How to Turn Around a Losing Soccer Team
Below is a letter I received from a soccer coach who was losing and wanted to know how to improve his team.
Since my original letter we have had varied success. The next soccer game we played, we won 3-0. I moved player 3 back to stopper for half the game and used player 9 at stopper in the second half. The boys played great and I thought that I’d finally cracked the code on where to have the different boys play.
But the next week we lost again. We were scheduled to play a team that by all means, we could have played even, or based on our play the previous week, beat. We lost 5-1. My boys played with no energy at all and I found it extremely frustrating watching them rotate in place as they watched the other team run between them. At least half if not more of the team was playing as spectators. Most of the soccer goals were scored because my defenders were out of soccer position and not attacking the ball.
We lost our game this last weekend by 8-0. I started off playing my stronger players in the opening quarters to try and keep the score down and the morale up. We were playing the number one team and we started off playing them fairly evenly, but we couldn’t convert on anything in front of the soccer goal, because our offensive players weren’t in position and we gave up three goals in the first half because our soccer defenders were out of position. Once again, we had a lot of spectating on the field and after a while the defenders I had, who weren’t playing very aggressive to begin with, stopped playing completely. I had to take one player out because he actually stopped moving, it was like watching the Bad News Bears play soccer. Towards the end, even my good players were giving up.
I am obviously not being very effective in my soccer coaching. What are some activities I can do to try and help the boys play their positions? We cover it in soccer practice regularly but it doesn’t seem to be sinking in? Also, what are your thoughts on even play for the kids? I have enough good players that I could mount a fairly good team, but usually half the team at any one time is on the not so skilled side. I’m trying to give everyone close to equal time, but when kids are not trying I think I should take them out (I have not been doing this as it would mean some players are going to sit almost all the time).
Hi Coach T,
I want to encourage you not to get too discouraged by your loss to the number one team. It’s very important for you to be realistic — keep in mind that you were SUPPOSED to lose to that team. What happened was that your team saw they couldn’t win and gave up in the second half. It’s not pretty, but it’s understandable, and practical (Why keep killing yourself if you can’t possibly win? That just saps your energy. I think it’s better to just admit that it isn’t your day and mentally focus on the next game. Save your best efforts for the teams you have a chance to beat). I suggest telling your team that they are improving but that the opponent was just better that day and losing that game is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s very important for you to be realistic about your team and their potential. You aren’t a miracle worker and can’t do the impossible. All you can do is do the best with the talent, speed, aggressiveness, and practice time you have. You are SUPPOSED to lose to a better and faster team – all you can do is minimize the damage and try to not let your team’s morale and confidence suffer too much.
I have some ideas for you to consider:
1. Do you scrimmage at practice? If you do, stop scrimmaging. kids play with more enthusiasm in their real matches if they don’t scrimmage at practice.
2. I notice that you use the iron-on patches with your team. Your biggest needs are aggressive play, defense and scoring, so I would only give patches for those 3 things. I would give a patch NOT ONLY for actually scoring, but also for BEING IN POSITION TO SCORE – if your players do the right things, they will start to score. Once they learn to score, you might want to stop giving patches for goals, but for now you need to do that to teach them how to score. Your team must also develop a DESIRE TO WIN. If you get more patches, buy the V and A patches… when you win, make a big deal of it. Don’t give patches for participation – give them for effort, achievement and aggressiveness. The exception might be a patch for practice attendance, but you can give one for each 2 or 3 practices attended. Practice attendance is critical to the success of your team.
3. To keep yourself motivated, try the Motivational quotes on Premium… I read them myself.
4. Do you play Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race Practice Game? Use it to teach Aggressive Receiving – this is important – your players need to get more aggressive about winning the ball. Play it with pairs and give the winners a patch. You will get better, faster results from focusing on Aggressive Receiving than you will from focusing on passing – Aggressive Receiving is more important to teach.
5. Do you play Dribble Across a Square at every practice? This is important — play it at the start of practice as a warm-up — twice with a 10 step wide square and then twice with a 14 step wide square.
6. Don’t try to emphasize passing yet, except by playing the Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race game — tell your scorers to try to score and teach them to look for rebounds and to be aggressive. Tell defenders to kick it hard straight ahead and teach Forwards to Win the Ball and give them a patch if they do.
7. Do you have sports drinks and water at the games? If not, try that — it can make a difference (there’s a good article about Hydration on Premium)
8. Play the Shoulder Tackle and Strength on the Ball Game to toughen up your players.
9. Regarding equal playing time: Most leagues require each player to play 50% of the game – check to see what your league requires. If a player won’t try or hustle or do as you ask, they shouldn’t expect to play as much as someone who does — I think that’s a fair approach. You have an obligation to the players, but also to the Team.
10. Have you taught Coaching Rule # 3? It’s worth 2 goals per game at U-9
11. Have you taught First Defender/Second Defender? How to teach it is at Quick Team Improvement.
12. I recommend that you make a BIG DEAL of BRAVERY and give a Red patch for it and ONLY for that — the BRAVERY patch (also called the Blood Patch) — believe me, that works — I used that myself.
13. You’re right – you MUST have brave players at Fullback and Stopper — that is CRITICAL. If you Defend Deep they don’t have to skilled or fast, but they MUST be brave.
14. If you Defend Deep (if you leave your Fullbacks deep), think about letting your tough Fullbacks play most of the game or even the entire game (perhaps rotating 3 players at those 2 positions).
15. Try the Win the 50/50 Ball Game and use it to teach players to slow down the attack if they can’t win the ball.
I think you are closer than you think. The key is to motivate your players to play hard. Don’t judge your progress by the 8-0 loss — that loss is understandable — it was like an avalanche, once it got started you couldn’t stop it — it was best to just try not to get hurt by it.
Please let me know which of these ideas helps and other ideas that help you.