Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice


Coach yourself a Carles Puyol – Barcelona legend

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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.



Play like Spain’s Carles Puyol

David Clarke

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.

Who knows, maybe it’s this "British Bulldog" mentality that may one day see one of your lads emulate the onfield achievements of the England captain?

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.



Youth players gain experience by playing in different postions

David ClarkeA lot has been discussed lately about how coaches and managers should be using their players when it comes to positions in matches.
Certainly at younger age groups – Under-9s and below – where most matches are friendlies, you can switch players around without any fear of causing problems on match day.
I make sure that in every match I change the positions of three players. This works by giving them experience in other positions without altering the tactical make-up of the team. They swap positions after each third of the game, thus allowing them a significant amount of time in each role.
I also make it clear to those players that because I am going to use them in three different positions they will not be substituted during the game. In their minds then, they lose out in not having a set position, but on the plus-side they can play knowing they’re in action for the full duration.
Last weekend we were up against a strong side, but even in this game I made sure I moved players around, targeting my right-back, right winger and left-sided attacker. They swapped positions during the game and had to adapt to their new positions. For the first third they started in their ‘normal’ positions. Then I swapped my right-back with the right winger – a logical move. My right winger went up front as a left attacker – still attacking but from a different side and further up front.
And finally, in what might have seemed a slightly illogical move, I put my left attacker into the right-back position. That right-back slot is all about sitting deep then supporting and blocking counter-attacks, and is one of the vital roles when the team loses the ball.
The changes worked, and as I had hoped, my attacker was badgering me after the game to let him play in defence again because he liked seeing the game being played out in front of him!
That’s evidence enough that players are never completely ready for you to brand them with a position before they have tried each one out themselves! But the important part of the exercise is in making sure your players are gaining experience of playing all over the pitch. That gives them a greater sense of the game and what other players have to do.
And sure enough, all three players came off the pitch looking pleased with themselves. They had just done their bit for us, and helped us to win a particularly difficult game playing defence, attack and on the wing.



Coach the supporting defender

David Clarke By David Clarke

If you’re facing a team where the attackers are getting good support from the wings, you need your defenders to support each other in dealing with the threat. The supporting defender in this situation is vital for cutting off attacking options.

In this session players learn how to improve the understanding of covering and support between team mates.

How to play it

Set up a 30 yards by 20 yards area and add a 5 yards end zone at one end. Split the playing area down the middle with a row of cones so you can run two drills at the same time and allow more players to participate.

To begin, the defender near the end zone passes to the attacker at the other end. He must then stop the attacker from dribbling back towards him and into the end zone. The supporting defender, standing behind the playing defender, must give verbal support such as, “get tight”, “stand up” or “force wide”.

How to develop it

Remove the cones to create one pitch. Now two defenders work together in a 2v1 situation against the attacker. The first defender must put pressure on the attacker while the team mate covers and supports.

After the ball has been played, a second attacker enters the pitch from the other side and the defensive roles are switched. The defender creating pressure now covers and supports while the covering defender has a turn at putting pressure on the new attacker.

Turn it into a game

Play as above, but with the addition of a goalkeeper and goal. Now the attackers can shoot from distance so there is extra pressure on the defenders to move across quickly. The goalkeeper can provide additional support, communicating with both defenders.



Change of position, change of fortune

DCDuring a victory for my Under-10s side, one of my defenders got injured. This was not too much of a problem as I had another player who could move from midfield to fill that role. The solution worked fine for a while until he too limped out of the action, leaving me struggling to solve the problem.
We got to half-time without too much trouble and were winning 1-0, and at that point I managed to persuade another lad to change positions and slot back into defence. He halfheartedly accepted the offer, even creeping forward into his regular attacking role at times, thus leaving holes and gaps behind him.
I was therefore relieved when my left winger came across and said to me that he would play in defence because he’d operated there for his previous team. I was surprised because I had never considered him to be a natural defender – he is, after all, a strong attacking winger, and it had never even crossed my mind to use him in defence.
But he was an absolute revelation, with excellent positioning, plus strong support and marking skills. At one point he took the ball off the toes of the opposition attacker and ran the whole length of the pitch, unleashing a brilliant shot at the end of it. I am still reluctant to play him at the back because we have some good defenders, and he is a valuable left winger, but I know now he makes a great back-up if we ever need someone to fill the role.
It got me thinking about players and how they generally begin to ‘find’ their positions around nine or 10 years of age. And yet many will play for another few years before actually discovering where they are best. What we should be doing as coaches is constantly experimenting with their roles – maybe hiding inside a player who has been labeled a ‘defender’ is a strong attacking force just waiting to be unleashed on an unsuspecting opponent. It’s rare when it happens, but on the occasions that it does, it’s always a pleasant and useful surprise.



The best defenders block the ball

One of the problems for defenders is that when they are closing down players a clever attacker can break away with the ball into goal scoring positions. The best defenders will stay with the attacker and get a block on the shot or a last second tackle to poke the ball away.

This situation is quite likely in youth soccer when young players lose concentration at the back and an attacker gets free with the ball. Rather than stand and watch the drama unfold they should be running to get back and cover the attacking player.

There will always be opportunities for a defender to recover when they have made a mistake or the attacker has worked their way free from the covering defence.

As coach you should be encouraging your players never to give up when they have lost the ball and work hard to win it back and stop the opposition scoring.

Check out the clips below of two of the world’s best attackers making last ditch tackles and blocks to save their team losing a goal – Alessandro Nesta of Italy and Carles Puyol of Spain show how giving up just isn’t in their vocabulary.

Soccer drill to coach the block tackle



Farewell to a legend

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DavidClarkeThe official website of AC Milan has run a simple tribute to one of the best defenders I have had the good fortune to see in my lifetime. The message simply reads – 25 SEASONS. 900 GAMES. ALWAYS AND ONLY MILAN. GRAZIE PAOLO.

His is a career to savour. Aged 41 he wore the number 3 shirt for the last time at the weekend. He first pulled it on in 1985 25 seasons ago when aged 16 he made his debut in the Italian Serie A against Udinese.

He is the son of Cesare Maldini, a former European cup winner with Milan who captained the club and went on to manage Italy.

It is a phenomenal career to have played so long at the top – over 1,000 professional games for Milan and Italy, only Milan and Italy since the age of 10. He has won five European Cup medals and seven Serie A titles along the way probably a career record that will never be matched. Not even Real Madrid’s Raül can think about matching that.

He has done this at one of the world’s best clubs, the best left back for all that time. Amazing. He was skilful and powerful, a master of his art.

But the Maldini line and links with AC Milan are not yet broken. Milan plans to retire his number 3 shirt, but it will be bequeathed to one of his sons if one makes the club’s senior side. The third generation of Milan’s Maldini dynasty is Paolo’s 13 year old son Christian who plays for the Milan youth team.

We may yet get the chance to watch another Maldini grace the San Siro for years to come.

Here are two clips to watch, one of the great Paolo Maldini in action, and one of his youngest son Daniel dispossessing Clarence Seedorf at the Champions League celebrations in 2007.




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