Not by Design

Note: This article was written for me by an Englishman (who would like to remain anonymous) who does not think I have the courage to publish his experience in this column. - Karl Dewazien, CYSA State DoC, Recreation

I was appalled when I was told that I had to attend a CYSA Coaching School course — If I wanted to coach my own children. What could they teach me? I was, after all, born and raised in the country that founded the modern game. I had played the game at a fairly high level in my youth and am still an active player. What could a coaching course do for me besides waste my time?

I was told that I would learn “how to” structure my practice/training sessions and “how to” coach/teach children “how to” play soccer. I knew they were kidding me because I had already formulated my approach. I actually told some of them about my plan …

The first thing I planned on doing when the players turned up was to give them a ball and just let them play. When they had all arrived, I would get them together for a chat while they did some light stretching. The purpose was to settle them down and outline what our objectives were for the session.

The next step was to work on ball manipulation. I would put them into a fairly compact coned area, again with a ball each, and tell them to run with the ball at pace, avoiding each other, and performing different types of turns on command (inside, outside, stop turn, etc.). This was to promote comfort with the ball and confidence in possession.

We would then move on to practices involving one ball between two. The idea is to introduce a 1v1 competitive element. We would work on shielding the ball or simply taking it in turns trying to beat each other and swapping roles.

The next step was to introduce team play by setting up 2v1 situations where two players must figure out how to combine to beat one defender. Depending on how successful this was, we would then move on to 3v2 situations. We would run two of these simultaneously, stopping and starting to show the players how they can find space. This would work well, and I anticipated seeing the “Eureka!” moment on their faces when they figured out how movement can unlock defenses. We would always finish with a short 7v7 practice game.

Again, I would use the whistle to stop and start to point out the options as we went along. I know some coaches do not like to run practice games (or scrimmages, as my U.S. colleagues call them) as some players can go through the entire game without getting a touch. I planned on applying the informal nature of the game to stop and start and make sure that the play switched often to keep everyone involved.

As you can see, my structure was like an upside-down pyramid. I would start with individual skills, moving on to 1v1, 2v1, 3v2 and finish with a short game to give them the opportunity to put their new skills into practice.

This structure, of course, came around more by accident than design on my part. And I, no doubt, thought it just plain common sense. It seemed to me to reflect the way young players learned, and I pointed out that I doubted that this was necessarily the correct approach for older age players.

I was thoroughly disgusted when they told me that my session structure was “spot-on,” but that I would still have to attend a coaching course! Several CYSA-licensed coaches, however, told me that I might get a pleasant surprise when/if I attended a course.

To say that I was “pleasantly surprised” would be an understatement.

I was actually shocked, pleased, thrilled, excited, etc., when I stubbornly gave in and attended a course. My (vs.) “competitive” attitude disappeared the moment I realized that my accidental “upside-down pyramid” was truly “spot-on.” I became a (+) “cooperative” participant and was even given a round of applause by the coaches after the instructor thanked me for the positive contributions that I made during the course.

I was extremely skeptical about attending a CYSA Coaching School course those many years ago. But, believe me. I have found that my accidental “upside-down pyramid” which you had already designed into the ‘9-Step Practice Routine’ have improved my players both technically/tactically and even changed their attitude. I have even been able to modify ‘the Routine’ for older age group players. It really works!!!

“If you never try anything new, when are you going to move forward? You have to move forward at some point. The older I get the more I’m convinced everything happens for a reason. I always stay open to the possibility that I’m going to learn from someone.”
Dan Coughlin, Winningest High School Coach in the USA

KD Note: Interested in having your players improve technically/tactically and even change their attitude? Click on: and find a CYSA Coaching School Course scheduled in your area.