Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice


Control the game without the ball

davidscwnew

An important characteristic of modern teams is their ability to control the game even when they haven’t got the ball. The whole team plays a part in this tactic with the intention of forcing the opposition into awkward situations.

The formation succeeds by covering all avenues of opposition attack, meaning that play is stifled. It relies on pressing as soon as the opposition has the ball. The defending team always keeps the action in front of them and tries to stop any balls through the centre or in behind.

This tactic requires good fitness from players because it is hard work. And for pressing to work, the team must prevent any switches of play as this will give overload initiatives to attackers. But performed well, the game rewards are significant.

How to set it up:

  • Set up an area measuring 30×20 yards. Make three 10-yard zones across the width of the pitch.

  • You will need bibs, cones, balls and goals.

  • The players in the middle zone must prevent other teams passing through them.

  • This featured session uses nine players split into groups of three (one group in each area), but it will work with any equal denominations.

  • No balls are allowed over head height.

  • Players are restricted to two touches.

Getting started:

  • Play starts with either end zone team. Players pass amongst themselves before threading a ball through to the team in the opposite end zone.

  • For the first two minutes, the middle team is not allowed to move any player out of its zone.

  • After two minutes, allow one player from the middle zone to go forward into the an end zone to press the ball. Play this for three minutes.

  • If the ball is intercepted, play restarts at the other end.

  • Rotate play so that each team fulfils defensive duties in the middle.

Now try this:

  • Remove the zones and add two goals, with a keeper in each. Also add a halfway line.

  • Keep the teams in threes but this time the middle team attacks one end, then turns and attacks the other.

  • The outer two teams must defend the area and clear the ball using the pressing technique.

  • If a goal is scored, play restarts with the middle group and they attack in the opposite direction. If a tackle is made, the defenders’ reward is to now switch places with the middle group, thus becoming the attackers.

Why this works:

Pressing the ball is a great tactic for winning back possession. This activity shows the value in doing that, compared to standing off waiting to intercept. Pressing means opposition players rarely settle on the ball and mistakes can be forced, either through poor control or a rushed pass.



When more turn up for training than you expect

davidscwnewI had an email this week asking about how I cope when more players turn up at training than expected. It was a timely question as I had just coached a session of 15 players when I expected only nine or 10 to turn up.

We were training indoors for a quick passing session and I had created a plan accordingly. However, with a bit of clever tweaking, I was soon able to put the session into shape to accommodate the increased numbers. The indoor arena was probably only big enough to hold 12 players comfortably but the extra players meant I could go for a session about winning the ball and keeping it in crowded areas of the pitch.

So I split the group into three teams of five players. Rather than have a normal small-sided game I decided to play all three teams at once making the central areas tight and over-crowded. I had yellows defending one goal and oranges defending the other. The other team of five were ‘mavericks’, who could score in either goal.

This gave each team plenty to think about – which team were their true ‘opponents’, for a start.

At first, the set-up caused a lot of confusion as players were trying to work out who was doing what, particularly because this was in such a congested area. My response to this was to stop play after a couple of minutes. I asked each team to take a minute to work out between themselves who should pick up which opposition players when possession was lost.

Once they had a clear idea of a game plan it made matters a lot simpler, and the overcrowded pitch became much less of a consideration.

I was pleased with how the session turned out because the players were encouraged to make a lot of decisions outside of the basic necessity of keeping the ball with numerous opponents around them.

The point here was to show them that even with a huge number of distractions, if each player focused on the key elements that affected his own game, the proposition seemed a lot less complex.

For the final five minutes I went to two teams playing with the other resting. Sure enough, the freedom in this set-up (compared to three sides playing at once) saw players using space and being aware of their marking responsibilities with real clarity, which was a great result.

All in all, a great solution to the problem of an unexpectedly high turnout!



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.”



Pressure, support and depth – go defensive

By David Clarke davidscwnew

Teaching defenders technique and the ability to move into the right places at the right time can be done on the training ground.

Here though, we combine the teaching with an immediate attack versus defence scenario, so players are straight away putting into practice what they have learnt.

So they must ensure they react to the call well, adopt the right shape, then be ready to defend immediately.

How to set it up:

  • Create a 25-yard square with 10 x 5 yards end zones.

  • In front of one end zone, place three cones across the width of the area, plus a mini goal just in front of the central cone.

  • Three defenders start behind the cones and three attackers start at the opposite end.

  • Stand halfway up the area on the touchline.

The technique:

The three defenders will need to move as per your instructions, so teamwork and unity is essential in maintaining a solid backline. So you will call either:

“Left” – the left defender pressures and shows inside, the central defender supports and stops the forward pass, the defender farthest away supports the central player and provides depth.

“Centre” – the central defender pressures the ball while the two wide defenders take up supporting positions behind, and to either side to stop the forward pass.

“Right” – the right defender pressures and shows inside, the central defender supports and stops the forward pass, the defender farthest away supports the central player and provides depth.

Getting started:

  • On your call, the defending team completes the defending technique task.

  • You then pass a ball to the attacking team at the opposite end.

  • Immediately, the defenders must run onto the pitch and use the group defending technique to stop their opponents from scoring in their target goal.

  • Each team has six run-throughs before the roles are reversed. The winning team is the one to have scored most times in the goal.



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.



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.




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