Goals for Practice, Games and Season
Practices should always contain the following elements: competition, critical thinking and technical repetition. At this age, the physical (fitness) side of the game begins to play a larger role than before. Practices and matches should continue to focus on improving the players’ understanding of the tactical issues, such as how to control the rhythm of the game, as well as getting the group working not only functionally within the group but also as 11 players moving together on both sides of the ball. Some time should also be spent addressing how players and the team manage the game. Not only in terms of executing the game plan, but how to address different scenarios such as playing in the final 15 or 20 minutes of a game with a lead, when the game is tied, or when your team is losing. Players must be challenged everyday to solve soccer problems. They must be held accountable for their decisions and their performance. These players are ready for an increased level of problem solving that focuses on using their soccer mind and not just their physical attributes. 17- and 18- year-old players playing against more skillful teams or older teams on a regular basis will help their development. Keep in mind that these older players should be better soccer players and not just better athletes. There should be a continued emphasis on professional attitude including game preparation, on and off field behavior, work ethic, individual fitness, dealing with health and preventative issues of health, and spending time on technical issues to keep sharp.
General Description of What Should be Happening During Practice
All aspects of practice should involve player accountability. As mentioned earlier, U-18 players will benefit from:
- Generic, non-functional exercises that emphasize principles of the game.
- More specific, functional exercises that address working together within a “line” of the team or between “lines” of the team toward some soccer objective. Non-functional, principle-based games address themes of the game through a variety of small-sided games that challenge the players to recognize these themes in less “structured” environments. An example of a generic, “principle-based” exercise is the 6 v 6 game with bumper players on the side and end lines of the field which can be used to address group defending, possession, speed of play, etc. The emphasis of the exercise can be manipulated by the conditions and the rules. This one game can be played with no goals as a keep away game, with end line targets to address rhythm of play as well as group and team defending and with big goals to focus on attacking and defending issues that are created with big goals and goal keepers. All the while, the bumper players offer outlet options while allowing the field space to remain relatively tight. In this example, most of the coach’s teaching can be done as the ball is rolling or when the ball has gone out of bounds. Another way for the coach to influence these exercises is to play several games with a certain time limit for each game and discuss and make adjustments between games or play a longer game with a 5-minute half time. This model is beneficial because it is closer to how we coach in matches and it allows the players an uninterrupted amount of time to sort out the game for themselves. The most common example of a functional exercise at this level is some type of half field or three quarter sized field game that has one full sized goal and two “counter” goals. These exercises are beneficial because the coach can address specific scenarios, as they would occur in specific parts of the field during a match. They also provide the coach and players with repeated opportunities to practice a particular issue. Finally, these exercises are a good way to address team issues when the size of your roster doesn’t allow you to play 11 v 11. For example, attacking and defending themes can be addressed beginning with 6 v 5 (4 defenders and a goalkeeper) and continuing to the full game. There are several points to consider that may impact the effectiveness of these exercises.
- Even though there are typically uneven numbers and a partial field with one full goal, try to make the soccer as realistic and competitive as possible. Make sure that the amount of information that you give is balanced by uninterrupted opportunities for the players to play. This means that, occasionally, you need to allow the game to play for a certain amount of time, allowing for some change of possession as well as restarts, etc.
- Try to work with both groups somewhat equally. If you are designing this exercise to work with your attacking group going to a big goal, have your assistant coach address issues with the defending group such as establishing a point in their defending half to “recover” to when they are able to get the ball out of their end. Likewise, they can work on when to step and pressure and when to drop off and how to keep their back line active, and within the back line – what is the position of their bodies and how can this influence their ability to defend? These can all be addressed while the attacking team is also focusing on their own issues.
General Description of What Should be happening in Matches
The matches are the time for the players to apply the lessons from their week of practices, from their most recent match and as well as from the season thus far. Most of the coach’s role in the match occurred during the prior week. By game time, the coach’s role is to give the players some organizational focus during the pre game period and then make the appropriate adjustments during the match through substitutions and during the halftime break.
Best Qualities of a Coach for This Age Player
Charismatic; well informed; up to date; experienced; knowledgeable; articulate; disciplinarian; no doubts about his/her authority and managerial know-how.