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Coaches Toolbox

Every good workman has a toolbox. A bad workman blames his tools.

Coaches are no different.

You have a toolbox, it might be shallow right now, it might be expansive. Some of the tools might need oil, whist others need to be thrown away.

The toolbox is essentially your various ways of coaching and connecting with your players individually and the entire team.


A standard method of intervening and coaching. Everybody stand still because I have seen something we need to address. Ideally this happens after a trend of mistakes from multiple players.

The freeze can work when players then rehearse the desired behavior - usually a walk through with low pressure to work through a pattern or a necessary way of playing in a key moment - and then the action returns with another live rehearsal and back to real play. The true test would be to see if there is repetition of the desired behavior. This tool needs refinement as you attempt to keep players in position and focused, preventing them from moving close to another player to talk about what's going on.

If you constantly freeze the action and talk about mistakes, players begin to lose interest. If you talk to just one player in the freeze moment, imagine how that players feels with the spotlight shining on them - this impact is often amplified in female players.

My opinion. This should only be used when nothing else is working from the list below.

Tactics Board

A board is an incredibly valuable resource because you can explain things in a visual way.

From writing on the tactics board with arrival information, to displaying a formation and showing a trend, and allowing the players to be hands on with the pieces, the board is an all encompassing tool. It helps you articulate things in a more simple manner with display outweighing the value of your words.

Players can relate to themselves on the field and see the other pieces around them and how the connect.

You can pick up tactics boards from various different places, and you can get a huge one on wheels to a small letter size board for easy transportation. Lots of variety in boards, but I find a magnetic white board to be the best so I can move pieces, but also write/draw.

Pt 2. Technology

To support the use of the board, I use apps like TacticalPad. I will create either a simple snapshot of what the activity will look like, and/or a GIF to send to players/parents (and use on social media, of course).

There are lots of apps and even the use paper and pen and sharing an image will help to secure the visual aid that many will need. I don't like to use the tech on the field though, it is more of a pre or post tool.


Instead of stopping the practice and telling a single player how to open up and receive the ball so we can break pressure, try talking 1:1 with that player. You could do it in the flow when the ball is not near them, you could do it when the ball is looking like it is going to move their way or you can do it when there is a stoppage in the game. Any of these can help, or hinder, and you need to understand what will help that individual the most - you can do so by asking them!

It is almost a guarantee that this will find more success than calling them out in front of the team.

The second way to develop 1:1 coaching with players in practice is to give them objectives or tasks. Touch the ball 5 times in the next 2 minutes, if you have a timid player, or a player that gets stuck wide (very typical for the 1-4-3-3 formation in the US youth game). Now you're challenging them on their level and it's not as much about them trying to get on the ball as it is connecting with them and letting them know that you see them. If they don't touch it 5 times, consider why and how you can help them more. The same mini goals can be given to any player - can you striker take 3 shots in this mini game. Can the midfielders intercept 2 passes etc etc.

Hot and Cold Feedback

A way of expanding on the 1:! is to use hot and cold feedback.

Hot - immediate. Why did you do that, what did you see, what were you trying to achieve. Often hot feedback is given as 'WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?' or "GREAT PASS' but it rarely has value, so asking why and what a player was trying to achieve can really help them pay attention to what they are doing and can help to prevent the mindless things that players do like booting the ball away.

Cold - The action is over - either between reps or at the end of practice. "Earlier you forced the ball into pressure, can you tell me why you chose that option/what you were trying to do/what other options you could have used?". The concept here is to help the players reflect on moments that are integral to their development. Can they recall and learn from those moments (not always negative by the way!).

Power Words

Using a single word to describe a desired action.

Not to play the game like Basketball and Coach Carter where we yell 'Linda' and expect a pattern of play, but more about looking to remind our players of what we are trying to achieve.

'Switch' is a classic. We all know what that means.

Maybe you use 'Banana'. It could mean the same thing, but it is a word that you use in practice and is a word your players begin to use. So, in practice you use 'banana' and it means specific behaviors should occur across the field for your team to be able to switch, or even pretend to switch. This is what you work on so it has a consistent meaning for your team on game day. Don't get too complex or try to be so secretive, but consistency and giving answers to players can only help with their mastery.

A notepad

For you to write down feelings, emotions, and comments that are better written down than shouted! It's also a tool for recall. Writing helps me keep calm and arrange my thoughts as the game goes on. It's private and it's in your pocket. I recommend it as much as any of these tools.

So, open up that toolbox. Sharpen some tools, throw the others away, and get to work, coach.



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