Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice


Coach yourself a Carles Puyol – Barcelona legend

davidscwnew

By David Clarke

Barcelona’s captain Carles Puyol is known for his intense commitment and strength as a defender. According to Barcelona’s head doctor, Puyol is “the strongest, who has the quickest reactions, and who has the most explosive strength”.

Love him or loathe him, he is the sort of player who gives everything for the cause, who prides himself on being alert to wave after wave of attacking threats in and around the box. He is also the sort of player who is not afraid to put his body in harm’s way. And he’ll grab you the odd goal or two.

Ensuring that your players are back on their feet after a good tackle or clearance and ready to combat a second wave of danger is essential.

To keep them alive and reactive, here’s a defensive move that asks for quick reactions and tireless commitment to the cause.

How to set it up:

  • Create a playing area measuring 10×10 yards.

  • The drill requires four servers and one designated defender.

  • Each server starts on a different side, with a ball.

  • Place your defender in the middle – his job is to react to a different serve from each player around the area. After each serve, his task is to keep the ball within the box.

Getting started:

  • Starting on the left-hand side, server 3 throws the ball up for server 1 to head into the middle. The defender tries to stop the ball from going out of bounds.

  • Immediately, server 2 passes a ball towards the opposite line. The defender must now react, running to slide and stop the ball from crossing the line.

  • Now server 3 dribbles onto the pitch and attempts to get to the line opposite. The defender tries to stop him.

  • Finally, server 4 throws the ball over the defender’s head and attempts to run around him to win it back. The defender’s task is to shield the ball, letting it run over the line. If the ball stops dead before the line, he can then kick it clear to the left or the right.

  • Now rotate so that a different player acts as the defender.

Why this works:

Adopting the mindset that a defender’s job is rarely complete is absolutely vital if players are to counter all of the threats on a match day. After each phase of this drill, the defender needs to be alert to a new test, reacting quickly to each ball and clearing the danger.

Each test offers a new skill, and provides you with a quick-fire snapshot of where the defender’s game can be improved.



3v3 to coach support play

davidscwnew

In this 3v3 game, you can get players to learn about providing support and being in the right position to cover when the ball is lost.

Support play

In a 3v3 situation, one of the most important jobs is to support the player on the ball. There should be forward support to provide an attacking outlet and rear support to give a defensive outlet.

A pass back to the player covering the defensive area of the team can be an attacking move because it can open up space on the other side of the pitch.

Support players need to think about:

  • The angle of support
  • The distance of support

Getting this right means the supporting player:

  • Has a full range of forward vision.
  • Can receive the ball comfortably.
  • Has space to pass the ball to a team mate.
  • Can move forward into space in front of them.

How to set it up

In this game, rear support comes from the goalkeeper who must move out of his goal when the team is attacking. When the team is in possession of the ball none of the three players are allowed in their defensive end zone.

Goalkeepers have to support from the rear and be ready to get back if the team lose the ball. So the attacking team always has an empty end zone so the defending team can quickly attack if it wins the ball.

The attacking team therefore has a 3v2 advantage in the middle of the pitch. The defending team can have players in any zone, but when it wins the ball and attacks, all players including the goalkeeper must move out of the defensive end zone.



Discover your club captain with this game

davidscwnew

Communication is the buzzword here, and you may well discover your next club captain through this simple game!

For the sweeper, it is a game of nerve and control. Defenders are always listening for instructions from behind.

Meanwhile opposition strikers sense the need to build attacks in space – invariably towards the wings – because they know simple balls through the middle can be cut out by the sweeper.

And encourage imaginative play when 1v1 scenarios do present themselves.

How to set it up:

  • Create a playing area measuring 50×30 yards.

  • Play a five-a-side game.

  • Create a 15-yard zone in front of each goal. This leaves the middle area of 20 yards in length.

  • Place a goal at each end.

  • You will need a good supply of balls.

  • One player on each team is nominated as the defensive "conductor". This player remains in his team’s defensive end zone and must communicate to his three team mates in front of him.

  • Each team aims to score in its opponent’s goal.

Getting started:

  • The game begins with the coach passing to one of the two teams.

  • The conductor provides verbal support and tactical encouragement to his team mates. He should be shouting instructions such as "get tight", "someone support", "cover", "get goal-side" and "show inside".

  • If the attacking team gets past the opponent’s defence, the conductor acts as a sweeper, effectively acting as the last defensive line. He must do his best to prevent a shot at goal.

  • Rotate players so that each man acts as the conductor.

  • At the end of each move – whether it ends in a goal or a defensive clearance – the ball is returned to you and play restarts with the last team out of possession.

  • Each team has 10 attacks. The team with the most goals at the end is the winner.



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.



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.



12 –point plan for technical top marks

davidscwnewI’m starting some extra coaching this season which means I’m going to be looking at developing a team of eight-year-olds through to the age of 12. A couple of the parents asked how I’d kick things off, and I thought I’d share with you what my plan will be. My immediate thoughts are that I want my players to be technically good. I’ll then mix that in with a few speed of movement skills. Initially I will use unopposed sessions until my players are up to speed. I can then put in opposition to make the task harder.

Here’s my 12-point technical plan.

I will tell players to:
1. Use side of the foot and instep to kick the ball both along the ground and through the air with accuracy.
2. Use all parts of the body to keep the ball in the air… apart from the arms!
3. Control the ball with all parts of the body… apart from arms!
4. Concentrate on accuracy of passing when on the move.
5. Shoot at goal with accuracy, which takes priority over power.
6. Concentrate on crossing accuracy to near and far posts. This will take some time with the younger ones and therefore crossing will be initially about direction rather than power.
7. Try to gain confidence in defensive and attacking heading using the right technique.
8 Take on board 1v1 skills that give them the ability to get past an opponent using feints and stepovers.
9. Practise quick passing tactics to get past opponents with skills like wall passes.
10. Practise individual techniques like shielding, recovering, tackling.
11. Take notice of the correct technique and tactics for throw-ins.
12. Appreciate the art of set pieces, freekicks, corners and penalties. This is my initial technical blueprint.

Of course, we have tactics, positional play and a code of conduct that comes outside of this, but as a pretty thorough technical game plan, I can’t wait to get it started. I’ll let you know how you get on; feel free to use with on your team..



Communicate with your players through challenges

davidscwnewHow do you get and keep your players’ attention in training? One way to ensure this is to ask questions of your players to check they are listening. And rather than just do this through verbal means, why not create challenges? Not only does this reveal to you how well certain elements have been understood, but practical play is a great way of cementing ideas in the minds of the players too.

Why challenge?
1. The answer needs some thought from the respondent, allowing the questioner to effectively gauge their level of understanding
2. Asking a player ‘an open question’ helps to reinforce learning, and the learning of the other players around him. A ‘yes/no’ question requires virtually no effort from a player. He’ll brush it off and you’ll be left with nowhere to go!
3. And answers to open questions give you immediate feedback on the player’s understanding of a technique, skill or situation
Before you head to training, think about some of the situations that will crop up. By anticipating what may happen during the session it will help you plan in advance the challenges you want to set and the sort of questions you might ask.

Examples of challenges
- In a counter-attack session, develop a scoring chance within three passes of gaining possession.
- When running with the ball or dribbling, challenge a player to attack and shoot without using his team mates.
- In team sessions, instruct that the player who starts the attack must pass the ball on and receive it back before a goal can be scored

Examples of questions to follow
- What did you do as an individual (or group) to successfully penetrate the defence with three passes?
- What did you do as an individual to keep the ball and get past your opponents? What did you do if you lost the ball?
- In the team session, what factors influence your choice of action? How can you make sure you are successful?

The answers your players give you will provide you with opportunities to further explore their understanding. You can do this by asking supplementary questions.

And when listening to answers, replicate and use their words as a focus for different questions.

And of course, if a player comes up with a ‘wrong answer’, try saying, “I like your thinking. Can you think of an alternative?”
Great communication can make such a difference to how players take on board information. Why not try it for yourself?



Why heroes can inspire your players

davidscwnewIsn’t it great when you hear players shouting the names of their heroes in the professional game? Twice this week I heard a pro’s name shouted by one of my players when they were bearing down on goal, as I’ll go on to explain…

To put it into context, my Under-11s were playing a really important end-of-season match last week. I was nervous for them, as were the cluster of parents gathered on the touchline, but how refreshing to see the kids just playing the game with so much relaxed spirit. It was a tight first period with relatively few chances, and with the scores level in the second half, a series of passes led the ball to my midfielder Marcus through on goal at an angle.

Before he shot, he shouted “AGUERO!” and tried to emulate the player he had seen in his living room score that fantastic title-winning goal for Manchester City . Needless to say the shot went high and wide – oh well! Even so, that didn’t stop his team mates appreciating at least the fact he had put himself in the right place as we drove forward looking for a goal.

“I heard you shout that!” one of his team mates said with a smile on his face. “That was brilliant!”

Another came over laughing and told him he too had thought of Aguero as the move developed. I find it heartening when I see my players inspired by great and memorable events on the pitch that they want to emulate.

Kids learn by watching and there is no better league for them to learn from than the English Premier League. Their appreciation for the game is a far cry from some people’s perception that kids are sometimes only taken in by some of the more unsavoury aspects of the modern game. I disagree with that notion. At the end of the day they take the positives, and this season has been full of them – great players, great skills, great goals, but also great stories.

And not always on the pitch – look at the reaction to Fabrice Muamba recovering from his heart attack and the draw of affection from the football family, for instance. I have started to realise there’s a lot in football to inspire those of us in the grass roots game. And if ever, as coaches, we’re unsure which of those influences are having an effect, just watch the kids!

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Manchester United’s three-ball routine

By David Clarke

davidscwnewManchester United’s first-team coach Rene Meulensteen developed what he called the three-ball routine to increase team speed and mental awareness. I saw it in action and it was a real flurry of movement and attacking action.

I created my own version of it to use with my youth teams.

It provides a very effective way of getting a side prepared for a forthcoming match because it improves the speed of defenders and the movement of attackers.

The routine starts with a shot from outside the box, then moves on to a cross that needs to be defended. As soon as the crossing element has finished, a third ball comes in from the other wing.

Meulensteen said: “It’s an exciting exercise – you’re looking at the quality of the passing and the variety from the wing, while watching runs at the near and far post. Can the players react to the ball?”

How to set it up:

  • Player numbers can vary but we’ve used 10 in this instance.
  • You need balls, cones and a goal, plus one keeper.
  • Place a pole or cone just outside the D of the penalty area, plus two additional
    cones on each wing – one to mark an early cross and the other a deep cross.
  • Four central players stand so the cone just outside the D is between them
    and the goalkeeper, with one player further forward than the others.
  • Two players position themselves on each of the wings.
  • There is one defender in the penalty area.
  • Ensure the central group have a good supply of balls.

Getting started

  • The central players one-touch pass to each other. When the ball arrives at the
    most advanced player, he turns on the cone and shoots first time at goal.
  • As the central group lays a ball to the right wing, the shooter makes his way into
    the penalty area to challenge 1v1 against the defender. Both players prepare for
    the cross from the side.
  • The right crosser then joins the action and the defender must defend 2v1 on a
    cross from the right. The ball is again fed from the central group.
  • The left crosser now joins to complete a maximum 3v1 in the middle.
    Repeat the crossing scenario with the two remaining wingers, this time from the
    deepest crossing cones.

Developing the session:

  • Set up as before but have an attacker and two defenders in the penalty box.
  • The advanced central player lays the ball back to a team mate
    before joining the other attacker – he needs to head for the post not covered
    by his team mate.
  • The ball is switched to the wing and the subsequent cross challenged 2v2 in
    the middle.

Why this works:

This is a great workout for defenders because it’s very match realistic.

There is reward for good play from the attackers in the form of goals, and the growing number of attacking players creates a constantly changing proposition for the lone defender – who ends up defending against a 3v1 overload.

Finally, the variety of attacking angles mean both attackers and defenders need
to stay aware at all times.

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Attack and defend in quick, simple overloads

When playing matches the elements are constantly changing.

You can be attacking on your own one second, then have a team mate aor team mates in support to pass to pass to the next.

In your sessions it is a good idea to run exercises that are constantly changing so your players can prepare for this happening in matches. You can sometimes see players switching off when you do repetitive drills that have them doing A, B or C and they don’t have to think about it.

This exercise is a high intensity, near continuous game using five players. You can set up two or three of these depending on numbers at your training session.

How to set it up

Set up a few 15 x 30 yard pitches marking out with cones a couple of small goals at each end. You will need one pitch for every five players.

How to play it

  • Choose 3 players who will be given the ball first against the remaining two. Decide which end the 3 are to attack. The attacking team start with the ball bringing it out from the goal line. They can choose to pass or dribble, but no direct goals are allowed on the first touch. The emphasis is on restarting quickly.
  • The 3 play against the 2 until either: the two defenders win clear possession of the ball; they must have it under control; or the ball goes over the goal line last touched by an attacker.
  • If either of these two things happen, the two players who were defenders become attackers trying to score at the opposite end in a game of 2v1 against whichever attacker last touched the ball, the player who lost possession or took a shot.
  • The attackers retain possession on all balls that go out over the side lines.
  • You will need a coach or knowledgeable soccer parent to act as referee…the point is to designate immediately which player stays on and which players go off (ignore the “it wasn’t me” shouts). The attackers who go off should quickly step well out of the way of this new 2v1 game and sit out until it is finished.
  • The 2v1 game continues until it resolves in the same fashion as for the 3v2 game; the lone defender wins clear possession or the ball goes out off one of the two attackers.
  • Now the 3 players who just played 2v1 immediately join together in a team of 3 attackers against the 2 who had to stand out, with the 3 now attacking, so we are back to step one.



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