EXPERT SESSIONS AND ADVICE FROM QUALIFIED AND EXPERIENCED GRASSROOTS SOCCER COACHES

6 tips for a better match day experience

If you’re frustrated by your team constantly starting matches in third gear and not pulling their weight in matches here are six ways to heighten the match day experience.

match day tips

1. Warm up effectively

The pre-match warm-up is key. Your team is not going to be in the right frame of mind when the match starts if you allow players to turn up five minutes before kick-off, with your warm-up consisting of a few lazy kicks into the goal. Make it clear to players’ parents that you need their kids at the pitch no later than 30 minutes before kick-off. When your players arrive, set up practices that exercise body and mind in one. Ensure players get as many touches of the ball and that everyone warms up properly. And aim to finish the warm-up a minute or so before your players are due on the pitch. You only need enough time for them to have a quick drink and to listen to your final few words of encouragement.

2. A little psychology

Pressure to perform well can inhibit your players and stop them playing as well as they can. One of the reasons that my girls’ team started their matches so slowly was the pressure they felt from their parents. Once I explained to the parents that their daughters would play better on match days – and have bigger smiles on their faces – if they just let them play without such ‘encouragement’, the difference was remarkable.

3. Tactics

If you want your team to score an early goal you have to put your opponents under pressure straight from the kick-off. Teams don’t expect it, and it immediately puts you on the front foot and shows you mean business, even if the move comes to nothing. It’s a tactic that has worked for me on

4. Remember that attackers are defenders too

One of the dangers of assigning positions to young soccer players is they will take you literally. If you tell a child that he is a defender, for example, he will think his job is to defend and nothing else. Similarly, a child who is told “you’re an attacker today” will think that his job is to score goals, not to defend. It’s important to make it clear that all the players on your team are defenders when the other team has the ball. Similarly, when your team has the ball, everyone should be in attack mode, not just the attackers.

5. Don’t dive in!

Teach your players that if they are defending near to their own goal, the player closest to the ball – the first defender – does NOT have to win possession back. Instead, his job is to hold the opposing player up until help arrives, trying to guide the ball carrier towards the sidelines. He should only attempt a tackle if the attacker looks as if he is losing control of the ball.

6. Let’s work together – it’s as easy as 1-2-3

It’s a basic principle that defenders should always outnumber attackers. So while the first defender is slowing the attack down and trying to force the player with the ball into a position where he can’t get a shot in, the rest of the defence needs to get into covering positions. The player who is second closest to the ball – the second defender – should position himself on a line between the ball and the goal, providing cover for the first defender. If he is beaten, he takes over the first defender’s job and a third defender moves in to provide cover. The remaining players in your defence should mark the attacking players and try to cut off any passing opportunities. This is known as 1-2-3 defending. Practice these three key ideas, and you’ll see impressive results quickly!

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