the end, all players must constantly be evaluating the entire field and making decisions related to offensive and defensive situations that are occurring. Each player must add to the team effort. To accomplish this, each player must be astute enough to assist.
  • The philosophy behind this book is to provide activities that will place the U-12 player in an environment in which he will have to make proper decisions. If a player is placed in this type of environment over many years, he can develop the vision play at top levels. This decision-making process does not develop in a training environment that is drill-like in structure. Fitness and technique are very important concerns as well, but tactical awareness can only develop with repeated practice in a thought-provoking environment.
  • In closing, let’s just remember that tactics involve a great number of factors, but that for the U-12 player, tactics are related to the area of decision-making. Without thinking and proper decisions, we have something that resembles soccer, but not soccer!

My observations for your consideration:  

  • Young players are actually smarter than we think they are.
  • An adult game of soccer goes for 90 minutes with two 45 minute halves; those numbers get smaller the younger you are.
  • In 90 minutes – one player touches the ball (on average) 1/22 of the time compared to everyone else; varies given skill levels.
  • In terms of time that means, within the 90 minutes of a game, the average player possesses/can directly influence control of the ball for two-to-three minutes.
  • f a player averages 50 possessions per game that equals (on average) about three seconds of controlling the ball per possession; not much time.
  • What, on average, can a player accomplish in 2.93 seconds of possession?
    • a first touch?
    • a second touch?
    • a turn?
    • a dribble?
    • a pass?
  • When excluding striking the ball on goal that’s pretty much what happens during those 2.93 seconds of control.

So if you’re breaking down a training regimen, the most frequently occurring event is ‘first touch’.    

Why is it when I view the U-12 training plan there isn’t one session called ‘first touch’?  There is passing, turning, dribbling, and heading but the MOST important part of the game – first touch – is only referenced within the depths of the training plan.  And if you read the summary provided earlier it’s not mentioned at all!

A comment about dribbling – I’ve read that the average distance a player dribbles the ball in a soccer match is ~ 180 meters out of roughly 10 kilometers per game.  Just curious why we spend so much time learning how to dribble the ball when the frequency of that event in a game simply doesn’t warrant the high level of time expended in training it.

If you’re going to allocate training times to key aspects of the game then it seems to me first touch, second touch, turning, and passing are the most frequently occurring events – so for me 90% of all ‘on-the-ball’ training should focus on those aspects of the game and only short periods of time would be devoted to dribbling challenges.

Moving on to the other 87 minutes of the game where the player has no direct control of the ball.

Not one training session for U-12’s is titled “playing without the ball” – yet the MOST frequent event a player encounters on the pitch is — playing without the ball.

Can you train this activity?  I think so – but I would offer part of this training plan includes homework…  actually watching and listening to soccer games.

I would submit this training plan needs to capture non-ball activities for all primary positions on the soccer pitch – and as the players get older video analysis should be added to see how those same positions have different roles in different formations.

I’d also offer part of this training plan needs to include asking the player some questions relative to your teaching points:

  • Was the player creating space for others by entering a new space?
  • Was the player adjusting their position based upon their opponent’s movement without the ball?
  • When that player made an adjustment – did any of his/her teammates/opponents make an adjustment as well?
  • I’m sure there are many questions a coach can develop to stress a specific decision-making learning point.
  • For example – if you are teaching players how to create width on the pitch having someone stand near each sideline is not a bad thing – it does actually help stretch out the opponents defense.  (i.e. – the appearance of ball watching is not always a bad thing).

In closing:

The bottom line – training soccer needs to include as much, if not more, training without the ball as with the ball…

The other aspect not discussed here is fitness training – conducting fitness training without the ball reinforces the mental part of the game and supports players understanding that ~95% of the game they will play is done so without the ball.

Here’s what Coach Reed Maltbie had to offer:

The enemy of progress is perpetuating the assumptions we have always held but never tested. In coaching, we believe we need to spoon feed young players because they are not ‘mentally ready’, yet we also ask them to help us with our smart phones because they can figure out complex technology in seconds that we cannot figure out in weeks. Maybe we should stop assuming and empower them to show us how capable they really are. Every license course I have ever taken is focused on how smart us adults are and doesn’t even consider the child. It is not youth sports, it adults playing with puppets.

To paraphrase – US Soccer focuses on winning the World Cup. …….. Instead – a worthy objective is to establish true development.  Maybe we should actually put the player in the center of the decision-making matrix when building out mandates, training programs, evaluation standards, etc.

Add to the mix we added two more players to the playing surface and did not proportionally increase pitch size, and we will have a pinball game. Panic at the pitch! Less space, more bodies, no emphasis on technical development spells disaster.

Why do we insist on rending technical away from tactical? Intelligent players are taught in a holistic environment that combines the two so they understand how and what to do but also when and where to do it. We cannot separate out the two components. Watch any session by the world’s greatest teams and the sessions are technical and tactically balanced. Rondo is a great example. It works on both aspects in a game situation.

We still teach soccer in a vacuum. We still expect children to develop at the rate of the world even though we don’t live, breathe, and exist in a soccer culture. They go to games, watch them on TV, and play them on the pick up fields.  We don’t encourage this. We hope 2 days a week will suffice.

We are not Socratic enough in our coaching process.  We always solve the puzzle, spoon feed the answers, and never ask enough questions. We should teach like Socrates to let them form their own thoughts and develop their own analysis.

I think we emphasize soccer too much in the licensing process. We do not teach our coaches to look outside the game. To learn development, psychology, education, ethics, communication, culture, etc….The more we approach educating players as a holistic practice, the more we create holistic players.

This can be done without sacrificing the “game situation” concept. Incorporate fitness characteristics into game situations so they are intermittently with ball and without ball working both. Get creative. We expect it from the players, we should be more creative in how we coach them.

Best, Chris

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