The Principles of Learning And Coaching
By Glen Buckley
These notes will form part of the E and D License Curriculum. They are home study papers designed from various Coaching Manuals I have used during the past 20 years of coaching.
Much teaching and Coaching is based on the misguided notion that practice makes perfect. This is not necessarily so. Practice makes permanent and that fact applies with equal certainty to both good and
bad practice. Incorrect practice, therefore eventually will lead to permanent bad habits.
There are two other misguided notions regarding the Coaching of Soccer..
- Soccer players are born with natural flair and so do not need Coaching.
- The fact is that the progress of civilization through the ages is largely a commentary on the progress of education, whereby each generation has handed to the next more knowledge and techniques of
teaching and learning. And so Man runs faster each year, steps foot on the Moon, and climbs the highest mountain. These achievements happened through research and advanced knowledge harnessed to
correct and purposeful practice.
There is no reason to believe that Soccer players have been granted immunity from this process.
No two players are alike. They are unequal physically, mentally and psychologically.
We are not born with equal talents, and do not have, environmentally speaking, equal opportunities. The challenge of the Coach is to recognize potential talent and give it the best possible environment in
which to realize its potential.
- Techniques practiced in isolation can not be transferred into the game.
- If a player struggles with a technique unchallenged then they have nothing to transfer in to the game. It should be also understood that the player who is sound technically when playing unchallenged or
unopposed, will not necessarily be able to perform under pressure.
Effective coaching and learning of Soccer is very much bound up with establishing correct attitudes, correct habits and correct movements.
First in order of importance, is the attitude toward learning by both the coach and the player. This attitude should be broken down into two qualities.
An open Mind.
An enquiring mind.
An open mind means you are receptive to new ideas, which is essential for progress. A closed mind indicates that a person knows it all. It also indicates that a person not only feels old but is old.
An enquiring mind is essential to evaluate new ideas. Not all new ideas are good. We should not accept them as such just because they are new. This is as foolish as discounting it before evaluating it.
We should be like a sponge, open up and slowly absorb everything and squeeze out the bits that we believe are not good. Question new ideas, try them, analyze them and establish if they are correct in
principle. Only after the most careful consideration should any idea be accepted or rejected.
What is Technique and what is Skill ?
Technique is the execution of a simple performance…a pass, a shot, a
dribble, a turn or a jump. Decisions are involved and so the
performance requires mental and physical elements.
Skill, in Soccer terms, is the ability to be in the right place at the right
time and to select the correct technique on demand. Skill is therefore
concerned with making selections and judgments. Decision making.
Many Sports are predominantly games of technique. Soccer is
predominantly a game of judgment. How do we arrive at this ?
By a simple analysis of the facts…
In a 90 minute game of Soccer the ball is only in play for 60 of those
Out of those 60 minutes in which the ball is in play, in an even game,
each team will have possession for 30 minutes each.
During the time the ball is in play. It will be in flight and so outside the
playing distance of any of the 22 players on the field.
Therefore anyone person can not have the ball for more than two
minutes in any game.
This then raises another question…What is the player doing for the
other 58 minutes that the ball is in play?
Answer…..Making decisions, selections and judgments…
Add to this the fact that Soccer is the most fluid of all games. There are
very few stoppages, and so situations are constantly changing. This
requires a high concentration level and mental alertness.
Which brings us back not to the question of how does one coach, but
rather, how does a young player learn ?
How a young player learns.
Youngsters have a desire to achieve and to prove themselves to others.
The Coach should take into consideration the following factors ,when
trying to motivate them…
They must be interested.. The player who is not interested has a
closed mind, and that, if it can not be changed is a recipe for disaster.
They must have enthusiasm.. Players should have a desire to be
involved and participate. Coaches should be aware of the child that
lacks enthusiasm. People who are enthusiastic tend to do more not
They should see good examples and be set good standards..
Seeing good players play live or on T.V. Is important. By seeing older
role models deliver a good performance not only on the field but off it
By observing people they respect and admire, attitudes and habits are
They will learn through correct practice and the frequency of that
practice.. The quality of the practice is more important than the
frequency. However if the quality is good, and the time devoted to it is
greater, the better the results.
They will learn through knowledge of results.. The more progress
the player makes the more likely they are to want to practice. Setting
players targets that are achievable is essential. This task belongs
entirely to the coach.
They will learn by being challenged.. Progress involves a continuous
process of reaching beyond ones grasp. Progress can not be achieved
by constantly working within ones limits. You do not climb higher by
looking down. Playing with and against better players will improve both
technique and skill. Coaches must set the challenges of their players,
calculating on the probability of success.
The Principles of Coaching.
Having outlined how a young player learns, it is logical now to turn to the
task of Coaching. What are the principles involved in effective coaching.
Know the subject. It is self evident that to coach well one must have an
understanding of the game of Soccer from a technical and tactical
standpoint. One must have underpinning knowledge of the Game.
Know how people learn. The principles of learning covered earlier
are essential for the coach to know. Without knowledge of those factors,
effective coaching is not likely to take place. It is the task of the coach to
create an effective learning situation. If that situation has been created
correctly, from an organizational view, then it is likely that a certain
amount of learning will take place without too much direct coaching.
Know the key factors in coaching.
1. Purpose. Without a purpose, direction is not possible. Purpose
is usually concerned with long term factors. For example, the
purpose may be to improve the general attacking play of your
team. Many factors come into the attacking subject involving
techniques and skills that your players may not yet be capable of.
Therefore from the overall purpose emerge short term objectives.
These short term objectives will eventually serve that long term
2.Objectives. In the example quoted above there may be several
objectives that can be divided into two sectors. Play with the ball,
e.g. passing, control, dribbling, crossing the ball. Play without the
ball, e.g. movement, support play, diagonal or overlap runs.
A coach can not coach all these things at once, and so it is
necessary to determine a priority order and logical sequence within the
Priority order and logical sequence.
To continue with the
example already quoted above. If the attacking play is poor, and
the passing inaccurate it is best to concentrate on those
techniques that will help to keep possession of the ball. Short
passing, control or dribbling. This will enable us to work the ball
toward the opponents goal. Once this is achieved we can then
concentrate on crossing and finishing and shooting. It is not really
difficult to determine priorities or a logical sequence, but it does
require an understanding of two factors.
*You can not coach effectively several facets of the game at the
*Out of any two key factors one will always take logical
precedence over the other. If a coach gets two key factors out of
logical order learning becomes difficult, because it makes less
4.Planning and organization. Planning is concerned with a best
use of the facilities, time, equipment and players. It is also
concerned with the provision of balls, vests, cones and goals.
Planning takes place in advance of the practice and makes
sound organization possible. The organization of an actual
practice involves the following considerations…
A. The area of the field the practice will take place.
The area should be clearly identified with cones or markers or
B. The number of players involved in the practice.
The number of players must be appropriate to the area, and the
area appropriate to the number of players. Defenders and attackers
C. Realistic practice.
All players should position themselves realistically as if in a real
D. The start of the practice and the type and quality of the
Many practices flounder from the start because insufficient
thought went into how they should begin.
Most practices should begin with a moving ball, so that players
are reacting to it and so are already alert when the ball is played in.
The Golden rule of organization is simplicity with clarity.
Keep your instructions clear and precise. All players should understand
the purpose of the practice and their role within it.
Observation. Analysis is the basis of diagnosis.
Observe the session to gather the facts. Your opinions will carry more
conviction if they are supported by the facts.
Observe the organization is correct
Observe that the players attitude is correct.
Observe the general performance of the group.
Observe the specific performance of the individual.
Communication. The ability to observe and organize counts for very
little if you lack the ability to communicate. A coach communicate in two
Visual communication can be in the form of video or book, but more
likely will be by physical demonstration. The demonstration could be of a
technique or tactical movement, but in all cases the following qualities
must be evident:
It should be correct and an excellent example.
It should be simple.
It should be clear and isolate the Key Factor.
Your demonstration sets the standard for the whole group.
By speaking Demonstration will often be accompanied by verbal
explanation, the object of which is to assist clarification. Communication
through speaking is a skill in itself. Its importance is grossly
underestimated. Its difficulty in terms of performance in front of a large
group is grossly overestimated.
The difference between speaking in front of one person or hundreds is
entirely down to confidence. Along with confidence must be the ability
to speak effectively. There are certain ground rules to effective
communication, that coaches should understand:
Be convinced that there is something of value to say. If its not worth
saying don’t say it. Think before speaking. Avoid Jargon ….its
confusing. Speak clearly. Vary the pitch of your voice. Its more
compelling. Speak concisely. Short words are better than long, one
word is better than two. Be positive with your instructions…Say do this,
rather than Don’t do that. Make eye contact with the group. This is
compelling and helps the groups concentration.
When the play begins, observe the performance. If the instructions are
not put into action then the communication was not effective. Effective
communication, just like effective playing, just requires that the simple
things be done well..
The ten qualities of a good coach.
- Good standards
- Open and enquiring mind
- The ability to diagnose, Analyze and think logically
- Knowledge of how players learn
- Knowledge of the principles of effective coaching
- The ability to inspire.
The Coaching formula.
- Diagnose/identify problems
- Freeze the play
- Correction by demonstration
- Rehearsal…Let the player have a go