The Cycle of Coaching

Posted: March 8, 2011 in Coaching Philosophy, Team Management

Gearing up for spring practices I’ve started laying out my objectives for the spring and looking at how I want our training sessions to go.  I thought it’d be good to review the cycle of coaching and what goes into each piece.

The basic cycle of coaching as outlined by the US Soccer Federation is simply to perform (play the game), evaluate the game, train, and then peform again.  It’s a recognizable cycle, but I thought it’d be good to break it down and look at it closer.

1. Perform: Playing the Game

My first two years as a head coach I planned out the entire first month of my training sessions, and it was no surprise that after our first scrimmages most of my plan went out the window.  How do we know what to fix until we’ve played the game?  Sometimes I forget that the objective is the game.  Players want to play; it’s fun and it’s the primary focus for them.  Sometimes I get too caught up in the training and the development when the primary focus of everything I do is to help them play the game better and enjoy it more.  So this should be where the cycle begins; simply playing.

2. Evaluate: Analyize the Game

This one concept has been a very important one for me to learn.  When I was a young coach I spent the game pacing back and forth on the side line trying to control the events of the match.  As I studied the Dutch system and style of coaching I learned that the most important thing a coach can do on the side line during a match is to take notes and analyze the teams.  There are three phases of the game to focus on…

  • When we are in possession of the ball.  How do we take care of the ball and what do we do with it?  How is our technique taking care of the ball?  How well do we move around the ball to make it easier to maintain possession?  Is the possession purposeful, are we creating opportunities to go forward and put pressure on their goal?  A lot of the objectives you want to analyze are going to be determined by the style of play you are trying to implement.  Are you a counter attacking team?  Than the times you are in possession of the ball you will try and find your target players as quickly as possible to create imbalances in the back line of the opponent.  If you’re a build up team that likes to attack from the wings than you are trying to pull the opponent into the middle of the field before exposing them outside with a penetrating pass or dribble.
  • When we are not in possession of the ball.  What is your team shape when you’re not in possession?  How well are you taking away the passing lanes?  What kind of pressure are you putting on the ball based on the field position of the ball?  What kind of cover and balance are you providing off the ball?  How connected is your team as a defensive unit?  Again, a lot of the objectives you analyze will be based on the style of defending you employ.
  • Transitions of play.  The two main transitions are from having to possession to not having possession, and from not having possession to having possession.  In my mind the difference between a competitive team and a good team is how well they do in this phase of the game.  If teams transition well as a unit it can be a major competitive edge on the opposition.  How quickly and effectively does your team transition?  Look at things like compactness and movement away from the ball.  What does the player on the ball doing?  What are the players closest to the ball doing?  What are the players furthest from the ball doing?

Another method of evaluating that I use with my club team is player post game analysis.  I have a form that I ask the players on my club team to fill out and turn in after tournaments or league games that help them analyze the game from their perspective.  Our college players are asked to evaluate every other game during the first half of the season.  What are they seeing in relation to these three phases of the game?  They have a valuable perspective as well, and maybe there is something they are seeing or feeling that we can’t from the bench.

3. Train: Develop a Strategy to Improve

After the match I usually watch game film and look at the notes I took during the game to verify what I was seeing.  I try to prioritize the elements I saw during the game that I feel are most important to our next match and opponent.  Then I’ll sit down and try to plan out the next few sessions we have leading up to our next game.  I’ll write out the objectives for each session and then I’ll work on developing my progression for each training session.  I try to involve my assistant coaches as much as possible during this process to get their input and their perspective.

During training we share with the players what we want to accomplish in practice that day so they can be mindful of it as well.  Then they’re able to give feedback on whether or not they are picking up the points we want to ge across.

4. Perform: Playing the Game

And we come back around in the cycle and get back to the main objective, playing the game.  One of the first things I’ll look for at the beginning of this game is how has our training impacted the play this?  Did we improve?  If we did, than the process worked.  If we didn’t than maybe something needs to be tweaked in the process, probably in the training phase.  This is the motivation of our profession; what impact am I having on the development of my players?

I found that when I take the time to use this cycle and stay on top of training sessions I have more impact on my players.  There is structure and purpose to the season and to training for the players.  And they start to see improvement and better performance in the matches, which equates to more fun and enjoyment playing the game.

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