Tell Them or Ask Them?

Each weekend I coach five or six games. Because I spend a lot of time on soccer fields, I have an opportunity to see every possible coaching style. I’m always on the look out for different methods that I can add to my ‘tool box’ of coaching ideas.

The best things I’ve ever learned from another coach was to ask players questions rather then tell them what to do. When I asked the coach about this method after the game, he said that if you have to tell them what to do then that means that it’s not something that you’ve covered in practice so the players shouldn’t be responsible for knowing it. For example, at U8 level you may work teach your players to spread out and move to open space when their team mates have the ball. When game day comes around it would a mistake to tell a player to ‘overlap’. The players won’t understand this so they will be confused and the coach will be frustrated. If you want the players to be able to do it in the game, you need to make sure you’ve covered it in practice. If you think they are too young or inexperienced to be taught something in practice, don’t try to do it in the game.

One of my pet peeves is the coach that directs every movement and commands every pass from the sideline. I call this, ‘Playing Nintendo Soccer’. The coach is position and moving his ‘pieces’ around the ‘board’. Just as ‘telling is not selling’, ‘telling is not coaching’. This is a frustrating cycle because the players don’t know why they are doing what their doing so the next time the same situation occurs, they coach has to ‘tell’ the player again. The coach becomes frustrated by having to repeat him/her self and the player is frozen in fear because they don’t want to make a mistake but they don’t know what to do.

Our goal as coaches should be to train players that fully understand WHY they are doing something. We have a major disadvantage in the United States because our players don’t watch the game as much as young players around the world. Our kids emulate popular football, baseball and basketball players but how many emulate even the most well known American soccer players. This means that we have to work much harder to paint pictures within our practices that our players will understand and remember so that they recognize when they occur in the game.

Rather than tell my defenders to push up I ask them, ‘Is there a gap?’ My players know that the answer to this question should be ‘no’. If there is a gap, they should push up. My goal is to have them start to see this situation and tell their team mates to push up. That’s when I know that the player has learned what I’ve been trying to teach.

My other favorite question is, ‘Where is he going to pass it?’ I use this all the time but most often on free kicks, especially goal kicks, to get the players thinking and marking up in the area where they think the ball will be played.

By asking our players more questions and telling them less we will be giving them the opportunity to learn something that will serve them well as they progress.

Do you have questions that you ask your players to force them to think about things that you worked on in practice?

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