Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice


Patterns of play

davidscwnewPatterns of play are essential to the game. They can begin with any player on the pitch, and range from extremely simple to frighteningly complex! But the more players practise them and understand their effectiveness, the better the rewards for your team.

Here’s a game I use that starts with my full back. It doesn’t involve any long balls, but does require crisp, accurate passing. See if it works for you!

What to do

  • Set up as shown in the pictures above. There is a target man (T) at each end of the area, plus two neutrals (N) and a 3v3 in the main 50×40 yards area, not including the centre circle, which has its own 2v2. Players cannot step over area boundaries.
  • There are two balls in play at all times, starting with the target players who play out to the full back.
  • Teams score a point by receiving the ball from one target man and pass it the length of the area to the other but each player on the team must touch the ball. This doesn’t include neutrals, who play for the attacking team.
  • Tackling is only allowed in the centre circle, although blocks are allowed elsewhere. If play is turned over in the centre, the ball must go back to a target player for a new move to start.
  • When a point is scored, target players restart by passing the ball to a player on the non-scoring team.
  • Increase the game’s difficulty by making the neutral players defenders. If they win possession they return the ball to a target player.

The practice

  • The game is great for practising moving patterns through midfield.
  • It encourages players in the main area to be constantly on the move to help those in the centre.
  • Players must be alert to opportunities to pass, particularly because a team could find itself in possession of two balls at once.
  • Players must learn to pick up on preferred patterns of play from players in designated positions. The game encourages players to read and learn others’ preferences.


How to time your sessions… don’t!

davidscwnewI always remember when I was struggling to cope with delivering sessions in my early days, a very experienced academy coach said to me: “There are no failures, just experiences and your reactions to them.”

It’s a great piece of advice. My right hand man at training is fairly new to coaching and he, like you, works very hard at getting the right sessions and delivering them to some of our younger teams. But he gets very nervous and if the kids haven’t understood what he wants them to do, he moves right on to another session and tries that.

Understanding is vital to a session, both for the coach and the players – often it takes time for the players to get the session you are delivering. We were well into the session last week and I could see the players looking at one another slightly lost.

“It’s not working, Dave,” said my right-hand man. “You said it was a 15-minute exercise but time’s almost up and they’re not grasping it.

I told him to hold fire and managed to block out the murmurs of the watching parents who were keen for me to move on to something else. But I wanted to show them one more time that this could work. It’s never easy watching kids struggling with a concept, but I couldn’t give up on this with them so close.

I tried giving two players some extra encouragement – sometimes that’s all it takes. And sure enough, within 30 seconds, they began to ‘get it’. And more than that, they started having fun. The session was working and they wanted to carry on, because part of the fun was ‘getting’ the session.

Within a further 10 minutes they were making it look easy, which was exactly what I wanted. “Okay,” I shouted, “it’s a wrap!” And guess what? They didn’t want to stop 

Some players began to move onto a small-sided game, but a good number were still running the passing sequence. I initially planned this as a 15-minute warm-up, but it had ended up filling the majority of the session!

I’m always amazed when coaches tell me they ran a session with 15 minutes of ‘this’, then 20 minutes of ‘that’, and another 10 minutes to finish, because that is what it told them to do in the session notes. Sure, following that principle helps you keep control of your session, but it won’t allow you to develop your players with any spontaneity.

Don’t keep looking at your watch just because it says 15 minutes in your session notes. Instead, watch the players and use your own coaching knowledge to judge what to do next. Trust me, the results can be fantastic.




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