Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

My best switching play session

By David Clarke

David Clarke

I keep this session in my little black book of ‘must-have tactics and how to coach them’. It is a great way to show young players how to move the ball to find space.

When their team is on the attack, young players need to be alert to the possibilities of switching play from one side of the pitch to the other.

It’s a tactic relied upon by every professional football team and takes craft, vision and confidence.

It works so well because of the need for defending teams to play a pressing, compact line in the modern game. That makes them susceptible to the switch and the potential of being caught out.

That’s why it’s crucial for attacking players to know when and how to switch – either by a long pass or a series or quick, short balls from one side of the pitch to the other.

In this exercise your players first have to work out how many ways they can get the ball from one end man to another. They will then move on to put that technique into practice to score points.

How to set it up:

  • For this practice, you will need bibs, balls and cones. The session uses three teams of four players.
  • Create a 30 yards long by 15 yards wide area, split into three equal zones.
  • In the middle zone, mark out three cone gate goals along each line across the pitch.
    These should be one yard wide and evenly spaced along the line.

Getting started:

  • Start by getting the teams to work out all the combinations of play that can ensure the ball moves from one side of the pitch to the other in their groups… so either a long ball across, passes to each man individually, etc.
  • Get them to switch positions.
  • Practise this for five minutes.
  • Then split the middle row of players into two teams of two.
  • One team defends the three gates towards the top of the area, while the other team defends the other three gates towards the bottom.
  • The outside teams must pass the ball within their area and score points by putting it through an empty gate, but any scoring effort must be passed through the gate, not struck hard.
  • Rotate teams every five minutes and play for a total of 15 minutes, seeing how well attackers switch play and defenders cope with the demands of a versatile strikeforce.

Developing the session:

  • In a 36 yards long by 20 yards wide area, use a goal and goalkeeper at each ends. Play 4v4 with two neutral players who run the lines but cannot go onto the pitch.
  • Teams play a standard game but must involve a neutral player in every attack.
  • Play for 10 minutes.

Why this works:

Getting players used to switching play encourages them to use the technique in matches, and in this session, you are showing them how and when to make the correct decision.

In the main game, having three goals protected by only two defenders means attackers will always be keen to hunt out space in which they can score.


The power of praise

David ClarkeOne of my newer players is driven by a constant desire to be the best at everything he does; and when he’s not, he becomes a handful.

He has an elder brother who is captain of the school rugby team, and the rest of the family are sporty as well, often supporting one another. For instance, his parents and brother turn up to watch him play his football… they even bring the dog sometimes! As the season has progressed they’ve grown into the heart of the club, and I offer them weekly reports as to how their lad has settled in and how he is responding to playing in my team.

And responding he really is. That’s because I have given him praise and responsibility – I’m some way short of offering him the captaincy, but he has a role in the team mechanic and that means a lot to him.
Now some players will find themselves motivated more than others by the words of their coach, and you might think that this lad is particularly receptive because he has a family who support and challenge one another. But in my experience absolutely anyone can benefit from positive encouragement… whether or not they’ve got an elder brother, a supportive family and an overactive canine!
And it doesn’t take much for a coach to say the right thing. For instance, when players do something wrong, I praise them instead for what they have done right, steering them away from the negatives. And sure, some respond better than others, but as a whole, they’re much better footballers as a result of this approach.

Indeed, back to the lad in question… he has even started to lose some of the backchat and boasting that he rocked up with at first.

In addition, his parents have noticed how much he wants to come to training and how much he talks about the team. They are surprised because he has never been like this before. He’s been rewarded at home with new boots and shinpads – he really is a different boy and it’s great to see.

For me, there are two key things here:

  1.  The power of praise
  2.  How successful working with parents can be.

Parents can be one of your best allies when dealing with disruptive kids. They get a lot of stick for doing the wrong things – such as shouting at matches or offering their kids bribes – but when it comes down to it you need the parents on your side.

Even his brother has started to be more positive on the touchline and regularly comes over to talk to me about how well his younger brother is doing. It helps me to create a great atmosphere at training and on match days without the tears and tantrums.

The game becomes the focal point and the players can have a much more enjoyable time with their team mates.