Recently, a coach in the English Premier League confided in me that a major reason his team’s performances were so poor came down to lack of leadership out on the field. In actual fact many of his dominant personalities had long term injuries. The fact of the matter is that what happens out on the field is, frequently, out of the hands of the coaching staff and is, directly, attributed to the motivation and skill level of the players.

In the past the American coaching model is that of a highly activated coaching staff out on the sidelines directing players, sending in plays, constantly rotating players and calling time outs. That is not the soccer coaching model at all.

 One of the beauties of soccer is that it is a “Players Game” meaning that, during the flow of the game, the players make all their own decisions. Other team sports, particularly American football, basketball, lacrosse and, to a certain extent, baseball are Coach/Player sports as the coach has a direct impact by importing plays and movements during the stops and starts which are built into the fabric of the game.

Although this “Direct Style” of coaching may be helpful at the younger age groups, when soccer players get to a certain age, the coach needs the players to take more team ownership because it is their morale, energy, motivation and skill which is going to win the game…once the whistle goes the coach can do little about what the players actually do out on the field. The modern use of substitutes has given the coach more power in the game but soccer decision making, still, lays at the feet of the players on the field.  

“Player Power” is a term which is used to emphasize the need for healthy player drive and leadership in soccer and is something coaches need to cultivate. The coach’s desire to win the league is great but if the players don’t have the same desire and willingness to work hard together, it, almost definitely, will not happen. Soccer coaches need to pass off some of their leadership to the players on the team…talk less and take more notes.

The choice of captain/s needs to be given some thought as captains lead the way and can provide an important role on and off the field. Coaches can get the captains to transmit information to the players without being personally involved in delivering the message. Captains are, sometimes, helpful in speaking with team mates who are playing poorly or behaving in a way which is detrimental to the team. The captain can urge players forward when the team is performing poorly at practices. Yes the coach can do these things but the ethos of the team is helped when players sort these things out for themselves.

I played on a National Championship team (the day after the earth’s crust hardened) and an enduring memory was the competitive level of the practices. Every day the players pushed themselves and each other because their common goal was to be the best in the country. That was Player Power. The coach said very little during those practices and never even raised his voice – there was no need. He had done all the hard work when he developed player leadership which dealt with playing problems without him even getting involved.

Referees, coaches, spectators, parents should all remember that soccer is a players game and players will, eventually, get to the age where they need to do more of the leading, setting high standards and pushing each other to improve.

Enjoy your coaching,

Jeff Tipping

Technical Advisor – Admiral