Planning and Running a Practice
Interview with Brian Contreras
Brian Contreras is the Director of Coaching Boys for ages 13-15 at Pride Soccer Club, in Colorado Springs. He holds the USSF A license and coaches teams in the Region IV Olympic Development Program. As a player Brian was a U19 National Champion and played at Division 1 Loyola University in Chicago. Outside of college he played on the Colorado Springs Blizzard in the Premier Development League (PDL).
How do you plan your seasons for your teams? Does the club control what you are teaching?
We spend a lot of time educating our coaches on the club’s age group objectives but it doesn’t mandate every session that you have to run. In the pre-season we give them ideas and themes but then during the season coaches will adapt to what they see as long as they are still meeting the overall objectives.
How different are your U10 vs U14 sessions?
Some can be pretty similar, depending on the topic and the time of year. They are different in terms of what the players are able to do and the demands of the session – with a 14 year old you will have more tactical work whereas with the U10’s it will be more technical generally. I don’t personally find it difficult to go from one session to the next in that way – if I am running a similar topic twice I can adjust the second one and make it better by what I have learned from the first one. It’s exciting that it is a new group and a different age group so you are kept on your toes, which makes you a better coach doing it that way.
How much does the plan change during the season according to results and other factors?
For the younger kids it doesn’t change as much because the age group objectives are the priority. It doesn’t matter whether we won or lost on the weekend, they still have to be able to strike the ball. If something is really standing out we do have the flexibility to address changes based on what you have seen.
When do you arrive at the field and how much do you set up before the start?
I try to set up the whole session beforehand so I can jump from one activity to the next. You might have to move goals or adjust spacing during the practice but for the most part I like it to be all planned out ahead and to be efficient with the time we have. As a full time coach I can do that, but for the guys coming straight from class or work they might not have time. At our meetings we talk about how to manage sessions and how they can set up activities when the players are doing something on their own during the warmup or during water breaks. If they are doing technical work in the first 15 minutes they might not need the coaching, which allows you to set up the next couple of progressions.
Do you have different plans for every session or a set of practices that you rotate using?
No matter what age the player is there can be a sense of things getting stale if they do the same things over and over again. I have exercises that focus on the same thing in different ways, which helps keep it fresh. If they see a new setup they are more motivated to work harder and be more focused. They still get the same technique though, which is important.
Do you stick to the plan or adapt to the flow of what you see?
I’ve done both. I might think of something and it doesn’t work out for some reason, so either I have moved on or changed direction. Sometimes I might also just play and coach in the game. At other times I have stuck with it though and not moved on because they need to understand that step before we can move on to more complex things.
How do you start your practices? Do you talk to players before the beginning?
It depends on the topic. If it is something new or complex and they haven’t seen it before I’ll definitely explain it to them at the beginning and then other days they know what we are doing and we will jump straight in to it.
What is the purpose of your warm up activity? How long do you do it for?
For the most part I will have a technical warm up to have the players focused and repeating the specific technique that we are going to work on in the bigger picture later. The warm up gets their brains working in a certain way that will help with the session as a whole.
What are key characteristics we would see in the main activities in your practices?
Probably yes, because of the age groups I coach and my philosophy. I enjoy certain styles of soccer and I think if you saw my sessions you would see a focus on technique and a possession style of soccer, with a high level of intensity. As a player and a coach I think those are enjoyable aspects of the game and very important to making a complete soccer player. Having the ball is more fun that not having it, so being able to keep it and understand when to do that is a priority – that and scoring goals.
How do you tend to coach? Do you track stoppages?
It varies but when they are working on technical activities I will stop them individually or in small groups. In team activities I will talk to individuals as the session keeps going, but if there are points I need to make that players are not getting I will make a group stoppage because it is important for everyone to get that information.
Do you scrimmage during every practice? How long for and how do you coach it?
I would say generally we do finish going to two goals for at least the last 10-15 minutes of each practice, but it varies by how the session is going. Sometimes we might go to one goal with two counters at the other end, but still with two teams competing.
Do you have a set routine for warming up before games? How was this developed?
A lot of it is trying to replicate and prepare the players for what they will see in the game so they are ready to play in each component of the game when it starts. We have a set routine based on things that have worked for me and things I have seen other coaches doing. I think we learn by watching others and putting together what works best for our team. No one player or team is exactly the same as another so you need to get to know them and understand how relational coaching can be. I will adapt what I do by the personality of the team. Our coaches do game reports after the games and some have said we started really slow for the first ten minutes. Which helps me to say that maybe they should look at their warm up to see if there is something they could change so that they are more prepared ten minutes earlier. The players need to feel comfortable and confident going in to the game when many will be nervous and excited at that moment.
How would you describe your coaching style during games? What are your priorities?
For the most part I’m an enthusiastic coach. I think every moment is a teaching moment, whether they are learning from the game and I can help them notice things, or if they specifically need correction or information I want to make sure I am doing that. If I am getting too intense or enthusiastic it may carry over to the players so sometimes I need to sit back and enjoy watching them play. We did all of our work during the training session that week and now is the time to go and do it. When I am coaching we focus on a couple of items for each game so I try to focus more on those when I can, but sometimes games can adjust what you are having to coach in those moments.
What do you notice is different about the style of coaches you coach against?
Not really. I do notice when a coach is quite and sits there taking notes then talks at halftime. I also see when they get competitive and are yelling over you or yelling at the referees, but that is part of soccer too. Learning to deal with it is part of what makes you a better coach.
What are the most important technical skills players should be working on in their own time at the U10 and other ages?
I think being comfortable on the ball, being able to dribble to beat players and keep possession is very important for our young players. As they get to U9-10 the demands of the game are increasing and players need to start to recognize when to dribble rather than just how to dribble. They need to know when it might be better to combine with other players instead of dribbling.
You played Division 1 soccer at Loyola. How did you get recruited?
A lot of it was when I played for the regional team at U16-17 we would go to national camps and do events in Florida and other parts of the country and my future Loyola coach saw me at one of those. I hadn’t reached out to him first, he approached me and I started getting letters from different schools at that time. In those days it was a little different as all of the kids on that team when they came back from events would receive letters. For kids now playing at Development Academy and major showcase events they get emails from coaches, but I think they have to do a much better job now of communicating with the coaches to let them know they will be there. There are so many kids now fighting for those spots that they have to actively recruit themselves now.
Was the playing experience there what you expected going in? How much did it affect your overall college experience?
It was a great experience: I loved playing at that level and with that team. I chose the school because I had met the players on a visit and I thought they were going to be a great group of guys and team. The coach was a good recruiter but now the demands to be a college coach is greater and they are better tactically and technically. I think now they are making much better players during their time there and that part was missing from my overall experience. Soccer didn’t get in the way of my classes or my campus life – my whole time there was awesome.
Do you see the college soccer experience declining on the men’s side now that there are Development Academies and routes directly to the professional game?
No, I don’t think so. I think that there will be players who make that jump in a similar way to the pathway in the rest of the world, but the development part for American kids in college is still pretty significant. Mostly it goes back to the quality of coaches in college. The experience will still be good if the coaches are good, even if the top 1% don’t play at college now.
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