Soccer Coach Versus Soccer Trainer

By Dr. Jay Martin

“If you practice badly, the only thing you will get better at is playing badly.”  

Dino Gradi

Johan Cruyff once said that England is a land of trainers and not coaches.   Which are you?  A trainer or a coach?

There is a difference.  Although Mr. Cruyff suggests that England has trainers and few coaches, the same could be said of the United States.

After over thirty years of coaching in college and watching youth soccer from afar, I made the step into youth soccer about one year ago.  I am the technical director for a local soccer club. In that role I work with our coaches and try to support them in their efforts. As a result,  I spent a lot of time during the last year observing youth training sessions.  These sessions were not only from the club I am affiliated with, but many other clubs in the Central Ohio area.

If my observations of coaching in Central Ohio can be used as a sample for all youth soccer coaching in the country, then we are in trouble.

It was disturbing watching the USA v Holland game in Amsterdam in March 2010.  The score was only 2-1, but the difference in how the teams played was enormous.  It was the little things in that game.  The Dutch did everything right and the USA didn’t – timing of runs, body position to receive the ball, possession of the ball, passes to teammates instead of knocking the ball up field, numbers around the ball, composure and the list goes on.  The players were the best we have, but they demonstrated a lack of understanding of the subtleties of the game.

So which are you, a Coach or Trainer?

A trainer can be male or female.  A trainer plans a session (or maybe not) and describes a drill or activity to the players.  The players then perform the activity for the prescribed time with the trainer offering nothing except the occasional, “Nice shot” or “Good work”.  If the players are executing the activity properly they may get better.  If not, they are getting better at playing badly.

A soccer coach can also be male or female. The coach sets up the same activity after taking some time to plan the session.  He or she watches the players execute the activity BUT the coach stops the play to make “coaching points” to the team.  Coaching points can be translated into explanations of the subtleties of the game:  timing of runs, weight of the pass, type of service required, etc.  A coach puts players in the position to learn how to play the game correctly.  Players can improve with coaching!  Not with training!

Let’s look at the practice activity illustration below.  There is a lot going on here.  Player A plays the ball into the coach and takes a shot.  Player A then shows to player B and executes a one- two to send player B down the line.  Player A and player C then run into the box to receive the serve from player B.  The players then rotate lines.  The activity is performed on the right and on the left.

Soccer Illustration

The trainer sets this up and watches for 15 or 17 minutes. The verbal communication is minimal and consists of motivating expressions. The trainer does not stop the activity to make coaching points.

And there are many opportunities in this type of activity to make coaching points.  How about: the angle of the pass(es); the weight of the pass, the type of serve, the first touch of player B, the runs of players A and C into the box, the type of serve, to name a few.   A coach ensures the players are getting a chance to learn to play the game – correctly!

How can you change from being a trainer to being a coach?  First, you can take a NSCAA course.  Most NSCAA courses will address the planning of a session and give you some information that will help you become a coach.

But until you can do that, allow me to make some suggestions.  Coaching points are the difference between the trainer and the coach.   Some thoughts:

Think:  Give some thought to the training session before you make the plan.  It would be best if you could think about training the night or day before the session as opposed to the drive to the practice session.  The day or night before allows you too change your mind and/or refine the session.

Set an Objective:  Each session should have a goal or objective.  Every activity in the session should address the goal and the end game should be conditioned to emphasize the goal.  One objective for each session should work.  The objective should reflect what happened in the last game or two, the time of the season and the strengths and weaknesses of the team.  If your team gets better at one thing in each training session they will be pretty good at the end of the season.

Plan it and Write it Down:  I am amazed at how many soccer coaches do not make a session plan.  Many walk on the field after little or no forethought about the session.  Some may read a book that offers practice sessions or activities and take them to the field.  Some may keep those “practice cards” in the car and pick three or four for training.  But most trainers/coaches do not give any thought to the sessions.  They may know about warm up, technical work and an end game, but to what end?  Why have these activities been chosen?  What is the goal of the session??

You have thought about the session and you have decided upon a goal, now is the time to plan the session.  There should be a good warm up and then a progression of activities that will (hopefully) address the goal.  The session should end with a game.  Now is the time to write down the training plan!! The best coaches in the world write down their session plan and bring it on to the field so they don’t forget anything.  It is easy to forget in the heat of the battle or when you get old!  So, write it down.

Coaching Points:  As mentioned earlier, the real difference between the trainer and the coach is found in coaching points.  Coaching points are the areas in an activity that should be emphasized to help the player learn the proper way to execute the activity or skill or technique.  The good coach writes down the coaching points for each activity in the session!!  He or she writes the coaching points on the session plan and brings it on the field.  This ensures that the coach offers everything possible to the player and does not forget anything.

For example, if the objective of the session is dribbling, the coaching points should look something like this:

  • Lean forward over the ball
  • Keep the knees bent and move on the balls of your feet
  • Relax the body
  • Maintain good balance
  • Keep the ball close, dot “kick and chase”
  • Use all parts of the foot
  • Use body feints
  • Be creative, create your own style
  • Change speed and direction when beating a defender
  • Keep your head up as much as possible
  • Use the body to shield/protect the ball
  • Don’t be afraid to fail. On average a player will beat a defender only 3 times in 10. Take risks in the attacking third!

These coaching points should be written on the lesson plan.  The coach should address each point at some time during the session.  Give your players a chance to get better!!

Evaluation:  All good coaches evaluate their session after its conclusion.  What worked?  What didn’t work?  Why?  Were the players confused?  Did the activity do what I wanted?   Can I tweak the activity to make it better?  How can I make the session better?  What should we do next session?  If you want your players to improve then you should improve as a coach.  Constant self evaluation will make you and your training sessions better.

Stop being a trainer  – start to become a coach!!!

Posted in Coaching

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