Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice


Hit the target man and score

By David Clarkedavidscwnew

This is a great game to practise with all ages. It is all about using target men to set up attacks. Neither team can score without utilising the target man, so this is a great game to teach link-up play in the final third and reminds players not to be greedy.

It also rehearses the art of playing through opponents, and only positive and well-organised supporting runs will be rewarded with goalscoring opportunities.

How to set it up:

  • Create a playing area measuring 35×25 yards.

  • Within that, create two end zones, each 10 yards in from the goal lines.

  • There are two goals – one at each end – and keepers in place.

  • This game is best played with two teams of four outfield players.

Getting started:

  • This game has no offsides, and if the ball leaves play, you have a few different restart options:

1. You pass a new ball onto the pitch.

2. Players take a roll-in.

3. Players take a throw-in.

4. Players make a pass-in.

5. Players dribble the ball in.

  • Each team selects one player to be the "target man". This player stands in the attacking end zone.

  • The aim of the game is to make a pass to the target man, and then for a supporting player to receive a lay-off pass to shoot at goal.

  • When the target man receives the ball, only one defender can come back to attempt to break up play.

  • After a shot is made, the shooting player swaps position with the target man.

  • If a tackle is made before the ball goes through to the target man, the other team can attack in the opposite direction.

  • Restart after a goal or if the ball goes out of play.

  • The game is played for a set time period of 15 minutes.



Turn crosses into goals

davidscwnew

Arriving in the box in the right place at the right time is a particular strength of the world’s top strikers and attacking midfielders. Giving your players this ability will add to the potency of your team’s attack.

During your training session work on these things:

  • Are the attackers meeting the ball as it arrives or are they waiting for the cross? Perfect timing will make the defender’s job of marking almost impossible.
  • Ask the wingers to supply a variety of crosses at different angles, heights and speeds to encourage the attackers to make different runs.

Good build up play will allow wingers to exploit width, putting them in a position to get the ball into the box for your forwards to attack. This session shows your players how to turn these opportunities into goals by getting players on the end of crosses.

  1. Use an area the size of two penalty areas.
  2. One goal either side.
  3. Wingers start at either corner on one side of the area, attackers on the opposite side.

In diagram 1 the first winger carries the ball the length of the playing area and crosses the ball. Attackers set off just after and try to get on the end of the cross and score. The players join the back of the queue and the exercise repeats in the opposite direction.

In diagram 2 you can advance the play from diagram 1 by adding a pair of defenders. This will increase the pressure on the attackers to find a yard of space and on the wingers to improve their crossing accuracy.

  • The coach passes into the two attackers who combine to move the ball wide to the winger.
  • The attackers must then try to lose the defenders and score from the winger’s cross.
  • After attacking, you defend and the previous defenders break out to attack the opposite goal.


Keep the ball under pressure

By David Clarke

David ClarkeEncouraging your players to keep the ball for your team is a vital part of your training sessions. Different age groups need different levels to practice at – and I know some of you will have teams that are more advanced than others, so here are three different levels of exercise to practice possession soccer.

Make use of a simple 2v1 game

In diagram 1 the two white players pass and move around the square while the grey player has to try and win the ball. If he wins the ball he replaces one of the white players and the game goes on. To advance this game tell the white players they can only have 2 touches on the ball before they must pass. Once they have got the basics of the game add more players to make it a 3 v 2 or a 4 v 2.

Expand the play so you are using 10 players

Moving to more advanced exercises you can expand the play further like diagram 2. For this one use 10 players and an area 30 yards x 20 yards. Set it up so you have five attackers inside the area. Two more attackers – one on each of the longest sides of the area – can move up and down to support the play. Three defenders inside the area try to win the ball back.

They must win it back twice, then one of the three swaps places with an attacker – and the play continues.

Move it to a 6v6 game

You can then take it a stage further like diagram 3 where we have a 6v6. Go back to a square pitch either 30 yards x 30 yards or 20 yards x 20 yards depending on the age and ability of your players. You need to have a player from each team on each side of the square, with 2 from each side inside the square. The team that starts with the ball must keep it for as long as possible using team mates on the edge of the square.

The player who receives the ball on the edge of the square can either pass or run into the square with the ball and the player who passed the ball out has to take his place on the side of the square.

The team trying to win the ball can only use the two players in the centre until they win it – players on the edge of the square cannot tackle.
Key coaching points

  • A good first touch on the ball when receiving.
  • Play the ball first time whenever possible.
  • Count the number of passes to make it competitive.
  • Players should use the inside and outside of each foot.


A game of passing under pressure

By David Clarke

David Clarke

You can tell when players are under pressure – their first touch begins to go astray. It’s a tell-tale sign and one of the most costly mistakes that can be made in the game. For that reason, it’s important to try to recreate the pressure that players face in matches.

There is also tiredness. By the end of matches, players are often weary and stop thinking about what’s in front of them – they kick the ball wherever they can. In fact, building play with good passing is an afterthought.

So this exercise is great for two reasons – it tightens up concentration while helping to increase players’ stamina. Rehearse this well and you’ll find your players pushing themselves and team mates in pursuit of victory.

How to set it up:

  • The playing area for this session depends on the age of your squad. For any players above the age of 10, use the centre circle of an 11-a-side pitch, decreasing the diameter for younger children.

  • Split your squad into two teams – in the example shown, we are using two lots of six players.

  • Six cones are placed inside the circle in a zigzag formation as shown.

  • One team (in the inner circle) places a player on each cone.

  • The other team (outside the circle) stands in a line at any point on the centre circle.

Getting started:

  • The team inside the circle scores a point each time the ball goes along the zigzag, from the bottom man to the top, and back again.

  • The length of time they have to do this is determined by the outer circle players. This team takes it in turns to run around the circle until every member of the team has completed a circuit.

  • For the first run, the inner circle players throw the ball to each other up and down the zigzag making sure no player is missed out.

  • Next they do this two-touch with their feet so they are passing the ball and receiving under pressure.

  • Teams now switch positions with the running team now attempting to beat the number of points scored.

  • Run this through two or three times. While players running around the circle should generally experience the same drop-off of pace with each attempt, you should look for the points scored by the inner circle team are likely to increase as they gain more practice.

  • For an additional challenge, have the outer circle team dribble a ball around the outside of the circle on each circuit – this way both sides are rehearsing ball skills while under time pressure.

Why this works:

This is a great passing exercise. It is a really good way to work your players so they are passing quickly to defeat the other team.

It’s an unopposed game yet players are still aware of the pressure being placed on them, and this builds the logical awareness that at no place on a football pitch can a player truly relax.

Keep an eye out for good communication between players, and a determined work ethic in terms of passing, running and receiving.



Simple practice to keep the ball – use the space

David ClarkeA lot of the basic exercises that teams work on in training involve passing to a team mate. So once players are proficient in that, it’s time to coach them in passing into space.

One of the great things about passing teams is that they know how to use space to maximum advantage, and the effects can be devastatingly good.

Even as individuals, the ability to anticipate where a team mate is moving to is an important part of player development – and one that initially takes a while to master. While this can be frustrating for coaches, rehearsing and practising using space will eventually work, so always persevere.

The size of the playing area is important in this practice, because the bigger that area the easier the task is. Therefore, start off in a space measuring 20×20 yards, then make it bigger or smaller depending on how your players cope.

 How to set it up:

• In your 20×20-yard area, mark a halfway line to create two boxes.

There are three attackers and two defenders.

• In one box it’s 1v1, while the other has two attackers and the remaining defender in it.

Getting started:

• The idea of the game is to have continuous 2v1s in each box. So for their team to retain possession, one of the attacking players has to move each time the ball changes boxes.

• Start the game in the box that contains two attackers. They must combine before passing to their team mate in the other box.

• As soon as the ball is passed, one of the two players must move into the other box to create a new 2v1 overload. All other players must remain in their designated box.

• While attackers must always be on the move, looking to create space for the pass, defenders are more cautious. They defend passively at first, so can only intercept or force an error, rather than tackle. If they do succeed in winning the ball, they simply put it out of play.

• Time to see how long the attackers can keep possession of the ball.

• Play for five minutes then swap teams around so each player has a go at both attacking and defending.

• Award extra points for feints or skills that create space for the pass.

 Developing the session:

• You can develop the session by instructing attackers to make three passes before sending the ball into the other box.

• Encourage attackers to produce a two-touch game so that they control and pass in one fluid movement.

• Allow defenders to tackle.

Why this works:

To retain possession of the ball, attackers must create space to pass into, at the same time sending the defender the wrong way. They need good skills and sound technique to prevent defenders from winning the ball. This is a skills workout that makes players think about moving, and how their movement creates space that the defender cannot defend. You should see signs of improvement in your players if this session is run over a handful of consecutive weeks.



Overloads in circles

By David Clarke

David Clarke

It can be difficult at times to find a good workout for your players that replicates the vital first touch, good movement and quick passing of typical match day situations.

Players are generally relaxed in training – sometimes overly so – and there’s certainly less pressure on them performing a move well.

But with the right set-up, and providing you can instil the notion that a player’s team mates are depending on him (and him only) to perform a specific task, you can get your team working at a high tempo.

This activity ensures players remain physically and mentally alert at all times, always aware of the concept of using available space in order to make maximum use of the ball.

It is a fast session that rehearses overloads, shooting, passing and movement in the same manner that your players will encounter in a match – indeed, a shortened version of this is perfect as a pre-match practice, so ensure every player is getting the ball and thinking about moving to the pass.

How to set it up:

  • Alter the size of the playing area depending on the ages of your players. For U9s, use the centre circle of an adult (11-a-side) pitch, or a circle 20 yards in diameter. For U10s and older, mark out a 30-yard circle as a playing area.
  • You will need to create three small goals using cones at equal points around the playing area. These will each be two yards wide. There are six players on one team and three on the other, though you can alter the number of players and the size of the playing area depending on your squad size, providing one team has twice as many players as the other.

This is a great overload game that never allows players to relax. Because it is performed in a playing area that most aren’t accustomed to, they should be constantly aware of situations developing around them.

In the second exercise, the playing numbers are still 6v3, but the overload is not as obvious with players inside the circle feeling as though they are involved in a 3v3 small-sided game.

On each occasion, look for players to adapt their style of play to the way in which they can score points. The team of six should be looking to play a controlled passing game, while the team of three must be bold and ambitious in their attacking play.

GETTING STARTED

The warm-up

  • One player on the team of six starts with the ball at his feet.

  • He must release the ball to a team mate. His team aims to complete six consecutive passes.

  • The team with three players must attempt to overturn possession. If it does, it tries to score in one of the small goals.

  • Play this for 10 minutes.

The main move

  • Now they have warmed up, prepare your players to restart with the same 6v3 set-up.

  • This time though, the team of six must arrange themselves so that three players begin inside the circle and three outside.

  • The three inside must keep possession, always attempting to switch with players on the outside of the circle by passing the ball to them. When they do this, they swap places with their team mate.

  • They gain a point for each successful pass out and player switch.

  • As before, the team of three gain a point by winning the ball and scoring in one of the three goals.

  • Play for 10 minutes then rotate players.



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.




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