Coaching Manual

This page will contain a coaching manual I wrote circa 2001-2002.  I will update this as I enter it. Once completed, and that is likely to take a month or so, I will likely delete it and seek to have it published. Consider this a free sneak peek!

This coaching manual is meant to be a resource for coaches of all abilities. For the new coach it can be used as a step by step guide to teaching the techniques, tactics, fitness and psychology specific to youth soccer. For the more experienced coach this manual can serve to refresh and remind what it takes to be a successful youth coach.

Before I had children of my own I volunteered as a youth coach. I became involved when a friend asked if I would help out with his sons team. I thought it sounded like a great idea and jumped right in. My friend later professed his gratitude readily admitting that he found the prospect of coaching a group of 7 & 8 year olds the most intimidating thing he had faced in recent memory. This from a top executive at a major international retailer!

My concept of coaching at that time was that anyone knowing the basic fundamentals of the game could coach children simply because kids of that age knew next to nothing about the sport. Basically, any adult with a minimal knowledge of the game could coach a youth sport, right?

The truth of the matter lies somewhere between my friends feelings of trepidation and my own flippant self-confidence. This was not an instant realization for me, but came about as I gained experience coaching my sons youth teams.  As my eldest son, Grant, and his friends finished 6th grade it occurred to me high school was not far off and I wondered if I was doing an adequate job of preparing them to play soccer at that level. To discover the answer I went to the high school coaches to study their program.

As luck would have it I was invited to observe the high school programs team camp that summer.  Graham Ramsay, then Director of Training and Education for the Maryland State Youth Soccer Association, was the camp clinician.  It took only a few brief moments of the opening session for me to realize there was a substantial gap to bridge between the preparations I had helped my son and his team with and what it would take to truly prepare them for high school soccer.

That team camp lasted for 5 days. We met three times a day for 2+ hours each session. It was the most intensive athletic experience I had ever been a part of on any level. I was awed by the physical, mental and emotional demands that freshmen players would be subjected to. I was amazed by the level of skill and tactical play being required of the athletes. I quickly realized there would be a lot of work to accomplish in the two short years before Grant and his friends began playing high school soccer.

Now, it should be noted the high school team would make it to the State Final Four that fall.  The team was gifted athletically and skilled in soccer techniques and tactics. Beyond that, the team had a work ethic that was simply amazing and team chemistry that helped overcome obstacles that might have waylaid other teams.

That season I was able to attend some practices and was even allowed access to the sidelines and locker room on some game days. It was a wonderful learning experience on many levels and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity.

I also took Grant and four of his friends to the University of Michigan's camp that summer. Then head coach, Steve Burns and his staff proved to be welcoming of me and became a phenomenal resource for coaching education in subsequent years.

While coaching Grant's 7th grade team that fall I came to the conclusion a manual for soccer coaches might be the best way to preserve what I was learned and thus began the long process of writing this manual.

As the next summer unfolded I found myself in attendance at the high school teams mini-camp and the team camp conducted by Graham Ramsay once again. This time Grant tagged along with me and was able to participate in some activities during these camps. He had been invited to attend the summer before, but was really intimidated by the prospect of competing with players as much as 5 years his senior. I cannot blame him for feeling this way. Now, the summer before his 8th grade year he realized the opportunity Graham was extending him to prepare for high school soccer.  As a result, Grant became something of a guinea pig and I revised parts of this manual based off his camp experiences that summer.

By some stroke of great fortune I was allowed complete access to the high school team that fall. In return I kept statistics and did anything else asked of me. That 2002 team was not as talented as the previous years state semi-finalists. but had an incredibly successful season in their own right. At one point they won 11 straight matches in a row and had an unbeaten streak of 15 games. That team was ranked as high as #5 in the state of Ohio Division II poll and set numerous records including 8 consecutive shut outs and the fewest (12) goals allowed in a season, The also claimed an outright Western Buckeye League Championship.

The pages that follow are a culmination of nearly 30 years of experience in coaching youth, high school and club soccer. The foundation of this document is rooted in those first two years of Graham's camp, the University of Michigan's camps and Shawnee High School soccer.  They are now augmented by experiences at Indiana University, Findlay University and noted coaches like Ken White among others.

Some area coaches received advanced copies of the original document in the summer of 2002.  You served well as my editors and proofreaders. Some of you contributed valuable information as well that was eventually included in revised editions. Thank you once again.  And now those of you reading this rewrite will have the same opportunity to contribute.

It is my hope that youth soccer players and their coaches will benefit from this coaching manual for years to come. The original version was a two year process that has survived for 13 years. It is my fervent hope this re-write will serve the soccer community for at least another dozen years. The original was a labor of love as this one will be. Love for the sport of soccer certainly, but more so a labor of love for the youth in our community who have a passion for the game of soccer.


As I considered how to begin this manual memories took me back to my very first experience coaching soccer. I was placed in charge of my eldest son's U8 team.  I knew very little about soccer so when I heard the local high school coach would address the youth coaches in the area I made plans to attend,  I still have those notes from his presentation.  The high school coach spoke of the formation his team played and a desire for the youth teams to play similarly.  It is important to remember that in the early 1990's all ages played 11 v 11 soccer. The small sided soccer for younger ages prevalent today wasn't even a glimmer in anyone's eye yet. Well, with the exception of Graham Ramsay who was promoting 4 v 4 as a training tool even back then.  

At the time, formational information and a bit about positional roles was pure gold to me. And I think it still is to many mom and pop coaches in recreational leagues. So, that is where I want to start this version of  my coaching manual. For the purposes of this manual we will focus on a 1-4-4-2 alignment. Positions will be described and responsibilities explored.  These can easily be adapted to other popular formations of the day such as the 1-4-3-3 or 1-3-5-2 formations.

A quick word here on the numbers used to describe the formations.  The 1-4-4-2 formation utilizes 1 goalkeeper, 4 backs, 4 midfielders and 2 forwards.  A 1-4-3-3 formation has 1 goalkeeper, 4 backs, 3 midfielders and 3 forwards.  A 1-3-5-2 formation has 1 goalkeeper, 3 backs, 5 midfielders and 2 forwards.  Which formation is best for team is largely dependent on the players you have at your disposal.

In the pages that follow there will be terminology that may be foreign to you. I will explain as we go along in the manual. This first section, although presented at the front of the book, might be thought of as a quick reference section to be referred to time and again.

One - Four – Four – Two

Positional Expectations & Responsibilities

Wing Defenders:
1)      Stay in front of the ball when you are the pressure defender.
a)      Do not stab, dive in or lunge for the ball
b)      Force the ball inside to the help of your center backs
c)       Use the Cues for when to tackle the ball
Do not attempt to tackle if the ball is between the opponent’s feet
Wait until the ball is outside the opponents footprints
OR for a poor touch that takes the ball a stride or more away from opponent’s foot
2)      When you are not pressuring the ball you are to be supporting the teammate who is pressuring the ball.
a)      If this is the center defender closest to you, you are to be 5-7 yards deep behind the center defender and to the side at approximately a 45 degree angle or in the forward passing lane.  (The ARROW position)
b)      If this is the center defender furthest from you, you should be aligned with the center defender closest to you 5 – 7 yards deep behind the pressure defender and split approximately 8 – 10 yards to the side of the closest center defender. (The extended ARROW position.
c)       If this is the opposite wing defender, you should be aligned 5 – 7 yards deep with the two center defenders and split 8 – 10 yards wide of the nearest center defender to you. (The HOCKEY STICK or STICK position)
3)      When we regain possession of the ball you should look to spread the field immediately.
a)      If you are the one to win possession of the ball you should immediately look to make a safe pass to secure possession.
·         This could be in the form of a direct pass to the target player’s feet
·         This could be a diagonal ball forward wide to a wing midfielder’s feet who is positioned heels to the touch
·         This could be a diagonal pass forward inside to a central midfielder’s feet
·         This could be a drop pass out of pressure to a center defender’s feet or even to the feet of the goalkeeper.
b)      If a teammate wins possession of the ball you should look to immediately get wide in the outside channel
·         UNLESS it is the nearest center back to you who has won possession of the ball.
If this is the case, you must maintain support behind the ball.
·         OTHERWISE, you should advance up the field as far as possible while maintaining proper spacing enabling you to link with the center defender closest to you as well as the wing midfielder ahead of you and the central midfielders inside of you.

4)      In transitioning into the attack and especially as you near the center line in support of the attack, use the cues that indicate an opportunity to move forward and even cross positional lines.
a)      How many forwards are the opponents keeping up top?
We want to always have numerical advantage at the centerline. One more back present there than the opponents have forwards
b)      The outside midfielder in front of you is your read.
If you are ball side you should look for the cues for combination passing. (see the attached document)
·         If none of the cues for combination passing are on, make yourself available for drop passes
·         Upon receiving a drop pass you should either initiate a switch of the point of attack, cross the ball into scoring position of take a shot if within 25 yards of goal.
If the ball is on the opposite side of the field you must read these keys.
·         How many forwards does the opposing team have with our back line? You may not advance if you are needed to remain back to meet this requirement.
·         If there is open space in front of you and the requirement of one more back than there are forwards is met, you may advance.
·         Read the wing midfielder in front of you.
If he is moving central, you will need to remain wide.
If he is staying wide an opportunity to move central MAY exist for you.
c)       Whenever you do move forward, if you cross positional lines you must make sure a teammate is covering the area you just left, especially if the ball is on your side of the field.
We might expect the remaining three backs to slide as a single unit to the area you just vacated and the middle portions of the field
We also might expect the wing midfielder you have passed in moving forward to remain behind and assume your role and responsibilities.

You would then assume the roles and responsibilities of the wing midfielder until the opportunity to exchange positions back to the original status arises.

d)      If the number of opposing forwards with our backs is small enough allowing you to fill space on weak side away from the ball it may not be necessary to move someone into the space behind you until or unless the ball is switched to your side of the pitch.
·         YOU would have primary responsibility to regain your positioning as an outside back in this scenario. That would be your priority number one. 
e)      Outside backs take throw-ins in the middle and attacking thirds of the field.
a)      Outside backs should never take throw-ins in the defending third of the field.
f)       Outside backs may take free kicks in any of the three thirds of the pitch as long as the ball is placed in their channel and are designated to do so by the coaching staff
Wing Midfielders:
1)      These players must play defense first.
a)      Stay in front of the ball when you are the pressure defender.
b)      Do not stab, dive in or lunge for the ball
c)       Force the ball inside to the help of your center midfielders
d)      Use the Cues for when to tackle the ball
e)      Look for opportunities to Press immediately
·         Get 3 defenders about the ball immediately.
·         Pressure and 2 support defenders
f)       Look for opportunities to double team the opposing ball carrier when he is in your channel.
·         This might be working with a forward in front of you
·         This might be working with a back behind you, if the ball carrier turns to face his own goal
·         In some cases this might be working with a center midfielder inside of you.
2)      Stay out of the backline!
a)      You should play 8-12 yards advanced of the back line UNLESS
·         You have exchanged positions with an outside back
·         Are executing a double team of the ball
     The ball is on the opposite side of the field and you are dropping into the back line to provide defensive width and cover the back post.
3)      Wing midfielders are to know the following options when they are in possession of the ball.
a)      Early diagonal cross. This pass is made from your flank in the middle third of the field and is a flighted ball to the opposite wing if at all possible.
b)      Shorter early diagonal cross to the feet of a teammate running through the center circle area
c)       Running with the ball inside
·         Sets up the overlap for your supporting wing defender or central midfielder.
·         Carry the ball along the top of the opponent’s 18 yard line. Look for a shot first, or a chipped cross or the ground cross towards near post area for overlapping teammate.
d)      The standard cross that takes place from the flank outside of the 18 / opponent’s penalty area.
e)      Late or bangoo cross that occurs when the ball is taken all the way to the end line then slotted back to an area between the penalty mark and the top of the 18 / penalty area.
f)       Drop the ball back to a wing defender who has come forward in support so that he may take a shot, cross the ball or initiate a switch of fields.
4)      Players manning the Wing Midfielder position should be prepared to change positions with Forwards, Center Midfielders and the Outside back on their side of the pitch.
a)      Watch the movement of the forwards in front of you. If a forward is moving wide into your channel, then you may need to move centrally into the area just vacated by the forward.
·         You will need to read the movement of the second forward as well. If the forwards are making combined 1st and 2nd runs you will need to hold your position and perhaps even drop back.
i)                    In this scenario you would assume the support role of the outside back as the back line itself shifts centrally allowing the opposite wing defender to come forward.
ii)                   It might be that a center back steps forward as you join two other backs to cover ball side and centrally.
iii)                 It might also be possible that a center back and  opposite outside back move forward as you, now assuming the outside back role with the original outside back assuming a center back role.
b)      Watch the movement of the center midfielders. If a center midfielder executes an overlapping run around you, recognize that you may need to move centrally into the area he just vacated dependent on what the remaining center midfielder has decided to do.
·         If the second center midfielder has moved into the area just vacated by his partner, then you follow the same protocol as above in assuming the support role and responsibilities the outside back on your side would normally have.
c)       If it is the outside back overlapping you, you will assume his duties until such time as another change of positions can occur.
5)      When the ball is on the opposite side of the field you should be ever alert for a switch of field or a cross. You will be the last one to start your run on a cross.
a)      Your run will be through the corner of the 18, the corner of the 6 and to the back post.
b)      You are responsible for making sure the ball stays in play should the cross be long.
c)       You should shoot the ball if you are able to run onto the cross.
d)      If you arrive too soon and find yourself waiting on the cross to arrive, you should redirect or re-cross the ball.
6)      Wing midfielders should take throw-ins in the defending third of the field.
g)      Wing midfielders may take free kicks in the attacking third of the field and are designated to do so by the coaching staff

Center Defenders:
1)      These players must be disciplined and when in the defending third stay in front of the goal between the posts.
a)      Remain back to goal.
b)      Stay in front of the ball carrier when you are the pressure defender.  Do not allow the ball to be shot or played directly forward through your position.  Do not STAB or LUNGE for the ball. Keep your body square to the ball carrier and force him to move sideways with the ball.
c)       You are the protectors of the Goal Keeper and you cannot do that job if you stab at and miss the ball.  Keep the ball away from our Keeper by staying in front of the ball carrier when pressuring and by providing good support to your teammates when you are not pressuring.
d)      Only attempt a tackle of the ball when one of the proper cues to do so presents itself
2)      When you are not pressuring the ball you are to be supporting the teammate that is pressuring the ball.
a)       Remain back to goal and in ball / you / man positioning
b)      If the wing defender closest to you is the pressure defender you should be 5-7 yards behind and to the inside of the pressure defender at approximately a 45 degree angle or in the forward passing lane. (HOCKEY STICK positioning)
c)       If the center defender next to is the pressure defender you should be 5-7 yards behind and to the side of him at approximately at 45 decree angle or the forward passing lane. (ARROW positioning)
If the ball is in the attacking third and especially inside the 18 you should be performing a double team with the other center defender.
d)      If the wing defender furthest from you is the pressure defender you should be aligned with and 5-7 yards to the side of the center defender next to you. (HOCKEY  STICK or STICK positioning)
3)      If the opponents gain possession when we are playing in the attacking or middle third of the field and a teammate playing forward or midfield cannot pressure the ball you MUST start the defenders retreating together in a line towards our defensive third of the field. If we start early, we should be able to maintain back to goal and ball / you / man positioning.
a)      We may find an opportunity to pressure while in retreat and should this happen we need to form the ARROW or STICK alignment immediately to the side and behind the defender pressuring the ball.
b)      Once a midfielder or a forward is able to apply pressure to the ball the retreat stops and we can hold the line.
c)       If we find it necessary to retreat all the way back to our 18, make our stand there.   Organize the back line and one defender should pressure while the others provide support – ARROW or STICK.

4)      The ability and willingness to head the ball up and out is mandatory for this position.
5)      These players should look to win the ball and then get it wide as quickly as possible.
a)      Wing defenders should be wide in their channels and wing midfielders should be positioned heels to the touch line
6)      If possible, a pass directly to the target player is an acceptable option.
7)      If you win possession near the center line, and there is no opponent in front of you, ATTACK on the dribble.
a)      Look for a target player first.
b)      Look to get the ball wide second.
c)       If you find yourself with the ball 30 yards from goal or closer, strike on goal.
8)      These players should be prepared to switch positions with wing defenders and with center midfielders.
a)      If a wing defender gets beaten to the outside of the field the closest center defender must be prepared to take on the ball carrier while the wing defender recovers to the middle.
b)      If the opponents exercise an overlap isolating the outside back, the center defender must execute the corresponding underlap allowing the outside back to recover inside
c)       Center defenders may only move forward if we have more defenders back than the opponents have forwards with the back line
There is open area in front of them not occupied by a teammate.
This center back effectively becomes the defensive midfielder and is responsible for opponents who are positioned “in the hole”
d)      Center defenders may look for opportunities to overlap center midfielders after we have pushed the ball to midfield or beyond provided we have numerical advantage over the opponent’s forwards.

Center Midfielders 

1)      These players are to control midfield by playing excellent defense at all times.
a)      Put a ton of controlled pressure on the ball in the midfield never stabbing or lunging at the ball.   You are the protectors of the defensive line, especially the center backs and you cannot fulfill that responsibility if you stab at and miss the ball.
b)      Not only must you play excellent defense but you must also help organize and direct the midfielders and forwards defensively.
c)       You must also listen to the backs and especially the goalkeeper behind you in their efforts to organize you.
2)      These players are the directors of the offense. 
a)      The Center Midfielders are often the recipient of the safe pass and as such they set the tempo of the attack.
b)      The center midfielders must distribute the ball to the open teammate or into open space.
c)       The center midfielder is responsible for switching the field and changing the point of attack
d)      These players must play supporting roles to every other teammate on the field both offensively and defensively.
e)      These players should be prepared to change positions with the Center Defenders, Wing Midfielders and Forwards.
3)      You may switch positions when a teammate overlaps you.
4)      You may switch positions when you overlap another teammate.
5)      You may switch positions if you need to rest.  Especially if you need to rest because center midfielders must have a lot of energy and an extremely high work rate – you must be around the ball whenever the ball is in the center of the field.
6)      When on defense both center midfielders should stay centrally located on the field because most goals are scored from in front of the goal.
7)      When we have the ball, one center midfielder should be in support of the ball while the other plays behind and in the center of the field to help change the point of attack and also to be in position to apply defensive pressure should we lose the ball.
8)      These two players must work together.  Their spacing (how far apart they are from one another on the field) is extremely important.  No more than about 10 yards apart on defense and no more than about 15 yards apart on offense.
9)      The center midfielders may take free kicks in the attacking third of the field as directed by the coaching staff.  Otherwise they should be in advanced positions.


1)      These players must be great defenders.  They are our first line of defense and they should be almost crazed in their defensive efforts especially if we lose the ball in our attacking third of the field as most goals in the run of play are scored on three passes of less. They are the PRESSERS
a)      These players must work together on defense.  When one is pressuring the ball the second is in close support to one side in th efoward passing lane of the forward pressuring the ball.
2)      These players always work in pairs.
a)      When we are defending and the ball is past the forwards they should stay on the side of the field where the ball is but should also be in constant motion constantly looking for opportunities to doube team the opposing ball carrier or poach opponents drop passes.
b)      They should be staggered in their positioning.  One forward ahead of the other forward by about 10 yards with the other forward behind and to one side of his teammate.  These players should constantly be changing position with each other as they seek to cut the field in half and contain the opponents attack to one side of the pitch.
3)      In our 4-4-2 formation the forwards MUST be able to play with their backs to the goal we are attempting to score in.
a)      Forwards must be able to receive the ball back to goal and hold it momentarily to allow teammates to transition forward into the attack that we might be numbers up advancing down the pitch together.
b)      When at or near the center line it is important that our forwards do not run away from the ball when we gain possession.
·         The through ball is NOT the preferred option for attack or counter attack.
·         Forwards must be able to check back to the ball and either drop the ball back, lay the ball off diagonally backwards for an on-coming teammate or turn and advance the ball on their own if told to do so by a teammate.
c)       When near the goal we are trying to score in the forwards must be able to play with their backs to the goal, receive the ball and either turn and shoot or make a good layoff pass to an on-coming teammate.
d)      The ability to play sideways-on is also prized as this allows for give and go combinations with on-coming teammates.
e)      Only when a teammate plays a ball through the opposing defenders or over the opposing defenders are the forwards allowed to turn and just run to the ball.
·         The withdrawn forward or midfielders are the targeted players on through balls. NOT the target or advanced forward.
·         It is necessary for the target forward to remain back to goal and hold the opposing backs in place to make the through ball to a teammate effective. Third man running  off short / short/ long or Up / back / through
f)       At all other times they must be patient and look to help advance the ball by playing with their backs to the goal and making great passes to their teammates.

4)      Forwards must be prepared to change positions with any of the 4 midfielders.
a)      On the attack the forwards may find themselves wide on the field in a position to cross the ball.
When this occurs the forward should be prepared to remain in the outside midfielder position if possession is lost.
b)      It is also quite possible the forward will find himself playing behind a center midfield that has moved forward in the attacking third. When this occurs the forward must be ready to assume the center midfield role and responsibilities if possession is lost.
c)       When switching positions in this manner whoever assumes the vacated forwards position must be ready to work in tandem with the other forward.
5)      The forwards may take free kicks in the attacking third of the field when designated to do so by the coaching staff. Otherwise they should be in advanced positions.

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