Player Development

The Guided Discovery Method of Coaching Soccer

The guided discovery method of coaching is a way to create self-thinking players.

by Charles LaCalle

Charles works with Trace to educate teams and parents on using video effectively for player development and recruiting.

Every coach’s dream is to have “self-thinking players” who can make their own decisions on the field, easily learn from mistakes, and take ownership of their development even with limited instruction from the coach. Guided discovery is the method many coaches use to help players develop this mentality. 

“The approach invites the player to think, to go beyond the given information and then discover the correct skills,” stated Sam Snow, Coaching Director for US Youth Soccer. “Guided discovery simply means that you raise questions and provide options or choices for the players, guiding the players to answer the questions for themselves because they become curious about the answers. The novice player in a command style setting thinks too much about what they are trying to do, a form of paralysis by analysis.”

“Every coach wants players to own their development, but most coaches still want to control how players develop,” stated Trace Head Coach Tim Benett. “Guided discovery allows for a player to self-learn with intelligent, coach-based guardrails.”   

Use Questions to Force Players to Think Critically

Part of this approach is asking questions that force players to think critically, to bring players into the learning process, and to enhance conceptual understanding.  In an NSCAA workshop, these were some of the sample low order questions a coach might ask: 

  • What part of your foot should you use to make a short pass? 
  • Where should you aim when shooting on goal? 
  • What should you do to see where your teammates are located on the field? 

Then, coaches can follow up by saying, “Show me.” Players hear the question, they repeat the answer, and they demonstrate the skill. This makes learning stick better. 

As players get more advanced and age into high school, you should ask more difficult, higher-order questions, such as: 

  • Why should we press high up the field? 
  • How can we switch the point of attack quickly? 
  • If you want your teammate to go forward, where do you want to pass the ball? 

It’s easy for a coach to just command these things and tell players to “PASS THE BALL FORWARD.” But if you ask the right questions, you are allowing players to come to that conclusion on their own. Frame questions to players think about what they are doing. 

The goal of guided discovery is to teach, not to punish. It’s critical that when questioning players using guided discovery, you are not embarrassing them if they do not know the answer. Your goal is to guide them to the right answer on their own, by asking leading questions, like “Show me?” or “Is there another way we might do that?” or by opening it up to the group and asking “Does anyone else have other ideas how to accomplish this?”

Trace Soccer Game Film

Using Soccer Game Film for Guided Discovery

Video is one of the best tools to assist in the guided discovery method of coaching. Top clubs around the country use soccer cameras to capture game footage, and Trace’s advanced system takes this footage a step further by generating automatic, personalized playlists for every person on the team. With this in hand, coaches can easily sit down with players, asking questions about the player’s performance, and guide them in discovering their own mistakes. 

According to James Rammelsberg, coach at LA Galaxy Orange County, “I do this all the time with players at practice. I will pick a moment to watch, pause it, and then ask the players what they should do next in the play,  ‘what is your first option, what is your second option?’”

Additionally, coaches can use game video to assign homework to players. This is an opportunity to make players find moments on their own that demonstrate the answers to high-order or low-order questions. 

When players discover their own mistakes with Trace footage, they are more likely to take ownership of improving on those mistakes. “Most coaches want to over-coach or dominate a player through video analysis,” stated Coach Tim Bennett. “A player looking over their individual playlist will accomplish more than any classroom session.” 

Key Things to Remember When Using Guided Discovery

  • Don’t overwhelm players with too many questions at one time. It’s important to give players a chance to respond or even to demonstrate the skill. Prepare one or two topics that you’d like to cover, find samples of those topics in your Trace game film, and don’t try to address every little thing all at once.
  • Choose the right time for guided discovery. During a game, players have to concentrate, and coaches should not be too intrusive. Coaches should be selective about using guided discovery in a game setting. 
  • Make sure you have the attention of players so they can engage with the question. One good time to do guided discovery is during practice warm-ups. 
  • Getting a player to understand what they did right or wrong or could have done better is much more effective than you, as the coach, pointing it out.
  • This is just one, of many, styles of coaching. There will be times when you need to use more of a command style of coaching or a submissive style of coaching. 
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