Westfield Soccer Association

A coach can help a team maintain the right shape

Weekly email 11/11/15


Since I’ve come on board as the DoC for the association I’ve made an effort to help all coaches understand how they can have a positive impact on their team’s performance during a game. It is important to keep an eye on the bigger picture, focus on the team shape/ organization, rather than trying to control the decisions of the player on the ball. Trying to manipulate the decisions of the 1st attacker is not coaching, but controlling your players’ actions. Give your players the opportunity to figure out what decision is best under pressure of their opponent or opponents, just make sure the team is organized well. I’m certain that we all agree that this is the way we should coach young players since soccer is and will always be a game which belongs to the players. I, however, had never witnessed a team play without being coached from the sideline.

Till last weekend.

Over the weekend I was able to observe one of our teams play a game without receiving any guidance/coaching from the sideline during the run of play. The parent coach had made the parents of the team aware of this ahead of the game, to keep them in the loop. The only moment the trainer and coach had an opportunity to talk to the players was when players were off on the side; before the game; at halftime and after the game. This team was supposed to play quarters, but the referees weren’t aware that at U10, teams are still playing quarters. This eliminated a few opportunities for the trainer and coach to address the players, but it didn’t have a negative effect on the experiment.

I thought it was a great experiment and although scientifically I can’t state that I’ve enough evidence to back up all statements, since I’ve only watched 1 game and 1 team in action under these circumstances, it did bring up some interesting things in my opinion. I also want to make you all aware that this was the 2nd game of that day for the team. The players did get tired which was noticeable during the 2nd half.

The decisions on the ball – 1st attacker

Many coaches, in all their excitement are still making an attempt to tell the player on the ball what they should be doing. This confuses them more than we like and definitely doesn’t help them become better players in the long run. Whether or not the players always make the right decision is not important, we are still working with youth soccer players, as long as we give them the opportunity to make mistakes. During the game the players made some very good decisions on the ball, but there were just as many situations where a better decision could have been made. The coaches never made an attempt to help players decide what was best and they were given the opportunity to work it out by themselves. They were definitely given the opportunity to fail and learn from their mistakes.

The bigger picture – the team shape

Young soccer players need to develop their spatial awareness. The movement off the ball should be based on the position of the ball; area of the field they are in; where your opponent or opponents are and where there is space to receive the ball. It takes a long time for players to develop their spatial awareness and young players get sucked to the ball very quickly.

Without the guidance from the trainer and coach the players struggled to maintain their shape in possession of the ball. This led to some situations where players were a bit to bunched up and/or were out of position. This is where a coach can really make a difference.  This is why it is so important to keep an eye on the bigger picture. This is what coaching is about. Don’t try to control the decisions of the 1st attacker. Try to make sure the 1st and 2nd attacker have enough space to play, so it becomes easier to make the right decision in possession of the ball. Focus on the shape of your team in possession of the ball. Make sure your team spreads out and utilizes the width and length of the field.

I believe that the below quote, which I’ve shared with all of you before, is fitting and worth sharing with all of you again.

We should measure success in coaching by how long it takes the player to no longer need his or her coach.

US Soccer – Best practices for coaching soccer


Thank you,



Ruben Vloedgraven

Director of Coaching - Westfield Soccer Association