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Help 'Guide' Your Players

“Youth prefer to be stimulated instead of being instructed.” – Johan Wolfgang von Goethe

The guided discovery methodology is an effective coaching style because it challenges athletes cognitively, which stimulates a sense of game intelligence. According to Sam Snow (2007), “The essence of this method is a particular coach-player relationship in which the coach’s sequence of questions brings about a corresponding set of responses by the player. Each question by the coach elicits a single correct response discovered by the player. The cumulative effect of this sequence, a converging process, leads the player to discover the sought tactical concept, principle of play or technical idea.”

Within the guided discovery methodology, the player-coach relationship is generated through dialogue, which allows the coach to “guide” instead of “instruct”. “Coaching is an interaction between the coach and the players. The teaching and learning process, therefore, is a dialogue rather than a monologue. To enhance performance, develop this dialogue to recognize, value, and use the attributes and experiences of the players (Horst Wein, 2007).

By challenging the players from a cognitive perspective, coaches will develop innovative thinkers on the field. Through probing athletes with properly sequenced questions, coaches are encouraging players to think creatively in terms of generating as many solutions as possible. “The coach’s ability to ask meaningful and probing questions with the aim of extending players’ knowledge often determines the success, or otherwise, of the guided discovery method” (Cassidy, Jones, & Potrac, 2009).

In particular, Sam Snow discussed the different types of questions that exist in the guided discovery method, as the success of the method is directly related to the quality of questions asked by the coaches. “The use of low-order and high-order questions is necessary during training sessions. It is important for coaches to understand both types of questions and to apply them appropriately. Use of high-order questions will provide players more opportunities for self-evaluation; leading to being soccer savvy” (Sam Snow, 2007). For instance, a “low-order” question is “What part of your head do you the hit ball with?” and a “high-order” question is “Why do we want to circulate the ball quickly?” Certainly both examples engage players in the learning and decision-making process, but the high order questions force players to think intricately which stimulates the development of game intelligence.

Ultimately, the use of questions and solutions in the guided discovery method creates a dialogue between player and coach, which engages the player in the learning process. When the player engages in the learning process, they are more likely to retain and apply the new information. In Coaching for Performance by John Whitmore, the author stated “A pupil only remembers 19 percent of what the teach taught him some three months ago through instruction and telling, whereas he can recall 32 percent of what was demonstrated and explained. Yet in cases where pupils were given the opportunity to generate the information on their own, but with the help of a teacher, fully 65 percent of the information was memorized.”

Through my experiences, I have utilized the guided discovery methodology to help players understand 5v2 or “monkey in the middle”. For my micro-coaching at the convention, I facilitated an exercise that I often use with my u14s, which is a 5v2 “monkey in the middle” exercise with the defenders having to also defend a cone in the middle of the 8×8 square. The objective is for the offense to connect 10 passes in a row or play a penetrating pass to hit the cone. If the training session topic is “attacking ball possession”, I specifically help the offense.

If my players are having difficulty with successfully stringing passes together, I will begin by asking them “Why do we want to circulate the ball quickly?” Hopefully the question stimulates responses such as “to move the defense”, “to give our teammates time on the ball” or “to create space between defenders”. Once the players comprehend the “why”, I then pose the question “How do we move the ball quickly?” Normally, players respond with “play with less touches”, “think quicker”, “pass the ball with more pace” , or “clean touches and passes”. Sequentially speaking, I begin with the “why” so the players see the bigger picture in terms of the importance of quick ball circulation. Then I guide them towards “how” in order to stimulate ideas from an execution standpoint.

By asking such questions, my players are able to self-discover successful technical and tactical concepts within the 5v2 model while adapting my philosophy of rapid ball circulation to catch the opponent’s off-guard.

“When a coach instructs he denies or neglects a player’s intelligence. When he asks, he honors it.” – Horst Wein


Cassidy, T., James, R., & Potrac, P. (2009). Understanding Sports Coaching (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Snow, Sam and Thomas, John (2007). Soccer Savvy Players, Guided Discovery by Age Group

Whitmore, J. 1997: “Coaching for Performance”, London, Nicholas Brealey Pub.

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