Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Winning… without the ball – a Spanish malaise

David ClarkeBy David Clarke
After Spain had been held 1-1 in Paris against France in last October’s Brazil World Cup qualifying game the Spanish newspaper El Mundo ran this : “Without the ball problems arrive.”

Vicente del Bosque had played Sergio Busquets at centre back rather than in his usual place alongside Xabi Alonso in a holding midfield duo.

Without this midfield block France intercepted passes and broke into large spaces in midfield, causing lots of problems for Del Bosque’s team.

“We controlled the game well in the first half,” he told the post-match news conference.

“Afterwards we opened up, I don’t know if it was because we were tired. When it became an end-to-end game it was bad for us.”
The return game in Spain next March looks a little more daunting after Spain showed a rare vulnerability by losing control of possession and the game to draw 1-1 – they couldn’t win without the ball.

Winning without the ball is a vital part of a successful team both at international level and at youth level.

Young players should always be coached so they move before the ball is played. This session offers a number of additional coaching points within its structure and you can halt the session at any point to show players options and ideas.

How to set it up:

  • You need balls, bibs and cones.

  • Mark out an area measuring 40×30 yards.

  • In each corner, you need a square measuring 10×10 yards.

  • The session will work with six, nine or 12 players, divided into three teams – the example shown uses nine.

  • There are two balls on the pitch at any one time.

Getting started:

  • Two teams start with a ball. Each exchanges passes around the area, with the aim of scoring points. This is done when players run into the corner squares to receive the ball.

  • After doing this, they run out of the area with the ball and move on to another area.

  • The team without a ball must attempt to win possession from either of the other teams.

  • After 10 minutes, progress the session by stating that players cannot go into a square that is already occupied by a player from another team.

  • Play for an additional 10 minutes. The winning team is the one that has scored the most points by effectively making passes to team mates in scoring areas.

  • To advance the task further, make one of the teams defend. Rotate teams regularly so each has a go at blocking scoring runs as well as making them.

Why this works:

The focus should be on the team completing sequences that involve running without the ball, accurate passing, good weight on the pass and good control at the end of the sequence.

Look for players to mix short passes with longer balls that switch areas of play and search out team mates running into space.

This game works because the player in possession will always have a choice of two passing options providing his team mates are looking to attack space. Dummy runs and overlaps should be encouraged also.

These are all off-the-ball runs that mimic match play and, given the small playing area, you will have plenty of opportunities to freeze play and recommend to players where the more efficient passes might have gone.


Why quick throws work for youth teams

David ClarkeLast weekend, we were lucky to find our game was on given that most of the country was under water – we played on astro turf as our usual pitch was too wet. It was a fast game, requiring player reactions to be somewhat quicker than normal.

But whether on a fast surface or not, I always ask my players to think about performing quick, instinctive actions all the time anyway. Sure enough, on Saturday, we scored an opportunist goal thanks to one of my players taking a quick throw-in while the opposition was still getting set up to defend the set play. After the ball went dead, my winger ran over, picked it up and threw it first time into the path of one of our attackers. Two touches later, and the ball was in the back of the net before the keeper had even realised what was happening.

Something like a quick throw-in can make a huge difference in matches, and particularly in youth football where players are not as ‘tuned in’ and alert as they are in the pro game. Of course, players need to show good technique if they are to take advantage of the situation. In fact, after we had used the quick throw-in successfully, another one of my players repeatedly tried to replicate the tactic, and on each occasion he was penalised for lifting one of his feet off the ground.

I know he felt frustrated about it – he was trying to perform the throw quickly, but as a result lost sight of the action itself. You could say he was quick, but couldn’t keep to the rules!

But it’s still worth using quick throw-ins at every opportunity in your coaching sessions. Get players to try it under timed pressure – each time there’s a throw-in they have only 10 seconds to get into position and perform the action.

Of course, to make the most of this in game situations you’ll need for each player to excel at the technique. A lot of teams will have one or two players who are specialists, but if you want quick throw-ins, they’ll need to be performed by the player nearest the ball.

Tell your players to remember:

  •  To take the throw-in from where the ball went out of play
  • That their team mates can’t be offside from a throw-in
  • That another player has to touch the ball before the thrower can touch it again
  • That a goal cannot be scored directly from a throw-in
  • And that opponents must stand more than two yards from the thrower

Try it out! It’s a great feeling the first time your team proves that something as basic as a throw-in can be utilised to such devastating effect!