Okay Pep, how to coach soccer is largely experiential but having a general overview of what you can do and what you can expect can go a long way. So you've decided to coach a team this summer and you want to know a thing or two about coaching the team to its full potential, well you've come to the right place to get started.
Whether you're just starting coaching or a veteran of 20 plus years understanding some of the fundamentals of coaching is always a good idea. Here you will learn about how to organize your team, things to think about during a match, during training and overall how to treat the people that are involved with your team as people first. The beauty about coaching is that nobody has all the answers and we are all learning new things constantly, the worst thing we can do as coaches is think we have all the answers and stop having an appetite to learn new ways of doing things.
So sit back, relax and enjoy the next few months as your players drive you crazy, I mean fill your life with joy, figuring out the best way on how to coach soccer can be challenging from time to time. If I could give you one piece of advice before you go down this road of coaching your team for another season its that making mistakes is part of the learning process so embrace it. Test how to do different things both in games and at training and by the end of the season you will have a larger wealth of knowledge about the game.
1. Give the Team Structure - It doesn't have to be the most elaborate tactical formation ever but some general guidelines and principles the team can fall back on in the different stages of the game. Tell the team whether you are high pressing or sitting back and it's always good to give the team a marker for where you will engage with the other team (half way line, 15 yards behind/in front of half etc). Do the same in attack, give them an idea of your objective (play on the wings, through the posting striker, direct, possession etc). Finally you should rehearse this in training but let them team know their responsibilities on set pieces both in attack and more important while defending them.
2. Have A Plan A, B, C & D - A brilliant coach once told me that a great coach comes to training with three different practice plans, feels the mood of the team then decides which practice to run. This is an example of having a plan and back up plan for every situation you get yourself into both in the game and at training. It's great to be optimistic about how you want things to workout but only an amateur coach will show up without a plan.
3. Put Players In Their Best/Preferred Positions - I know we all want to put players in a new position where they are going to all of a sudden play like Neymar but the best way to get the best out of your players is to ask which position they prefer. Sure there is always room for you to put a player in a position that suits their attributes but typically a players best position is the one they like the most.
4. Don't Be Afraid to Make Adjustments - If you see the boat drowning don't be afraid to make adjustments and get the ship back afloat. Put your pride away and if your strategy or player selection was off on the day then make a chance and save what's left of the game. Also it's important to take note of the mistakes you made after a game to know how well or poorly it worked out so you can learn from it in future games.
5. Leave the Ref Alone - Put your focus and attention towards your players where it belongs and don't use any unnecessary energy towards the officials, fans or other team. The best coaches in the world can stay emotionally stable all game long not to cloud their decisions throughout the course of a match. The same way you want your players to stay focused on the task at hand you should lead by example on the sidelines by giving your attention to your players only. Learning how to coach soccer and winning games should take up most of your mental energy, don't empty your focus bucket on external things like the officials.
1. Be Yourself - Don't come in and try to be this all knowing Pep Guardiola coach and walk and talk like someone that you're not. It's normal to try and emulate great coaches we may know or see on TV but players will see right through your disingenuous actions. If you're a young coach who is learning be that, if you're a quiet coach be that, no matter your personality or experience be yourself, as the saying goes, be yourself, everyone else is taken. it won't matter if you know how to coach soccer like Mourinho, if you try and be someone else you will lose the team.
2. Keep It Simple - Don't try and confuse your team with big fancy words or complicated formations. Give them easy to understand instructions with easy and clear objectives on the field. The more you put on the plate the less likely you are to get them to accomplish the single most important task you want for that specific training or game.
3. Overcommunicate - Players these days like feedback before, during and after matches so make sure you are constantly feeding your players with information and what is on your mind. There is no such thing as communicating too much so make it a point to talk to every player and tell them your thoughts on how they played, how they can improve and what you expect from them on a day to day basis.
4. Be Honest - It's important that the team know you are always being upfront and honest with them even if they don't like the information you are telling them. Forming relationships with your players that are based on honesty and trust is the best way to get your players to die for you on the pitch and play for the coach. Knowing how to coach soccer is just half the battle, they must trust the coach as a person first and as a tactician second.
5. Learn and Adjust - Your evolution of a coach will largely depend on how often you try new things, take note of the ones that have worked and toss out the things that don't. Whether it's a formation, the way you talk to players or anything else that has an effect on your team on and off the field. We are all learning and your ability to learn from your success and failures will determine how quickly you develop as a coach and man manager.
1. Yelling and Screaming - Coaching style of the 80's and 90's is lo. gone now so yelling and screaming your way through practice and games won't get the best out of your players and team anymore. Work on giving constructive feedback to your team while still maintaining an authoritative and demanding demeanour. A really high level coach has a list on who each player on their team likes to be coached and knows exactly how to push each players buttons to get the best out of them.
2. Too Stubborn to Change - Don't be so stuck in your ways that you wont change or adjust something that obviously needs to be changed. A foolish coach will go down with the ship before they will change their ways especially if it looks like their ways may be wrong. Don't be that coach, have your methods and ways of doing things but if there is room to change or adjust that will best serve the team you need to do so. Putting your hand up and saying whoops I was wrong let's try it this other way now doesn't show weakness as a leader but extreme strength.
3. Not Involving Your Staff - You have a wide range or coaches on your staff for a reason, not involving or using them will not allow your team to get to its full potential. Even if you have a small staff with one assistant coach or an athlete therapist it is important to involve them and ask them of what they see and hear around the team to better understand the dynamics of how the team acts. Many times players will tell the athletic therapist things they won't tell the coaches so having a close relationship with everyone on your staff can pay dividends to understand the pulse of the squad. And you though knowing how to coach soccer was just about x's and o's.
4. Being Unprepared - There are times when you need to act on instinct and gut but there are several moments in a coaches week where they can (and should) come overly prepared. Having practice plans, game plans, team talks and overall weekly structure all laid out and rehearsed will not only help your team hit it's highest potential but also communicates to the team your overall professionalism.
5. Bad Body Language - Players feed off of a coaches every word and move so it is important to be unfazed by the actions that happen on the field. For example if a player gives a ball away and they see you throw your arms up in the air or shake your head it can really affect them in a negative way on the pitch and long term. Avoid all types of negative body language if you want your team to play stress free and know you have their back and trust their every move. They don't teach you things like this in the how to coach soccer for dummies textbook.
There is no such thing as the best formation to play, but there is the best formation for the players you have and the attributes they poses. It's great to have your favourite formation but if it doesn't suit the players you have it won't be an effective way to get the results you're looking for. Try thinking about which attributes you want each position to have and try and see if you can place one of the players on your team in these spots. Common formations coaches play these days are the 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and 3-5-2, now how to coach soccer formations like these takes lots of studying and time so be ready for this to be a continuous season long process.
There are four basic stages of the game you need to know about and knowing what you want to accomplish in these parts of the games goes a long way in getting your team to play like you want and get everyone on the same page. Nobody said learning how to coach soccer in these different parts of the game was easy but they are necessary. The four stages are:
1) In Possession (when your team has the ball)
2) Out of Possession (when the opponent has the ball)
3) Defence to Attacking Transition (the moments directly after you win the ball from the opponent)
4) Attack to Defence Transition (the moments directly after you lose the ball from the opponent)
And the fifth stage which isn't talked about as much which it should be is set pieces both in attack and defence. Set pieces are so underrated and you can know how to coach soccer with the best of them but set pieces can take any great coach down, they include:
1) Corner Kicks
2) Goal Kicks
3) Throw Ins
4) Free Kicks (Indirect and Direct)
5) Kick Offs
It's all about setting high expectations for how your team plays, trains, treats each other and acts on a day to day basis on and off the field. Now it's not enough to just set these expectations but to reinforce them (in a positive manner if possible) every day. Whether it's swearing at training, showing up early or what to wear all these things contribute to a teams culture and the way it helps or hurts the teams performance. The beauty is the coach gets to set these standards (that's you by the way) and learning how to coach soccer effectively takes time so be patient and enjoy the journey. For more information on how to build a high performance team culture read this great article on Developing an Effective Team Culture.
Typically players don't love being screamed at during a match, there are exceptions but screaming at the top of your lungs in the middle of a match probably wouldn't the best way to approach giving your players feedback. Most players enjoy private one on one conversations away from the team, as far as talking to the team stick to before and after the game along with half time, trying to address the whole team while the game is going on is a lost cause. The best way to learn how to coach soccer is by testing so find how each of your players likes to be talked to and use it moving forward to get the best out of them.