What Style of Soccer Coaching is Best for You and Your Team?

What Style of Soccer Coaching is Best for You and Your Team?

Communication is at the heart of virtually every human endeavour and coaching soccer is no different. In this blog I will focus on what style of coaching will be more appropriate for you and the most effective communication techniques for dealing with the players in the world of youth soccer.

There are many different styles and ways to coach a soccer team and it is imperative that we choose a style that brings harmony and fits with your team’s culture and attitude.

How to tailor your strategy and attitude to get the most out of your unique group of soccer players.

Coaching is a multifaceted ideal… current youth coach training only address the most basic of these areas.

In Canada and in Manitoba, many youth soccer coaches attend initial coach training such as the community coach stream and perhaps later the advanced licensing stream.

For all their value, none of the courses on the community coach stream offer coaches a practical behaviour model for effectively coaching on game day, rather these courses demonstrate how to organize effective training.

Game day coaching behaviour is left to the coach’s imagination. Coaches are left to make up their own style without regard to whether it is effective or not.

Hopefully the CSA and Jason de Vos will take notice of this oversight and make the adjustments to future courses. Game day coaching behaviour is an important aspect of a coach’s development, especially in the early years.

As well, the term coaching style refers to the overall direction of each session. A coach must determine which type of coaching style best fits them and their players and how they wish to get there.

Understanding the different coaching styles is key, so we can use and combine the most appropriate styles when coaching the youth players.

Remember even youth soccer teams adjust to the personality of the coach’s style.

How Good Are Your Coaching Skills?

If you have not yet thought about what you are doing on game day, you might want to have your players complete an anonymous survey about your behaviour and how you are or are not helping them in the game.

Be prepared for a shock, the results may not be as positive as you might expect. I did one about 12 years ago with a U-16 boys team and I was surprised!

Common Failures

  • Screaming at players, discouraging autonomous decision-making.
  • Arguing continually with the referee, distracting the players.
  • Trying to micromanage players on the field, discouraging creative play and learning: “Play the ball down the line,” “cut it in,” “pass to Messi”….
  • Asking rhetorical questions and whining: “Where are my defenders?” “When are we going to learn to keep our shots down?” The players are wondering at this point what specifically they should do and the parents are wondering why the coach has not already taught the players how to keep their shots down.
  • Being the center of attention by demanding the focus of spectators, players, and the referee.
  • Paying little or no attention to the game: ordering a pizza with a cell phone from the lawn chair, listening to headphones, talking with other coaches. Parents expect the coach to observe, make some corrections, not tune out.

Be Effective

Observe First

The undisciplined coach who allows temper or frustration to enter the thought process is lost.  Panic, anger, frustration and fear are mind killers. The players are depending on the coach to be the coolest and most perceptive head on the field.

Use a Checklist

For the older ages as the coach, you should be able to explain to someone on a telephone, within 5-15 minutes of the start of the game, all the technical and tactical details of play. This includes knowing what system of play the other team is using, where free players from the other team are coming from, which of your players is not marking tightly, which of your players is getting beaten, which of your players are stronger than their opponent, whether the opposing sweeper is deep or flat, whether the opposing goalkeeper has a decent punt or goal-kick, and all other relevant details needed to make tactical decisions about how to play in the match.

As well, there are software packages available that can assist a coach with his or her explanation of game situations.

inStat is an example of a software service that provides extensive game analysis like Match Reports and Individual Player’s Reports . The statistics that these services provide can be used to reinforce the message coaches are bringing to their teams.

Limit Micro-Managing

There is nothing more destructive than an unceasing commentary and instructions from the coach. Younger players cannot absorb all the information an adult coach can spew out and still play effectively. Don’t try to be a play by play director, let the kids play so that they can learn. Trying to micromanage the game will drag the team down in the long run.

Find the Moment

Players on the pitch going shoulder to shoulder or fighting in a crowd of players aren’t ready to listen to the coach, so be quiet. There is nothing that shows lack of coaching ability more than hearing a coach try to keep up a continuing stream of instructions to players fighting for a ball or making rapid one and two touch passes across the field. There is no way that the information the coach is sending can be received, processed and implemented. Wait for a ball out of play or another quiet moment to give simple and specific instructions

Applaud and Recognize Good Play

You don’t have to wait to say nice pass, well done, good shot, like what you did, excellent. Don’t criticize your players, be the first to encourage good play. This is not restricted by the third commandment limit Micromanaging.

Give Positive Instructions

Don’t ask rhetorical questions like “Why can’t we clear the ball?” or “Where are my defenders?”  The kids don’t have any idea what you want them to do so they ignore this as spurious input. Instead, give positive instructions like “mark up closer” or “play closer to the touch-line” or “sprint out to the halfway line faster after we clear the ball”.

Use Simple and Specific Instructions

Realize that the kids on the field, at times, may not be able to hear you. Wind, crowd noise, and distance limit communication. Use short clear words at the right moment. Don’t mumble or whine and always show a positive and confident demeanour. Don’t start up a theoretical conversation with tired and confused young players. If you need to make a correction, use simple, friendly words that are clear and unambiguous.

What are the main coaching styles?

Coaching styles can vary. Coaches may have a preferred style of coaching, which is normally based on your personality but you need to be adaptable and be able to use different styles according to the situation and the needs of the athletes.

Three main styles have been identified:

1) Autocratic Coaching: I’ll Tell You How To Win

Authoritarian, “Bossy”

This is where the coach makes all the decisions and the athletes merely do what they are told. This coach will be a strong disciplinarian and likes to be in control. Implicit in this style is that the coach has all the information and the knowledge.

For example: When there is a safety issue, the style must be ‘autocratic’, there is no time for negotiation!

2) Democratic Coaching: Let’s Talk About What We Can Do

Personable, “Guider”

This involves shared decision making. This coach will guide athletes towards selecting and achieving their goals. Implicit in this style is that the coach provides leadership in the form of positive guidance.

For example: When introducing a set play, such as a penalty corner, try the ‘democratic’ style, allowing the players considerable input and ideas, rather than dictating which routines to follow.

3) Laissez-Faire Coaching: You’re In Charge

I’m Just The Supervisor, “Casual”

This is where the coach makes very few decisions. There is little organised attempt to influence or teach. Implicit in this style is that the players take ownership and make the decisions.
For example: With a set unit of play, use the ‘laissez-faire’ style, allowing players to work out a pattern and to try this without interference or judgement by the coach.

Holistic Coaching: Everything Is Connected

Not technically related to the previous three styles, holistic coaching is the stance that everything is interconnected.

A loss is not the result of any single player’s weakness or mistake just as a victory isn’t the result of any single play. Holistic coaches are very ‘big picture’ and interested in examining how every action, drill, and play impacts their team’s overall dynamic.
All 3 styles have advantages and disadvantages. There are more styles of coaching but these are the main ones. Coaches should be able to change styles and know when and why they are doing so. Many coaches use an ‘autocratic style’ for all of the session, telling the players what to do. This is because they like to have control. Coaches need to delegate some of the ‘control’, empowering players to think, to input ideas and to make decisions.
It is also important for coaches to use different styles because players respond in different ways. Some players are motivated by one approach more than another. It is important to try to work with players and to keep their enthusiasm and motivation and continue instilling a love of the game, making it fun, and teaching hard work and other important values. There is a greater chance of this happening if the coach is flexible in their approach and can change styles within a session, appropriate to the situation and the needs of the players.

Closing Thoughts

None of the above coaching styles and techniques are perfect and any one of them might be the right (or wrong) choice for your team, as has already been stated, you needn’t restrict yourself to any single strategy. You’re free to blend things until you find a style that works for you. Of course, that isn’t to say there aren’t a few factors you need to consider when doing so:

  • Your team’s overall level of experience.
  • How disciplined/organized your players are without you.
  • What level your team’s operating at recreational vs. premier vs. university vs. professional
  • How previous coaches ran the team and whether or not their methods were effective.
  • Your own personal traits.

Coaching style must be adapted to suit the level and age of the athletes.

Evidence shows that the type of relationship that coaches and athletes share is based on the coach’s leadership style, which impacts performance. Most successful coaches demonstrates that a variety of leadership styles can be effective. Instead of trying to find the leadership style that works for everyone and in any situation, a style that doesn’t exist, coaches should instead adapt their philosophy to the given situation, pulling from one or more theories at once to effectively lead people. Knowing when to apply leadership styles is of the utmost importance. Leadership is an indispensable quality that can be developed with hard work. Leadership is a process and a lifelong journey and is an around the clock responsibility. Leaders develop and improve a skill or talent that is already well developed, take action, take accountability for their mistakes, and share their successes with the team or individuals they’ve developed. Leaders are made, not hired, and no, they don’t clock out after a long day.

Coaches are very important people in the lives of their athletes, the athletes’ families, and the community. Their actions can effect many aspects of an athletes life and this must be taken into account when a coaching style is chosen. Stereotypical old school coaches are disciplinarians first and teachers second. They usually deal with their athletes in a negative manner and are not open to change. Old school coaches believe that their way is the only way and their experience dictates that everyone should succumb to their will.

New school coaches are ones that are open to change, are willing to further their knowledge of the sport, and are teaching the athletes with the intent that they would develop their own understanding of the concepts. New school coaches tend to lean toward the cooperative style of coaching as the pursuit of knowledge leads them to understand the role open communication plays in pushing the athlete to peak performance.

Below is an example of what percentage of the coaching styles coaches at the youth  level could use :

40% Authoritarian style

40% Democratic style

20% Laissez faire style


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