Coach Huw Williams

Should Pro Soccer Teams Have More Specialized Coaches?

Anybody ever heard of a degree in Human Movement Studies? Well it’s the degree I attained at Cardiff College in Wales back in the early 80s. I always thought of the course as an effort to legitimize PE, or at least an effort to make PE seem more academic. 

I discovered there is more to it! The four year course actually analyzed the effects physical activity had on the body from a variety of academic and practical disciplines. I’m sure many of you rolled your eyes and said “it’s PE,” but what I can say with no hesitation is that I have used the degree in many ways throughout my adult life and the experiences of those four years shaped my thoughts in many ways.

Our curriculum covered subjects such as sports management, human physiology, skill acquisition, biomechanics of sports, sports psychology, growth and development, sports injuries and exercise physiology.  We combined these theoretical topics with sports and physical activities designed to enhance our knowledge in those sports and to train us in developing leadership skills (that’s what I think anyway).

There are many legendary stories which could be shared regarding such activities as potholing (I think it’s called spelunking here in the States) or gorge abseiling in the beacons of South Wales during the bleakest of winter days. Let’s just say, that you find out who your true friends are when faced with outdoor adversity, or should I say outdoor adventures!

The reason I share my degree background is that in the freshman exercise physiology class (where we mostly looked at the conversion of energy systems), we had to write a detailed paper on the “Specificity of Training”. If I remember correctly, specificity is one of the five main principles of training.  The others are:

  • Overload—your fitness levels will only improve if you do more than what you currently do.
  • Progression—a program must build up in a step by step method.
  • Reversibility—any gains made through training will be lost when training is stopped.
  • Recovery—adequate recovery is vital for the body to repair and adapt.

(Now you have to decide if I remembered all of those principles or did I Google them?)

Coach Huw Williams training a young player on the field

The point of our assignment was to outline that a training program must be constructed to meet the demands of the sport in which the athlete participated. The training program would need to address the physical, technical, tactical and psychological challenges of that sport. Specificity of training would eliminate all unnecessary, wasteful and perhaps detrimental components which would appear in a non-specific training program.

So the principle simply states that a training program must be relevant to the sport the athlete is participating in or even a position within that sport. There’s no doubt that cross training helps, but to be a better swimmer the athlete must swim and to be a better runner the athlete needs to run.

Back in my day and especially in Britain, all soccer players performed the same drills and identical training loads regardless of positional needs. Goalkeepers did have some specialized sessions but even the keepers had to do the same aerobic conditioning sessions. Things have come a long way since those days and the advent of sophisticated match analysis tools and GPS systems have helped sports scientists (and therefore team coaches) immensely.

The point of this blog, however, is to state that I believe that more radical changes could occur and more specialization would only help the development of players and teams. Training and preparation of athletes should not only be specific to the sports, but also to positions and roles within the sport.

To be clear, I am not referring to youth soccer, as young players should not be “pigeon-holed” and should be exposed to all positions. Soccer, in general, however is a sport which requires various physical, technical and tactical skill sets. These can vary greatly based on the player’s position.

To be fair, it seems that more clubs (youth, college and pro) are undertaking more “small group” functional training sessions with some youth clubs hiring specific technique coaches (usually to work once per week with young players), but I suggested in my paper all those years ago that “a soccer training curriculum needs to cater to every positional need within the game”.

My picture would be something similar to what we see in the NFL with positional coaches and/or coordinators. I suggest that pro soccer teams should look into hiring coaches whose main purpose is to train specific positions—defensive coach, mid-field coach and offensive coach. These specialized coaches would need to be experts in the functional, physical and mental requirements of their position.

My thoughts are that portions of daily team practices would be divided into functional sessions led by the positional coaches. Emphasis would be placed on specific positional needs for the various units held in the relevant positions on the field. Positional meetings and film analysis would also be undertaken by the positional coaches.

I’m not suggesting that functional training does not occur now, but I am suggesting that it should be taken to another level and more emphasis placed upon it.  The role of the head coach would be to put it all together and create a cohesive team by using the specialized strengths of his/her assistants.

So what do you think about my suggestions? Share in the comments below.

Huw Williams

Huw is an owner/operator of GSI Sports. He has worked in sports management and soccer coaching in KC since the mid 80s. He also holds the dual roles of General Manager for FC Kansas City and Director of Operations for the KC Comets.