The Well-Rounded Soccer Coach - Ashu Saxena - ebook

The Well-Rounded Soccer Coach ebook

Ashu Saxena



The Well-Rounded Soccer Coach is a unique book about coaching soccer. The author shares successful secrets for long-term player development, which is a current hot topic in the soccer world. This special resource combines credibility, experiences of a coach who has coached U9-U19 age groups (competitive club and high school teams), and comprehensive coverage of coaching soccer. It raises the standards for coaching resources by including: • Proven methods and techniques • Examples of a complete season of actual training sessions • Explanations as to the "how" and "why" of selected exercises • Useful resources for coaches, players, and parents in a variety of areas on and off the field • Credibility through anecdotes from coaches, players, and parents • Objective results achieved by teams • Direct access to someone who is actively involved in the areas of player development, coaching excellence, team culture, and education Anyone wishing to become a successful coach of a winning team needs this book on his shelf.

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For Neeta, Sunaina, and Shaylan—you are the loves of my life; thank you for all of the sacrifices as I coach, write, and teach.

For all my family and friends: thank you for continuing to love and support me.

For my closest soccer coaching staff friends: Keith Wawrzyniak, Dave Banks, and Ryan Spencer, your long-term loyalty is much appreciated; we had an incredible run, didn’t we?

For Anson Dorrance, Jay Martin, Gloria Averbuch, Tim Crothers, Jodi Helmer, Manuel Morschel, Martin Meyer, Liz Evans, Thomas Stengel, and Jenn Grabenstetter: your belief, encouragement, and support throughout this writing process are much appreciated.

For my long-time coaching friends, you are among the truly elite in the country: Anson Dorrance, Jeff Tipping, Dave Lombardo, Hank Leung, Ken Krieger, Gene Mishalow; I have learned valuable lessons from your “doctorate courses.”

For the hundreds of kind players and coaches whom I have had the good fortune of sharing positive experiences with on our soccer journeys: I know the memories and lessons will stay with us forever.

For the many coaches whom I have yet to meet: the ones who share my desires to take the time to teach skills effectively, strive for excellence diligently, maintain passion for the game selflessly, compete honorably, and contribute positively to player development.

For Electra, especially the Banks, Bartucca, Costantino, DeSimone, Gallivan, Grose, Lee, Smith, and Wawrzyniak families: many thanks and Let’s Go Get ’em!

The contents of this book were carefully researched. However, all information is supplied without liability. Neither the author nor the publisher will be liable for possible disadvantages or damages resulting from this book.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Title of 1st edition: Soccer – Strategies for Sustained Coaching Success, Meyer & Meyer, Aachen, 2012

The Well-Rounded Soccer Coach

Maidenhead: Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd., 2018

ISBN: 978-1-78255-464-6

All rights reserved, especially the right to copy and distribute, including translation rights. No part of this work may be reproduced–including by photocopy, microfilm or any other means–processed, stored electronically, copied or distributed in any form whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher.

© 2018 by Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd.

2nd edition 2018 of the 1st edition 2012

Aachen, Auckland, Beirut, Cairo, Cape Town, Dubai, Hägendorf, Hong Kong, Indianapolis, Manila, New Delhi, Singapore, Sydney, Tehran, Vienna

Member of the World Sports Publishers’ Association (WSPA)

ISBN: 978-1-78255-464-6

Email: [email protected]


Foreword by Anson Dorrance

Chapter 1:

Personal Statement, Team Mission Statement, and Coaching Philosophy

Chapter 2:

Creating a Team Culture for Player Development

Chapter 3:

Leadership: Managing Success and Overcoming Adversity

Chapter 4:

Team Management: Players, Staff, Parents

Chapter 5:

The College Process

Chapter 6:

Player Development: Whose Responsibility?

Chapter 7:

Developing a Year-Round Program

Chapter 8:

Coaching Methodology

Chapter 9:

Example of a Full Season of Training

Chapter 10:

Sustaining Excellence, Remaining Relevant, and Giving Back to the Game


Appendix: Additional Resources for Coaches


Training Sessions


2:Foot skills, Dribbling, 1v1

3:Passing, Receiving

4:Long-Balls, Heading, Volleying


6:1v1 Defending

7:Passing, Receiving; Speed of Play

8:Support, Role of 2nd Attackers, Possession; Turning

9:Back to Pressure

10:Transition; Speed of Play

11:"Arsenal" Games, Attacking at Speed

12:Target Play; Long-Ball/Head; Establishing a Rhythm of Play

13:Creating Opportunities, Finishing

14:1st-2nd-3rd Defender Roles; Zonal Defending

15:Combination Play; Bending Balls

16:Circuit-Training, Throw-Ins, 4v4 Tournament


18:Final Pass, Revisit Bending Balls; Positional, "Zidane," and Directional Possession Games

19:Long-Balls, Crossing/Finishing

20:Possession; Playing Goal Up/Down

21:Finishing; Combining Midfield and Forward Players

22:Playing Out of the Back, Using Target and Flank Options, Technical 1st Touch and Passing Repetitions

23:Clearing Out of the Box, Finishing in the Box; GK Language

24:Driving Balls in the Air; Application of Driven Balls to Targets and Secondary-Range Finishing

25:Forwards Receiving Ball With Back-to-Goal; Focus on the Forwards' Ability to Deal With Pressure From Behind

26:Early Crossing Technique and Application


28:Opposed Heading, Long Flighted Service

29:Combination Play

30:Pressure-Cover-Balance, Understand Principles of Defense and Roles of 1st, 2nd, 3rd Defender, Zonal Defending

31:Finishing Technique

32:Attacking Runs in the Box

33:Goalkeeper Distribution

34:Playing With Numbers Up, Playing Down From 0-2

35:Playing Out of the Back

36:Center Midfield Play

37:1v1 Revisit, Spacing, Fundamental Foot Skills

38:Understanding the Triangle and "Diamond" Shape on Attack

39:Technical Warm-Up

40:Finishing Off of Crosses

41:Playing With Numbers Up/Down

42:Technical 1v1

43:Midfield Play

44:Possession to Change Point of Attack

45:Final Third Tactics, Speed of Play, Final Pass

46:Team Shape in Attack, Combination Play, Speed of Play, Group Defending

47:1v1 Defending

48:Passing, Receiving, Finishing

49:Positional Possession, Turning/Changing Direction With the Ball, Transition Game With Direction and Positions

50:Long-Ball/1st Touch, Possession, "Battle of the Box," Choreography/Shadow Play, Final Scrimmage


“Each day is a little life.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

“Welcome to America!” shouted the tall, thin, blond, pony-tailed, blue-eyed, smiling 10-year-old girl. She was the first player to greet me on the first team that I coached in Fairfax, Virginia. Being an American all my life, I was surprised at the welcome, yet I had to smile at her energy and enthusiasm. She and her teammates had heard that I would become their head coach in August of 1995. I had just moved there in July from Clifton Park, New York. Having coached youth and high school soccer there, I was interested in continuing my coaching career immediately.

After a few phone calls and various offers from area clubs to take on teams, I was eventually introduced to Keith Wawrzyniak and Dave Banks, both parent coaches who were coaching and managing the Braddock Road Youth Club Electra Under 11 (U11) girls’ soccer team. Little did I know then, I would go on to coach that team through their U19 year and that numerous families from the team, including Keith and Dave, would be among my closest friends to this day.

Keith, in his humorous way, poked fun at my Indian heritage and had told the girls I was Cherokee, Navajo or Sioux (I really do not remember). It did not occur to the girls that my parents are actually from India, the country in Asia. Thus, I was welcomed by the girl with the blond ponytail to a country I already knew and loved.

Some years later, that same player (CJ), her teammates, Keith, Dave, and I would celebrate numerous accomplishments. We were the Virginia State Champions twice, a Region I Finalist, elite performers at top tournaments around the country, and we were a team that demonstrated long-term player development. Electra, as the team was simply known, went on to develop highly successful, accomplished players at the club, high school, ODP, collegiate, and even national levels. Given our team culture, it is no surprise that several of the girls were captains of their various teams and leaders in life off of the field, too.

From modest beginnings as a player, CJ would go on to win a HS state championship, a collegiate national championship, and off the soccer field, she developed into a wonderfully graceful, compassionate person of tremendous strength. Many of us attended her and her teammates’ weddings, and she is just one example of many Electra alumnae you will get to meet throughout this book. Those players and their parents are among those who lend powerful credibility to the strategies for becoming a well-rounded coach and experiencing sustained soccer coaching success that I offer in the pages that follow.

Statement from a former soccer player (Cassandra “CJ” Grose):

“On the field Ashu stands out because of his commitment to the development of each individual player and his contagious passion for the game. Off the field Ashu stands out as a man of character, challenging those around him to live a life of integrity, kindness and continual personal growth. As a player for Ashu I certainly developed my skills on the field as he encouraged me to never be comfortable at the level I was at, but to continue to develop into a player with the complete package of technical skills, mental toughness and a refined understanding of the game. In looking back though, what I value most about Ashu as a coach were the life lessons I took away by “catching” his love for the game and learning about life in light of soccer. I still remember studying the flight patterns of geese as a team and discussing how it related to us on the field and in life. I have often thought back to and used those life lessons such as taking turns flying as the leader and flying in such a way that empowers the flight of those around me. I am forever grateful to Ashu that he took the time to coach us beyond just the details of the game.”

— CJ Grose, BRYC Electra U11-U19 (Messiah College)


The Well-Rounded Soccer Coach is a clear, credible resource by an experienced soccer coach who shares proven player development methods for attaining long-term coaching success. The experiences in coaching ages U9 to U19 for several years have been valuable in both shaping soccer successes and creating positive team cultures. In addition, my interests in education, psychology, management, current events, philosophy, global issues, and sports in general have enhanced the overall coaching experience for those who I coach and work with.

Given my long-term achievements, honors and credentials, along with having written articles and offered contributions to books, a growing audience became interested in what I do for teams on and off the field. In addition to BRYC Electra, there were highly successful stories that followed in BRYC Attack, BRYC Blue Thunder, and teams more recently in North Carolina (U16s, U15s, U12s). Additionally, the methods described in this book also positively impacted highly competitive high school programs in New York, Virgina, and North Carolina. What is it that leads to enduring excellence in coaching? There is a lot more to it than simply inheriting talent and winning matches. Thus, curiosity from coaches first inspired me to share the wealth of experiences because if it helps coaches, then it ultimately benefits those who matter most in this game — the players.

As I scanned the vast resources available to coaches in terms of books, periodicals, videos, DVDs, emails and various online materials, I realized that a lot of things appeared to be missing. I could not find a single resource that captured on- and off-field insights, practical full-session plans for a whole season, the college process for youth (and high school) coaches, and various other important features from a coach-as-educator perspective.

The topic of player development in soccer is critical at the moment, especially in America and the UK, and I feel a responsibility to contribute several valuable insights and help build a strong support system for all coaches interested in the topic. Thus, the attempt to raise the standards of resources in terms of connecting all coaching aspects is set; the key features of The Well-Rounded Soccer Coach include:

•proven methods and techniques

•an example of a complete season of training sessions

•explanations as to the “how” and “why” of selected exercises

•useful resources for coaches, players, and parents in a variety of areas on and off the field

•anecdotes from coaches, players, and parents that demonstrate objective results

•direct access to someone who is “in the trenches” of the coaching profession who focuses on player development

Lastly, I also wrote The Well-Rounded Soccer Coach to honor the many terrific players, families and coaches who I have been fortunate to meet along this enjoyable journey. It is a beautiful game, and I am glad to have had so many positive experiences that I can now share with a wider audience who will be able to use this book in many ways to benefit themselves, those they work with and those they coach.


The primary audience for The Well-Rounded Soccer Coach is soccer coaches— both genders, all ages, all levels, all experience levels from rookie to veteran. Coaches in the United States as well as from other countries will find great value and usefulness since no other book like it currently exists. Especially with the release of the US Soccer Coaching Curriculum and additional articles regarding player development, coaches will find this book of tremendous value because I will share proven methods and sessions with detail, quality, and credibility that are unmatched in publications currently available.

Secondary audiences for the book include soccer players and parents, coaches of different sports, and directors of coaching/coaching education who lead other coaches or can offer The Well-Rounded Soccer Coach as an excellent resource for professional development.


When I first contemplated writing a book on coaching soccer, there was only one person whom I wanted to write the foreword. If he said “no,” then there would not be a foreword to this book I am sure there are critics who suspect I might have had a hidden agenda in asking Anson Dorrance to write the foreword to my book— a big name to sell more copies.

However, I am reminded of a quote, one of many quotes, that Anson has given to me during the years that I have known him (credit Aristotle for this one): “Say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” In essence, one cannot worry about what others think or say. Instead, one must choose a path that he knows to be right and true, take action and use the power of voice effectively. Thus, it is partly because of his inspiration that I have followed through on writing The Well-Rounded Soccer Coach, and it is because of his mentorship, loyalty, support, and friendship that I asked him to be a part of this adventure.

I first met Anson Dorrance in early December of 1995. He was presenting during the NSCAA symposium at the Carolina Inn during the NCAA Women’s Division I semi-final and final weekend in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Like most people who followed women’s soccer, I was curious about the amazing records already established by Anson and the Tar Heels. Their legacy was not just about astonishing statistics, but more so about the leadership skills, coaching knowledge, teaching ability, and management style. I had seen past championships on television, read a variety of articles about the Dynasty, and I was impressed with the stream of champions who had already played and were playing for the Tar Heels— Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Tisha Venturini, Tracey Bates, Shannon Higgins-Cirvoski, Angie Kelly, Staci Wilson, Robin Confer, and Cindy Parlow to name a few.

In one way or another, I would eventually meet them all, and I never failed to be impressed by their genuine role model spirit (e.g., the latter three were players who signed autographs for the young BRYC Electra team I had taken to the old Raleigh Shootout just a few weeks earlier); humility (e.g., Shannon and I coached opposing school and club teams in the DC area and though she was a legend, she invited me to join her and her famous coaching husband at a table for dinner at one of the NSCAA conventions some years later); generosity (e.g., Tracey more than once took time via informal introductions at events or via email to respond to questions); competitiveness (e.g., the first three were long-time US Women’s National Team stalwarts who didn’t just play the game, but competed with an unmistakable fury every minute to lead teams to NCAA, Olympic and World Cup championships); toughness yet approachable (e.g., Staci is still the toughest back I have ever seen play the game, yet she took time out of her schedule to do a session with the Electra team, and the girls loved her); insightfulness (e.g., Angie was one of BRYC Electra’s first coaches at UNC team camp way back in 1996, and Robin always had good insights when she was approached about her coaching thoughts during the UNC girls’ soccer camp sessions that we both happened to work at); and loyalty (e.g., Cindy would always come back to Chapel Hill during her various stints with national team duties; she served as an assistant coach on Anson’s staff, and she continues to be a good friend who I enjoy chatting with about youth soccer and player development).

Of course, this list doesn’t include the many talented and kind players who either came before or after these players and from whom I have also learned a lot regarding the UNC program: Marcia McDermott, Amy Kiah, Bettina Bernardi, Beth Huber, Susan Ellis, Heather O’Reilly, Angie Kelly, Anne Felts, Anna Rodenbough, Yael Averbuch, Mandy Moraca, Ashlyn Harris, Nicole Roberts, Susan Bush, Raven McDonald, Kacey White, Libby Guess, Ariel Harris, Sterling Smith, Nikki Washington, Robin Gayle, Cat Reddick, Nel Fettig, Helen Lawler, Laura Winslow, Lorrie Fair, Laurie Schwoy, Rebekah McDowell, Ali Hawkins, Beth Sheppard, Siri Mullinix, Sarah Dacey, Tiffany Roberts, Jessica Maxwell, Leslie Gaston and Jordan Walker just to name a few.

So, why the extensive name drop? To point out that they all played for and excelled at UNC (and some on the US Women’s National Team) under Anson. Players are often a reflection of their coach and while all of these players certainly had other influential people in their lives, all are forever connected by one coach—Anson. In addition, Anson’s current and former staff members, including Bill Palladino, Chris Ducar, Tom Sander, and Bill Steffen continue to be terrific friends and they have certainly been valuable members of the Tar Heel’s successes. They also remind us that a coaching effort is a team effort and that loyalty, support, hard work, professionalism, knowledge, ability, humor, team chemistry, motivation, compatibility, respect and communication are among the most important features of group dynamics.

When Anson saw my teams, BRYC Electra in particular, show improvement at camp over the years, he was both pleased and surprised. Pleased that player development does take place at the youth level and surprised that a coach like me could take the route of non-recruiting in a competitive area such as northern Virginia and still find success without necessarily having the best athletes or top names, but by being focused on long-term player development. As a result, I have continued to work at UNC camps over the years, taking a particular liking to the team camp weeks.

When BRYC Electra was putting together a coach-of-the-year nomination for me, they approached Anson to write what I would later consider to be one of the nicest letters of recommendations that I have ever received. In addition, when Gloria Averbuch was looking to break down some of Anson’s ideas and relate them to youth and high school coaches in the book she wrote with Anson, Vision of a Champion, he steered her to me. Lastly, when he and Tony DiCicco were looking to rustle up some proficient youth players in the making of two videos (Playing the 1-4-3-3 and Playing the 1-3-4-3), Anson called on me and on short notice, I was able to provide five players who are, in the words of Anson, “forever immortalized in video soccer fame.”

As a huge underdog, Electra caps an amazing run at regionals, losing 2-3 in 2OT in the Championship.

I have learned a lot from the man who is widely considered to be one of the greatest soccer coaches in the history of the sport. Despite his critics, Anson continues to share his knowledge by being active in the soccer coaching education community, explaining the UNC system at summer camps, clinics and conventions, demonstrating his ideas in books and DVDs, and without question, developing players throughout their careers for success on and off the soccer field. All along, he has shown character, compassion, competitiveness, and creativity in establishing a wonderful culture at Carolina. In addition, he has groomed and inspired hundreds of coaches, along with influencing coaching methodology and standards of play around the globe. Off the field, he is a devoted Sunday school teacher, and an incredible family man, serving in the roles of loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and so on. He has supported me and for that, I am appreciative. If you’re going to learn, you may as well learn from the best; Anson is one of them, and I am proud to call him a friend.

Thus, the time has come for a book that considers coaching aspects on and off the field that are interconnected as both are critical for successful player development. Beyond all of the victories that a team can obtain on the field, it is the joy and satisfaction of seeing players develop lasting positive qualities as a result of the culture you lead that make coaching an incredibly valuable life-long experience. If a coach sets the right team culture, a team will produce players who:

•learn and improve technical and tactical skills along with physical and psychological qualities to reach higher competitive levels of performance

•grow into able problem-solvers

•mature into leadership roles and perhaps become future coaches

•be productive citizens

•retain strong friendships over many years—becoming so close that teammates consider each other family

•develop values such as hard work, faith, and integrity which will serve them on and off the field

Player development is critical in youth soccer, and it is an especially relevant, hot-button topic in the soccer world at present. What I share in this book has value for coaches at all levels because, in essence, if a coach is not striving for ongoing player development then that “coach” is not really coaching at all. There are many resources available to coaches, especially in this era of the internet and electronic communications. However, the mass email blasts and over-exposure of some resources can leave one wondering if the information out there is really useful at all while at the same time, it can come across as a disjointed collection of exercises that have neither congruence nor connection to a bigger picture: lasting player development and sustained success. Some resources also seem to offer exercises without adequate instruction or credibility that the user can easily identify. The Well-Rounded Soccer Coach offers coaches of both genders, all ages, all levels, and all experiences strategies that have led to objective, concrete results with great successes in player development, championships, and a continued passion for the game of soccer.

“The fog’s just lifting. Throw off your bow line; throw off your stern. You head out to South channel, past Rocky Neck, Ten Pound Island. Past Niles Pond where I skated as a kid. Blow your air horn and throw a wave to the lighthouse keeper’s kid on Thatcher Island. Then the birds show up: black backs, herring gulls, big dumb ducks. The sun hits ya - head North. Open up to 12 - steamin’ now. The guys are busy; you’re in charge. Ya know what? You’re a goddamn sword boat captain. Is there anything better in the world?”

– Captain Billy Tyne, Perfect Storm (Produced by Katz 2000)

When you are able to lead a team on a journey, be it for a week at camp, a few weeks of training, a few months that comprise a season, one year, a decade, or more, there is something magical that can take place where the team is not just something that you are a part of, but that it is a part of you. With such a strong connection among all members of the team, there is something powerful that holds you together on the field through wins and losses and off the field through adversity; there is something inspiring that holds each player accountable when they are away from the team, whether to work on fitness or just basic standards of behavior; there is something genuine about feeling invincible, that together, the team can accomplish anything. Anything. You are a coach, coaching the world’s most beautiful game—“is there anything better in the world?” Let’s Go Get ‘em!

The phrase “Let’s Go Get ‘em!” is how I used to end emails that I sent before match days to one of the earlier teams in my coaching career, Electra. In an era and location where teams changed composition, coaches, clubs, and colors, this team stayed the course and excelled in numerous ways on and off the field, as indicated throughout this book. Thus, this phrase is a nod to Electra with a sincere thanks to all of the players, families and key staff members Keith, Dave, and Ryan for an amazing journey that hasn’t ended yet.


By Anson Dorrance

In the summer of 1997, the U12 girls of the Northern Virginia BRYC Electra had journeyed into a week at the North Carolina Girls Soccer Camp with their young coach Ashu Saxena. They attended the Team Camp, a special week where the idea is to provide a soccer camp experience for the players in our player development methodology and expose the coaches of the teams to everything we know about the game. Electra was one of the youngest teams in camp that week but they genuflected to no one and returned twice in future years. Ashu coached Electra from U11 to U19, and I was honestly stunned at how much his team improved from one year to the next and how hard they trained. I was also very impressed with how they conducted themselves off the field, how they treated each other, and the clear respect and affection they had for their coach.

So to make a long story short, I hired Ashu to work for me in 1996. I wanted him to teach youth players and their coaches about player development, as well as about human development. Everything that was good about the improving level of girls’ soccer in America and female empowerment was exemplified by this coach and his fine teams.

Anson Dorrance and Tony DiCicco send good wishes to one of Ashu’s teams, Blue Thunder.

One of my favorite insights into the real value of the athletic experience for us who coach is in the story of Amos Alonzo Stagg. This extraordinary football coach at the University of Chicago, who when asked by a reporter following his 1913 National Championship what he thought of his team replied: “I’ll tell you in 20 years.”

Now, at the seventeen year mark from when I first met Ashu and he started coaching the Electra, part of the team was reunited in Orlando, FL. The core was supporting Ashu’s marriage to the beautiful Neeta. One young woman had travelled all the way from Seattle to be there to honor Ashu; she is now a college biology teacher and has successfully coached and officiated youth soccer. This former player, Ashley, was a MAC Hermann Semifinalist (the top award for female college soccer players), NSCAA All-American, leading scorer, and captain at West Virginia University, reaching the NCAA “Sweet 16” as a team highlight during her career there. Previously, she also played varsity for four years at the high school where he coached, garnering NSCAA All-American honors and leading that team to two state championships. Another former player, Christina, has graduated from Princeton, after reaching the NCAA College Cup and serving as their soccer captain, and is now in medical school thinking of eventually becoming a surgeon or an oncologist. A third, Katie, is finishing up a University of Virginia graduate degree to teach and possibly coach and teach at some level (she went on from Electra to play at Boston College). A fourth, Jenn, is teaching, after a terrific playing career at UNC Wilmington, where she also served as their team captain. She coached a youth team with one of Ashu’s Electra assistants, Ryan. All four players played for Ashu from U11 to U19.

Other former players attending the wedding played for the high school team where he coached (Crystal, who went on to play at Syracuse and now does some work with ESPN) and on Electra’s younger sister team, Blue Thunder (Jordan, who went on to play at James Madison University and has been accepted into a public health program at University of Pittsburgh; and Erica, a goalkeeper at perennial Division 3 power Emory). Blue Thunder was another team who visited UNC Team Camp and exemplified player development.

When they spoke to me of their coach, they all said he had a generosity of spirit, he made each of them feel special, he was principle-centered, and he cared about each of them as people first. He would show videos such as clips of Braveheart to teach them courage and standing up for themselves, and clips of Breakfast Club to show what it means to get along with people. He had individual conferences to try to get to know each of them and to show that he cared about them. One of them told me “he worked so hard for us, we wanted to work hard for him.” When one tore her ACL during the peak collegiate “recruiting” season, Ashu was there to help her step by step and teach her about discipline, handling adversity, and achieving goals. He also taught them to become accountable for their own performance by keeping score in practice, but he never pretended that soccer was more important than their academic lives or the development of their character. Sportsmanship was also very important to the Electra and all of the former players said Ashu was insistent that it was always important how they represented themselves, their families, their club, their team, their league, their state, their region, and their country.

And yet, with all this “human development” going on behind the scenes, they came back every year better soccer players and a team focused on getting stronger. In addition, his coaching methods, philosophies, and contributions over the past 20-plus years led to club, high school, ECNL (Elite Clubs National League) and ODP (Olympic Development Program) successes in teams he coached before Electra in New York, in Virginia after Electra, and in North Carolina after he moved there, too.

Years ago, when Ashu asked me what I thought about writing this book, I told him he had to…he was already the individual I recommend to every youth coach who wanted to insert our system and philosophy into their youth development. Of course, our principles and philosophies are only a part of what he teaches. My email inboxes are filled with “best practices” that he has learned and applied successfully and that he has drawn from all over the soccer kingdom and innovated through his own experiences.

In a letter of support, unbeknownst to him at the time, by the request of his teams’ players and parents, I stated that Ashu “has had a significant impact on a collection of young players that are developing the right way: becoming more and more technical every year I see them. In addition to helping his young players successfully through those necessary barriers of technical sophistication at a very impressive rate, he represents our game well. His manner is kind, his instincts thoughtful and supportive, his personality warm and generous. If I had a kid that age, I would love for her to be coached by Ashu. Not only would her game improve markedly, but I feel her association with Ashu would make her a better human being.”

In The Vision of a Champion, the book I wrote with Gloria Averbuch to help the youth “navigate all the treacherous waters” of their sport, I referenced Ashu as someone to contact who had mastered it. I stand by that now as you explore and apply his vision and his time tested and practical ideas.

Anson Dorrance

Women’s Soccer Coach, University of North Carolina

21 Time National Collegiate Champions

NCAA 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2012

AIAW 1981

USSF 1984

U.S. Women’s National Coach 1986-1994

1991 FIFA World Champion

US Soccer Werner Fricker Builder Award

United Soccer Coaches Hall of Fame


“Badness you can get easily, in quantity; the road is smooth, and it lies close by. But in front of excellence the immortal gods have put sweat, and long and steep is the way to it.“ — Hesiod

What is your coaching philosophy? Do you have a set of values and beliefs to help guide your evolution and development as a soccer coach (and as a human being)? If someone asked your players and perhaps their parents what your mission statement is, could they define it? What is your team’s style of play and is it congruent with your coaching philosophy? Whether you are a coach, director of a club, age group director of coaching, technical director, or any other member of personnel charged with player development, you must have a mission that drives your team, club, or program so that all members are motivated to unite for a common purpose.

A good coach has vision, works steadfastly in a framework of guiding principles, stays flexible to make appropriate adjustments, and develops a comprehensive coaching philosophy so that the journey of coaching winning soccer is successful. No matter what stage one is at in his or her career, it helps to think about one’s personal value system.

If one can clearly define such a coaching philosophy, it follows that the coach can coordinate the development of a working mission statement for the group that he or she leads. The outcomes of taking such a step are: pride in the program, communication of principles that steer key decisions, connectedness among all members of the program, and lifelong skills that benefit all associated with your program.

Without defining such important characteristics, it is likely the team will lack focus and identity, and its play on the field will be disjointed. These weaknesses can be evident in a team at any level. This is an issue that the United States National teams have struggled with over recent years, and it is no surprise that the US is not developing many players at an elite level nor winning with as much frequency as desired or even expected, considering the large numbers of resources in the country. This issue is perhaps shared with other countries such as England, professional clubs around the world, youth clubs, college teams and high school programs where a clear vision for player development and a defined measure of success are unclear or clouded by a clash of philosophies and practices.


Though one needs to develop his or her own philosophy of coaching statement, I share mine in this section to help readers gather ideas. The components that follow are based on years of experience, and I continue to modify, improve and adjust ideas as necessary.

•DEVELOPMENT — I have had the good fortune of coaching ages U9-U19, mostly highly competitive club soccer, in addition to some mid-level club, state and regional ODP (Olympic Developmental Program), ECNL (Elite Clubs National League) and high school soccer in my coaching career. I firmly believe in creating a year-round culture of player development within my teams. Sessions are geared toward the development of technical and tactical skills where players are challenged to improve their ability to execute skills under pressure. Some exercises are very fundamental in nature while others are more complex. Coaches often ignore fundamental exercises by blindly following a “the game is the best teacher” model emphasized by many soccer “authorities.” However, as it is clearly evident today, players in our national programs are lacking in technical skills and as such, fundamentals must be a priority in training sessions. One has to sometimes do the “boring” stuff to help players advance.

Note: Fundamental skill sessions are never boring if the coach is creative, teaches proper technique, sets high standards, encourages competition, and continually challenges players appropriately. I also firmly believe in other areas of development that are important from a personal standpoint for players: critical thinking skills (players have to be able to solve problems rather than be controlled every minute by a coach; asking players “Why?” often is a good start), social, emotional, psychological, behavioral, and physical development. As a coach, part of my mission is to equip players with the necessary skills to move on to the “next level,” whatever it happens to be for each player, whether it is moving on to a regional/national team, college program, professional team, high school team, club/intramurals, adult league or other opportunity. Team development is also an important factor in individual player development. A difference between a coach at an elite level versus one who is simply average is that the elite coach strives for player development goals and improvements in every session, match, week, month, year, meeting, and is committed to it with resolve. In addition, an elite coach does not become complacent and instead strives for ongoing professional and personal development.

•GOALS — I believe that defining goals and setting forth objectives to reach them is an important process from both an individual and team standpoint. I don’t want my players to just hope for their goals to work out, but instead, to understand the effort that goes into reaching goals to appreciate it that much more when they do reach them. Players should set challenging goals and continue to set them as they grow. A coach must assist players in setting such goals, outlining steps to reach them and communicating regularly with both players and their support systems (e.g., teammates and parents). In addition, by evaluating progress and giving feedback regularly, it helps bring focus and an overall sense of mission for the long haul.

•TEAM — For the team to excel, it needs every player to be at their best, and likewise, when every player strives for improvement, it benefits the team. Players have to understand that they are a part of something bigger than themselves and thus, my teams are known for having a terrific culture where everyone wants to work hard for their teammates in positive ways. A common fallacy that has hindered player development is that of only focusing on individual progress; massaging the interests for a few and catering to the politics that sometimes go on in soccer are mistakes and have negative effects both on and off the field in the long-term process of player development.

•VALUES — Loyalty, teamwork, honesty, sportsmanship, class, integrity, hard work, faith, professionalism, dedication, responsibility, sacrifice, discipline, respect, commitment, and determination are just some of the values I believe in and try to make parts of my teams. I don’t believe in cheating, foul language or cutting corners, and as a result, neither do our players. As an example, I do not encourage “professional fouls” like many coaches do and instead, I look to put greater emphasis on player responsibility. I often tell my teams that if they are called for a foul, it is because they had a mental lapse and we can’t afford that; if they foul, it is because they didn’t hustle to get in proper position, they didn’t stay alert to engage themselves in the moment, they were lazy in the particular situation or they didn’t focus to make a better play. I also expect my players to be just as hard-working in the classroom and value academics. Players know that they represent not just themselves, but also their families, the team, the club (or school), the state, the region, and ultimately the nation.

•FITTER, FASTER, STRONGER — The standards of fitness, speed, and strength are very high in competitive soccer, and thus, players are expected to work on these areas year-round. In addition, they know some of the skills that will be tested throughout the year, in addition to fitness tests. As a result, intrinsic motivation to improve needs to be developed rather than relying on extrinsic motivation. Nutrition, hydration, and appropriate rest are paramount in a year-round program for player development. I’ve noticed more coaches stray from fitness without a ball and they wrongfully declare that playing is enough fitness. That may work to some extent for coaches who recruit or are perhaps blessed with elite athletes, but it generally does not serve players well to ignore an emphasis on improving physical qualities. After all, we are developing fitness as a way of a life and not simply soccer players of present time. In addition, many recent articles indicate that cross-training helps ward off the negative aspects of repetitive-use injuries and burnout. An important byproduct of working on conditioning, foot speed, agility, strength, endurance, and sprinting is team chemistry; by performing together, there are features of camaraderie, responsibility, accountability, and spirit that cannot be achieved as easily individually. Fitness with and without a ball are regular parts of my program starting at a young age, and as a result, the players I send off to college are usually better prepared than their counterparts. At the high school level, it is not even close, as players in my program are usually among the fitter players on teams. One can’t simply recruit or hope for the best athletes; one has to set up environments for players to maximize their athletic potential and treat fitness as a necessity rather than a burden or punishment. Getting “fitter, faster, stronger” for soccer will ultimately help your athletes excel as they progress to higher levels and, more importantly, in life.

•COMMUNITY — Players are expected to build a healthy sense of community on the team. In addition, they are also to try to reach out to local and distant communities in various ways. Community service projects should occasionally be fit into the team calendar, and staying connected to the community in general is educational. I also believe players’ families and friends are important parts of the sense of community we build on our teams. As a result, some of the teams that I’ve worked with for longer terms are often referred to as “families,” and in a highly competitive arena where players change teams often, that is something truly special.

•PHOTO ALBUM — No matter how long I coach a player, I vow to give the player “snapshots” of much of the above in terms of skills, tactics, values, and experiences. Numerous players who have played for me always comment about how well stocked their “photo albums” were compared to other players because of the experiences we had together. If coached well, players will be versatile in terms of having a strong foundation of technical skill, good understanding of tactics, good discipline off the field in terms of training and getting “fitter, faster, stronger,” and a desire to continue to be involved in the game. Fun should certainly be in all albums, and if you care about player development, strive to work on all areas for the players you coach.

•BIG PICTURE — Maintaining a healthy perspective is critical in all we do. Short-term ups and downs must be tempered with good vision and understanding of long-term goals and objectives. Such an approach helps players understand that success is indeed a journey. As a result, they will be able to respond to situations with greater resiliency and loyalty to your program. I can point to examples such as losing in a state cup semifinal or getting demoted to a second division where short-term vision caused our teams to go through adversity and lose a player or two who couldn’t see the bigger picture. However, adherence to a long-term vision and maintenance of regular communication allowed those players who stayed loyal and worked hard to ultimately overcome such adversity and overachieve, winning state cup championships, developing skills, tactics, and passion for the game and ultimately playing at high levels on state, regional, high school, college, professional teams, not to mention becoming captains on their teams and leaders in life. Player development is a process and not something that can be fixed in the short-term or, worse yet, ignored altogether.

•PROBLEM-SOLVERS/THINKERS/DECISION-MAKERS — One area that is very important to me involves developing abilities in players to think for themselves. As a result, my coaching style is more like a guide than a dictator, an enabler more than an authoritarian. I strive to give players tools and ideas to succeed, but I don’t try to orchestrate their every move. This is a big problem in youth coaching in particular. I’ve worked with older teams that supposedly won a lot at early ages but struggled later on to perform basic skills that well-trained younger teams could do. Invariably, the coaches of these teams didn’t bother to develop skills, a passion for the game, discipline on and off the field, versatility in players or other important values listed previously. In addition, a coach has to manage parental influences. By communicating well with both players and parents, coaches are able to effectively use different positions and formations, as an example, to educate players that learning the game in different situations is important to developing better players. I encourage players to try to manage communicating with each other on and off the field to become better problem-solvers; this could mean allowing players to work out situations such as choosing their own positions/formations during scrimmages, what to do about forming team expectations, choosing what free kick play to try in a match, or choosing shooters for a penalty kick shootout. Controlling every movement and play on the ball is highly detrimental to long-term player development. Coaches need to improve their approaches to teaching and communicating, and people in administrative positions need to support improved coaching methodology programs. In my conversations with national team staff and other upper-level coaches, one area that is often raised is the player’s struggle with problem-solving in match situations. A good coach can have impact by constructing healthy environments where players are forced to make decisions, be it small-sided games or encouraging options beyond just first options while training, rather than the coach controlling every play much like a puppeteer does. Another way to help with this aspect for player development is to encourage greater use of free play where players of different ages, genders, and abilities can come together and play without coach-centered sessions. Coaches should also encourage players to watch matches live and on television, as there is much to learn and knowledge can be enhanced by watching quality matches. Given that the soccer culture is stronger in other nations, we need to help encourage good ways to enhance the mental game of our players. If done well, our players will continue to excel as they move up in age and levels, rather than stagnate or, even worse, regress, or quit.

•CREATIVITY — Soccer matches are player-centered, contrary to many sports in America, such as football, baseball and basketball, that are coach-centered. Coaches cannot call timeouts in soccer nor do players play only offense or defense in pre-determined moments of matches. Thus, soccer training sessions should also follow a player-centered model. Coaches need to encourage players to problem-solve to enhance their creativity, otherwise this valuable resource goes largely untapped. In other words, sessions should include fundamentals and experiences of performing skills that may not seem useful as a regular part of games (e.g., a back heel performed while facing backwards, both “forehand” and “backhand” foot-volleys or scoring only with a behind-the-standing-foot shot akin to a Cruyff move). Players should be encouraged to be creative and coaches are responsible for creating a culture that allows for this. Juggling helps touch and creativity, 1v1 exercises encourage take-on ability, foot skill repetition allows players the tools to perform creative touches to get out of and exploit situations in matches – the list goes on. Allow players to choose point systems for scrimmages so that they feel it is okay to try some offbeat skills and get rewarded at the same time. There is no question we lack creative players at the highest levels of soccer in America. It is no secret that players in unstructured environments (e.g., “pick-up,” “indoor” or “futsal”) gain an edge when it comes to creativity. Watching soccer at the next levels or individual player video clips can inspire players to be creative. Coaches can do simple things in practice, such as requiring three-touches before passing, or a restriction that a player must take on or performing with flair before passing or shooting to foster creativity. One must identify creativity and allow it to grow, especially in younger players. One of the most creative players I coached (Ashley) often “struggled” as a young player since she was smaller than the other girls at the time and would get knocked over a lot. However, as she grew and continued to develop skills, understanding, and athletic qualities, she became a force to be reckoned with, scoring goals to lead our club and high school teams to state championships, and becoming one of the all-time leading scorers on her Big East college team, qualifying for national camp after having made the state and regional teams, and garnering high school and college All-American honors in addition to one of the most prestigious honors a college soccer player can attain—being named as a MAC Hermann Award Semi-finalist. One of her teammates (Claire) had a similar situation where she was on a strong team but was considered to be the number three forward in a two-front system. When she made the move to a team I coached, she excelled and went on to gain the same honors above (with repeats of All-American and MAC honors). Ashley and Claire are two very special players whose creativity may have not developed had it been up to other coaches who couldn’t look past physical weaknesses at their early stages and raise the competitive challenges that would help them develop to the next level.

•WARRIORS — Along with having creative “artists” on your team, you also need “soldiers.” Ultimately, a coach wants to bring out both artist and soldier qualities in players, but to truly reach an elite level, you need to develop a warrior mentality among your players. They need to want to go to battle for the team in every competition, but especially in the most competitive of situations. There is nothing greater in team sports than when your team competes with everything they have, puts everything on the line, and has nothing left to give at the final whistle. Some of these victories are among the most enjoyable experiences that my alums and I still look back on with joy, as in most cases, we were the underdog knocking off a nemesis. Developing a warrior culture takes work by a dedicated, savvy, knowledgeable coaching staff, constant communication (especially with team leaders), and attention to detail in rallying the players to demonstrate vigor, energy, courage, and competitive spirit not just in matches, but in training sessions. Thus, a coach needs to develop a healthy culture of player development, along with staying attentive to motivational strategies, being creative to bring out passion from each player and preparing players for their “big moment.” If one does this well, then players will be immune to the extra pressures of such a major event and will be able to focus on performing the fundamental skills under pressure. That’s not to say that they aren’t excited, because they are and they are psyched. However, they are not so excited that they cannot perform, and they instead let the pressure of the moment get to them instead of using the pressure of the moment to take victory. We need passionate players with warrior spirits to compete; not just in the game of soccer, but in the bigger game of life.

•FUN/HUMOR/LAUGH/SMILE — Always remember that soccer is a game. Yes, we are passionate about it. Yes, we would like to win every match we play. Yes, we go through difficult times as hardworking coaches who care about our teams. However, soccer is still a game and if we don’t allow our players moments to have fun, share humorous times and do simple things such as smile regularly, we’ll lose them. I know my training sessions environments are perhaps more competitive, organized, player-centered, and focused than most other youth environments, but our players generally have fun because of the long-term approach we have in player development. You don’t have to blur the line and sacrifice your core values to add laughter in your training sessions. Good-natured bantering is a positive life skill and helps ease the tension during stressful moments that all teams have at various times in the season. Some coaches go overboard and seem more interested making training sessions fun. They want to be popular with their players and parents, and while this approach may be good for a very young or recreational environment, elite players lose respect for such coaches because they want to be challenged. Remember to find humor in even the smallest of things and that players don’t try to make mistakes; they usually try to do the right thing. Mental mistakes need constant attention, while physical mistakes sometimes just happen. Learn to manage this and move forward. Remember that in the “big picture,” we should have fun as a coach and more importantly, the environment you create for your players should be an overall fun experience for them. Having staff members who complement your approach, style and philosophy helps, and for the good, loyal ones who I have worked with in my career, I am grateful. Find that balance of being competitive, driven, hard-working, and yes, fun-loving.


With each team I coach, I believe it is important to have some semblance of a “mission statement” for the team. Similar to corporations and schools, this statement runs parallel to your personal statement. To get more commitment, dedication and team identity, an individual team mission statement should ultimately come from the players, even if it is the main idea and not the specific words.

As examples, I offer three mission statements:

(1) BRYC Electra — The tryout ad created for this team ultimately became our work-in-progress mission statement. The girls had the chance to look at the ad each fall and spring season and offer comments; given that the parents were also an important part of that team’s long-term successes, we invited them to comment on aspects of what ultimately one parent termed, our “Electra Mission Statement.” We put some of these values on our team brochure, referred to these ideas during team talks, player meetings and tryouts, and ultimately the words in our statement became the basis for team philosophies of many future teams that I coached. An example of one of the teams was the BRYC Attack, a team I took over from a well-respected coach who did a terrific job preparing the team. After the change, the team went on a fifty-plus-match unbeaten streak, culminating in a state cup championship and regional semi-finalist placement (the team had not reached the final four of the state cup prior to this magical season). Much of that success was due in part to the Electra Mission Statement and the values easily transferred from one elite team to the next. Most of the statement is contained in this sample tryout ad:

We seek team players who are hard-working, versatile, athletic and dedicated. Our program focuses on building soccer skills and developing positive character in our athletes. We maintain a stable team environment throughout the years — players, parents, and coaches get along and contribute positively for the good of the team. In addition, players receive excellent assistance with the college process due to the staff’s vast network of college coaches and placements. Likewise, players have the solid backing of a top club that continues to place players into competitive programs across the country. Electra participates in top-flight, national-level competitions, and players are ODP participants at the state, regional, national levels, already being ID’d for higher levels of play.

Our environment is fun, challenging, competitive, spirited, and designed for players to improve and excel throughout the year. Players should understand that the team has long-term goals, and the team culture provides learning opportunities for success on and off the field. Our players develop an understanding of formations and positions at very high levels; they are provided the opportunity to play different positions in different formations. All team members are expected to maintain their fitness throughout the year and are provided with a fitness packet and training tips to ensure that they meet this goal. Interested players should be committed to compete at high-level competitive showcase and tournament events. Due to our training and development of versatility, all positions are welcome.

(2) BRYC Blue Thunder – A “younger sister” team of BRYC Electra and Attack, BRYC Blue Thunder was another team that I coached for multiple years, showing player development progress each season. At one of our team meetings, I asked the players to write down a mission statement and list our core values for our team. Following are some of the ideas that they came up with:

BRYC Blue Thunder’s Mission Statement:

•To be reverent soccer players with dexterity, with focused goals, and who illuminate themselves and everyone around them.

•To be a team that plays with skill and class, that people enjoy watching play because of the chemistry we have.

•To come together as a whole to work to our best standard and achieve our goals. We will battle through all 80 minutes, we will come out 100%, we will be a winning team.

Note: The team was U16 at the time and played 40-minute halves.

•To achieve and become a better team on and off the field. On the field, be on task and work together because there is no “I” in team. Off the field, we need to be respectful of each other and to be honest with each other.

•To strive to be the best we can be, to be the best physical and mental players out there with best efforts.

•To play the highest level of soccer in a competitive environment, while showing class and good sportsmanship.

•To maximize the opportunities to grow as players and teammates in all aspects that the game can provide.

•To come out and play our hardest, to ensure that we are the best we can be.

•To accept players into our family and raise everyone’s game to the highest it can possibly be.

•To develop our skills as a player and as a team, build strong relationships with others, and essentially guide us through our next steps in life.

•To be a united force made of 18 talented athletes who play for each other to an extraordinary level to achieve a common goal, consistently out-desire, out-work, and out-perform every team we compete against, play to our best standard, enjoy the match and each other, and keep in mind that “if winning were easy, everyone would do it.”

•To be fearless; play with energy, pride, courage; have the mindset that we are the best, believe everyone on the team is a winner; push ourselves and try our hardest; become leaders and motivators; become the best team that we can possibly become.

•To have fun, make long-lasting friendships, and to play the game of soccer at a high level.

•To keep up the competitiveness and intensity; keep the family, togetherness, sister-like qualities; work toward perfection; keep and improve the Blue Thunder “magic”; BT is ONE and a TEAM!!

•To be the best-skilled, hardest-working, and classiest team; push ourselves to bring soccer to a new level and improve on and off the field; keep the game in perspective and realize that there are people around the world who are in need; we want to re-define “champions.”

•To win state cup at least two times; be a clean (no cards) team; continue to improve fitness and individual skills; play each other like we’re “enemies” in practice to compete.

BRYC Blue Thunder’s Core Values –