In my previous article I wrote about the reasons why routines are so important. However, it is sometimes difficult to picture what constitutes a routine and what doesn’t.
In this article, I will give you an example of 16 routines that I use on a game day with a youth competitive team. These are 16 automation that I have created, along with my coaching staff, in order to facilitate the management of our team. I will explain what each of the 16 routines are, and the reasoning behind every single one of them.
Now you may initially think, “16 routines is way too much!” Sure, it may seem like a very big number, but my players are so used to following them that they don’t even associate any of them to being a routine at all. These are just 16 different things that I consciously developed but that my players have learnt to follow by themselves. At first it takes some reinforcement and repeating, but eventually it will automate itself. This can be done with players of all ages!
1- Day before game day: The day before the game day, I will send out an e-mail to all parents and request that they notify me if their child is absent on the day of the game. This will allow me to plan out my lineups beforehand. I send a reminder e-mail the morning before the game at 9 am, and this allows parents the entire day to send a confirmation back (Routine #1). It is important that you make it clear to the parents that you expect an answer the day before the game.
Reasoning: As a coach you are most likely to volunteer your time and your goal is trying to plan productive practices and optimize your players’ performance and learning during games. Knowing the attendance of your players allows you to better prepare for the practice/game and maximize your time coaching your players. Preparing your lineups beforehand and getting to the game and having to shuffle everyone around will ultimately cost you time and potential stress before a game. This also makes the parents accountable and lets them know that you care about the team and that this small gesture of sending you an e-mail reciprocates this care as well on their behalf.
2- Arrival and attendance at the field: When I arrive on the field, my priority is finding a place where I can conduct the pre-game warm-ups. Sometimes I have access to the field right away and sometimes there is a game going on and I must arrange myself on the outskirts of the field. My second priority is to know which players have arrived. Therefore every player who arrives will check come to a clipboard and put a checkmark beside their name (Routine #2). This allows me to keep track of all players who have arrived (because as we all know, players sometimes wonder off to speak to their friends or go to the bathroom without telling us).
Once the player has checked his name, he will go into the warm-up area which consists of 4 cones (Routine #3). Inside that area are a few soccer balls and players are expected to move around the area with the balls, passing to teammates and dribbling around. This should be done in a light fashion and is simply a way to allow players to warm up and socialize a little. This warm-up does not need constant coaching supervision and allows players to maintain a certain level of freedom and creativity.
Reasoning: The coach’s priority when arriving at the field is to get his/her team a proper warm-up period. This warm-up period is critical as it will put the players’ mindset to playing the game and focusing on the team, rather than just talking and fooling around on the sidelines. Every player that arrives and checks in automatically enters the “team” mode. He/she has arrived and now their goal is to prepare themselves for the game. After checking in they go into the warm-up area where they start touching the ball, passing it around and start triggering their muscle memory for all the different technical and physical gestures that they will be doing in the game. This, of course, happens at an unconscious level but nevertheless, it is crucial to game preparation. On a last note, the warm-up area should only be passively monitored by a coach. You need to let the players have a certain amount of freedom before starting structured exercises and drills—this will let them get the “game anxiety” out of their system, socialize, and bond with their teammates so that when you need their full attention, they will be ready to give it to you (and not feel like they still have to catch up with everyone on the team).
3- Dynamic warm-up (no use of soccer balls): While players have checked their attendance and are warming up in the designated area, I have set up two sets of cones and speed ladders for the dynamic stretches and warm-up. Once I whistle, players make two lines in front of the two cones, even number jerseys on the left and odd numbers on the right (Routine #4). We then begin the warm-up with a set of pre-established exercises and dynamic stretches that we established at the beginning of the season. All players follow the same exercise patterns for the duration of the warm-up (Routine #5).
Reasoning: A dynamic warm-up is important to help prevent injuries. A mix of slow paced, medium paced and fast-paced exercises should be included to trigger the different motor neurones used in the different muscle groups during the game. Static stretches are not recommended during a pre-game warm-up as they have been proven to have more of a detrimental effect on the muscles before a game. Stretching while moving (look up “dynamic stretches” on Google for some examples) is a much more optimal way to conduct a warm-up. The dynamic warm-up also brings the entire team together and forces them to work in synchronism, working indirectly on the team bonding and chemistry. It also gives the coaches an indication of the physical fitness of their players. Players who are slow or sloppy in their movements may show signs of injury or tiredness and can cause coaches to alter their lineups if judged necessary.
4- Referee verification: Once the referee is ready to do the verification, I will say: “Referee verification please!” and all players will line up in ascending order (whether by last name or jersey number, whichever presides on the game-sheet) (Routine #6). They are silently waiting for their name to be called upon, then step forward, knock on their shin pads, turn around to show their jersey number and lift their cleats to show the studs (Routine #7). Once approved, they return to the line and wait for the rest of the team to finish verification.
Reasoning: Having my players lineup in order of calling is a sign of respect towards the referee, and I expect my players to stay silent throughout the verification process for the same reason. This demonstrates to the referee(s) that our team will be respectful throughout the game. I’ve personally done thousands of verification in my career as a referee and teams who are respectful through the verification process tend to be much more sportsmanlike on the field (something that every coach should stride for).
5- Pre-game warm-up (with soccer balls): Once verification is over, players with an even number on their jersey will come and grab a yellow bib (Routine #8). They will enter a larger area delimited by cones and play keep away (yellow team vs. non-bib team). If there are too many players present (twenty players for example), I will separate the yellow bibs and the non-bib teams in two and have two separate keep away games at the same time.
Reasoning: This type of warm-up is seen in professional and high-level teams. Its goal: put players in a game-like situation where they have to make passing decisions, move with and without the ball, and pass and control the ball under pressure. You don’t want players to enter a game without having triggered the neurones involved in decision-making and executing proper technique under pressure. By putting players in a game-like situation before a game, they will be more apt to react quickly to pressure and stimulation around them.
6- Five minutes before game-time: 5 minutes before game time I will whistle twice and players will immediately head to the bench (Routine #9) and make sure that their bag is aligned with every other bag on the sidelines (Routine #10) to ensure the sidelines are cleared and that we have a sense of organization on our side. Along with my assistant coach we will discuss the game plan with the players, let them know of our expectations and goals for the game, and finally the starting lineup for the game.
Reasoning: A pre-game speech is meant to communicate such things as goals, concerns, tactics, as well as anything else that the coaches may want to let the team know before the game. This is a time when you need to expect complete silence and attention from your entire squad, as this will set the tone for the game and for yourself as a coach. Before players sit down on the bench to listen the pre-game speech, they should make sure that all their bags are aligned on the sidelines, a sign of respect for the coach who walks up and down the line, for the linesman who may be on your side of the bench, as well as for everyone getting up to warm-up before entering the game.
7- During the game: During the game, once a player has been called up to substitute another player, he will get up and do a light warm-up where 5 cones have been set up (Routine #11). This warm-up has been pre-established before the beginning of the season. Once he is done, he will stand at the halfway line and wait for the referee’s authorization to come into the field and will wait for this teammate to exit the field and give him a high five before entering the field (Routine #12).
Reasoning: Having a pre-game entering routine is important for the players as it will give them some time to warm up and stretch any muscles they deem necessary. This also allows the coaches to make any last-minute decision regarding the upcoming substitution (i.e your central defender has been injured while your player was warming up-you will now replace him instead of the intended left defender).
8- Half-time: At half-time, I will have the players sit on the bench and have a drink of water. I will ask them the following two questions: “What are three things that we are doing well so far in the game?” and “What are three things that we could be doing better” (Routine #13). Once we’ve discussed those two points, the coach and assistant coach will bring up any further point they want to mention to the team and afterwards dismiss them to pass the ball around 4 by 4 until the second half is whistled (Routine #14) or rest on the bench if they feel the need to rest until the start of the second half.
Reasoning: I want players to be accountable of what they are doing on the field. I don’t want them to simply step on the field and try to score goals and win games—that’s not something realistic that they can all achieve every single game. However, analyzing how our team is playing throughout the game is something that players should be doing at all times. When I ask them, “What are three things that we are doing well so far in the game?” and “What are three things that we could be doing better”, I’m demanding accountability from my players. I want THEM to self-analyze and to analyze the performance of the team as a whole. If I was to simply sit them down and lecture them on the ten things we can improve, I have no way of knowing if they will understand the reason behind those ten things. On the other hand, if my players are bringing up the talking points, it means that they are self-aware of the things we are doing correctly and those we need to improve during the game. I will be more likely to see positive changes during the second half if I know my players themselves understand what needs to change and what we need to keep doing, rather than lecturing them myself for five minutes.
9- After the final whistle: At the end of the game, all players (including those who finished the game on the bench) will go see our goalie and then lineup at the half to shake hands with the opposing team (goalie first in line and then the team captain) as well as all three officials (Routine #15). All players are expected to shake everyone’s hands and say “good game”, no matter the outcome of the game.
Reasoning: After the final whistle, this is quite standard procedure in all the games. Players will go see and compliment our goalie and then lineup at the half to shake hands with the opposing team, their coaching staff, as well as the referee and his assistants. I expect all my players to be courteous, no matter how heated the game might have been as we as a team are expected to promote respect, fair play and humility at all times.
10- Before being dismissed: Once everyone has shaken hands, all players go back to the bench for a final post-game talk. I structure it the same way as the half-time speech—I let the players speak and come up with aspects of the game that were positive and those that we need to improve on for the next game (Routine #16). We then, as coaches, give our final input, gather together to do our team cheer and then dismiss the team.
Reasoning: Once the game is finished, I want the players to reflect on the game as a whole. I want to listen to their thoughts and opinions. Often times players will bring up things that I myself as a coach might not necessarily have picked up during the game. I don’t want to lecture them after the game—I just want to hear what they have to say and take it all into consideration for the next game/practice. By allowing my players to talk and voice out their opinions and thoughts, I am showing them that I value their opinions, their thoughts on the game, and that appropriate adjustments will be made next practice or games in order to improve our team’s performance as a whole. This entire process doesn’t last more than five minutes; the players are tired and they deservingly should go home and get some rest.
As you may have noticed, every single routine has a purpose. Whether it was to take attendance, warm-up, engage the players in reflection, expect discipline and respect or prepare them for the game, they have been set in place to facilitate my job as a coach. What is my job as a coach? My job is to bring out the best out of my players, to teach them about the values of the game, how to play it to the best of their abilities and hopefully one day they will be able to pass on that knowledge. I don't want to be micromanaging their behaviours and wasting time getting them in line for a drill, waiting for everyone to be quiet, to listen and pay attention. Routines will do that job for you and allow you to dedicate your time to teaching them the game.
Hope this article, although quite long, helped you get a better understanding of the use of routines.
Thank you for taking the time to read!
All the best in your upcoming season,
Montreal Soccer Coach