American Soccer Training

After a rough week of games, well…maybe a rough first seven games of the season (we are 0-7-0), I got to thinking about where our team is and why.

I am fortunate enough to share an office with a baseball coach, so we talk a lot about our respective sports and how things are done. It is great sharing ideas with other coaches. Tonight, I picked his brain about how they do their college baseball training sessions. I also thought about how college football (at least the ones I have seen) do their training sessions. Then I got to thinking about other sports, most of which I haven’t seen do training sessions (not much seen in terms of basketball, but I have seen several volleyball, track, and wrestling practices).

There are two governing bodies in American soccer, the NSCAA (National Soccer Coaches Association of America) and the USSF (United States Soccer Federation). It’s really just the USSF, but they both offer coaching education courses — the difference is that FIFA recognizes the USSF. I have taken several courses in each of these governing bodies, of which, I really enjoy. Like I mentioned earlier, sharing ideas with other coaches is great…these coaching education courses offer that.

Anyway, Coach and I were talking tonight about our team and what we may lack. But, thinking about that, I believe a lot of players lack in the US. Sometimes, I think it goes back to the NSCAA and USSF of doing things somewhat wrong.

The way the NSCAA and USSF teaches coaches the “proper” way of coaching is through a progression model. What that means is you start very basic and work your way up to a game. They have basically made everything into a “coaching in the game” training model. That means, you let your players play and you coach them within a game-like setting. You have a single topic that you focus on, and your whole training session is based on that. Their philosophy on this game-like setting is because “players like to play.”

While I agree that “players like to play,” that doesn’t mean that players know what is best for them. Nor does it mean that just because “players like to play” that they know what they are doing is right or wrong.

Their model MAY be good, for some people, especially youth coaches who are often outnumbered by their players 16:1. But if there are more coaches, can there be more efficient practices than the NSCAA and USSF models? I believe so. I also believe that the NSCAA and USSF models are used too much as a crutch because it is so much easier to put a couple goals on the field, split into two teams, and just play…while the coach “joysticks” the players into what they are supposed to do and when they do it.

I think that American soccer training should look more like baseball, football, wrestling, track, and volleyball training sessions (I would assume basketball is very similar). They are very functional. A catcher will be working on dropping and blocking balls for 15 minutes at a time, then making that more game-like by putting him in a different position. An offensive lineman will be focusing on his blocking technique and getting out of the 3-point stance on the snap of the ball. A wrestler repeating the “whizzer” time and time again. A setter focusing on “setting” that ball at the right height and distance every time the ball is passed to her. The sprinter getting out of the blocks properly every time while the baton gets passed perfectly every time.

I believe we will be moving to this functional training now. I believe I will continue it wherever I may go. I have been thinking about it a lot. I do this with any goalkeepers I train, it’s very functional and highly technical. Players need the repetition of continuing to make a perfect pass to someone’s back foot. Players need the repetition of making sure their first touch is in the right spot every time. Players need the repetition of turning with the ball and taking a shot without taking an extra touch on the turn. Players need that repetition of one-touch clearances from the defense. Attackers need the repetition of the proper runs to make (checking to, spinning away, cutting across, etc.). Midfielders need to get used to playing to feet and turning the ball away from pressure. Defenders need the repetition of knowing when to find an outlet and when they can possess across the backline.

I don’t think this is done enough. But, there are many teams who don’t have the capabilities to do this because it may require too many coaches to do. To me, it’s basically set up like a camp is: you have 3-4 stations and you run through them. It’s just continuous repetition in the same exercise. It’s not this continuous 3v3, 4v4, 2v1, 3v2, or 7v5 stuff that the NSCAA and USSF wants us to make game-like. It’s do them continuously and when they’ve done them for a LONG time, it’s time to move into the games now that they are comfortable with the ball at their feet. They know who to look for and where to look for them at.

Every other country does it. The NSCAA even showed a video of the Brazilian national team practicing. What was on it? It was players kicking a ball against a wall and receiving it…that was one of their “stations!” This was at the same course where they want to make sure everyone is moving, there is pressure, people are used to going against pressure, and kids are playing games.

Only in America do we get bored doing these technical things on the soccer pitch. Why should I have to make 100 5-yard passes today? I want to do rainbows and fun juggling tricks. It’s the same reason why basketball players continuously shoot free-throws. It’s the same reason why baseball players spend hours in the batting cages. It’s the same reason why volleyball players practice serving the ball continuously. It’s the same reason why a pole-vaulter focuses on the proper amount of steps it takes before vaulting. It’s the same reason why wrestlers practice their single-leg and double-leg takedowns.

It’s repetition! It doesn’t matter if you play the game or not…kids cannot perfect it if they don’t take the time and focus on the little things all the time. It really goes back to the 10,000-hour rule. It takes 10,000 hours to perfect something. I was just talking to my players last week about freekicks. I have seen some pretty awful freekicks. Why? Well, number one…no one practiced them! How did Beckham get good at freekicks? He practiced them! We cannot expect to hit good freekicks if no one practices them!

Basically this functional training is going to give each individual player the opportunity to make himself better and another teammate better. They will need to be individually responsible for how good they will be and how good they can make their teammates. It really does rely a lot on perfecting one’s ability in order to help a teammate perfect theirs. I believe it helps more than the NSCAA and USSF progression model does. It allows more players to get more touches on the ball and those touches will be more functional to them since it is so position specific.

It’ll be done. It’s going to take a lot of organization. It’s going to take a lot of structure. It’s going to take a lot of focus. But, I think the players will benefit from it the most.



  1. Tim

    At the NSCAA conference this winter they had a series of presentations on functional training. Coming from an S&C background I do think they could have done more with the functional training presentations but I think they designed it for coaches that were not familiar with it. At the first presentation where they gave a general overview of functional training they actually mentioned how the US can produce international goal keepers but we struggle to produce international quality field players. The reason for this is because goal keeper training in the US is very functional, they work on a very specific set of skills over and over again but we do not do that with field players.

    Here is my thought on coaching through the game vs. functional training. If you need to improve on something you can get 100 repetitions in functional training in the same amount of time that you can get 5 repetitions in a game setting. When learning movement skills repetitions is essential.

  2. Didn’t you go over functional training in your Advanced National Diploma? It was one of the coaching methods that they discussed, along with Pattern Play and Shadow Play.

    I agree, but I think if you looked at most high level college programs and professional programs the stations and functional method are used a lot more frequently. Like you said in your post, it comes down to coaching staff. Functional training at DWU would be much more effective if we had a coach who was able to take each line and design an activity every week specific to the needs of that group, but having one coach run around and show each group their activity while the others wait just doesn’t work well. So we resort to something that is automatic and they know how to do and can get themselves through it.

    We’re using it a lot more this year with three coaches, and it works so much better.

    • Yeah, we did do the functional training…but the NSCAA and USSF still like the coaching in the game way more than functional — in my opinion. But then again, those coaching education courses are designed for youth coaches that are trying to get the most out of their training sessions as they can. Like you said, it’s hard to do things when you only have one coach.

      I believe we are going to move to more functional training. We have 3 coaches, thankfully there’s a volunteer assistant who is essentially around all season long and only misses one night a week.

      I just feel that the NSCAA and USSF puts so much more emphasis on coaching in the game while neglecting pattern play, shadow play, and functional training. I even did a functional training session for my National Diploma and got deducted some because it wasn’t “game-like.” What happened the next day? One of the NSCAA instructors did something for the whole group that was essentially what I did!

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