Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice


Possession… dribble or pass

davidscwnew

When players feel pressure in matches, it can often affect their ability to make decisions. You will undoubtedly have players who dribble brilliantly in training, yet "panic pass" in matches. Other players will hesitate when on the ball and a great opportunity to pass to a team mate is often lost.

Knowing when to surge into space with a dribble or when to switch play with a good pass comes from lots of practice – and you can’t expect players to learn this on their own.

Therefore, it’s a great idea to set up situations where they have the choice, because making that call can be vital to their development.

This session shows players where options present themselves, then develops into a small-sided game, in which the right decision will give their team the advantage.

How to set it up

  • Create a playing area measuring 30×25 yards.

  • For this session you’ll need bibs, cones and balls.

  • There are two teams of four players.

  • Set up three small goals – spaced equally apart – along the longest sides.

  • Each team must defend its goals while trying to score in the other three.

Getting started

  • Players score by dribbling or passing the ball through the poles.

  • Players must react quickly to situations around them, looking for areas on the pitch where there is space to exploit. They should look to mix dribbling with passes to team mates, but every decision is made with the aim of retaining team possession.

  • Play for 15 minutes.

Developing the session:

  • Develop the session by making the area 50×30 yards with two five-yard end zones.

  • The players must get the ball into the end zone by passing to a player who has run to meet the pass, or by dribbling into the end zone themselves.

  • Players are not allowed to stand in the end zone waiting for a pass – they must always be on the move.

  • You can award an extra "goal" if the attacking team makes five consecutive passes before scoring.

  • If players find the session easy, reduce the size of the scoring zone at each end by a yard. For younger players, increase the size.

Why this works:

This practice rehearses players in the logic that clever dribbling can move the ball into areas where there is space to be exploited. A final pass to a team mate should make the creation of goalscoring chances that much easier.

Players are also encouraged to score with a pass which represents a quicker route to goal than a dribble. The decisions depend on the player’s ability to read the space and that will come as they practise this session.

This session originally appeared in Soccer Coach Weekly.

Interested in more counter attacking exercises? Try these links:

2. Shake off and pass

3. Elite Soccer Issue 1 – Alex McLeish: Whole team attacking



Attack through the midfield

By David Clarkedavidscwnew

It’s understandable for some players to want to bypass the crowded, pressurised environment that is the centre of the pitch.

But hitting long balls forward or always targeting play to the wings makes teams predictable and boring.

This is a practice that will boost confidence and remind players that getting the ball into midfield and using it smartly can often be the best way to attack.

How to play it

  • You need balls, bibs, cones and goals.

  • Mark out a 50×30 yards area split into three zones.

  • There are two teams of six, each also has a keeper.

  • The team in possession is allowed up to 20 seconds unchallenged in the central (safe) zone. It can stay there for that time or break out, but if still in the zone when time elapses, the opposition can go in and try to win the ball.

  • If the team in possession loses the ball in any area of the pitch, its players must vacate the central zone.

  • The size of the central zone is key to the challenge and skill of the game as players will discover so, after six minutes, increase or decrease its size to see what effect it has on the game.

Developing the session

  • You can advance the session by allowing one opposition player to go in the central zone. This puts more pressure on midfielders.

Technique and tactics

  • The safe zone encourages play to go through midfield, with players getting used to receiving on the half-turn or practising controlling technique.

  • While doing this without the fear of being tackled, the option to survey options and pass the ball on is encouraged. However, the margin for error increases when the central zone is shortened.



Simple crossbar heading challenge… remove the fear factor

davidscwnewOne of the things I always like to do when my team is having a game day training session is our own version of the crossbar challenge.

It is set up using the penalty area of whichever size pitch you use but the goals and penalty area of an 11-a-side pitch work best for U9s and upwards.

I line my players up in two rows with the first player in each row behind the 18 yard line of the penalty area either side of the penalty arc.

A helper and I throw balls in line with the penalty spot that the two teams have to head and try and hit the crossbar of the goal.

I set a time limit and see which team can hit the bar the most times in that time limit. It’s a great fun game for the players which also gets them used to heading the ball and to stop being afraid of it.



Why coaches need equipment

davidscwnewWe had a debate in Soccer Coach Weekly last year (issue 284) that asked whether the cost of boots and kit is turning players away from the game – 67% said it was, so I’m not taking costs lightly. And I know it can be even worse for those of you who have to buy stuff just so that your players can train.

A coach’s kit includes all the playing basics, but might also include cones, bibs, balls, target goals, and more. They’re not the cheapest of things, but largely essential.

In my early days of coaching I went through a season where I thought I could cope without costly equipment. How wrong I was. The environment for coaching was bad and the players picked up on this. I was limited to using the same selection of drills and playing similar games on the same sized pitch each week because we only had a few balls.

Success as a coach depends not only on what you do but also on what you don’t do. An important part of that success is the environment in which you coach your players. It needs to be safe and sound to make the players feel secure but it also needs to give them decisions to make, must be fun, and most certainly needs to develop their playing skills.

I spoke to a coach this week who, like myself all those years ago, was trying to get by without budgeting for cones, balls or bibs. He’d got into the bad habit of splitting his players into two teams depending on what colour shirt they were wearing, and playing a game for the majority of the training session.

There was nothing in the environment to help him coach – he could have been down the local park for all the good it was doing his team. Of course, there will be times when you’re thrown into an environment when you don’t have the right equipment for some reason – maybe there’s no key to the sports shed, or you’ve rushed home from work and forgotten your bags. I have strategies for those days that help you continue, but that’s a lesson for another day.

As for the coach I was speaking to, he’s going to rethink the way he approaches coaching and, on my advice, will invest in some cones and bibs as a first step. If you’re serious about your coaching then you have to be equipped, and very often parents will chip in because, after all, it’s for the good of their own kids.

Also look around for any deals through local associations that could save you money or bulk buying with another team.

I guess the message to take away from all this is ‘you’re not alone’!



Simple game for a lot of passing

davidscwnew

I find this small-sided game is a great way to get your players passing with purpose when they are under pressure. Clever or disguised passing make all the difference in this game as teams try to stop the opposition scoring points.

Give your players permission to do what they want to create space and make good passes. Tell them they must be constantly on the move to pass and receive the ball.

How to play it

  • Set up a 4v4 game with two target players at either end.

  • Use the 18-yard area or half of a seven-a-side pitch and cone off the two ends.

  • Tell your players each team must get the ball and score “goals” by successfully passing to either of the target players.

How to coach it

  • Tell your players they need to be quick and sharp. They must win the ball by intercepting it or by tackling for it.

  • Instruct them to practise moving to and from the ball to create space.

  • Once the ball has reached the target player, the team can keep possession by moving so the target player can pass it back to them.

  • Tell your players to switch the ball to the opposite target player as quickly as possible.

How to change it

Tell teams they past the ball from one target player to the other without the other team touching the ball. If the other team gets a touch, it goes back to the target player and the other team receives the ball from the target man.



The cure for a bad day’s training

davidscwnewI’m driving home after a coaching session in the rain – I’m wet through and so are the two players on the back seat.

Thanks to the performance of the car’s heater (which was better than mine at training), there’s an ever-growing musty smell, as sweaty bodies dry out. I can’t open the window because it’s pouring down… really pouring down.

The boys are hungry, but the traffic’s snarled because of the worst rainstorm of the summer, and I’m not going to be home in time for dinner. What an afternoon. Why do I do this?

And the training session? What a washout. No-one was doing what I wanted. The defenders were attacking, the attackers were defending – essentially the whole thing had been turned on its head, and not through instruction. I thought glumly about this as I looked at the trail of red lights ahead of me, as the wipers continued at full speed.

But once we had got home and were dry and warm and (finally) fed I looked back and went over the session, as I normally do. I use something called an achievement exercise when I think a session has gone badly. It’s where you simply write down up to five things you achieved in the session.

No matter how stressful or frustrating training was, as a whole, this is a pleasant reminder that some progress was made in some areas. Some achievements might appear minute in the grand scheme of things, but they are achievements nonetheless, and I write them down.

The defenders attacking, the attackers defending – it all has a place in coaching. It is a huge positive that these things came out of the session.

Even something as seemingly unimportant like my players all turning up despite the bad weather – that’s a positive too.

And I might not have enjoyed it, but I know most of them did. After all, what kid doesn’t get a thrill from getting muddy and battling against adverse conditions?

Then add in the fact that my relationship with the players became even stronger because we trained together in those appalling conditions. They saw my commitment and liked it.

It was a powerful exercise for me to snap out of my frustration and be grateful for what we, as a team, had achieved in that hour-and-a-half.

So, the next time you think you’ve had a bad session, reassess by writing down what you achieved. You’ll find that it’s often the little things we take for granted, and the relationships with others in our lives that bring the biggest smiles to our faces.



Winning the 1v1s

davidscwnewIn the game my U10s B team played on Saturday they were involved in a lot of 1v1 duels both in defence and in attack, which had a big effect on the game. By winning the majority of these battles, my team held a huge advantage by having possession of the ball much more than their opponents.

Fortunately in the session before the game I’d been using this session designed to improve 1v1s in the midfield. Players are forced to continually attack and defend 1v1 in order to forge a chance to score a goal.

These are the kind of duels they would face in a real game. Remember to also alert your players to the fact that beating an opponent in a 1v1 will remove them from the game, allowing more space to attack.

How to set it up

Use an area 50 yards by 30 yards with a 10 yards by 10 yards area in the centre of the larger area.

How to play it

Pass a ball into the smaller area where two players must compete for it. The player successful at taking the ball outside of the area has the chance to run and take a shot at goal.

How to develop it

The player that wins teh initial batlle in the centre area has take on the defender in 1v1.

However, if the defender wins the ball from the attacker then they can pass the ball back to their team mate in the centre square.

The team mate can now go 1v1 at the opposite end.

Now when winning the 1v1 duel, your player attacks as he would in a game with the attackers outnumbering the defenders (the picture showing 3v2 can be changed to suit the players available in your session).

Play it in a game

The objective is to show the players in your team the benefits of competing and winning the duel against their immediate opponent in the game.



Turn defeat into victory

davidscwnewAs you can imagine, I receive a lot of emails from coaches who want to share their problems with me, and I do my best to answer them all, offering maybe a drill, an exercise, or simply a piece of advice.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret here… I try to read every one of those queries, not just because I feel a moral obligation, but also for selfish reasons… as a coach I learn a lot from my readers too!

Earlier this year I received an email from coach JD in Australia. He told me he’d had far too many peaks and troughs with his coaching and was at a low point where his team was not winning games and nothing was fun anymore. He’d been like this for a while, regularly brushing the problem under the carpet and blaming anything and everything, especially the standard of his players.

Then he read something I had written about not giving up and researched other similar pieces published through Soccer Coach Weekly. He told me he realised he was not training the team the way he should – he had not bothered to do things that needed to be done.

I was immediately struck by his willingness to tell me this and his desire for absolute honesty, not just with me but with himself too. The minute he did this he was on his way to turning around the culture of defeat within his team.

Admitting your mistakes is an important part of becoming a success – you learn by admitting and recognising your failures. I am still in touch with this coach and he has now turned the corner; indeed, his team has just won two games in a row for the first time in two seasons.

So if his email describes your situation, don’t despair. You can begin moving in the right direction straight away by admitting your mistakes and energising your training sessions. After all, there’s nothing quite like winning when the odds are stacked against you.

I will leave you to ponder a quote I read earlier this week by 19th century Scottish author Samuel Smiles: “The battle of life is, in most cases, fought uphill; and to win it without a struggle were perhaps to win it without honor. If there were no difficulties there would be no success; if there were nothing to struggle for, there would be nothing to be achieved.”



Cut out the pass

davidscwnew

One of the things the modern greats like Xavi, Lionel Messi and Yaya Toure have is the ability to receive a ball under the pressure of onrushing opponents – it seems to me they don’t need any space at all to control the ball and keep it away from an opponent.

Of course, you and I are coaching young players who can easily be put off by a player running towards them – they need a lot of space to control the ball.

Defenders must close down opponents quickly so they reach the player at the same time they receive the ball. With no time to get it under control, it will be much easier for the defender to step in and win it.

How to play

  • Using the penalty area, mark out an area the same size opposite it with a 10-yard "no man’s land" between the areas, as shown in the top picture.

  • Play 5v5. Use a goalkeeper, two defenders and two attackers on each team.

  • Put two attackers from one team and two defenders from the other in each half.

  • Players must stay in the area they start in.

  • Toss a coin for kick off, play starts with the goalkeeper.

  • Restarts are by the goalkeeper if the ball goes over the end lines. There are no corners. Take throw-ins as usual.

  • Play is continuous – when a team wins the ball, it looks to pass and attack the goal.

  • Attackers must create space for the defenders to pass to.

  • Defenders must try and win the ball from the attackers.

How to advance it

  • The passing player can follow the ball into the attacking half.
  • Widen "no man’s land" to 20 yards to make passing and timing of runs harder – do this by moving the orange/outer area back 10 yards but keep the areas the same size.

  • By making "no man’s land" wider, you make the pass longer giving the defenders more time to see the ball and close the attackers down.

  • It also means that it will be harder to make the pass accurate because the player will need to think about power.



Red carding a parent

davidscwnewHave you ever had to deal with a parent who was so aggressive you had to take him to one side and threaten to expel him and his child from your team?

This week I had to do exactly that. Two players in my team had been winding each other up in school, and although I knew they had history, there were never any problems that spilt over into the team… until one of the dads got involved, that is.

A relatively innocuous incident in training was enough to make the whole thing explode. John and Peter (not their real names) were on opposing teams in the small-sided game we were playing. The former had already scored two great goals – much to his watching dad’s delight. When he tried nutmegging Peter there was an untidy coming together, from which Peter emerged with the ball.

“No, no, no,” shouted his dad, “I’m not having that! Free kick! You should be keeping your eye on this ‘problem’”.

I reacted only by explaining it was a fair tackle. But then a similar incident followed soon afterwards, and this time it was a foul. Before I could stop play John’s dad was on the pitch pacing towards Peter. I had to intervene, calm him down and get him off the pitch. I’m not sure what would have happened had I not managed to keep his dad at arm’s length.

We got to the end of training with no further incidents, but when Peter’s dad came to pick him up, I told him there was friction and it would need to be sorted at some point.As for John’s dad, under no circumstances can I accept this sort of behaviour at my coaching sessions. I told him I would ban him if it happened again. He accepted he had crossed the line and has promised to remain calm in future.

John is a great player and an asset to the club but if I did ban his dad he is likely to leave. Yet it is in the best interests of the club to reprimand a parent if something like this happens. Under no circumstances can repeated aggressive parental behaviour be overlooked; it sets a ridiculous example.

In the end, the team is more important than the individual, even when – such as in this case – you’re talking about one of your best players.

Football is often about making tough decisions, but the best way to avoid them is to be open and upfront, and to nip stuff in the bud before it escalates. Now I’ve just got to get Peter and John getting on – wish me luck!




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