The day has come — no more sessions, drills, videos or talks. It’s time to go face the opponent and come home with three points. Now, what you do before and after the game is as important as what you do during — or during your coaching sessions — so it’s worth analyzing how to be efficient and professional during this time.
I’ll give you a couple recommendations. Now, as soccer is as much of a science as it is an art, feel free to completely disagree with me or challenge my ideas.
Step 1: Arriving to the Field
I ask my teams to be at the field, whether we play at home or away, at least one hour and 15 minutes before the initial whistle, and how we get there matters to me. I’m well aware of the budgetary difficulties that we all go through, but if possible, I always try to have the team go in the same bus. We travel together, like a real team. That helps build the team spirit, and for the length of the ride, it's also a time we can take advantage of to talk about the upcoming match.
Step 2: Confirm the 11
In reality, I prefer to confirm my starting 11 the day before, but sometimes things come up and you don’t get so lucky, so, if that’s the case, make sure your starters know about it at least one hour before the match. Why? For a very simple reason: Why would you have the subs warm up if they’ll be sitting on the bench? If you think "because one of my starters could get injured in the first 10 minutes,” you will not be a very appreciated coach by these guys.
Step 3: Warm-Up
The starting 11 has to warm up, so start about 45-50 minutes before the match. The subs help them. Unless you got lucky and you have an assistant coach, your subs can be a lot of help, especially with the goalkeeper. You might be thinking that this is contradictory to what I said before about not bothering to warm up the subs, but it’s not.
I tend to promote the idea in my teams that starters and subs are the team; the whole group is the team, including the coaching staff. We just have different roles, so if you play right back and you don’t start the game, that doesn’t mean I think you’re not as good as the starting right back (but, if that’s the reason, don’t lie to them) but that you actually have different characteristics, and, according to my game plan, I think the other should start. Period.
Your warm up should be 10’ global, 5’ stretch and water, 10’ specific, 5’ water and stretch, 5’ specific duties (GKs, free kicks, etc.), 5’ cool down, water and stretch.
If you want a full explanation of how to warm up like pros do, please visit my other post linked here.
Step 4: Pre-Game Talk
Movies are great, but you can’t focus your last 10 minutes in just being motivational. There’s work to do, and that is telling your entire team what the strategy and tactics for the game are, and then, in a few words, recalling your players' specific duties. Smart coaches use this to motivate, as well as to bring up positive references, like “Johnnie, remember what you did the other day overlapping Joey? That was good, try that today."
After this, make the team go through a brief summary of how you want the set pieces to be executed. This is normally a good reminder.
Finish with the motivational stuff — remember not to go too far and to use the Beswick rule I told you about in my post “What's Wrong With Al Pacino's 'Any Given Sunday' Speech" — your players have to feel they’re capable of beating the rivals, but only at 100% capacity, no relaxation allowed.
Step 5: Coaching the Game
I read once that a top coach said (I think it was Carlo Ancelotti, but I don’t want to set it in stone): I only talk during games under these scenarios: One, if I mark a problem, I have to provide a solution. Two, I only demand my players to do things we have practiced. Three, I’m cheering somebody up.
Don’t overcoach, and mostly, make sure you don’t lose your cool, that will only make your team nervous, and when you’re nervous, you make bad decisions, and bad decisions result in the rivals scoring.
If you're going to make substitutions, I think it's interesting to read my article about the applications of data science toward making effective subs.
Now, what do you do when you’re not helping your players? You analyze four things in the game:
1. Where am I hurting the rival and how do I take max that advantage?
2. Where could I hurt the rival where I’m not currently?
3. Where are the rivals hurting us, and how do I fix it?
4. How is my team doing in terms of flowing in the four phases of the game (attack, defense, transition to attack and transition to defense).
Step 6: Half-time
You have 15 minutes to do this, so make sure you get to the point. Your goals are to recover (water, quick carbs), check if anybody is injured and provide solutions to the problems and opportunities you hopefully analyzed in the first 45 minutes.
Step 7: After the Match
We might have won, we might have lost. It happens all the time. Now you've got to be smart about how you deal with these two scenarios.
If you won, let them enjoy it and take advantage of it. How? By having them do regenerative work: a five-minute slow jog, ice patches on the legs, legs up against the wall for another five minutes, among other techniques. Have them eat some protein, carbs and drink water. Check injuries. The good mood will play in your favor. Total 20 minutes at the most.
Now if you lost, use common sense. One, don’t start reprimanding or remarking what we did wrong. These are athletes — they’re hot blooded, so have some timing. If you ask them to go do regenerative running for ten minutes, they’ll cut you in pieces. Don’t say anything and give it until the following training to cool down and analyze what happened. If you have to say something, make sure you say something quick to help digest the defeat.
Hope this helps coach! Good Luck!