Senior author, Jonny Carter, and co-author, Michael Louter have 4 published books.
Soccer Training at Home
As designed by Vitesse Soccer, A specific video of how to train at home:
Ariticle 1 of 3
Gaining Perspective in the Understanding of the Evaluation of Players
By Michael Louter
A common question for coaches is: “How do we evaluate players?” The education and overall experiences and educational level of the coach contribute to the development of how to perform evaluations. My perspective comes from playing and coaching at all levels of soccer including recreation, select, professional and National; two Masters degrees in sports coaching and Fitness with emphasis in Sport Psychology; and in-depth exposures of cultures of Holland, England, American and Brazilian. These experiences have created a unique view of how I evaluate players on their potential.
The following is an attempt to translate into words this perspective of evaluating between the typical player and the exceling player. Think of the example of academics where everyone is a student and then within those students you have those in the honor society. We do not have the benefit of having a standard grading system to use in determining the difference between average and honor roll or in our case the typical player and the excelling player. We are able to identify key characteristics to compare between the typical and excelling player. Like class subjects most individuals will have areas that they excel in and others where they are average.
Comparison of Player Traits
What is an excelling player depends on what lens you are looking through.
The way we define standard of performance will depend upon the lens that we are applying. Lenses will vary based on the objectives that we define for each program. It is also helpful to recognize our cultural perspective and any personal stake (i.e. such as being a parent of a player in a particular age group) as that influences our perception of the evaluation process.
It is my experience that most clubs / cultures view performances through one lens and will miss outstanding performance that would have otherwise been recognized through other lenses. Each player needs to identify what organizational lens will bring out the best in him. Each organization has to be clear in objectives; truthful about biases and the limitations of the evaluator (such as a class ‘d’ level coach does not possess the range of perspective and knowledge of a class ‘a’ level coach); and the lens being used when assessing and determining players.
Below are illustrations of performances being seen with different lenses.
When I was at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Florida, only 60% of the U17 National team players moved on to a D1 College program. Specifically, they were seen as the best in their age in the country while in high school yet not recruited for the D1 level for college.
At age 15, I played at the Dutch U16 National team, which is a world renowned soccer program. Yet, I would have been ranked a below average player in an English system (physical and long ball), or at a Latino system (mental games), or Italian system (cattenachio).
Borrussia Dortmund made the final in the Europe’s Champions League, yet after 20 games in the Bundesliga they were on the bottom of the Bundesliga.
Louis van Gaal hailed with Holland a relative ‘weak’ team and without one lost in the tournament became ranked third in the World. Yet, in a move to become the coach at Manchester United, Louis van Gaal spent a quarter billion dollars to buy new players only to play in the FA Cup a 0-0 draw against a fourth division team consisting of all amateurs. The point of this illustration is that evaluation of success is often just win/loss. Those with greater experience and understanding can see the strengths of a performance whether or not it is a win or loss.
My friend and neighbor in Castricum, Holland, Kees Luijckx (29), has been playing professionally in the Dutch highest divison Eredivie from 2009-2014. In 2014, he was nominated and ridiculed as the worst defender of the league. His team relegated and had to leave the club. In Fall 2014, he was contracted by a Greece club. They undid his contract mid-season. In January 2015, Kees tried out unsuccessfully with the last place ranked NAC and second division club English league Birmingham City. February 2015, he receives a contract and is a starter with Hungarian club Videoton that is also playing in the European Champion League. This is an example again of where the lens of the needs of the club will identify/rank players differently. A player may be considered weak by one club as that player does not possess the skills they are needing and yet be strong for another club. The skills of the player does not change; it is the needs lens of the club that is different.
My best friend and teammate from 7-16 years old, Arjan de Zeeuw tried out each year for ODP and was never selected. Growing up, for Arjan soccer was a leisure activity. He couldn’t juggle and was unable to outplay anybody with a basic move such as the application of a scissors. At age 24, he graduated as a doctor. At age 21, he signed a semi-contract with lowly ranked second Divison club ‘Telstar.’ English scouts of first Division English League came one day to observe another player. The following day, Arjan was on the ferry and started the first upcoming game. In 6 months, he was promoted to Premier League Wigan and captained them for many years. Arjan played 13 years professionally in the English Premier League and first Division.
Steve Keel is a starter on the first team of the MLS team ‘FC Dallas.’ From 1998-2002, Steve was a player on a team I coached at IMG Academies in Bradenton, FL. Steve was never a starter at the U15 through U18 teams and followed the IMG Academy as a member of a Division 2 College program in Colorado.
Michael Parkhurst is a player I worked with at IMG Academies. We worked hard together to get him accepted with any of the D1 College soccer programs. Eventually, after lots of hard work, Wake Forest expressed that they would take a risk giving him a 20% scholarship. Michael became a 3 time ‘All American first team’ player for this D1 school. He was a runner-up in Rookie of the Year in the MLS and has played several times for the senior US National team.
In my function as the ODP Director for Alabama, I worked with Bill Dworski a player from Huntsville that I had known since he was 12. While his heart was always in the right place, he demonstrated a lot of immature traits at a young age. At the age of 16, he changed into a respectful, disciplined young man and player. He started to play within his capabilities. I advocated with the Region team to give him a ‘look.’ I received the response by the National team coach that there are no good players in Alabama. Bill moved on with a full scholarship to a D1 College in California and at age 19 was selected for the U22 US National team.
While in Brevard, NC, through my intermittent times between 1990 and 2004, I worked with a 12 year old girl named Amy who possessed limited playing perspective and talent. What she did have was ambition, speed and effort. With this determination and commitment, she played her way up from recreational soccer, through middle school onto the Youth National team and as starter at the UNC North Carolina Women’s program with Coach Anson Dorrance. In small town Brevard, Amy was good, not outstanding. The irony is the higher up Amy played, the more she stood out in her playing performance.
A typical player
1. Has a fixed mind-set
2. Relies on others for motivation
3. Lacks confidence. Self-inflates
4. Others define 'good/bad'
5. Uses team to uplift 'self'
6. Conditional support group
7. When playing, optional support
8. Support felt as 'submissive
9. Feels that environment 'judges'
10. Does not keep internal tracking
11. Emphasizes technique
12. Utilize one resource (such as one coach or parent perspective)
13. Gives into emotions impacting perspective
14. Focus can be easilty distracted
15. Has difficulty accepting assigned roles
16. Leisure convenience approach to enjoyment and participation
An excelling player
1. Growing mind-set
3. Sees himself with talented gifts. Self-grounded. Humility
4. Has his own perspective of what is 'good/bad'
5. Is proud to be part of something bigger and better
6. Unconditional support group
7. When playing, feels responsible to provide support
8. Servant Leader
9. Feels environment is safe to experiment
10. Measures progress in terms of tackles, getting open, crosses...
11. Emphasizes analytical decision making with technique
12. Seeks and connect with a variety of resources to improve understand and performance.
13. Manages emotions to allow for rational thought, faith and maturity.
14. Focused on objectives and present participation.
15. Recognizes playing structures as part of the big picture.
16. Consistent in commitment, play and self.
Lens of Interest:
Lens of Fitness:
Lens of Strategy:
Lens of Leadership:
Lens of Technique:
Lens of Commitment:
Lens of Tem/Club Needs:
Lens of Perspective:
He is a 'good' player at recreation level.
He is in top physical condition.
He is a smart player, reads the field, anticipates and acts accordingly.
He is an example for other players and rallies the morale of the team.
He is a 'good' player in a environmanet that seeks out technique.
He is an exceptional player as he outperforms technique with character traits.
Based on the needs of the team, he is a 'good' player as we cannot have ten goalkeepers on the team.
In this organization, system and culture, he is a 'good' player.
Article 2 of 3
Connections of Culture and Soccer
Michael J Louter
Reflections on why and how we engage in soccer
Coming from the northern part of Europe, soccer is an integral part of the culture. We begin playing in our neighborhoods with the soccer club the center focus of communities. How towns were established around a source of water, soccer when I was growing up, was as essential as water. Individuals often remain involved with the club even after they are grown or for parents to be involved even after they have no children in the program. Soccer is a common link between multiple generations.
Interest and participation in soccer in the US is growing as it becomes more visible and understood as a sport. My experience since being in the US for almost 25 years as a player, coach and now also as a parent of young players is that kids often begin soccer here because one of their parents may have played (second generation to play as soccer is relatively new in the US), to be part of a team sport for the physical exercise and to build friendships. There is a tendency to schedule our children here in the US so that there is little downtime. Soccer may be one of many activities as kids are encouraged to experiment with as many activities as possible, there is a desire to do what others in our social groups are engaged in or to simply fill the child’s schedule as part of one of many summer camps.
There will eventually be a “fork in the road” from this initial introduction time where a player and/or parent will choose to withdraw (go another path that does not include soccer) or become more engaged in organized recreational soccer. Now it becomes semi-serious as the player is expected to train and be game dressed. The player and parent commit to availability at this stage. Sensitivities are often high for both parents and players as they learn the cultural elements of soccer – language (terminology), history, structure (rules), etc. The next level is to commit to being more competitive which involves additional focus including more practices and likely involves travel. This is an increase of commitment in time, finances and effort for player and family.
Recreational soccer ends at the age of 14 reflecting the natural attrition that occurs in players as their interests develop and those who do not move into academy (competitive) level often follow other interests. This is not unique to soccer. My two sons are engaged in Cub Scouts. Cub Scouts provides an opportunity for boys to build basic scouting skills/values and have an introduction to Boy Scouts. The Cub Master recently shared that there is a significant drop in participants in scouting between Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts organization has recently implemented changes in the Cub Scouts program to introduce earlier to the boys and parents the structure and philosophy of Boy Scouts for the encouragement of earlier integration and understanding. While they know there will still be attrition, there is a hope that the values of scouting will be known more fully by the boys involved and more will decide to transition from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts. In soccer, there are natural developmental stages beginning with the introduction of soccer to our littlest players which is more about organized play, the increased commitment and development of technical skills in the organized academy program for the middle ages and the development of the strategic analysis skills along with technique in the senior age groups. As part of a healthy organization and for the holistic care of player/parent, support in transition is necessary from introduction and with each developmental stage for both parents and players.
Approach and Seeking
For parents new to soccer, I have experienced that they will approach with either an openness to asking questions / observing to learn the soccer culture or will present as an expert attempting to draw on other experiences such as with another sport (like football) to apply in soccer. In this second group, what other parents say (whether knowledgeable in soccer or not) will often have greater persuasion than those more qualified through education, certifications and experiences in the sport of soccer.
It is common on the recreational level or for players/parents who are not as committed to select coaches for their charisma (ability to be in relationship) than on their ability to develop players. This is often the case for those who are seeking to “feel good”. Feeling good is a surface enjoyment that is often driven by external factors. You feel good when you win a game and feel bad when you lose. This could be soccer or any contest engaged in. Feeling good is often about the moment and being perceived as better in some way that is easily recognized by others. You feel good when you get the most for the least amount of effort/investment. The parallel to seeking to “feel good” is to seek “joy”. My understanding of “joy” is when a person is truly having fun and learning through the experience. Joy is based on how you played in the game – winning over a weaker team is not equal to winning or even losing to a much stronger team that you played well against. Joy is experienced in the journey and comes internally in the use of individual talents and a sense of accomplishment. For those who are joy-driven, objectives are shared and there exists honesty and trust within the player/parent as well as externally with coaches, other parents and players.
As an illustration think of how you select a medical doctor. Sometimes we select a doctor because we like their “bedside manner”. We have a warm feeling when meeting them or there may just be a convenience in their location or cost. Other times we select a doctor because they are the best in their field as viewed by other doctors which is supported by accomplishments of the doctor. The motivation of the patient influences whether we are seeking to just “feel good” (surface level) or seeking “joy” (a deeper internal level of comfort in the decision). The motivation of just needing a ‘physical’ is different from having a ‘life threatening’ condition.
There is nothing wrong with seeking to “feel good” or to seek “joy”. It is helpful to recognize for self and for others what is being sought as this influences how invested a player/parent will be, their reaction/response in various situations (such as how they will receive constructive feedback), and it provides some understanding of the underlying motivation that influences perspective. In being truthful with ourselves as to what we are seeking and making choices according to those preferences, it is hoped that we recognize the limitations that we are placing on ourselves and others. Frustration can occur when we are unclear for ourselves what we are wanting as well as our expectations are not in agreement with what we are willing to invest. For example, there is a desire to be seen as the top player yet doing the minimum in terms of training and only seeking those who will say what you want to hear from one perspective.
Influence of Culture
Our perception is influenced by our culture. Like glasses have lenses to help us to see, culture provides a lens of how we understand (view) the world.
I have heard and experienced the following as part of our culture here in the US and in other cultures that I experienced growing up or through soccer/educational immersions.
1) We place a strong value and pride on hard work with players. The first entry of judgment of the public eye is ‘if you lost, the other team must have worked harder’. Players express the feeling of being emotionally hurt when they are told that they didn’t work hard. Fear of being perceived as not working hard can become a driving factor.
The dominating value in North Western Europe is that of finding fun and enjoyment in all that you do. Individuals are expected to be fully present giving their best efforts at all times with a balance of perspective. For example, an employee in a company is expected to be fully invested in performing their job assignment during work hours and they are expected to fully disengage from work for periods of vacation. It is the player’s responsibility to seek out what is fun and include others with it.
2) We value courage. Courage is recognized externally in hard tackles and physical play.
Many other cultural lenses look for craftiness and innovation as their means of effectiveness and whenever possible by-pass physical risk of injuries.
3) The first team is always the best and being selected as part of a second team equals being “less than” with fewer opportunities for the future.
Many other cultural lenses view that the current level of play is no indication of the development potential and for what is ten years off the horizon from now.
4) We believe that all talents are equal and with strong drive every person can make it to the top. Other external factors, such as the coach or other team players, may be viewed as the difference between success and failure.
In cultures where soccer is in the front news daily, players are brought up to find their gifts uniquely belonging to them and make them useful for the team. Success is internally driven.
5) In the American, English and Spanish culture, there is a tendency not to question the coach. This does not imply that the coach is viewed as right as there is a tendency for “Monday morning quarterbacks”. There also exists a fear of nepotism (especially with parent coaches) and a concern that if a parent speaks up there may be a bias (whether negative or positive) in the treatment of the player.
In the Dutch, Belgium and German culture, it is expected that players think with the coach for solutions and are direct in communications. The coach is one member of the team and leads the question process among the group to achieve understanding and buy-in. Players engage in self-selection of who starts and who not based upon the effort they are willing to engage in with the scheduled team practices/games and in self training/practicing. The most effective and effort-driven players make the starting XI.
6) In the US, soccer is a team sport. The definition of a team that I have experienced most often in the US is a group of individuals coming together with the shared objective to win the game. The team dismantles after the game. The player and what they bring to the team is more important than the person.
In Europe, soccer is a community sport. Barcelona, Ajax, Manchester United and Bayern Munich sees themselves foremost as a club that enjoys coming together, being in community and through the vehicle of soccer expressing their feelings of frustrations and enthusiasm. The person is more important than the player.
Influence of Culture
In player development the greatest influencing factor is not the coach, talent of player, or equipment. Although the organization and structure of each club is extremely important, the greatest factor is the culture. The cultural context influences the organization and structure of the club as well as the feelings and behavior of the individual members (coaches, players and parents) involved with the club. Ajax Amsterdam in Holland is known to be the number one player development academy in the World. According to the current FIFA ranking, Germany is hailed as first in the World, Belgium as third and Holland as sixth (May 2015 | http://m.fifa.com/fifa-world-ranking/ranking-table/men/index.html). I believe that it is no coincidence of the ranking of these three countries from North Western Europe share similar cultural traits. With a population of 323,000, Iceland is ranked 38th, while in India, soccer is the second most participated sport in the country. In India, with a population of more than 1 billion people, a counter-culture exists and they are unable to field a competitive team that inspires their next generation to follow. My assumption is that countries with more than 10 million people have equal amount of talent of players and coaches in their pool. The primary difference is the influence of the culture.
I believe players become successful when they recognize their lenses and seek to expand their perspectives. It is like making a paradigm shift. For example, when a person moves from renting to buying a house, he might feel and think instantly differently about responsibility and thereon how he perceives enjoyment. In soccer, I have experienced the awareness of a paradigm shift on a handful of occasions. Specifically, I remember when, for a brief period, I tried boxing. It changed my soccer perspective entirely. That is, I needed to be way more decisive, alert and committed in my 1-v-1 actions to be successful and prevent injuries. I learned in Brazil their measure for hard work and enjoyment. I thought I always worked hard, yet when I spent time with the Brazilians I knew I was kidding myself. Instantly I took on their level of passion and their level of expectation to work hard. In the United States, I witnessed a referee being ridiculed by the public and yet he kept on demonstrating his enjoyment and grace towards the players he was facilitating. I recognized the importance of professionalism in all circumstances and to be driven by the eternal “joy” (faith). His response influenced me forever.
While some shifts occur quickly due to defining moments, other shifts occur over years as perspective grows and different lenses are considered. In this journey, there are various influences on the time needed for each of us to gain perspective and especially to make or recognize significant paradigm shifts in ourselves. Our own history/experience may have left a person resistant to change, insecure in themselves or able to view outside their own lens. In these cases, often there is a tendency for a negative response to any feedback that is not 100% supportive of their viewpoint. Another challenge is when a person is either unable to recognize or does not desire to ever change pre-conceived notions, expectations, assumptions, comparisons, limitations and judgments. That is what I call the ‘ready’ factor. Each person has to arrive at his own time (when that person is ready) before able to take on new information. In considering other lenses, you just cannot forego your other lens. You go through an ‘in-between phase’ in creating stronger insight.
Our US culture loves competition as seen in sports. It thrives on the fantasy of winning and the feelings that go along with “being the best”. We also can be quick in self-defeating behaviors such as the use of alibis (such as blaming someone else or another entity for what we perceive as a loss or shortcoming) in order to prevent the pain of embarrassment in loss or even the feeling of guilt when knowing that we did not invest at the level that we want to be perceived for our self or by others. These self-defeating behaviors distract from the opportunity to grow in the learning experience including taking responsibility that is ours. In particular, in my experience coaches and parents alike can too quickly speak and act reflecting emotions of anger and disappointment.
When the coach or parent is expressing negative feelings, there can be an occurrence of counter transparency. Counter transparency is a psychological term used when the person who is supposed to be the therapist moves from being in that role to being the person receiving the therapy. Therapists continually go through their own counseling in order to “purge” themselves of issues that may arise as they work with others. In essence, the athlete may become the therapist to the parent or the coach. To explain, when the parent acts on the negative feelings, the actions of the athlete all revolve around the void and/or lack of clarity of that parent. This occurs until the parent comes back to equilibrium (rationale thought that is balanced between negative and positive). In psychology sessions, healing occurs when transparency happens between the therapist and patient. The flow of energy, creative ideas, enthusiasm… has to go from therapist to patient and not the other way around. In translation of this concept to soccer, when the player has more clarity at the end of the ‘session’, feels free and safe, the coach has done a marvelous job and progress will be made.
Growing and developing over time is what the life journey is all about. What I believe is that there is no point in life where we have fully evolved in our thought and perspective. I will always continue to learn new knowledge/perspectives in my profession and in myself as I grow in perspective, talents and wisdom that come through experience. It is a privilege that we have to journey in this way together and especially in the development of our children.
Articles 3 of 3
Principles Based Soccer
We believe the essential for soccer development and success is working as a team. To facilitate the team process we follow a set of principles designed to create an understanding of member roles and responsibilities on the soccer team. This process is Principles Based Soccer.
As being a Director of Coaching for different organizations, I believe it is important in player development to focus on one aspect of each dimension in soccer at a time. These principles are meant as a starting point for players and parents to identify with as we can focus from just one perspective at a time. We begin with the lowest denominator of team members, 3-v-3, gaining awareness of working together through application of basic defense and attack principles.
Players and parents are encouraged to ask questions about Principles Based Soccer as this process is an expectation.
James Suroweicki, in the April 28th, 2008 New Yorker magazine, provided an interesting analogy of how we function as either rules based or principles based using analogies from Football and Soccer. In the article he stated:
Football, like most American sports, is heavily rule-bound. There’s an elaborate rulebook that sharply limits what players can and can’t do (down to where they have to stand on the field), and its dictates are followed with great care. Soccer is a more principles-based game. There are fewer rules, and the referee is given far more authority than officials in most American sports to interpret them and to shape game play and outcomes. For instance, a soccer referee keeps the game time, and at game’s end has the discretion to add as many or as few minutes of extra time as he deems necessary. There’s also less obsession with precision—players making a free kick or throw-in don’t have to pinpoint exactly where it should be taken from. As long as it’s in the general vicinity of the right spot, it’s O.K.
Based on my experience with a variety of cultures, I would identify the soccer that we most often experience as backyard soccer or play on your feelings to what feels right on that moment. It is an emotional based soccer, where players can whack the ball without purpose and receive applause. Those watching are often supporting as if it is the rules based football rather than the principles based soccer. In this environment, communication among players is actually discouraged as the focus is on the individual and their own feelings.
To experience the enjoyment, the development and the success from principled based soccer, the mindset of all the players must be thinking with the process, not against the process. This “hit home” for our family recently as we worked with our son after several weeks of whining before going to church. He attends school five days a week and why did he need to go on Sunday’s to church school. Our son’s experience is influenced by his expectation and commitment as well as our support of the principles. Those around him, that is church workers, teachers, coaches, parents have the intentions to make the process of learning fun but his attitude will determine what he will gain from the experience – i.e. whether or not it will be fun. We asked our son to think with the process.
The Bundesliga in Germany and their national team is the best example of structure and the dogmatic implementation of principles that leads to the greatest success. In 2013, two German teams played the final in the Champions League, which is a most unprecedented achievement. In addition, 35 out of the 38 professional teams recorded a financial gain in their fiscal year, while all other professional leagues in Europe were financially in the “red”.
Soccer is identifiable by principles of how to play as a team. Principles need to be clear and logical. These principles help dictate when to rest and when to intensify; what and when to communicate; roles and responsibilities of each player on the team during each phase of a game; and what are the dominant skill-sets to use. When truly playing principled based, you manage personal feelings and making decisions based on personal interest is not possible. The advantages from those who have experienced playing principle based soccer include:
Enhanced the fun in playing,
Easy to learn,
High level of team morale,
Increased level of commitment,
Adds to the entertainment experience,
Elevates the element of ‘positive’ surprise,
Sharpens the concentration level,
Improved skill-level and judgment, and
Provides a clear picture of what to learn next.
To introduce principled based soccer requires two coaches who are capable of teaching two players. Other players will follow as in a snowball effect. At the end of an hour session the players should feel more energized than at the start. Talented and athletic players often experience more difficulty to adapt to this style of play as for them there was no need to think or behave as a member of a team. Players motivated to play by social reasons but open-minded in learning new concepts will try to do their best but may experience challenge to keep up with the tempo of transitioning in the defense or transitioning into attack to get into a passing lane.
How do we play as a team?
In developing these principles, the first and most important question is: “How do we play as a team?” When some team members are playing high pressure, while the others are playing low pressure, we are not working as a team. When one player commits to a tackle without having cover, we are not a team. When there is no encouragement and talking through the playing options, we are not a team.
Consider a single player to be one thread of rope. One thread of rope can hold 5 lbs., two threads of ropes intertwined can hold 15 lbs. and three threads of ropes braided holds 215 lbs. When we function as a team, like ropes we are exponentially stronger than the one. When thinking as a member of the team, you can commit without the fear to fail. There is an assurance that your team “has your back”. Specifically, team members are in the right position to provide support for one another.
A potentially negative aspect in society today can be the influence of third party opinions. Too often players and parents rely in an unbalanced way on the influence of third party opinions. The opinions are often of those without expertise (education, professional and practical experience) in soccer or those with a personal bias. Such undue influence can initiate a feeling of continuous skepticism and uncertainty. Such negativity in a group undermines the team process by bringing doubt into the players and a lack of support for the coaching. With trust and commitment, a strong team will emerge with principles based soccer.
My coaching style is fully related to the principles. For instance, a player might demonstrate his passionate yet unsuccessful attempts in winning tackles because he is reaching out and misses strength. My coaching point with the player might be to contain in the defensive triangle (principle 2), allowing the opponent coming towards you and only step in to commit for the tackle. This manages the moment of impact on the tackle providing an additional 60% burst if otherwise he would have made two additional strikes into the tackle. Another illustration is when a team lacks playing rhythm and touches on the ball affecting team morale, a simple correction might be reminding players to pass the security pass with the follow through pass (principles 5 and 6). Finally, a team that struggles with fitness I would refer them to principles 3 and 7. I believe in most of the situations a simply reminder of the stated principles helps teams to quickly get back on track.
While these principles might sound like an ideal, of course a straight, easy shot it is not. The coach continuously troubleshoots in an effort to work together. As the saying goes ‘Lead one step ahead and people will follow. Lead too far ahead and people will throw stones’ holds true. While I always strive for the next level of accomplishment, I fully realize if as a coach I am not able to get success with four attempts to teach a principle, I need to be satisfied in that day for where we are at. Ultimately, we are here to support the players for what they love to do.
Johan Cruijff: “It is BETTER – to take initiative and it goes wrong, than do nothing and it goes wrong anyway.”
earning Principles Based Soccer
An optimal environment for learning principled based soccer is through 3-v-3 with defending as the starting point. When you add more players, the roles and responsibilities can become confounded. However, when a team has learned to play the system it is easy to translate into playing 4-v-4; 5-v-5… 11-v-11. Even in the larger groupings the moment to moment decision making is still being made in the triangle of 3-v-3.
Contrary to popular belief, it is important for the player development to focus on one aspect of soccer at a time. We focus on the following four aspects. That is,
Low pressure soccer (-v- high pressure soccer).
Build-up soccer (-v- break-away soccer).
Creating space on the third man running (-v- dribbling and taking on).
Shooting on the 1 touch (-v- there are 8 different ways to create a scoring change).
Principles based soccer as outlined below encompasses the principles of Attack and principles of Defense taught by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). In this article, we attempt to be more directive in providing a starting point to learn and convey the USSF principles by defining in operation each sequencing step taken from the perspective of when a team may lose the ball. Many of the nuances and details we describe such as spacing, timing, feel and angles is not definable in words, but that’s where you will ‘have to think with the process’ to discover.
Often on the side-line I over hear coaches saying ‘we need to win tackles’… ‘we need to be more fit than the other team’… and ‘we need to be more skilled.’ These are comments that I would use as part of feedback when a team has won the game or tournament to keep players focused on reaching for the next level of play. When a team has lost a game, I find these type of comments self-defeating as they risk sparking a descending spiral performance. Coaches need to assume shared-responsibility. The system of principle based soccer integrates the skills, fitness, and timing of tackles while focusing on moving the player beyond to a higher level.
Insert Table A -- Available upon request
At all times players are to practice awareness. Act on the principles while recognizing other options that come available such as turn and dribble. In all scenarios, the one touch pass is the first action to consider.
It is essential in the players’ discipline to return to the basics when the team is not playing well. When the team play is going well, it is a good time to try new things which add to your basic principles.
Throughout the basic principles you see the necessity and encouragement of communication between players, the fluidity and dynamic pace of the play especially when compared to rules based play, a modeling of a variety of leadership and team strengths, a positive focus on the process for play rather than emotions, and the opportunity for synergy – the creating of greater opportunities then available from an individual approach. Principle based is how soccer is meant to be played. Our culture and experiences influence how we live this out. In all that we do, we strive to provide the best environment for player development. This environment is possible only with the commitment of the player and parents to the principles based process. What a joy it is to journey together in this learning opportunity that enriches the lives of our players and each other.
I recognize that this is a lot of information to take in. It will take time and experience for the concepts to be fully understood and embraced. In my experience in teaching the principles with players ages 8 and up, I have seen that within just over an hour individuals are able to start practicing the main principles in their play and to enjoy the experience. Learning the principles is not like learning what rules to follow. The principles require commitment to development and acting on awareness. This level of learning is only possible with support and positive interpretation by key support persons for the players. Players and parents, I encourage you to take time to evaluate what has been shared in this document and to engage in conversation with your coach and myself.
Reflective Comments from other Coaches:
Professional Coach in Hong Kong and Technical Director ‘Education Football’
As a coach, I personally have massive affection for a principles based approach to coaching. It baffles me much how so few players and therefor coaches are undereducated on the core principles of football. If this knowledge is not being taught to players then the future generations of coaches will not have the vital core understanding of the game to pass on.
By understanding the attacking and defensive principles, and then understanding how to teach those principles, is an art and a style of coaching that I appreciate very much. Coaches often do not have as much contact time with players as they would like, particularly within youth development. The training methods that you might see at a professional level, for example, shadow play, concentrate on specific detail, for a specific game situation; but these methods are not appropriate at the youth development level. A principles based approach to coaching provides players, particularly youth players, with the capacity to resolve soccer specific problems for themselves, regardless of a coach’s game day advice or in spite of parental side-line opinion.
The principles based approach removes the need for specific detail that can confuse and cloud the judgment of a player, especially the informative minds of youth players. In exchange for the confusion of specific detail, a principles based coaching methodology provides a player with the clarity to make sporting judgments themselves by holding the knowledge of the core foundations of the game.
Intelligent, cerebral players are very valuable to a team, and are often the adhesive that bonds the entire group structure. Football will always be influenced by athletes, the game will always find a place for warriors; but as the game develops and coaching standards are raised so too are the expectations for players. Your mile times, your arrowhead sprint time and your vertical jump height are measurable, but the capacity to solve soccer-specific problems is immeasurable.
So the challenge to the next generation of coaches is to create the cerebral player, and coaching in a principles based philosophy is a good place to start.
Head Coach of Florida International University
“With the utilization of these concepts a group of individuals can become a team and the mutual understanding of the players creates a synergy where each individual becomes more effective. These concepts can provide a framework from which players can then work not in isolation but for each other and achieve collective success. Though our initial thought is that this approach does not allow for creativity, this is a false conclusion. Organization can then be the foundation from which creativity and problem solving can be improved upon and serve the team…..”
Coach for the seniors (U15-18) FC Dallas Tri Seniors, TN
Principled based soccer allows the players to “read the minds” of their teammates. It’s amazing to watch a team playing this way. A team of lesser skilled soccer players playing principle based soccer will almost always beat a team of individual great players playing a non-team unfocused approach.
An example of the whole being greater than the parts when playing principle based soccer occurs in every game and can help address the myth that we were not “fit enough to win.” The players on our team and all of the other teams are energetic and athletic teenagers – the fitness and athletic level is not that much different. The difference is the motivation. The players on principle based teams help motivate each other and don’t want to let their teammates down. The team which appears fitter at the end of the game is usually not that way due to a physical advantage – they are that way because they are mentally stronger. Also, a team playing principle based soccer actually has to exert less energy than a non-principle based team while achieving the same level. This allows the principle based team to recover quicker after games and to play more games at a higher level.
Principle based soccer provides the common connection to achieve physical, decision-making and mental advantages over your opponent. Principle based soccer allows the Whole (the Team) to be truly greater than the parts (the players).
Coach for the seniors (U15-18) at FC Dallas Tri, TN
Principle based soccer clearly defines each players’ roles and responsibility. The roles and responsibilities become essential for Team Success. The focus switches from the standout player to the performance of a team. Each teammate communicating and holding each other accountable… picking a teammate up and also correcting if needed. A True Team concept. Principled Soccer builds a synergy within the team that is contagious and can be felt on and off the field. Through Principled Based Soccer we can develop the athlete into a “Soccer Player.”
Coach Vestavia, Birmingham, AL
Principles based soccer has been the core of our 3v3 teams' success and their training. Through this approach, we have had exceptionally successful teams, including winning 3v3 National tournaments and several top 4 finishes in Orlando, FL. Our players have always worked together as a single unit exerting less energy and imposing their will on the other teams. By understanding the core foundations and principles of the game, the players allow themselves and their teammates the ability to be successful as a single unit.
Over the years, after watching the players that followed our principles based approach in 3v3 and others that just played 3v3, I noticed that the principles based players had a more intelligent and team oriented style of play and could read their teammates, the opponent, and the game more easily. Time and time again I watched our 3v3 teams play up in divisions with older more athletic teams, and I watched the younger players dismantle, frustrate, and defeat individual athletes playing a team sport.
Coach for the seniors at FC Dallas Tri, TN
Principle is defined as, “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning”. I truly encourage players and parents to embrace and lean into this concept. Principle based soccer relies on a set belief and understanding of what each individuals responsibility is at that specific moment of the game. If the player understands the role based on principles we can create an environment of organization and a common goal. In the game of soccer, one movement requires a second movement, for example if player moves from near to far and a player moves from far to near based on understanding the principles, it creates the environment of success based on the principle not on the emotion of the player. The player understands and believes in the principle, and the principle will direct the results. At every moment in the match, when it is principle based, a player’s motivation comes from his or her fundamental truth and foundation and not from his current emotional state. Soccer is a beautiful game, full of decisions and problems to solve. To solve a problem you must have a strong foundation to understand how to reason a response.