A Practical 7-Steps Guide For Coaching On Match Day – By Pablo Toledo

Pablo Toledo is Rush Soccer’s Executive Assistant and a member of the Coaching Education Department. 

The day has come, no more sessions, or drills, or videos, or talks. It’s time to go face the opponent and come back home with three points on our report.

Now, what you do before and after game is as important as what you do during the game, or during your coaching sessions, so it’s worth analyzing how to be efficient and professional at doing so.

I’ll give you a couple recommendations. Now, as soccer is as much of a science as it is an art, feel free to completely disagree with me or challenge my ideas.

Step 1: Arriving to the field.

I ask my teams to be at the field, whether we play at home or visit, at least 1:15 hours before the initial whistle, and how we get there matters to me. I’m well aware of the budgetary difficulties that we all go through, but if possible, I always try to have the team go in the same bus. We travel together, like a real team. That helps building the team spirit, and for the length of the ride, it is also a time we can take advantage of to talk about the upcoming game.

Step 2: Confirm the 11.

In reality, I prefer to confirm my first 11 the day before, but sometimes things come up and you don’t get so lucky, so if that’s the case, make sure your starters know about it at least 1 hour before the match. Why? For a very simple reason, why would you have the subs warm up if they’ll be sitting on the bench? If you think “because one of my starters could get injured in the first 10 minutes”, I’ll tell you will not be a very appreciated coach by these guys.

Step 3: Warm-Up

First 11 has to warm up, start about 45/50 minutes before the match. The subs help them. Unless you got lucky and you have an assistant coach, your subs can be a lot of help, especially with the goalkeeper. You might be thinking now that this is contradictory with what I said before about not bothering in warming up the subs, but it’s not. I tend to promote the idea in my teams that starters and subs are the team; the whole group is the team, including the coaching staff. We just have different roles, so if you play right back and you don’t start the game, that doesn’t mean I think you’re not as good as the starting right back (sometimes that’s the reason, if so don’t lie to them) but that you actually have different characteristics, and according to my game plan, I think the other guy should start. Period.

Your warm up should be 10’ global, 5’ stretch and water, 10’ specific, 5’ water and stretch, 5’ specific duties (GK’s, Free kicks, etc), 5’ cool down, water, stretch. In the near future I’ll post something to go deeper on this subject.

Step 4: Pre-Game Talk

Movies are great, but you can’t focus your last 10 minutes in just being motivational. There’s work to do, and that is telling your entire team what the strategy and tactics for the game are, and then in a few words recalling your players specific duties they have. Smart coaches use this to motivate as well by bringing up positive references, like “Johnnie, remember what you did the other day overlapping Joey? That was good, try that today”.

After this, make the team go through a brief summary of how you want the set pieces to be executed. This is normally a good reminder.

Finish with the motivational stuff, but remember not to go too far. Bill Beswick, a well renowned soccer psychologist from England, has a rule that I called the “99% is not enough rule”. This approach is about making your players feel that they’re capable of beating the rivals, but only at 100% of their capacity, no relaxation allowed, 99% is not enough.

Step 5: Coaching The Game.

I read once that a top coach said (I think it was Carlo Ancelotti but I don’t want to set it in stone): I only talk during games under these scenarios. One, if I mark a problem, I have to provide a solution. Two, I only demand my players to do things we have practiced. Three, I’m cheering somebody up.

Don’t overcoach, and mostly, make sure you don’t lose your cool, that will only make your team nervous, and when you’re nervous you make bad decisions, and bad decisions result in the rivals scoring.

If you are going to make substitutions, I think is interesting to read my article about the applications of data science on how to make effective subs.

Now, what do you do when you’re not helping your players? You analyze four things in the game:

  1. Where am I hurting the rival and how do I take max advantage of that?
  2. Where could I hurt the rival and I’m not currently?
  3. Where are the rivals hurting us and how do I fix it?
  4. How is my team doing in terms of flowing in the four phases of the game (Attack, Defense, Transitions)? (This last is harder to explain).

Step 6: Half-time

You have 15 minutes to do this, so make sure you go to the point. Your goals are to recover (water, quick carbs), check if anybody is injured, and provide solutions to the problems and opportunities you hopefully analyzed for 45 minutes.

Step 7: After the Match

We might have won, we might have lost. It happens all the time. Now you got to be smart about how you deal with these two scenarios.

If you won, let them enjoy it, and take advantage of it. How? By having them do regenerative work: a five minutes slow jog, ice patches on their legs, legs up against the wall for another 5 minutes, among other techniques. Have them eat some protein, carbs, and water. Check injuries. The good mood will play on your favor. Total 20 minutes at the most.

Now if you lost, use common sense. One, don’t start reprimanding or remarking what we did wrong. These are athletes, they’re hot blooded, so have some timing. If you ask them to go run regenerative for ten minutes they’ll cut you in pieces. Don’t say anything and give it until the following training to cool down and analyze what happened. If you have to say something, make sure you say something quick to help digest the defeat.

Hope this helps coach! Good Luck!