Beyond The X’s and O’s

Pleasanton Rage ECNL Team

Back in March 2013 I had the opportunity to start working with Pleasanton Rage Girls Soccer Association in California. The Rage ECNL (Elite Club National League) coaching director Philippe Blin explained to me “you have a wonderful opportunity to coach our U15 Girls ECNL team”. Fast forward ten months, this team has come a long way and I’m sitting on my flight back to my new home having just left them in my last ECNL event in Phoenix. I thought it would be good reflect on my time with group and outline some of the special qualities that helped make our experience so meaningful and relevant. As I reflect, it’s dawned on me that the personalities have made this experience so special, and that coaching at an elite level isn’t really about the x’s and o’s, but it’s more about how you create environments that help influence players and provide them leadership and ownership skills.

Below, I’ve outlined four key effective components needed when trying to build a successful culture and team. These components are not in any specific order. They should rather be used as guidelines that occur at different periods throughout your player and coach journey.


Every player is different, and understanding these differences is one of the biggest challenges a coach will face. Creating an environment where players demand the very best of themselves is a coaches challenge. Players are often motivated when they feel the coach believes in them and wants them to be successful. Leaving a field having given 100% regardless of victory or defeat can be a powerful experience. Here are a couple of examples that helped us and might help you and your team:

1. Have your players email you every week explaining what they’ve done away from the field to help develop their game.

2. Encourage players to seek older mentors who can offer them advice or help train with them.

3. Develop training programs for your players away from the filed, these programs must record scores and help show progress (See Online Example).

Online Training Course “The Essential Guide To Developing Technical Soccer Players”

“Carli has clocked in more training miles then anyone in women’s soccer. She is by far the hardest working women’s soccer player on the planet. She is inspirational because she has achieved so much, but trains like she has achieved nothing.”

James Galanis


Communicating with players and parents is a massively important task. Any coach that chooses to ignore, pass on these responsibilities or offer a vague vision will struggle to be successful. Communicating comes in many different forms in our new generation of social media and wireless electronic devices. Here are a couple of examples that helped us and might help you and your team:

1. Establish a constant email communication process. Emailing parents before the weekend explaining what you’ve worked on, and what to expect at the weekend shows organization and structure.

2. Create a blog where you can share your practice sessions or individual training sessions with players and parents.

3. Explain to players why you’ve made choices, be specific and explain how the player can invest in these decisions and the process.


Players need to know every mistake isn’t going to effect playing time, or roster selection for the next tournament. The coaches ability to help a player grow and develop is a very special experience. Coaches need to constantly remind players that the performance, not always, often helps dictate the outcome of games. Therefore, the players effort and performance is the most important aspect of a game. Winning and losing doesn’t define a player, the effort, willingness to help teammates and constantly taking risks without fear of failure does. Creating what David Copeland-Smith from BeastModeSoccer calls a “mistake torrent” environment will help fuel a players desire to improve and get better. Here are a couple of examples that helped us and might help you and your team:

1. Talk to every player individually before a training session or game begins. This personal interaction helps create a personal bond.

2. Before games remind players of moments where they overcome difficulty and succeeded.

3. Explain to players what you “love” about their game. You will be surprised how those moments or traits pop up more often than not.

Example taken from one of our scouting reports, it’s always about the performance.


It doesn’t matter where you play our game, the main reason we play soccer is to have fun. I’m always remaindered of this whether I’m working with four year old mini kickers, or working with top ECNL/ODP players, the fun factor is always there. One thing I always say to my players before they play a game is: “It’s a beautiful day to play soccer”. Here are a couple of examples that helped us and might help you and your team:

1. Allow your teams to talk and socialize during warm-ups. This is there time to catch up with teammates and connect.

2. Finish your training sessions with team building exercises, games that involve teamwork and communication.

3. Celebrate special occasions in style. My Rage team had a pretty unique way of celebrating birthdays!

Know that there will be ups and downs, the down times and how you respond to theses are the most important moment’s. Preserve and remember to keep it fun!”

Lisa Cole

Note -This article is adapted from an article I wrote for Our Game Magazine.

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