Attention 1v1 Trainers – is your YouTube Video Flashy or Functional? Are you teaching players to dribble too much or are you teaching them to attack?

I have been a long time technical trainer of youth soccer players.  As a trainer, a skills instructor, and as a club director and coach, I have had the opportunity to work with close to 2000 boys and girls from the ages of 3 to 18.  I have developed an affinity to teach technical skills to younger players.  I leverage a lot of methods and techniques from a popular skills training program and host one of the areas largest camps every summer.  There are tons of systems and techniques out there that essentially focus on the same things for individual skill acquisition.  I am not advocating one system over another because I use a lot of content from a few different systems. Almost every system that gets results includes ball mastery and 1v1 moves. Ball Mastery is important to get the player comfortable on the ball with every surface of both feet. Moves are important to give a player more time and space to take a shot or find the next player in the progression to pass to.

There are no shortage of coaches that are offering technical training both in their local community and on-line.  Some of the videos that I see on Instagram and youtube lately are concerning because they are less and less relevant to the game.  Sure it looks impressive to see a player getting a gazillion touches in a tight space around cones, training dummies through ladders, etc.  What is it that you are teaching? I am seeing more and more players that can demonstrate the moves but they simply don’t know how to use them because they are not being instructed properly or in a way that translates to the game.

Lets talk about the use of equipment first.  Cones are good visual cues to establish markers for boundaries or distance, they are even good as a ladder or agility course but I see a lot of over use or cones being used for the wrong intent like as an actual defender.  Agility ladders are great tools for teaching fast feet, agility, balance and coordination and can be used effectively with a ball but it should be purposeful.  Re-bounders are nice because they can make up for not having a player available to return a pass.  On their own or in combination, they can be very effective but once again, I find myself seeing video after video and I just scratch my head.  Sure, for a parent or young player, it looks impressive to see a player rapidly progressing through a pattern, around a bunch of cones, through a ladder, off a re-bounder and the rip a shot top bin, but break that down and you can see why that is cringe-worthy. People that are teaching this way are reinforcing too much time on the ball in my opinion. 

Consider Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar.  Go back a bit further and consider Ronaldinho, Pele, Maradonna, Cyuff, and Matthews.  What do you notice about them?  They are all very smooth, they use incredible moves and then explode behind or past a player, they cover a large area in a short time.  Now go back and watch these 1 on 1 training videos.  I am not trying to compare the average player in one of these clips to one of the greats but what I want you to notice is how choppy, erratic and almost spastic some of these players look. I get that as a trainer, you may be trying to demonstrate speed but to me it just looks too forced and not natural. So look again at the most skillful players, how often after a move do these great players shoot or pass the ball? Now consider some of these promotion videos, touch after touch, a prescribed pattern with lots of touches, turns, maybe a pass against a wall, bench or re-bounder followed by a shot. Looks good on the video but it does not translate to a game.

Think about how many times you see young players with great foot-skills beat a player, not advance the ball, beat the same player again and then again. It happens everywhere, sure they have great skills but they end up dribbling in the same small area and typically don’t go very far. Also consider when the player is in the box, they take on one player, two players, etc until they eventually get smashed without ever taking a shot. The next thing you know those parents are paying you to work on their shot when it has zero to do with their technique and everything to do with their decision making. Coaches, you are actually conditioning these players to hold the ball for too long. They are memorizing patterns to get repetition and by doing so are failing to recognize when to shoot or pass.

Sure, ball mastery improves first touch and builds confidence on the ball, a ladder develops quick feet and a re-bounder is useful as a training partner when there is no one around but when you put them all together and sell it as an advanced program, you are conditioning the player to a pattern, to holding the ball for too long, to try to emulate speed of play with frantic movement and removing decision making from the equation.

Consider this instead: use ball mastery as a way for the player to get a lot of touches in a short period of time as a warm-up, conditioning or homework. Have the player explode into space after making a move and shoot or pass the ball. Use a re-bounder to work in repetition and passing technique. When you are working with the player on passing activities, work on their movement into space after the pass instead of near static repetition, let that be homework. Use equipment in the right way and incorporate it for a specific area like first touch by having to regain balance as the ball is coming to their feet.

Individual training can be both technical and functional but if your training activities make for a good youtube clip because of all of equipment that you can fit in a 4×4 grid, ask yourself how that applies to the game. Teach the individual skills so that they can do them on their own and create programs to use those skills to set up a pass or a shot and apply those skills to a game like situation not for an instagram ad.

Bring on the hate!!



Competition vs Training – Winning vs Development in Youth Sports – Parent Etiquette and a Challenge!!

In 20+ years of coaching youth soccer, this has been a prevailing theme.  My talk track about the benefits of training over games in terms of time on the ball, touches and overall technical development is almost automatic especially under 12.   Every year the same or similar conversations happen with the newest crop of parents with their first born children who are new to organized club sports.  I have go-to metrics and case studies on things like how many touches a player gets during training vs. a game and how if there is a conflict between a game and a training session, that it is both more beneficial and the club’s preference to make training a priority over the game.

I have an almost equivalent auto response when asked what I thought about the game, the refs, that one player, those parents, etc.  Response is typically this is one of a gazillion games that is part of the long term process and how you (the person I am speaking with) are probably more happy/upset than than your kid that played the game, both immediatly following the game and for a longer period of time after.  Further,  I mention that I am nearly positive that this game will be long forgotten and probably close to meaningless a year from now, 5 years from now, by the end of their playing career, etc.

It doesn’t matter how much evidence or best practice guidance we seem to provide, the message is mostly lost because the parents love the games and are very serious about the competition. Parents of 7 and 8 year old players often ask why the u17 and u18 teams travel all over the country but they don’t. When does our team go to Vegas, Disney, etc? The intensity and drive for results seems to start earlier and earlier every year.

So, here is where I know that it is not just me and it is not a lack of education either.  I think that it may be generational thing because more parents than ever have played soccer.  Even if they played bad soccer with bad training and coaching conducted by their high school shop teacher, the bottom line is they now have a persective of having played the game.  The discussions of this generation are seldom “I never played soccer but…” and instead start with “well I played soccer and we never…or we always…”  The other part of this is that I am coming to realize that both the players and the parents LOVE the games and the competiton and it rarely matters what evidence you can provide to suggest that it is both a barometer of progress and intended to be fun.  So that is just fine, enjoy the games.  The problem is the intensity of the sidelines and the improper etiquette that is frequently exhibited. That intensity reveals itself in the way of coaching from the sidelines, questioning the officials, calling out players or coaches and anything else you could imagine.

If you don’t believe me that there is a concern in the sport about parent enthusiasm associated with competition and how that impacts the experience, do a quick web search on parent sideline behavior. Organizations like Proactive Coaching, Positive Sports Parenting and tons of others have made their mission to educate the fans on proper support during competitions.  Coaching Education has been created to engage the parents in the process and to help educate the parents.  Entire Leagues like the East Coast based EDP and national bodies like US Club have announced official policies for sideline behavior. State Associations like South Carolina are implementing silent sidelines.  I one had a manager proactively hand out lilipops before a rival u15 game a few years ago as a subtle reminder to our parents.

So here is my simple challenge because you never know who is watching.  We tell players all the time about the importance of effort, honoring the game and sportsmanship every time they step on the field because they never know who could be watching.  The same holds true for the spectators.  I have been in more than one college recruiting presentation where the coaches have mentioned that they often evaluate the parents as much as the players when they are scouting. So to that end, my challenge is for you to schedule a meeting with your boss sometime after your childs next game.  During the game, point the video camera on you so that when you meet with your boss, you can share and discuss that video with him or her.  Does that make you think?  Its not only for the kids benefit but for yours as well.  What if a perspective employer, business partner, customer, physician or other happen to be on the other side of the mid- line watching their child play?

Does that make you think? I hope that it does and I hope that if you are reading this, you can have a sense of humor in all of this but also realize that this is a game and it is being played by kids.  I recognize that the Development over Results conversation is becoming less and less acknowledged, so if you are going to prioritize games and competition, at least consider who are the adults and who are the kids.

In support of the beautiful game…