Soccer Lessons from a UEFA Coaching Course

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I recently finished an English version of the DFB-UEFA B Course in Berlin. 24 “American” coaches traveled to Germany and took part in 2 and a half weeks of learning followed by exams. I put “American” in quotes because most of the coaches who live in America were not originally from America, which I think is cool. The instructor was a German coach with a lot of energy, passion, and experience.

I thought it was great to have a diverse group of people from Africa, England, Brazil. Germany, Italy, Turkey, France, Saudi Arabia and more. Before I get into a specific list of things I learned, every single coach was down to Earth and relatable. Many times soccer coaches come with their big egos. but that was not the case in this group. Perhaps the fact that they spent so much time and money to further their coaching education says something about their character.


I will keep this simple and just speak about things I learned about soccer. There were a lot of life lessons I am still processing. The soccer lessons are not all necessarily things I never knew, but things I was taught that stuck with me as either new, a reminder, or an important concept. The course was mostly focused on tactics in a 4-4-2 formation because the Berliner Fussball-Verband feel that is easiest to teach certain principles like width and depth. The following are not objective truths from the course, but my interpretations.

A. The game can be broken into phases and sections of the field. This is very important for training purposes. Attacking in the middle, defending in the middle, attacking in the wide area, defending in the wide area, defending counters at different ranges of the pitch, attacking numbers down, attacking numbers up, down, or even and defending numbers up, down, or even. Those are just a few examples. Picking the right number of players and the right field size to create realistic training could not be stressed enough and it was probably my favorite thing and biggest takeaway as a coach. If you follow that there are endless ways to make training fun, dynamic, and carry over the the match.

B. Speaking of the match, training should normally reflect what is needing attention based on the game. Of course, a lot of youth clubs have programs and schedules they follow, but at higher levels, training according to the last match and upcoming matches makes sense.

C. When it comes to defending near your own goal it is pretty obvious we should force teams wide to prevent shots. However, when it comes to high pressing and midfield pressing, it is more open-ended and up to debate/preference. It can even be a case by case basis depending on the constellation of offensive and defensive players.

D. Good and basic wide play involves 1v1’s, overlaps, give and go’s, and 3rd man runs where a winger or outside mid finds the feet of a target who then plays the ball wide to the 3rd runner (usually the outside back but not always the case). The winger/outside mid should carry the ball inside to leave space wide. Timing and spacing is very important in these actions. Underlaps (running medial to the center of the pitch relative to the ball carrier) were not discussed, but in my opinion they can be good runs as well and should be coached.

E. Adding rules like the whole team must be over half-line for a goal to count or a goal against counts as 2 if the whole team isn’t in their own half are effective ways to teach your team to stay compact defensively and for preparing the offense for defensive transition. It is also good for extra fitness and focus.

F. When it comes to defending a counter, dropping back and delaying is the main priorities. Then comes forcing the play wide away from the goal while numbers get back.

G. Generally. if there is not immediate pressure on the ball carrier, they should dribble to engage the defense and commit a defender before passing. Many center defenders pass the ball too soon. While you would think a lot of passes in the back moves the defense around, getting pressuring players to commit is often more effective to unravel defenses.

H. Depth and width are paramount for good attacking. Strikers should sometimes hide behind the center backs in an offside position to create confusion before making their run (of course coming back on side).

I. To create space to get open, sometimes it is as simple as either come-go or go-come. Speaking of which, in a 2 striker system or with the number 9 and 10, when one checks, the other should counter that movement by staying away. However, not too far because we want them to have the possibility to combine.

J. Differential learning is a way to develop better athletes and players. DL was created by Dr. Wolfgang Schollhorn and colleagues in 2006 in Mainz Germany and apparently he had a contribution to the way Jurgen Klopp trains his teams. Differential learning suggests that practicing a variety of movement solutions in a random manner facilitates development better than normal progression-based learning. An example could be practicing shooting the ball with one arm behind your back.

K. Pressure, cover, balance defensively is pretty universal. So is not diving in or lunging at the ball carrier.

L. Coaches should have a good sense of what a fun practice is and doing a lot of basic drills is boring. This is especially true for younger kids who are learning the game. Don’t turn them off.

M. There are times when a low probability, off-angle shot is worth the risk rather than waiting to see if teammates join. Keeping it on target can lead a rebound which will also give teammates time to join the play.

That is it for now.