Shirtless wrestler stretching his "muscles".

Build aggressive soccer teams: 5 ways to toughen up


Stop complaining about losing

We love complaining. It’s easier to make our failures someone else’s fault. When our team gets the begeezus beat out of us, we point the finger at the refs, the other coach, the other team, our parents, the weather, Congress, solarwinds, or whatever.
It sucks to lose. When I fail to beat my 10-year-old on FIFA, I’m always throwing out the excuses. It was his fault for picking Barcelona, I was trying to keep it real with an MLS team but NOOOO! Sometimes I blame my wife for talking about whatever wives talk about, or I say I couldn’t focus because I was contemplating on the atrocities committed during the Trail of Tears.
Some soccer coaches and parents are the WORST at taking blame. The excuses are exhausting.

“It’s not fair our kids are short!”

“I can’t believe this ref just enforced the rules!”

“There’s no way we can win! They’ve got Mexicans on their team.”

How long are you going to play the victim card? Lord, Coach, you have everything you need: 12-15 kids, full uniform sets, adequate practice space, and a completed game schedule

**Results not typical. Rec-league coaches may only have one out of four.

Coaches, can we just cut the crap?

Like, take a big ole butcher knife and slice away at that hot, steamy pile of excuses for a moment? At some point in our coaching career (Can you call a volunteer position that?), we have to rise up and say, “¡No mas! I will not be the victim of whiny-loser-pants syndrome! You hear me, World? I’m more than just a pretty face riding on a beer belly! I‘m changing things today! I want to take responsibility for my actions!”

**Caution: Be careful who you say this around, or your wife might throw together a list for you to start on.

Taken

I love the movie Taken. The basic premise…no, you know what? If you haven‘t seen Taken, you have bigger problems in your life than this article can fix. What next? Rambo: First Blood? Come on, man!

Step 1: Go watch Taken. Yes, I’ll lose a reader, but this is important. Go give yourself some “you” time. I’ll be here when you come back a new man.

Moving on…

Could you imagine how much that movie would have sucked if after they took Liam Neeson’s daughter, the kidnapper picked up the phone, and Liam said,

“It’s not fair. Just put her down and stop being a doody head. Do you know who I am? When I find you, I will complain to your manager.”

You’re right, that‘s not what happened. You know why you know this? Because his character was a daughter-chasing warrior. He actually said this,

“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you’re looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.”

Could you imagine your team feeling as confident as this guy? What if you had a group of players that felt like their skill and aggression made them a nightmare for any team having to play against them?”

What would it take, as a coach, to grow your team into warriors?

First, do you know what warriors do? Yeah, neither do I. But I know this, warriors don’t get killed right out the gate. It would be hard to write a story about a legendary fighter that eats it getting off the boat.

I want to give you some training advice for building aggression. If you want results that leave a mark on the other team’s psychological condition, your players will need rock-solid confidence in their ability to enforce and influence the minds of their opponents. After you’ve implemented these improvements, your athletes should be able to say,

“I don‘t care who you are,

where you’re from,

don‘t care what you did,

as long as you love me.”

-Backstreet Boys

Oops, wrong quote (great song, though). Here’s what your team should really say,

“I don’t know who you are, where you’re from, but if you’re looking for a bathroom, our rec-department says they can’t afford to replace the toilets. But what we do have are a particular set of skills. Skills our team have acquired over a couple of practices. Skills that make us a nightmare for players like you. Also, if you go in the second stall of the women’s bathroom, you can use the little drain in the floor. You have to squat, or you’ll pee on your shoes.”
-Your Team

We grew tired of teams beating up on our players

One particular opposing team was stronger and faster, and five of their soccer moms drove Kia Sorentos, which was odd. I mean, they’re not rare, but they are roomy to be a Kia.
My team struggled to beat the Sorentos. That team, just like their cars, were also shockingly big to be U12’s. They had obvious daddy issues. They pushed, punched, and fouled our guys the entire game. We barely came out with a tie.
The next year, I was out running errands and got a text saying we’d be playing Los Sorentos again. Suddenly, a wild urge grabbed me. I stood up and yelled, “¡No mas!” Then the lady at the DMV yelled back at me “This is America! Speak English, or go home!” I’m not a super confrontational person, so I shamefully melted back into my hard plastic chair, but inside I was ready to make some freaking warriors.

But, Coach?

-How do I teach kids to be aggressive without fouling?

Your players will still need skill. Teaching a child to be aggressive doesn’t replace the need for knowing how to play soccer. Showing them the ways of healthy aggression is like teaching an aircraft pilot to barrel roll. He still has to know how to get the plane into the air and land, but not being able to roll will keep him from being a member of the Blue Angels not being able to land will produce a code blue.
If a player is skillful they’ll most likely lean into their ability, but since you want to teach them the laws of aggression, they’ll do so with more confidence and sense of urgency.

How do I teach innocent children to be ruthless warriors?

This one is tough. You should mentally prepare for this situation in the preseason, that way you won’t get stuck with those “kind-hearted” kids. But I get it, they throw a heart-warming smile and say “Hey, Coach! Can I be on your team? You’re my favorite!” And since the government frowns on stiff arming 8-year-olds, you have to look their way. Then the mom walks up and says, “Coach, they love being on your team. It’d be heart-breaking if you didn’t pick them.” And because she’s your wife—

Is it morally OK to teach 4-year-olds how to body tackle?

“My mind’s telling me no—But my ADHD, my ADHD is telling me yes!” All jokes aside, but quickly because I fade fast, no. Four-year-olds are already mean enough. A typical post-toddler doesn’t require help in the business of being destructive.

Crafting Warriors

It was our first practice of the new year. After greeting the players and parents for a moment, I looked at the kids and said, “Put your soccer balls back in your mom‘s Honda Pilot. You’re not going to need ‘em tonight.” Of course, this was easy. Nobody brings a ball to the first practice, or the second. Heck, in rec league you’re lucky if any of them own a ball. Ever.
We then put the players through a crash course in becoming a warrior. We taught them how to effectively (and legally) use their shoulders. We gave them a partner, and they practiced overtaking one another on a run. We went through blocking exercises. They rolled, on purpose, through the grass from one goal post to another. (We found out later one kid was allergic to grass. Opps.)
The kids enjoyed the drills. We ended the practice with a mosh pit. The kids smeared mud across their face, (except for one kid who strayed too close to the doggie park on in his search for mud… just kidding that was a joke. A poop joke.). That night would go down as one of my favorite training times we ever had.
We kept elements from that practice for the rest of the year. Later in the season, when “the“ game finally arrived, our guys were much more prepared for the challenge. The kids, once again, smeared mud on their face. We painted black paint across their cheeks. The girls on defense sacrificed a pot-bellied pig on the half-line, and their dad barbecued it in the parking lot. As the smoke rose from their fatty, keto-friendly offering. At the whistle, our team viciously pursued their “enemy” and ended up winning 8-3.

How will you address your need for aggression?

1. You need to incorporate a few intentional drills for creating an aggressive mindset for the team. Brainstorm a few skills you’d like for your team to build more aggression into. Practice those skills with added intensity. Try to be creative about it. We used foam swords to teach our stronger defensive and offensive tactics.

2. If you expect the players to perform a certain move with force, like shoulder “charging”, you’ll want to train that specific move. Put the kids in a box, 1-v-1 and throw a ball into the middle. The kid that wins moves on. Once again, be creative. It‘s healthy. Creativity burns fat. Actually, I can’t back that up.

3. Incorporate the overall idea for aggression with caution. If you go too quickly, children who are on the fence about whether to be aggressive may quit the team. Guide them all towards being a totally aggressive team, but try not to take casualties along the way.

4. Make them not care. One year, our team had gone undefeated in the regular season, and our performance placed us into the regional tournament. The day of the first game finally arrived, and it was pouring. Our team was about to experience their first soccer game in the rain. When the whistle blew, our guys froze up. They hated the rain. The mud petrified them. Their socks and shoes were soaked. Unfortunately, our guys lost in the first round of the tournament. The team they played against was from a field that had noticeable draining issues. I convinced myself those guys had experience playing with wet feet. So the next year, we practiced a few times with our feet wet. We made a promise to practice when it was raining. We had found a specific problem; kids don’t like playing with wet feet. We tried to solve the issue. Not by drying off their shoes, but by teaching them to not care about wet feet.

5. Don’t be afraid to look crazy. Our first practice, the children were trying to push each other out of small coned-circles with their shoulders when one of the more experienced coaches walked by. He then sits on a bench next to our field. Naturally, I’m worried that he’s about to chastise me for letting the kids be so aggressive. But then he says, “I’ve never seen this drill before. I will have to do this one with my team, too.”

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Nate Ballew

Father of four boys, married to one wife, coaching enthusiast, and fiction/non-fiction author.

Be The Fun Coach That Wins!

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