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.



If there’s one course you should go on…

davidscwnewI firmly believe that if you want to develop the skills of individual players you need to start young and you need to do so at grassroots level. So this summer I decided to attend a number of courses based on skills coaching and individual excellence that would add to my knowledge of youth coaching. And this was the pick of the bunch.

Coerver Coaching’s Alf Galustian was the star skills educator at his Play Like Spain course at the London Soccer Dome – and it was like being in Spain on one of the hottest weekends of the year.

DCAlfWillie+spanish players1

Coerver’s course is based on the Spain national side and the success they have had playing with Spanish style and the phases of play that make up that style. Alf coached sessions where the emphasis was on individual ball mastery and how the development of the individual creates a winning team.

Alf said: “I have worked in Spain as a coach educator several times throughout my career. It is common knowledge that Spain are the current leading developers of football talent and they have implemented a style of play that is the envy of world football”.

I found it very interesting because last year I spent a lot of time  working on the phases of play used by Barcelona and why they have had so much success in the last few years with their style of possession play – I broke Barcelona style down to Possession/Patience/Penetration and did a presentation for the NSCAA on the Barcelona phases of play.

Alf broke down the Spain style into four phases of play

Protecting

Protecting the ball individually by coaching shielding techniques and as a group moving the ball quickly to keep it away from opponents.

Pressing

Individually and as a team. This is the Spanish way, lose the ball win it back by pressing high up the pitch giving teams no time to settle on the ball.

Probing

Running with the ball into space or finding the killer pass, with drills to develop individual and team skills

Penetration

The creative end product from the combination of the other three parts of the course – ­including creativity in the final third (the one thing English players find hard to do).

Coerver have been over in Spain recently and Scott Wright the UK director of Coerver told me: “We have had coaches from all levels attend our courses in Spain including La Liga clubs Real Madrid, Getafe, Real Mallorca and Rayo Vallacano as well as other coaches and ex-players from across Spain and Europe.”

Dave Clarke with Manuel Ojalvo

Dave Clarke with Manuel Ojalvo

So I felt I was in good company on the course and that there was a real Spanish aspect to the sessions. Added to that Coerver had brought former Athletico Madrid youngster Manuel Ojalvo, and former professional Diego Camacho, who has amassed more than 400 appearances in La Liga.

Manuel has a background in youth coaching and gave some great insights into what it was like to be a youth player in Spain. Diego doesn’t have the command of the English language that Manuel has but he managed to get across the frustrations of being coached in one position for all his time in youth football – defensive midfield. He has played against the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Lionel Messi, asked how he stopped Messi he shrugged and gave a chopping motion… it was fascinating stuff.

Both players are convinced the Coerver system can help grassroots in Spain – and of course in England.

Diego said (with Manuel acting as interpreter): “Every ex-professional player, no matter the level, who is thinking about moving into coaching should definitely study the Coerver System; I wish it had been available to me when I was a young, it would have made me a better player”.

Dave Clarke and Diego Camacho

Dave Clarke and Diego Camacho

Alf also introduced former ManchesterCity and Scotland defender Willie Donachie who is now development coach at Newcastle United. Again the advice was very interesting because Coerver are very much an attack minded in their tactics. Willie talks defence and used the example of Ian Rush the former Liverpool and Wales striker as an example of a forward whose first thought on losing the ball was to win it back. Alf too had praise for an attacker who likes to win the ball back – Lionel Messi “he is the best defender in the world”, said Alf.

Dave Clarke and Willie Donachie

Dave Clarke and Willie Donachie

Some great course material to take away in the form of a book that included the sessions Alf had put on during the weekend added to the overall success of the course.

It was a great way to spend a weekend in the summer and a very valuable one for my own personal development adding to my knowledge of Spanish football, giving me lots to take back to the teams that I coach. I suggest if you get the chance you should go on the course – it is a great learning experience.



7v7 formations: How to play 2-3-1

davidscwnewSetting up your team in a formation when they first start playing matches is as much a learning curve for you as it is for your players.

When I coach a team that hasn’t played matches or worked on formations before, I always find it best to start by looking at individual players and writing down the strong and weak parts of their game.

You will often see coaches put their weakest players in defence and their strongest players up front. This is wrong. You need balance throughout the team and, with U10s and below, you really need to be letting all your players try all the positions.

The 2-3-1 is an ideal formation to coach positions and give your players a good idea of what is expected when they move up to 11-a-side. This is because the responsibilities of each player are similar to the ones they will advance to.

Defence

  • You will ideally have at least one fast defender because you always need one covering player when your team has corners, free kicks and throw-ins in the opposition half.
  • One of the defenders needs to push up into the space created when the central midfielder attacks.
  • The defenders need to learn how far they can advance and talk to each other covering each other.
  • They will learn together as they play matches and grow into their roles.

Midfield

  • The two wide midfielders can play as wing backs.
  • They need to get used to pushing forward using the wings to support the central attacker and dropping back to protect the defenders when they lose the ball.
  • Your central midfielder has to support the attacker and protect the defence. He pushes into the hole behind the attacker when the team is going forward, but drops deep when defending.
  • Midfielders are pivotal to the team and usually see a lot of the ball. The central midfielder is an ideal position for your captain or most advanced player in the team.

Attack

  • In seven-a-side, you are looking for a player who can finish moves off. Because of the pitch size and support from the three midfielders, your attacker does not have to be especially good at holding the ball. The central midfielder will do that.
  • Also, if it is not possible to get the ball across to the attacker from the wing, the advancing defenders will offer the wing backs a way out. Your players may be passing back but, in doing so, they are keeping possession and the ball can be recycled through the central midfielder.

Interested in more tactics? Try these links:

1. Elite Soccer – Jim Bentley, defending in a 3-5-2 formation

2. Elite Soccer – Carlo Ancelotti, attacking movement in a 4-3-2-1 formation



4v4 ice hockey style

davidscwnew

I love setting up new challenges in small-sided games for my players – the emphasis in this game is on positive passing and determined movement. And while quite basic, this is a clever set-up that tests players’ ability to think "outside the box", or rather "inside it"!

Goals are no longer fixed to the touchlines, which means that scoring opportunities can be manufactured using unconventional routes. If players can replicate this thinking in a standard game, you may find them producing goalscoring chances out of unpredictable actions.

How to set it up:

  • Create a playing area that measures 35×25 yards.

  • There are two teams of four players.

  • Two goals are made using cones or poles, and are placed five yards in from each end of the pitch.

  • Add a keeper in each goal.

The rules:

  • The players can score in the front or back of the goal.

  • The game is played for a set period of time – 20 minutes.

  • Tell your players that if they are blocked when in front of the goal they need to look to play quickly to the other side and try to score in the back.



Press and drop in tight areas

davidscwnew

This game is about pressing and dropping in tight areas of the pitch. It helps your players’ decision-making skills where overloads are concerned – their judgment of when to press and when to drop during a game, depending on numbers and position on the pitch.

Playing in exercises that have a game structure helps players understand training principles.

How to set it up:

  • This game requires cones and balls.
  • Use two 30×20 yards areas with a gap between of 10 to 20 yards. The bigger the gap, the fitter your players need to be.
  • Two teams – whites and greys – play 4v4 in each area, with a five-yard cone goal at each end but no keepers.

Getting started:

  • Start both 4v4s at the same time, instructing one team when to press high and when to drop back to cover lower down the pitch. Play for five minutes.
  • Now assign numbers – in both boxes whites are 1, 2, 3 and 4. Greys in both boxes are 5, 6, 7 and 8.
  • Returning to the game, when you call out a number the two players who have that number must switch pitches to create overload scenarios.
  • Play for a further five minutes.

Progressing the session:

The players now don’t have numbers, and can play in either box. If greys are winning in one box but losing in the other, players can switch to assist, leaving team mates behind to defend their lead. Play for 10 minutes.

Why this works:

As the players switch pitches they leave and join different overloads, adapting their game in the process. In the progression, the decision of when to support the other team is left to the players. The challenge is very match-like in that respect – when to press and when to drop.



Why warm-ups are a good habit

Driving to a match at the beginning of the season I got stuck in some roadworks that made the journey take twice the time it usually does. I made it to the game just in time for a quick chat with the players before they went on.

There are two or three different ways to get to our home ground from where I live, and for years I’d gone the same way. But those roadworks were going nowhere fast – it would be months of holdups unless I changed the way I went.

So I started taking a new route to the ground. Yes, one week I forgot and went the old way and got snarled up in traffic, but gradually I got used to the new route.

I had a laugh to myself last weekend then when, even though the roadworks have gone, I set off the ‘new’ route, because I have become so used to going that way, and I trust it will deliver me to the ground on time.

Now there’s a thing – I’ve changed a habit. It’s something most people tell me is hard to do but I’ve done it. And when I think about why I want to get to the ground on time, it’s because of another habit I changed…

When I first started coaching, I had no time for warm-ups or doing the right things before a game. I arrived seconds before kick-off and regarded warm-ups as being for wimps – my team didn’t need them!

But gradually I learned more about young players and that they needed to stretch both mind and body in the lead-up to a game. I learned how much better they would perform when they were 100% ready to play. The more I studied the game the more I had to admit I was hindering my players by not doing those other things. So just like forcing myself to drive a new way to the match, I forced myself to change.

Along the way I had setbacks, but over time my players stopped letting in silly early goals and even started scoring early themselves. And there were no pulled muscles or players out of breath after a couple of minutes of running.I forced myself to be a better coach on match days.

And that’s why I hate getting to the ground late, because it reminds me of my old habits. Preparing yourself and your players for a game is so important – make sure you do it.



Closing ranks at the back

davidscwnewGetting your defenders to close ranks on an attacking threat is vital for taking control of defensive situations in a match. Give the opposition time on the ball in your half of the pitch and they will find it much easier to create goal scoring chances from good passes.

All your players should be able to quickly close down the opposition no matter where they play on the pitch. If attackers are helping out the defence, they become an important part of helping to close the opposition down.

What you want your players to achieve when they are closing down is to make it harder for opponents to pass the ball. The discipline needs good timing and anticipation so the defender can stay balanced on their feet.

  • Try and anticipate while the ball is moving
  • Concentrate on the opponents around the ball
  • Wait until the right moment to make the tackle
  • Try and stay standing at all times

I use this game to get my defenders moving to block the pass and keep attackers at bay. They need to watch the ball at all times and keep tabs on the opponents.

How to play it

  • Defenders start on the edge of the pitch and pass the ball across to an attacker.
  • Defenders must follow the ball to mark the attackers.
  • Attackers can only have three touches each and must cross the line of cones before they can pass to attacker 3, who must stay off the pitch at the defenders’ end.
  • Defenders must move to block passes to attacker 3.
  • Defenders should have their knees slightly bent in a crouching position, and be slightly side on to the attacker.
  • Defenders should be close enough to the attacker to pounce if a chance to tackle is offered.
  • Defenders should stay on their feet and move quickly.
  • Good communication between team mates is necessary when passing or covering the space to block.


Shape up your team

davidscwnew

Changing team shapes by changing the number of players during a game is a fantastic way to get your players to keep their concentration and adapt the team shape and tactics to suit the situation.

I have used this exercise with my players for the past two training sessions because it gives me lots of coaching points that I can get across to my players as the game progresses.

How to play it

  • Set up as shown in the first picture, with four teams of two players (blacks, whites, grey shirt/grey shorts and grey shirts/grey shorts), plus two neutral keepers.

  • Start the game with four teams of two playing with one ball.

  • Players can score in either goal. If the ball leaves play, pass a new one in immediately.

  • On your call, two teams immediately join together (for instance, “blacks and whites”) and the game continues in a 4v4 situation. Both these teams now join forces to play against grey/whites and grey/greys.

  • Play for 10 minutes changing player combinations at regular intervals.

Technique and tactics

  • Keep the game moving fast.

  • Players should mix passes by either playing them to feet or into space.

How to develop it

  • You can overload the game against one team – for example, “whites, grey/ whites and grey/greys” would play against the black duo.


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 among 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 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.

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