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Coaching The 4-4-2 Diamond Formation

442diamondformation442 Diamond


442diamondindefense“Defensive Shape”


442diamondinattack“Attacking Shape”



My next book coming out early in September will focus on the 4-4-2 Diamond formation.  The 4-4-2 Diamond is a formation that focuses on creating a midfield overload while controlling possession.  Two forwards are located up top putting more pressure on the opposing teams back 4 while giving the diamond midfield plenty of forward passing options.  I will be focusing on a diamond that is played narrow in the central midfield (opens up the channels).  The width will be created by wing backs that must get up and down the sideline from box to box.  The keys to success in this formation are as follows: wing backs must be able to cover lots of ground and provide width in the attack – the four center midfielders must all be technically sound and carry out their individual duties and responsibilities – the defensive center mid must swing the ball quickly from side to side and sit deeper close to the two center backs (wing backs getting forward will make the team vulnerable to a counter attack so the def center mid needs to sit deeper). The attacking center mid should be dynamic and able to penetrate off the dribble and hit penetrating balls to runners. The two center-mids must pick and choose their times to surge forward into attack – the center backs should have pace to run down any quick counter attacks when the wing backs can not recover.  The forwards operate as a partnership  always knowing where the other is and looking to combine with each other.  In the defensive phase the four midfielders must understand their individual roles and responsibilities against varying formations.  Adjustments in defensive responsibilities can easily be made by bringing a forward back into the midfield to defend.  Any formation can be adjusted to play a different way, but in general the 4-4-2 diamond is an attack oriented formation.  The opponent, surface, weather and size of the field will all be factors that will need to be considered when using the 4-4-2 diamond.  I personally like the system because teaching the  4-4-2 diamond is similar to teaching the 4-2-3-1.  The back four and defensive midfield role in both systems are virtually the same.  It is important that players are able to understand the differences and similarities between formations and be able to explain player roles and responsibilities in each.  It is true that soccer is a free flowing game, but each formation requires slightly varied movement patterns and player responsibilities in order to be successful.  The book “Coaching The Modern 4-4-2 Diamond” will break down the 4-4-2 diamond on attack, defense and in transition.  It will cover specific training ground exercises that make teaching the system to your team easy and effective.  Look for the book on Amazon in early September!


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Rondo Transitions, Passing Patterns & Fitness

Drill8 copy

Drill8b copy


When Training Rondo try setting up either a passing pattern or fitness exercise or both.  Have players play Rondo for 2 minutes and than switch immediately to the passing pattern or fitness exercise.  Continue the rotation for 15-20 minutes.  Adjust the time frames of each exercise to focus on what you would like to work on more. By training in this way players get used to playing while fatigued and must keep their concentration high going from exercise to exercise.  I recommend using many variations of rondo.  Be sure to check out my book “The Science of Rondo” available on – Also be sure to check out my other books as well.


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Is Messi The Greatest Player of All Time?

I was sitting down the other day with a friend of mine who was 100% convinced Messi was not even close to the greatest player of all time. I asked him who was the greatest and he said probably Marodona or Pele. Both had won the World Cup and Messi had not. My problem with that argument is Messi has won Champions League (multiple times), Copa Del Ray and La Liga and was the player of the year for Europe many times over. But people want to keep bringing up how the World Cup has eluded Messi time and time again. That theory makes no sense to me.

There are a few major points we need to bring up when we talk about who is the greatest of all time. First, the time period in which the player was playing. In the late 60′s and early 70′s the game was different for Pele. Players were not expected to run box to box, up and down the field constantly, defend & attack all game while being in amazing physical condition. Taking nothing away from Pele but the game and the demands of the game were much different back than. Maradona was from a more recent time but the German team he played against in the final in 1986 was not even close to the German team Messi played against in 2014. Maradona also did not have the same consistency over his career as Messi. Messi is a professional in every way and Maradona was not. Maradona gained weight, had distractions off the field and lost focus later in his career. Messi has been nothing but professional and at the top level for almost 10 years in a row now with no let down. I would also want to know if all these people who are saying Pele and Maradona are the best ever watched multiple full games of Maradona and Pele? They watch Messi in full games all the time but I feel they just watch the highlights of Pele and Maradona. Highlights are tons of fun to watch, but it is not realistic to judge on highlights. Watch a highlight film of Messi and it is nothing short of spectacular. I can go on and make a case that both Ronaldo’s who are fantastic players and worthy of this conversation – Zidane & Roud Gullit are worthy maybe. I wasn’t around for Eusebio, Beckenbauer, Puskas, Cruyff but I saw the videos and they were great as well.

Trying to determine who is the greatest soccer player of all time is impossible. I do not think winning one tournament or game means anything at all. It is the body of work over a career that reflects greatness. In that body of work I guarantee there will plenty of wins and trophies. In sports nothing is guaranteed no matter how good the player may be. Soccer is a team sport with 11 players. It is not a team sport with 5 players, 2 players, 1 player or 9 players – it is 11 players and single handedly winning a game is a lot to ask even of the greatest of players – especially in todays modern game with organized defenses, tactically intelligent coaches, top conditioned opponents and overall a more developed game. Historically, Messi is one of the greatest players ever to play the game. Is he the greatest? I say “he can be considered the greatest ever”. However, I would say you can make that argument for a couple other players as well. That is all it will ever be is a subjective conversation of who is better. There will never be any proof. For me Messi is great and it would be hard to make the argument is not equal to any other of the great players mentioned.

The Science of The Soccer Counter Attack – “Drills From My New Book”

Corner Target Counter

Grid: 60×45 yards
Instructions & Key Points:
This exercise starts with 7v7+2 in possession. The 2 neutral players in the opposite grid must stay in the corner target zones (10×10 yards). Once the team in possession completes four or more passes they attempt to play the ball into one of the target players (who are located in the 10×10 corner squares) in the opposite grid. Once the pass is made to the opposite grid, the team must immediately run to collect the ball and support play. Running at pace into the opposite grid to collect the ball from the target player simulates the movement and idea of a counter attack. Players are not allowed to run into the next grid early – the run must be timed to follow the pass – same concept of breaking the defensive line with a well timed run and through pass. When the ball is transferred to the opposite grid and possession retained, the corner players become part of the 5v5 to make it into 7v5 – the neutrals at this time can come out of the corner boxes to help keep possession. If a team hits a ball to the opposite grid and it does not travel inside a corner box, possession is given to the other team.
Corner Target Counter#1

Corner Target Counter #2
This game is the played the exact same way as the previous exercise but after transferring the ball to a corner target player the team will look to finish on goal immediately to finish the counter attack. The drill now becomes a game realistic counter attacking exercise. It is very important to emphasize coordinated runs with penetrating passes. Blind side runs should be used to unbalance the defense in the counter.
Variations & Progressions: Adjust the number of passes needed before hitting the penetrating ball to the other grid, penetrating balls must be hit 1-touch only, 1-touch finishing only, can only score from crossed ball.

Exercise Four & Five

Pressing & Counter Attacking

Grid: 70×45 yards
Instructions & Key Points:
This is a fast-paced counter attacking drill that also emphasizes pressing for the defending team. The game is 8v8 with keepers. The red team is trying to break the blue teams press and launch a counter attack on the far goal. The red team is not allowed to break the half line before the pass crosses the half line. This condition simulates beating the offsides trap. Decide on the number of red players & blue players you will allow to release into the opposite grid when the penetrating pass is made. Start with releasing 2 Red players and 1 Blue player for a 2v1 on the far goal – then mix it up ( 3v2 – 4v2). If the blue team gains possession of the ball they will try and score immediately on the near goal. Progressions & Variations: 1-touch penetrating ball to start the counter, ball must be played on the ground to counter, ball must be played in the air to counter.
Pressing & Counter Attacking #1

inspire final cover-1

INSPIRE: Using Self Organized Learning Environments In Youth Soccer Coaching


Using S.O.L.E’s In Youth Soccer Development
(Self-Organized Learning Environment- SOLE )

There hasn’t been a huge shake up in youth soccer coaching in a very long time. Yes, we have progressed in many ways since I was a kid, but nothing that is a total game changer has been introduced for years. This is where the concept of self-organized learning environments or minimally invasive learning comes into play. There is virtually no research about this when it comes to sports. However, based up my own experiences I am confident that creating and implementing self-organized learning environments or SOLEs into soccer will greatly change the way we develop and coach players. Soccer-centered SOLEs may very well lead to a major turning point in youth soccer development. I understand that this is a big statement but there are already many proven examples of how and why SOLEs work so well. What I am presenting is an easy way to introduce this concept of learning directly into your current soccer curriculum. If you prefer to keep your current curriculum go ahead and keep it, but base it around SOLEs. Before I get into the details of how exactly to implement self-organized learning environments into the soccer curriculum, let me cover a few specifics: What exactly is a SOLE and how does it work?

What is a SOLE & How Does it Work?
The concept of self-organized learning environments was invented by Dr. Sugatra Mitra, a physicist and educational researcher. The concept started out as something called “minimally invasive learning” but now it is referred to as a SOLE. SOLE learning requires children to organize themselves and structure their own learning. using external resources usually the internet.
Basics of SOLE Learning Today:
. Children should be put into teams of 4-5 students each. It is beneficial to have a few teams working in a room together so that they can share ideas and knowledge.
. Each team should have one “captain” or “team leader” who is in charge of keeping order in the group. Allowing all members to contribute and collaborate.
. Each team should have access to one computer preferably with a widescreen monitor.
. Children that are computer savvy can start working right away on the given task. If they have no computer experience then some of the earlier time is spent figuring out how to use the computer. One of Dr. Mitra’s first experiments involved putting a computer in the wall of a slum in India to see how quickly the children in that neighborhood would pick up basic computer skills. Not only did these children lack computer skills, they didn’t speak English; yet, they not only figured out how to use the computer, they taught themselves and other English.
. Children should be allowed to switch to another team at any time (trade).
. Children can attempt to recruit any student to join their team that they want but it must be a trade with another group to keep group numbers even.
. The groups are given a question by the teacher and asked to “go find the answer”. The students are not guided or coached after that point. They are just given encouragement from a mentor/teacher, internet access and the members of their group to work with.
. Younger kids even taught older kids as they browsed the internet, sent email and played video games.
. Children can go over to other teams to observe what they are working on. They should not feel competitive with the other teams. Rather it should be seen as a positive thing to make sure the entire class succeeds.
. After a set amount of time the groups will present their results to the class as a whole.

Role of the Teacher/Mentor in a SOLE
The role of the teacher is to offer encouragement and praise, for example saying things like “you worked very hard”, “I am so impressed with you” or “I didn’t know that at your age”; “I am very impressed you found that out”. When running a S.O.L.E there is no such thing as a bad question from a student. All students must feel free and be encouraged to ask as many questions as possible of the teacher or each other. However, the teacher should never directly answer the child’s question with the final answer. Teachers will ask the children to dig a little deeper or ask them if they can look in a different place to find out more information. If the children are stuck and need a hint, the teacher can give one but it is better if the teacher says something like, “I am here for you to help in anyway, but my hope is you can do as much as this on your own with your group”.

These guidelines for SOLEs are in place for a reason. For example, allowing children to leave their group and join another prevents one child from dominating the group or another child. With regard to team size, if teams have too few group members then interaction will not be encouraged enough, which is crucial for the learning style to work. It was also found that when children were offered “easy” compared to “hard” questions, they tend to choose the “easy” questions if they were alone. However, teams or groups were more inclined to choose the “hard” questions. Lastly, using one-computer per/group forces kids to share, collaborate, communicate and come up with their own rules and roles. Collaboration is one of the cornerstones of why this learning method works.

The Final Four of The World Cup! The Usual Suspects!

This world cup has been great to watch. It gets me excited for the start of pre-season with my own team. Why has the world cup been different this time? I know the big teams still made the semi-finals, but the smaller countries in larger amounts have made stronger then normal showings. The gap between the soccer powers and the rest of the world is closing for sure. The argument can be made that tactically the smaller teams are more organized defensively and proving much harder to break down. I would also argue that teams like Costa Rica the United States & Mexico have top level goalkeepers. The Goalkeeper in big games is of massive importance. Team solidarity and playing for your teammates & countries pride plays a major factor as well. So many teams came up with inspiring team performances like Algeria, Costa Rica, Iran, Colombia and Chile. The team concept has re-emerged in this world cup. So why didn’t any of those underdogs make the semi-finals? For me it’s the influence of just a couple special players (Messi, Robben, Neymar) to a team, plus the overall experience level of the team. Once a team has that right level of experienced players plus special players, they find away to overcome the emerging teams that might be missing something.


Germany: I like what Germany has done so far but the lack of pace in the back worries me, along with no outright striker.

Brazil: If they can by the next game without Neymar and Silva, they win the cup.

Netherlands: I really do not rate them as high as the other teams left. I predict their exit next game.

Argentina: If they can up their level they can win the cup. However, I see them losing in the final to Brazil.

My original final four was Spain, Brazil, Germany and Argentina before the cup started with Brazil beating Argentina in the final!

Using Self Organized Learning Environments For Youth Soccer Development

It seems like it was just yesterday that my brother and I were running around the field playing soccer pretending to be in the World Cup. We would play this made-up game that instantly transformed us into famous soccer players scoring glorious goals. I would literally play for hours with a big smile on my face. The joy I got from playing further increased my motivation to improve and play more and more and more! However, the difficult thing for me was the lack of talented players and coaches for me to learn from. Without access to experienced coaches and talented players, I decided to try and educate myself. At the time there was no internet access and soccer on television was scarce to say the least. The only feasible thing I could think of was to buy some soccer books. By pure chance the first book I bought was one of the best soccer books I could have ever purchased, it was called “Soccer Fundamentals For Players and Coaches” by Wiel Coerver. The book was written to increase the technical ability of soccer players. Sequenced photographs broke down every technique, so players could follow them and learn the techniques. I took this book into the backyard and started practicing. I practiced not for days and months but for years. I literally gained most of my soccer technical ability by following the pictures in a book. My skill level went from very low to playing at some of highest levels in the country at the time. The story sounds very simple and almost untrue, but the reality is I was motivated and trained every single day for hours and hours. I enjoyed training and my own improvement provided me with further motivation to keep going. Even when I went to college to play I never stopped trying to learn. I would pull some of the better players aside and ask them to show me certain things. I would then practice what they showed me and then move on to the next skill. I would eventually figure out that specialization was important in my development as well. I wasn’t the fastest sprinter so learning more 1 v 1 moves that relied on changes of pace wasn’t so useful to me. Instead I focused on skills that would benefit my body type and physical attributes. At that point I was getting very good at the process of learning without even realizing it. I was asking myself the right questions and looking for the answers so I could improve. My self-belief and self-esteem were very high due to the fact that I had come so far in soccer. I really felt I could succeed at any job or any task because I progressed so far in the game of soccer. However, there was another factor that I credit for my personal and soccer development. It was the encouragement from my dad and others that served as motivation and validation for my efforts. It was the small things they said like “you really have improved”, “you looked sharp today” or “your effort was very good”. It might not sound like a lot, but encouragement is a major component to learning. Without encouragement, guidance and people who care, learning will be stifled.

The reason I wrote the book “Inspire” was to change the way we think about coaching and developing youth soccer players. One of the major coaching issues in youth soccer is our desire to coach kids the same as adults. Parents and coaches want their U8 or U10 teams playing travel ball. They get all involved in the league standings and focus far too much on winning. Winning starts to become the main emphasis as we lose sight of player development and the simple enjoyment of the game. Another common obstacle in youth soccer is something called “Over Coaching”. Over Coaching is when coaches tell the players exactly what to do every second of a game or in training. How many times have you seen coaches calling out where to hit every pass or constantly telling players where to be on the field? This type of authoritarian or dictator type of coaching prevents kids from freely making their own choices and really learning the game. Over-Coaching will bring about a counter productive effect on learning. I propose a better way of teaching would be to have coaches set up conditions & rules in small-sided games and allow the game to be the teacher. This would help eliminate over-coaching and let the kids learn by playing while having fun! The next important step in the process would be the asking of the “Big Questions” to guide the learning process. The big questions are questions that lead players down a path to explore and learn without fear on their own. Players will feel empowered because they will actually be in control of their own learning. This concept is part of an educational method called a S.O.L.E or Self Organized Learning Environment. I personally believe using S.O.L.E’s will open up a brand new and exciting approach to coaching youth soccer. S.O.L.E’s involve having players work together in various small groups (each with a leader) in order to answer the big questions the coach has asked. The kids will need access to the Internet in order to research and come up with answers to the questions asked. The role of the Coach is to encourage the players and praise their efforts as they come up with the answers. The questions the coach will be asking the players will coincide with the soccer curriculum. The younger players might be asked to “explain two ways to pass the soccer ball and demonstrate the technique”, while an older group may be asked “how can a team break down a team that sits”? The book covers in detail my suggestions for setting up a S.O.L.E’s in youth soccer. The purpose of this book is to share new ideas on youth soccer development in a simple but highly effective way that is easy to understand and implement. If you are novice with no coaching experience or a seasoned veteran coach, I believe you will find the information extremely beneficial.

I am asking coaches who decide to implement S.O.L.E’s with their team after reading this book to let me know how their teams are progressing over the months. I am interested in hearing how the methods are working for you. I am happy to read your emails and give you my thoughts. Enjoy the book!


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