Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice


Creative attacking through tight defences

By David Clarke

David Clarke

Modern day football formations make it essential that midfielders and attackers become accustomed to playing in congested areas. If they can display the skills needed to produce short, sharp interchanges of play, the rewards in the final third can be impressive.

This session replicates the free-flowing passing football of Arsenal and Barcelona.

It will provide a platform to help your team find a way through opponents with flooded backlines, as well as those who attempt to break up play by deploying one or two holding midfield players.

Why this works

The session requires speedy and decisive passing over short distances. Opposition defenders are used as solid obstacles meaning attackers are encouraged to sidestep their man so as to find an angle for a pass.

The move should prove that the fewer touches each player takes, the quicker and more accurate the pass is likely to be, and with two attacking outlets, the last two defenders will need to make quick decisions as to which player to track.

Try to repeat this move until the attacking players can produce the quick interchanges using only one touch each.

Starting with an attacking triangle, you can adapt the attacking elements of this move to show the freedom of space that players can move into.

How to set it up

  • Four attackers and four defenders are required for the session to work – in the picture above, the attackers are labelled A, B, C and D.

  • The activity is carried out in the final third of the field using the goal and a goalkeeper in position.

  • Players A, B, C and D form a triangular shape.

  • The four defenders are positioned in the shape of an upside-down letter "Y", spread apart from each other but close to attacking players. They must hold shape and allow the attackers to work the angles.

Getting started

  • Player A starts with the ball. He must make an angle to evade the first defender and pass to player B, before making a run towards goal.

  • Player B lays a similar ball to player C, who after laying a pass to player D makes his own forward run.

  • Player D controls the ball and look for runs from A and C, then he lays a pass off to his chosen man.

  • In this instance, player A receives the pass. Making sure to stay onside, he fires at goal with a first-time shot.

  • Player C must continue his run in order to take advantage of any loose balls or rebounds.

  • Vary passing shapes but always ensure a centralised midfield move breaks out into a double-headed attack.



How to win when you’ve lost

David ClarkeGoing into our game last weekend, my Under-11s were playing on the back of a seven-match winning streak. That run has been built on a good passing game and the idea that every single player is involved as the ball is moved up the pitch. In the match, we were up against a physically big side… not that my players were put off by that challenge.

And it was the best game of passing football I had ever seen us play, even if our winning sequence came to an abrupt and unexpected end.

Essentially, all our training, practice and repetition of movement has started to pay off. Yet we lost 4-0. But who cares? Some of the one-twos and link-up play were mouth-watering… I counted five back-heels that beat a player and put one of my players into a great position to create a goal.

And yes, we created a lot of chances, but the opposition were very strong at the back and the goalkeeper showed excellent awareness coming off his line to sweep up any through-balls. The opposition themselves played some great football and the match was an excellent advertisement for grass roots soccer.

We gave away a goal on the stroke of half-time, but that didn’t change my team-talk at the interval. I told them they were playing superbly. Sure, they were more concerned about leaking a goal, but even they admitted that the manner of the performance had been very encouraging.

The second period followed much the same pattern – both teams created chances. They took theirs, but we didn’t. That is sometimes how it goes in a match. I was buzzing afterwards because we had performed so well, and so much of what I had coached them had come through.

Sometimes that’s enough in soccer, because while things didn’t come off on Saturday, I know that if the players continue to play like that, they’ll win many more than they lose. And that’s the point – if they go out thinking they have a chance of winning, we have won together as a team – coach and players learning from each other.

The result should never be the main thing. It’s much more important that your team plays to the best of its ability – remind them that for as long as they do that they’re developing and growing, and you’ll find they’ll keep responding, no matter what the scoreline is.



Attack the box like Drogba

By David Clarke

David ClarkeBalance, coordination and ball control skills are vital to the art of being a good striker. When he was at Chelsea, Didier Drogba could weave his way to goal and unleash an unstoppable shot at the end of it.

I want my strikers to do exactly the same, so I run through this exercise with them. I call it the slalom exercise because it’s just like what the slalom skiers have to do when racing downhill through a series of poles against the clock.

Get your players to run through this once then start timing them. Tell them you are not looking to see who is the quickest, you want to see who can beat their own time over the course of three runs each.

This means you are going to have to keep scores and names handy so you can check on players’ progress. You also need a stopwatch.

How to play it

  • Your player must dribble in and out of the coaching poles, go around either side of the cone – by selling a dummy or skill move – and finish with a shot on goal.
  • On the next run the player must do the same movement but beat the goalkeeper at the end.
  • Finally the player must do the same movement but beat an active defender before scoring past the goalkeeper.

Key coaching tips

  1. Tell your players you want to see close control and the use of both feet through the poles.
  2. When they are faced with the cone they must try to show a feint or skill, not just run around it.

They can use any shooting technique they like – inside outside of their foot, laces or even a chip, the most important thing is to hit the target.

Neymar is another player who attacks by going past defenders – watch this:



Using player-centred coaching

David ClarkeThere has been much debate recently about player-centred coaching and the benefits it has for young footballers. Player-centred coaching is about focusing and targeting soccer to the ages and skills of your players.

But in addition, it supports players’ independence by giving them a controlling influence over the session. They feel the session is theirs, which improves communication with the coach, increases motivation and accelerates understanding and appreciation of what’s being taught. From that, a player’s ability to solve tactical problems within the game is enhanced.

This does not mean that the coach has no control – far from it. The role of the coach is to set a challenge that’s centred on their skills, and he’ll still need to guide the players through the process of solving problems. But there is created an environment in which players share responsibility for individual and team performance.

So, for example, I will mark out the playing area, but within that area give the players cones to create boxes or gates that are going to be used. I will guide my players if they make squares or gates too big or small, but they can alter the parameters as the session commences.

I will present them with questions related to what they’ve laid out and might recommend a set challenge, but am looking for them to correct any mistakes made. For instance, the challenge might be to dribble a ball through four gates. If a player misses a gate, I’ll watch him to see if he makes amends for the error without me pointing it out.

The challenge is the same, but the player is in control. For a scenario that is less game-like, I might look to work on technique and skills… such as players having a choice over which channel they go down in 1v1s – a long, thin one, or a short and narrow one. Or I might move to a setting with four coned off parts of an area where players cannot be tackled – wing channels on either side of the pitch, for instance, where a player can run without opposition before putting a cross in. I’m always interested to see what effect player-centred coaching can have – from those 1v1s to 4v4s for general all-round choices, or even 8v8s to offer experience in more specified roles.

Whatever the task in hand is, I will always guide players so they experience every position, but by and large they’re fashioning the challenges themselves. The crucial thing for me is, of course, getting the challenge as relevant as possible to my players. But it’s also about identifying the point at which guiding a player turns into interfering with the process.

Player-centred coaching, and empowering the footballers who play under you, is certainly something that develops gradually, but players love the freedom and, as a coach, I believe I am beginning to see real rewards.



Three ways to score like Sergio Aguero

By David Clarke

David ClarkeRate your players’ shooting prowess with this three-shot test that calls for speed, touch, accuracy and confidence. Can they hit the top corners and score maximum points or will they play safe?

The Sergio Aguero challenge

I’ve named this after the Manchester City striker who shoots from all over the pitch – long range, short range and every angle you can image. He has been successful for club and country, and provided some memorable moments in his career – like his last second goal to win the Premier League title for his team last season.

How to set it up

  • You will need six poles (or cones), a stopwatch and timesheet.
  • Starting on the 18-yard line, place three poles two yards apartlined up with the goalposts. Repeat in line with the other post.
  • Put three balls on the 18-yard line, one in the middle, one tothe left and one to the right.

Getting started

  • Starting in the middle, the player flicks the ball into the air,keeping it up twice. On the third kick, he volleys at goal,trying to achieve the highest score he can.
  • He then runs to the ball on the right, passing it toward thegoal with a good weight so they can weave through the polesto get on the end of his pass.
  • He should shoot across goal with his right foot aiming forthe far corner.
  • The player then runs back to the remaining ball, repeatingthe process on the left side.
  • He should end with a left-footed shot into the
    opposite corner.

How to score

  • Back of the net = one point
  • Side netting inside the goal = two points
  • Top corner = three points

How to advance the session

  • To keep this move fresh, move the poles further away from goal so that players can shoot from greater distances.
  • Later, add a goalkeeper into the equation. Can your players still find the high-scoring areas of the goal?


Greedy players limit the final third

David Clarke

By David Clarke

When a player like Bixente Lizarazu talks, you listen. After all, he can lay claim to one of the most impressive CVs of any French footballer – a World Cup winner with France in 1998 and European Championships winner two years later, he has also clinched numerous honours at club level with German giants Bayern Munich.

I was listening to him talking about his time at Bordeaux playing with Zinedine Zidane. That was where they first built up the understanding they were to use with such devastating effect at international level.

I think you’ll be interested to hear what he had to say:

“I played with Zidane, and Christophe Dugarry too! That’s where our triangular interplay first began, though that period didn’t last for long as Zizou went off to Juventus and Duga to AC Milan. “But we’d worked on those moves so often that every time we lined up together for France the magic was still there. It was like I had a luminous presence by my side.

“I’d give them the ball and they’d give it back to me as carefully as if they were handing me a flower. And that isn’t easy!

“Sometimes you’ll pass to a player and you know that he’ll never give you the ball back. As a result you stop making as many runs and the team’s play stagnates.”

It is the final sentence I found most interesting. If an international player stops running off the ball because he feels he won’t get it back, how will a young player react to the same situation?

Last weekend a coach friend of mine asked me to come and watch his team play in a friendly. They’ve been losing heavily and not scoring many goals, and he hadn’t been able to understand why. I watched his team play and they did everything right – quick passing into the opposition half and good support.

But once they got into the final third whoever got the ball tried to jink and weave their way through alone. This was often despite having players over in good supporting positions. As the match wore on the team got hit on the break as players began to stop running – and Lizarazu’s words came back to me.

They stopped running because they had passed the ball and knew they wouldn’t get it back. The problem was obvious to me but it wasn’t until I pointed it out to the coach that he got it.

Now he needs to run a few weeks of training working on passing and movement in the final third of the pitch. Simple one- or two-touch games will be hugely influential to his team because players will be forced to see what’s around them rather than insisting on going it alone.

After all, it is a team game.

Watch the highlights of the 1998 World Cup Final between France and Brazil to see some fantastic play in the final third with Lizarazu, Dugarry and Zidane:



How to coach the flick

By David Clarke

David Clarke

Young attackers with their backs to goal can find it difficult controlling and turning to get past the defender if they are being tightly marked. One of the options you can give to your attackers is the flick to take the ball either side of the defender and catch them out on their way to goal.

The angle and the direction of the flick will control where the attacker turns but it must be done with speed and concentration. The attacker needs to know where the goal is and their distance from it.

To practise it, the player needs to be shown their body position and the movement of their feet. This is a technique that is best demonstrated by either yourself or if you are not confident of doing it yourself, ask a helper or one of your players to do it.

How to set it up

  • Split your players into groups of three.

  • Position players as in the picture above with the server five yards from the attacker.

  • The defender should be directly behind the attacker.

  • The defender and attacker both have their backs to target goal.

How to play it

  • The server passes the ball to the attacker. The ball needs to have pace for the flick to work.

  • The attacker flicks the ball with the outside of their favoured foot and follows the ball to the outside of the defender.

  • Then the attacker flicks the ball with the inside of their favoured foot to turn inside the defender.

How to advance it

  • The attacker should flick the ball with the inside of their foot then go to the outside of the defender.
  • They should try alternating which foot they use.


How to coach a skill – breaking down the parts

David ClarkeI was involved in a discussion a couple of weeks ago with some fellow coaches. It provided some useful insight into explaining to our players how they should perform a skill – a step-over, a turn, a feint, for instance.

Most of us will say that a skill is the key technical act that sees a player attempt to shake off the immediate attentions of an opponent, but it’s actually much more than that. It can be easy to forget that there is a complete sequence to a skill that can start a few seconds before the technical act and can finish a few seconds after it. And the conversation I had came at just the right time, as my Under-10s are at the perfect age now to start learning that football involves more than just their feet – they need to use their brains as well.

So last week at training, I went through breaking down the parts of a skill into segments with my players. The first part, which might be called the approach, emphasises that the ‘skill’ actually begins when your player is approaching an opponent. I told my players that it’s during these crucial few moments that they must decide what to do and how they are going to do it.

When I coach a particular skill to my players, I ask them to repeat it a number of times. Therefore, we rehearsed them approaching an opponent, before I told them to stop and tell me what plan they had for the next part.

That next part is obviously the technical act of the skill – the element most of us take for granted in the process. Again, we rehearsed this as a separate activity.

And finally, the release – the part where the player moves away having evaded the attention of his opponent. Nine times out of 10, the main thing a technical skill creates for a player is space, so making good positive use of that space must also be part of the process.

All of this segmenting was designed to teach players to combine and fine-tune physical skill with a measured and considered mental process, because in football, it’s no good just coaching a skill in isolation if players are not doing something before and after to put it into context.

I asked my players to repeat what they’d learnt and then saw them put it into practice in a game situation.
So going forward, I’d always recommend breaking down skills and other elements into really simplistic chunks. Clarity is everything when there’s so much to learn, and I believe I’m already seeing the results.

Watch Ronaldo playing for Real Madrid in this video. For every skill there is a beginning where he receives the ball then runs, then the skill like a stepover to beat the player, then an end result – a pass or shot.




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,997 other followers