Category Archives: Coaching

It’s like Riding a Bike… with 11 other people wanting to ride the same bike

So first game of the Spring 2014 season is upon us. And we have had ONE, count it, ONE team practice. Vitoria U14 Girls had one practice where all 17 members of the team were present. One practice where I was the sole coach. And what did we do?

Nothing in particular.Fat Lip

It’s the first practice after the long winter’s break. Most of the girls stayed busy in other sports and five of them actually played soccer. The first practice isn’t about working with the center forwards on how to play with their backs to the goal or work on our defensive headers. I see the first practice as a quick refresher for the girls. Their bodies need to remember the patterns of how to kick a ball, how to trap a ball, and how to shoot a ball.

The drills were simple. Small square, everyone dribbling with a ball. Keep your head up. Don’t run into anyone else. Evolve that into a bigger space, changing pace with the ball. Break up into 3 teams and move and pass in a space. Then play keep away, two teams against one. Change it up to a shooting drill. Run around a cone 20 yards from goal, turn and shoot. The angle of receiving the ball slowly becomes more parallel to the goal. Move on to transition game where every time the ball goes over the end line, a new set of players come in. And then a game.

It was quck, fast pace practice. Some of the girls were having conditioning issues (track coach started running the girls to thin the number of girls doing track), but most of them remembered what they were doing. They moved to where they needed to. Remembered what they wanted to do with the ball, but, in some cases, their bodies failed to connect the synapses.

That’s fine. Their brains will remember it… eventually.

Over the last few years, I taught the girls to use their brains. Yes, technical skills are still part of it, but as they have gotten older, I’ve given their ideas on what they could do with or without a ball. “If you see someone in front of you running into the space you were running, run into the space your team mate ran out of.” I would never say, you go here and you go there. Ok, maybe on set plays, but once the game is on, the ball is placed for a free kick, what the girls do is basically up to them. I’m there to dole out the timing of substitutes and to state the obvious at half time.

The girls have to play soccer for themselves.

And then I read this quote from Jurgen Klinsmann:

“Soccer is an inner-driven sport. That means it’s a players’ game. So it’s very difficult for the coaches here in the United States who grew up with the other big sports to understand that actually the players make the calls. The players make the decisions. They decide on the field if they want to dribble, pass, shoot or whatever they want to do. As a coach you become more like a guide. You kind of are more like a helper. You have to give them the responsibility to get the job done.
“If you talk about American football, everything is a set piece. It’s the next play that we study and we kind of learn inside-out, and they have to execute it exactly the way I told them to. It’s not going to work in soccer. Soccer is a very kind of intuitive and improvised game. My biggest challenge here when I talk to coaches is to make them take a step back. Let the players decide. If they make the same mistake five times, eventually at the sixth or seventh time they’ll think, ‘I’ve got to try it a different way. I’m not getting anywhere.’

I think I just said that, but it sounds more valid coming from him.

So today, at 6 PM CST Vitoria will play their first game of the season. They’ve had one practice this season. But, if I did my job correctly over the last few years, they’ll do fine. Their brains will get a workout while their bodies try to keep up. First games are always about remembering you know how to ride a bike. Sometimes, you have to wobble first.



18+ to 0

My U9 team won today. They won 18 goals for us and nothing for them. I think the other team had 6 shots around our goal.

At U9, it’s really hard to get the kids to play keep away and not try to score. I mean… they’re 9.

I once had a U10 girls team play 5 touch before they could shoot, but I thought them screaming out “1”, “2”, “3”, “4”, “5”, “We can shoot” was kinda of not sportsgirllike. (They made boys cry!)

Tomorrow’s team that my U12 team plays lost 8-1 to a U11 team.

I don’t like whomping games.



Us. Them. They are entertaining. Who will win? Will we tie? Both teams are in it to the end? Even 3-1 is good up until the end.

We played a game last year where we were up 3-0 after 4 minutes.

4 minutes gone, 26 more to play. 3-0 us…

As a parent, you want to see your kid score a goal. Parents, who have not played soccer, think scoring a goal is the ultimate validation for their kid’s overwhelming skill.

It’s not.

Yes, scoring goals is the point of soccer. But when the game is gone, as it was today at 8-0 at the half today, is another goal more important than teaching the entire opposite of what they have been taught since age 4?

What I mean, at 8-0, scoring is obvious. Yes, their goalie is a kid in a pinny. She is not a goalie. Their defense will collapse on one player leaving others to dribble and score. A shot at goal will more likely be a goal than anything else.

What does our player learn long term? Shooting. Yes, but in the grand scheme of things, what have they learned?

At U12, I can switch out the players from their normal positions. I can try to help the other team to get a goal.

But why?

The NFL guy inside me says it is up to them to play defense, not us.

The 12 year old in me, who once got beat 17-1, says they are little girls. Don’t spoil their growing love of the sport.

My 12 year old daughter wants to match her sister’s score. I want to play a half of keep away. But the parents want to see their kids score. It’s a good problem to have, but the reality is today’s 18-0 win will eventually end up being our 10-0 defeat. The kids, and parents, reaction on that day will be…


13 ways to help your volunteer soccer coach

The beginning of another soccer makes me feel sarcastic. Here are several ideas on how to endear yourself to your volunteer coach.

1) If practice ends at 6, pick your kids up at 6:30. Isn’t the definition of coach: Free baby sitter who you can sue.

2) Tell your kid not to listen to the coach. He has played the silly game you would never play. So obviously, your child should get their soccer information from you. I mean, Offsides would only be applicable if they actually snapped the ball.

3) Bring your child to the game at the exact time it starts. No use to have them warm up.

4) Kick the ball… Go get the ball.. Tackle them. In Europe, soccer is called football so all football references you know will work.

5) You are allowed to ignore your kid misbehaving at practice. See baby sitter reference. And remember. Just cause you saw your kid throw the ball at the coaches head, doesn’t mean you need to talk to her about her anger issues. Again, see babysitter.

6) Don’t bring water for your child to games or practice. If your coach was any good, he would have thought of that. Same with shin guards and appropriate shoes (in my child’s size). For crimany sakes, what are you paying this guy for. He should cover this.

7) Talk bad of the coach around his wife. She’s a parent too so she already knows how big a dork she married.

8) If your child has ADHD, please give them a Red Bull before practice or during a game. Of course, don’t tell the coach about your child’s condition.

9) Bring your dog or anything to distract the kids during practice. Really. Soccer is kicking a frickin ball in a net. Why the heck should my kid need to pay attention to a coach to learn that? (For those who have their kids do indoor soccer, playing basketball on the unused end of the gym is a great way for you to stay in shape. The coach can just talk louder.)

10) The best time to get your daughter’s ears pierced is the week before soccer season. Soccer balls can’t really rip ear lobes off. Can they? If they do, you can still sue the coach.

11) There is one size of ball. Buy a size 5 only. Your kid will use it eventually even if they are 5 years old and the ball is the size of their lower leg.

12) Remind your child that after games, they should leave any water bottle or clothing that they may have brought to the game. Coach = Field Custodian.

13) Do not suggest the parents buy the kids trophies. This is what a coach is for. Obviously, he is highly paid!


First Practice Of the Season

Ok, yesterday was the first practice of the year, but it really didn’t count. Well, the girls got out and ran and kicked and got caught up with each others lives. So that part is like a normal practice.

But this practice was not run by me. I was mostly a bystander while the club’s professional coach ran all the select teams thru some agility drills and other core strengthening exercises.

I praised, urged, sprinted 100 yards with the girls, but beyond that, it wan’t my practice.

But it was the first practice of the season. You could tell. Kids who had spent the winter playing basketball were more than willing to pick up the ball with their hands and throw it to people. Hands were preferred, not feet. That’s to be expected. But now they are mine for 3 moths (insert evil laugh). We must get the basketball out of their heads.

From a coaching perspective, the first practice is where you try to get them prepared to train hard. You start with a conversation, hoping some of it sticks.

I took my U12 aside and told them to push themselves today, so they would hurt and be sore today. That way in the games to come, they would be rested.

Back in the day, when I was in high school, my soccer team ran more than the schools cross country team and we hated the preseason. One mile under 6 minutes starting at 7 AM! Morning practice for 3 hours. Afternoon run of 2 miles under 13 minutes. Two hour afternoon practice. Starting at 6, 5.4 mile run on a trail in under 50 minutes. Three weeks straight of that.

I remember going home the first day feeling great. Sore, but peppy from what I accomplished that first day.

And then I woke up the next day.

The blankets were so heavy. My legs so rigid. Oh, the pain. But somehow I would get back out to the field at 7am and start running again. Once I moved, the soreness subsided (or all feeling was lost.)

Yesterday, the kids spent 45 minutes doing some agility drills, then 15 minutes of wheel barrels and crunches. Then, they spent a half hour playing some sloppy keep away and some 4 on 4… but the girls laughed and rolled around on the ground. Feet were stepped on, knees banged together, butts were jammed into guts… all good first practice aches that will eventually get more intense and require ice.

But the first practice wasn’t for instilling our new offense or correcting some of our defensive quirks. It was for getting the team back together. Have them socialize. Have them kick a ball. Have them run a bunch.

I asked X today how she felt. “I don’t get sore,” she said.

I think that was a challenge for the second practice.



The New Season…

The technical aspects of my U12 team have improved over the years so this season more focus can be given to the tactical parts of the game.

What the hell does that mean?

Ahh, a new season. A new Spring season. Even better. Spring is where all the bigger clubs in the area move up their best players to another age bracket and leave the dregs to fight with the smaller clubs. Well, actually, the U11 kids get moved up aren’t all bad but…

Anyway, the progression in a soccer players growth involves the leap in ability that appears when they have not played soccer harcode for 4 months. It’s weird. Kids who could only get air on the ball in the Fall by channeling the spirit of Lou Groza and using their toe show up for the first practice being able to chip. It’s cool how their brain works.

To get back to my first statement, heading into a new season, a coach needs a plan. The above statement is my plan in coaches speak. What does it mean?

It means my U12 team can trap and pass relatively well (technical abilities) so now I can focus on how they play the game (tactical abilities). I can help them move beyond the idea that they start the game on the left side of the field and they need to remain on the left side of the field. We can talk about switching positions, overlaps, confusing runs, acting like they are tying our shoe in the middle of a corner kick… lots of things that will help them learn to play the game beyond just trying to score.

Sure, I’ll still work at least once a week on some technical skill, but I’ll also add in a more technical aspect. My fall back is when one player tosses the ball to another player and they trap it and pass it back. This season, we’ll do that, but the player will be moving in various directions with other teammates involved.

And yes, I have worked on tactical ideas before. This season will be epic on the amount of knowledge I will try and transfer to them. Sure, some of it will stick and they’ll perform it to the confusion of their parents in the game. And some of it… well, it won’t stick this season, but in the Fall…

The girls will be practicing 3 times a week with a possibility of a optional scrimmage on a 4th night. They will be playing in 3 tournaments which they should be favored to play more than the three game minimum. It’s going to be a good year.


Types Of Coaches

As a young man, my soccer coach was an angry Italian. He spent most of the game yelling… in Italian I think, because I don’t remember a thing he said.

I was busy. There were ten players on the other team trying to get the ball away from me while the ten players on my team were moving, waiting, and yelling. “What to do with the ball?” would be in my brain, eyes would be dialated so I would see shapes, color, and movement – it’s the only thing a player sees when they have the ball.

“Man on” is the only phrase I would really listened for.

“Pass it to Donnie. He is open on the left wing about around midfield. There is a sandwinch in the car for you…” a phrase longer than 2 or 3 words was immediately ignored.

I’m playing here. Any complete sentence was deemed cheering, and I barely heard that.

Today, when I coach, I rarely yell. And if I do, it’s a players name and only when the ball is out of play. When I went for my D lisecsne, the instructor said something intelligent.

“You coach during practice. The game is not the time to coach.”

He was basically saying that during practice, I can yell, use complete sentences, and explain the details of the game. During the game, if I coached correctly during practice, the kids should be able to apply what they learned in practice and should be successful.

Here is an example. Last year we gave up a free kick just outside our penalty area to the right of goal. The goalie quickly screamed wall. My centerback ran up to the placed ball and stood 3 feet from it. Three other players joined her. The ref back them up and the other team took the free kick.


Although the parents on the attached video will say other wise, we practiced this. The players were coached for the situation and took the appropriate action.

I coach during practice; but, like parenting, there lots of ways to coach. Below are some other styles and my thoughts on them.

1) The Bench Warmer – This is a coach who sits in a chair or on the bench and displays not much interest in the game or the players. Usually, this is a professional coach who is subbing for another coach and has not learned the girls names. I really don’t like this kind of coach. Not only are the parents wasting money for a ‘professional’ coach, the kids are being shown how much the game doesn’t mean to their coach.

2) The Joystick Coach – This is the coach who tries to control the game via yelling exactly what the player with the ball should do. Most of the time this is a new coach in the younger age groups trying to install a tactical system on players who don’t know how to trap a ball. Eventually they get exhasberated at the lack of player control and either shut up or start to yell louder (yeh, more cheering!). I laugh at this kind of coach.

3) The Questioner Coach – “Can we find our shape?” “Can we make a connection?” “Can we score a goal while stopping the other team from scoring a goal?” I see this alot with young professional coaches and it’s better than the joystick coach, but as a player, I’m not listening to rhetorical questions.

4) The Conversationalist Coach – This is a coach who likes to have a conversation with a player while the ball is in play, maybe even within their reach. Often times, they will demand eye contact. As a player, I would find this annoying. As a coach, I think my team has an advantage… a distracted player.

5) The Yeller – He yells at the ref. He yells at his players. He yells and yells and yells. Sometimes props like towels are brought in; sometimes large demonstrative gestures are displayed. This is Bobby Knight with a gym chair wanna be. I hate the Yeller. I’ve never seen a ref being yelled out stop the game and say to the coach, “You’re right. I am an idiot. Penalty kick for your team.” Fortunately, Yellers are usually good at keeping english explitives out of their vocabulary. I said english expletives.

As I said above, there lots of ways to coach. I prefer to coach during practice, and let the kids show what they learned in the games. I may enhance their understanding during the game, but I will only do that at half time, or when I have subbed them out. When the ball is at their feet, it’s no time for me to coach.


And it starts


It is the first line that I write when I send an email at work. It basically helps people know it is an email from me. And now I am starting a blog to help dads be coaches and parents deal with the idea that soccer is a really cool game.

Next week I am going to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Convention in Kansas City. It will be an interesting time and I should learn a lot. I’ll be tweeting from there when I can. You can follow me here .

I’ll add more soon.

Matt Croyus Etling