Saturday, June 5, 2010

12 - Training Efficiently

Training is developing a playing style. In short, it is the coach’s job to create such a style. No matter whom you coach, youth players or adults, the main objective for you as a coach is to develop the players ability offensively, defensively and the transition between the two. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. The starting point (ability) of the player is of greater essence.
The coach must think about the quality of the players, where are they in their development (youth or adult), the culture and the vision of the club, etc. Besides that, the coach must think about the offered training exercises to realize the objected effect.

To Improve
The coach has the responsibility to organize training activities in such a way that a team and its players can improve. One can compare it to the “overload principle” used in fitness training, in which a fitness training stimulus is sent out that disturbs the physiological balance of a
player. The body will adjust during the recovery to the higher burdening in such a way that soccer actions can be executed at a higher level. These soccer actions can also be done more often, a player can keep the pace up longer and the execution of the soccer actions can be done better. This is the so-called “super compensation.”
A coach has the same objective when talking about improving the overall soccer actions. The training impulse must be adjusted to the level of the team and its players. The impulse must lie just above the level of the team/players (compare to “overload”). The team/players must work
at their best, to be able to realize the objective of the training exercises. All those result in better offense, defense and the better transition from one to the other (“over compensation”). The training impulses are the complexity/resistances that a player must overcome. The coach
manipulates these training impulses and resistances to realize the playing style.

The resistances can be subdivided into:
A. The role of the opposition; what is the role of the opposition? (low pressure, high pressure, counter attack, etc.)
B. Where is the field? (own half, half of the opposition, etc.)
C. Moment; when does it happen? (When the goal keeper has the ball, the second ball, etc.)
D. Space and numbers; how much space is needed and what number of players are involved? (big/small space, many/few players, etc.)
E. Instruction; what instructions did the players receive? (Example: play deep immediately, use the switch pass, etc., but also game situations like to score in one minute, there are still X-minutes to play and you are behind 1-0).

The Role of the Opposition
No matter how much time you spend in developing your players, ultimately there always is an opponent; the team you are playing against during the game. Therefore, one must always practice with an opponent. In this case it doesn’t matter if we are working with youth players or
adults. When we execute a training exercise without opposition (a team) or an opponent (a player), an essential part of the game is missing. This doesn’t mean that you can never create a training situation without any opposition. The coach then must realize what is being trained and that the situation isn’t complete. This brings us to the core of training; to improve a player’s ability: the transfer of what is being learned.

When talking about “transfer” we mean the application of what was learned during practices to the real game. To make the transfer from the practice field to the game as smooth as possible, it helps if both situations are equivalent. This means that the characteristics of the game must be
found back in the practice.

To Play Deep (Forward)
One of the striking points in attack and build up is: playing forward has preference over playing sideways. One can create several trainings exercises in which the build up in general, and the principal of deep before width, are central. Many passing exercises can be created to practice the above. There are coaches that have their team play hand-ball (with or without opposition) to improve the build up. If we think about the transfer from practice to game, then a few question marks can be placed by the choice of that training exercise.

Training Exercises
We offer a few training exercises in which the opponent play a certain role. One can discuss the choice and the order of the exercises. There should be no discussion about the fact that these exercises are closer to the “real” game than the above mentioned example.

11- Learn to Play Defense against A 1:3:4:3-Formation

As a follow-up to one of the previous articles we will look at what a coach can do if his own team plays in a 1:4:3:3 formation and the opposing team switches from a 1:4:3:3 formation during the game to a 1:3:4:3. In the previous article we took a closer look at the offense, this time we will look at the defense.

When talking about the various team formations/organizations, the past World Cup was a great opportunity to see some great examples of these variations. France vs. Switzerland is one example, in which France only played with one forward (Henry). What to do as the opposing
team? How many defenders will you use and how do you take on the “attacking” midfielders of the French? Or take for example The Netherlands vs. Serbia & Montenegro at the same WC. Serbia played with two forwards and the Netherlands played 1v1 in the back. That meant that three Dutch midfielders had to play against two Serbian midfielders. You can look at this from both sides. How does Serbia deal with this possible threat and how does the Netherlands take advantage of these opportunities? Team organizations/formations opposite of each other can lead to opportunities and threats. As the coach you want to deal with those circumstances as well as possible; take advantage of the opportunities and neutralize all possible threats.

The main aim in playing defense is to disrupt the build-up and to prevent goals. A coach wants to make players aware of the opportunities and the threats that can occur. A threat could be that three of your midfielders are facing four of the opposing midfielders. A possible solution would be that one of the defenders moves forward. But that would mean that the three
remaining defenders would have to play 1v1. It also offers the opposing team a better chance to disrupt your own build-up, since you are playing three defenders against three forwards. This offers the other team the opportunity to immediately put pressure on our defenders, after which our team has to play the long ball. The opponent then can’t take advantage of the
extra man situation in midfield anymore. If the team has defenders that are strong in
the air then this surely is an option. This example shows you that a certain choice of playing style goes hand in hand with the quality of your players.

The coach organizes the practice in such a way that the players are confronted with the above mentioned threats and opportunities. They experience what it is like to play against a 1:3:4:3 formation and they can practice possible solutions. As an example we will offer a practice exercise that is focused on improving the cooperation between the defenders and midfielders after a long pass from the goalkeeper of the opposing team (see drawing). In this exercise the coach focuses on:
• The forward. This player is responsible that the defender of the opposing team can’t receive the ball. Or he offers so much pressure on the defender that this player is forced to play the long ball. If the defender still decides to pass the ball to a midfielder then the pressure, applied by the attacker, guarantees an inaccurate pass.
• The free player. The moment the long pass is given, this player shall give support behind his defenders. If one of the midfielders of the other team gets the ball then this one defender must restore the balance. He must move forward to the
midfield or one of his defenders moves up to midfield, after which the “free man” takes over the coverage of the one opponent whose direct opponent moved to the midfield.
• The midfielder. If the outside midfielders “squeeze” well towards the side where the ball is then there is very little or no “space” for the central midfielders of the opposing team. This means that the “free man” doesn’t have to cover any midfielder and can assist his teammates where necessary.
• The opponent. The goalkeeper or a defender plays the long ball to one of the forwards. If the pressure applied by one of the forwards is insufficient then one can try to pass the ball to one of the midfielders.

The coach can improve the difficulty by coaching the opposition to outplay the 2v1 situation in the back: goalkeeper and defender of the opposition against one forward. The coach can also indicate that a high ball-circulation (including the switch pass from one wing to the other wing)
complicates the marking and support for the other team. Of course a coach can come up with other solutions to take advantage of opportunities or to neutralize certain threats. You will have to trust that your creativity and expertise as a coach will help you come up with some ideas to
solve these issues.

10 - Attack Under Pressure

In the previous post we explained what a coach, whose team plays in a 1:4:3:3 formation, can do during the game if the opposing team switches from 1:4:3:3 to a 1:3:4:3 formation.

The options to influence his players vary from making some substitutions to adjusting the style of play. A thorough preparation of your players for such a game situation is obviously essential. How do you prepare your team for this?

If the opposing team suddenly plays with a man advantage situation in the midfield, certain threats can originate that have to be neutralized, but also opportunities that the team should take advantage of. Players need to practice on these situations; they can experience it
themselves and discover which solutions in the various situations offer the best results.

In this article we will focus on the offense, in which the objective is to improve the build-up out of which scoring chances need to be created. The players need to be made clear during practice what the threats and opportunities exactly are if the opponent switches from 1:4:3:3 to 1:3:4:3.
The threats are:
• The build-up is disrupted immediately. Defenders and midfielders are marked tightly and the goalkeeper sends the long ball to the forwards, because the defenders (and midfielders) can’t
be reached (one against one).
• The pressure starts immediately when a defender receives the ball. There is a risk that the ball will be lost close to the penalty area.

We consider three attackers playing one on one with three defenders a chance.

The coach organizes his practices in such a way that the players experience what it is to play against a 1:3:4:3 formation. He must think about the proper objective, the formation during practice (of his own team and the opposing team), the methodical steps and how the players can be influenced during the session. Obviously the abilities of his players play an important part in this. Strictly speaking he already should have conducted the whole practice over in his head several times over. As an example, we will show a training exercise that is focused on
improving the co-operation between the midfielders and the attackers after a long
ball from the goalkeeper or a defender (see drawing). With this exercise the players are practicing how to neutralize the first threat that was described above and in which at the same time the action is aiming to create chances (which is the purpose of a build-up).

In this training exercise the coach focuses on instructing:
• The players with the ball (pass the ball in front of your teammate so he has the possibility to immediately pass the ball on, pass the ball once the contact with the attacker has been established, and take your opponent on when you are facing him in a one v one situation etc.).
• The players without the ball (free yourself from your direct opponent, take advantage of the space created by teammates, move into space “in the back of” (behind) an opponent, so he looses eye contact with you).
• The opposing team (first back off (low pressure), then pressure on the player with the ball, immediate pressure on the players with the ball, take away all the passing options for the player with the ball, etc.).

The coach can increase the intensity by asking the opposing team to put more pressure on the goalkeeper and the defenders of the team he is coaching. Eventually one of the opponent’s
midfielders can move forward towards the “second” defender, which would result in the goalkeeper having to pass the long ball.

9 - Analyse your Opportunities and Threats

As the coach of a team you have introduced a team organization/formation and the players are able to connect better and better on the field, not only during practices, but also during games.
But what happens if the opponent suddenly changes its playing concept during a game? What are the opportunities and threats for your team and how does a coach prepare his team for this?

In a previous training outline we spoke about the development of a playing style. An outline with a plan showed an example of a methodical approach to improve the build-up on the opponents half. The central theme was the cooperation between the attacking midfielder and the forwards in the 1:4:3:3 team organization/formation. Imagine that the coach has worked on this concept during the various practices; the cooperation in games gets better and better. Now the following happens; the opposing team changes the team organization/formation in the second half and they switch to 1:3:4:3.

How do you deal with this as a coach? First of all it is important to figure out why the opposing coach made this change. Is it an all-or-nothing approach or is at an approach to try to force something? Let’s say the team is leading 1-0 and that the team is playing well. What could be an approach to get the win in this game? The first step is to make an inventory of the opportunities and the treats. Following we show you the various opportunities and threats which may occur in offense and in defense.

• The build-up is disrupted immediately; defenders and midfielders are pressured. The goalkeeper plays the long ball to the forwards because the defenders (and midfielders) can’t be
reached (1v1).
• The pressure commences immediately when one of the defenders receives the ball. The risk occurs that the ball is lost close to your own penalty box.
• Defenders can’t move up into the midfield.

• The attackers are playing all 1v1 opposite the three defenders of the other team.

• The midfield is one player short. Three midfielders are standing opposite four midfielders on the other team.
• One defender moves into the midfield to create pressure or to restore the balance. The three
remaining defenders operate 1v1 opposite the three attackers of the other team.

• The three forwards have more chance to disrupt the build-up of the three defenders of the
• The three forwards can immediately pressure the defenders of the other team, which results in the long ball. When using the long ball the opponent can’t take advantage of the man advantage situation in the midfield.

Obviously all of this will be influenced by the qualities of your own players and that of the opposing players. Are my defenders quick enough to handle a 1v1 situation?
Are they strong in the air? The same counts for the players on the opposing team. Are the defenders, in combination with the goalkeeper, strong in the buildup? Are the forwards fast and do they have good individual skills? Many more similar questions can be asked. Based on all the available information the coach now has to make a choice. One option is to adapt a new team organization/formation. The coach can also change the style of defense and/or offense. Perhaps he chooses to do both.

8 - Practicing A Style of Play

In the previous post we discussed how to choose a certain style of play. We reviewed several factors that can influence the decision making process. The “hand of the coach” becomes visible once the decision has been made on which team organization/formation, and the basic tasks belonging to that organization/formation, will be used. Which aspect should you pay attention to as a coach?

Many coaches in the Netherlands elect to play with a 1:4:3:3 team organization/formation. Once that decision has ben made a coach must also decide on a formation in midfield: does the
midfield play with the point forward or with the point backward?
After that, a coach must decide what the objective is and which methodical steps are required to reach that objective. Is it possible to train this in one practice or should these methodical steps be spread out over several practices?

We will assume that we are looking at U18 players that play at a fairly high level. The objective is: improving the build-up on the opposing team’s half, in which the cooperation between the attacking midfielder and the forwards, while searching for open spaces, will improve so chances can be created and goals can be scored. The emphasis is placed on the insight and the co-operation of the players, while at the same time the coach observes the qualities of the individual players: is he good in passing, dribbling and in taking players on, and does the player recognize at which moment in the game he should undertake these actions? The various technical components are covered in each practice, especially when working with
younger players. A coach must form a clear notion of what the selected objective means for the practice. A prerequisite is that the players open up the space as much as possible. The players must also have the insight as to what the value of positional play is. The choice of certain
positions in respect of teammates and of the opponent must lead to having at least one, but preferably more, players that are open. The quality of the positional play is the determining factor in having success.
The following factors play an important role in this process:
• a high ball-circulation ( the opponent has to run more)
• selecting the right moment to open up (not too early, not too late)
• selecting the right position (not too close to the offside line)

In the following schematic overview you can see several methodical steps a coach takes to practice and to improve upon a certain style of play (using a central attacking midfielder). Of course there are many ways possible to do this. Obviously one step doesn’t mean that it all is done in one practice. This step can return in several practices. In the next article we will
elaborate on the last step (the game situation).

STEP 1: see drawing
Team organization/formation:
1:2:3:3 vs. 1:3:3:1
Role opposing team:
Pressure immediately (forwards) and “squeeze” (exaggerate) towards the ball.
- Space and field occupancy
- Right moment of (explosive) positional choices
- High ball-circulation
- What does the movement of a teammate mean for you? (Q+A with a player)

Team organization/formation:
1:2:3:3 vs. 1:4:3:1
Role opposing team:
- See above
- Sweeper gives support in the back of other defenders
- See above
- Make several consecutive running actions to open up and to be available to receive the ball

Team organization/formation:
1:3:3:3 vs. 1:4:3:2
Role opposing team:
- Falls back to the top of the center circle and then applies pressure on player with the ball
- See above

Team organization/formation:
1:4:3:3 vs. 1:4:3:3
Role opposing team:
- Opposing team also plays with the
central midfielder playing “high”
Game situation

7 - The Style of Play Under A Magnifying-Glass

The structure of soccer is the same foreach coach. To win a game you must defend if your team isn’t in ball possession and attack when your team has the ball. In between those two there are the moments in which players must change over (transition). The “coaches’ influence” is visible in the choice of the team organization/formation and how the basic tasks (offense, transition and defense) are divided between the players. What determines the choice for a certain style of play?

A coach must ask himself the following question: how are we going to play as a team? Should we dominate and take lots of initiatives, or is it better if we await certain developments and react to an error by the opposition? Or is there an inbetween that is more suited? Several factors are of influence in this decision making process. We will discuss them one by one and offer examples.

When certain professional clubs have a home game, the home crowd wants to see an aggressive team and not a team that doesn’t take any initiatives. In the Netherlands it is expected that teams play attacking and dominant soccer. This is completely different than, for example, in
Italy. The soccer culture there expects teams to absorb the opposing team with a tight, defensive organization and then to counter-attack and try to get that one goal needed for the win. The public appreciates a well executed counter-attack much more in Italy then in the Netherlands.

Some coaches introduce the so-called “new realism” when their teams are promoted to a higher league. The objective iss to stay in the higher league and not be relegated and how that objective is achieved isn’t important. The choice for a certain style of play hinges upon the opposition, the availability of players, the standings, etc. In short, it all depends on the “reality of the day”. There are also coaches who will always take the initiative, even when their teams don’t have the ball. Their teams must pressure the other teams immediately when they lose the ball.

If you elect to play with outside wingers you must have the players with the abilities of a real left and right forward. If not, you might as well choose a different playing style. Or, you can come up with a variation: the player, who plays on the wing, creates space for a fullback who supports in the attack (see drawing).

Basic offensive tasks right winger and right fullback.

Right fullback:
- supports forward along the touch-line
- crosses the ball

Right winger:
- creates space for supporting right fullback
- searches for space for the “second ball” (coming out of the box)

The game analysis of the next opponent is focused on finding the weak and strong points of that team. Subsequently, the coach can think of ways to fight the strong points and to take advantage of the weaker points.

This aspect is mainly important when working with youth players. Each age group has its own characteristics. To be able to teach youth players how to play better soccer as a team very often the choice is made to play 1:4:3:3. The positions on the filed are arranged better and the basic tasks are easier to train than in a 1:4:4:2 or a 1:3:5:2.

When players turn U16-U17 you can confront them with various team organizations/formations. It is also logical that if you want your players to play highpressure defense on the opponent’s half, they first must master the basic principles of defense (“make the field small”).

A team that wants to “dictate the play”, must adapt to the condition of the field (uneven, tall grass, frozen field, muddy etcetera.). Perhaps the choice for a certain style of play will be influenced in the future by the increasing number of artificial turf fields. Thus the choice for a certain style of play depends on a large number of factors. As a coach you must realize which
factors should play a role to come to a conscious and successful choice. The above mentioned can hopefully help you in that process.

6 - Defining Your Own Style of Play

Every coach asks himself the question how he wants his team to play. Everything you see on the playing field is related to the style of play; it’s the way the style of play is executed. Each coach decides, after weighing various options, to choose a specific style of play and a related game tactic. At the beginning of the season one starts to build on that style of play, which can be adjusted accordingly based on game analysis and results.

One of the first questions a coach should ask is: Which organization fits the team? There are roughly three options:
1:4:4:2, 1:3:5:2 and 1:4:3:3.
Then, you must decide on what formation your team will play: does the midfield play with the point forward or the point backward? Or, if you elect to play with four midfielders: in a diamond, or with two controlling midfielders and two wide midfielders? In each team-organization or formation many variations are possible. Thirdly, we have to decide what the basic tasks are that the players must fulfill within the chosen style of play. These tasks can vary game by game and are mainly dependant on the opposition.
Beyond that, it is very important to keep the balance in the team: do we have enough defensive minded players, enough left sided players, how are we doing length-wise and speed-wise? Once the defense is structured we can start to think about the offense.

A great example is the Champion’s League Final in 2005. In the first half Liverpool were toyed with by AC Milan. Liverpool coach, Benitez, switched a player at halftime and the balance in the team was found, which turned the game around. Thanks to a historical comeback Liverpool was able to take "the cup with the big ears" back home.

Immediately at the first practice of the pre-season a coach is working on a strategy of how to play - basically a coach is developing a style of play. Constantly, each and every part of practice should be related to the specific style of play. At a higher level, one must definitely keep the opponent in consideration.
Knowledge of the various styles of play is essential to be able to prepare your team for the next game. The analysis of the previous game, together with your team, plays an important role in this process, just like the practice that follows the game. One always works on the development of the style of play to improve the level of the team and to be able to win the next game(s).

Many Dutch coaches say that they never adapt to the opposing team. But there are plenty of examples of little adjustments, in the main formation, that provide for a stronger defense, better transition and more effective attacks against a specific opponent. Each coach must take account of the fact that each time there are eleven different players opposite his own team, all playing in a specific formation and with different qualities. If one isn’t prepared for this, and doesn’t adjust to it, then the consequence could be a bad result.

The opponent (the yellow circles in the drawing) plays 1:4:3:3 with their midfield playing with the point backward. Your team (the red triangles in the drawing) plays 1:4:4:2 with two defensive midfielders.
The opposing team builds-up through the defenders 3, 4 and 5, whom mainly try to reach the central midfielder (#6). It is important to know when you start to apply pressure: At the midfield line or on your own half of the field or the opponents? How do you stop #6 from having too much freedom to handle the build-up? Do your attackers (9 or 10) pressure him or does one of the midfielders (6 or 8) move upwards? What are the consequences for your team if you do this?
If you do win the ball what are your possibilities offensively, or are you limited because of the way you were covering #6 on the other team?
The various options can all be practiced with the team. The players then have to make the correct choices during the game; the coaches’ influence is very limited at that time and point. Practice as many possibilities within your team’s own style of play and constantly offer the possible solutions.

5 - Better in Offense, means Better in Scoring Goals

In the previous post we centralized on the development of the team-functions. Using an example, in which better defense was the objective, we looked at a practical situation. In this article we will shed light on the team-function of offense.

If you arbitrarily ask any player what the main focus is in attack then his answer will be: "To score". There is a reason that scoring is a team task in the team-function of offense. Based on the definition of coaching (systematically influencing players with as goal to develop the performance) the coach tries, through a well thought plan, to make the players better in scoring goals.

Based on the developmental characteristics of the players (age, level of play, motivation and experience) the coach prepares a plan for practice in which scoring goals is centralized. Besides that, it is important that the coach has a clear vision of what he wants to see and wants to achieve. First of all, we must look at the actions that are required to score: to shoot, to head etc., and finally it must obviously lead to scoring a goal.

To create scoring chances one must first build-up. It may not happen that the build-up by itself becomes (too) much of an obstacle for the players during the practice. We will now outline a few steps that can be taken to make players better in scoring goals. When we look back to the article "The real game is the foundation for the practice", then it is logical that we search for training exercises that are recognizable from the game. The complexity of the exercises will depend on the developmental characteristics of the players. Once again, it is important to over emphasize that the various steps you take are not the end-all-be-all, but that the adjustments and variations are the determining factor in improving players’ performance. Adjustments like more or less players, the size of the playing field and the role of the opposing team, are all influential in the actions of the players. Based on his team the coach must make choices in the organization and coaching instructions to reach the eventual objective, improvement in scoring.

The training exercises, as given here, can be used for players at various levels. When coaching youth players the coach will focus more on the overall starting points that are influential in the improvement of the team function of offense. When working with adults or the more talented youth-players, a more detailed approach will occur and attention will be given to the team-organization and the tasks and function within that. Next to this, the coaching instructions made by the coach are related to the group (see the comments under TIC).

As a coach it is your responsibility to observe which steps are required to improve the players’ performance. Thinking about it, observe if the objective in games and practices is reached, and eventually adjusting the plans is the challenge for the coach and his contribution to scoring goals.

Objective: improvement of creating scoring chances and subsequently scoring itself.
Game: 2v2
Team organization/formation: 2 (1v1, with keeper)

TIC= Technique, Insight, Communication

T= technique of shooting after a dribble or after a pass; instep shot, inside of the foot shot, receiving the ball and dribbling.
I= Go towards the opposing goal to score: decisive moment (where is the defender?), when to shoot if the defender doesn’t attack the player with the ball (distance to the goal)
C= cooperation between the attackers: asking for the ball, fake-movements, creating width

4 - Better Offense, Defense or Transition

No matter whom you coach, adult or youth players, talented or less talented players, you always strive to make them better players. After a practice you hope the players are able to play better offense, defense or transition faster to be able to play offense or defense sooner. Do you look per practice as to what your objectives are, or do use a certain order to achieve the above mentioned issues?

The answer to this question can be found in the definition of coaching; systematically influencing players with an objective to develop their result. A coach tries to make players better through a well conceived process. Don’t offer one topic today and a completely different topic next week. No, the practices need to be related to each other.
A coach uses some kind of plan. This doesn’t mean that a coach needs to possess a big book with all kinds of practices/exercises. A coach should be able to describe where he wants to go based on the starting point of his team.

Based on the developmental characteristics of his players (age, level, experience and motivation) a coach makes a plan. Working with youth players the coach’s objective is to develop the individual qualities of the players. When working with adults the objective is related to the teams result; trying to win the game. With both groups, the coach must think about the best way to achieve these objectives: which team-organization fits the youth players the best, which team-organization do I select with adults to get a better team result, what will the objectives be at the practices and in what order do I offer the exercises?

There is a build up in the development of the qualities to attack, defend and to be able to perform the transition. A build up from easy to difficult, from general to specific, from broad to exact, etc. The coach of a U18 team, playing at a high level, wants to concentrate on defense. Based on the developmental characteristics of his players, also looking at the specific abilities, he decides on a certain team organization. He decides on a 1:4:3:3 formation.
Based on his vision of soccer, he wants to win the ball as soon as possible, preferably on the opponent’s half of the field. His players are excellent when their team has the ball, but when the other team has the ball they don’t know what to do that well. What steps can the coach take to improve on this problem?

During the pre-season a coach tries to lay a foundation for the style of play of his team. If we want to put pressure on the other team, then that must happen from a compact organized team in which all players know exactly what each should do. The first accent must focus on compact defense by the whole team (drawing #1).
Next, we try to put more pressure on the opposing team and disrupt the build-up from out of the defensive organization (drawing #2).

In the first instance, this happens on your teams own half of the field. Slowly but surely, the defense will move to the opponents half of the field to be able to disrupt the build-up as early as possible (drawing #3).

This is a process that occurs during the whole season and should be perfected as time goes by; one can’t realize all this in one or even two practices. Obviously these aren’t the methodical steps. It is very well possible that the coach elects to provide more steps and/or offer completely different exercises.

Each time a coach decides to improve team defense during practice he starts where he left off the last time this part of the game was worked on. This development started during the pre-season. Basically, we are looking at the methodical development over a longer period of time. Of course other factors influence the planning of the coach such as standings, injuries etc. In youth soccer the development of the team-functions commence with the youngest players, and one can distinguish the various methodical steps in different age categories. The developmental characteristics of children determine the direction of the learning process.

Coaching is more than just preparing a week of practices based on the previous game and focusing on the next game. A coach has to look further than a win or a loss during the weekend game. He also must think about all the games coming up in which his players strive to score more goals than the opponent. This isn’t always that simple in the result oriented soccer world, in which the delusion of the day reigns. But this is a great challenge, based on results in the long term; better players that want to win as many games as possible, since that ultimately is the objective in soccer.

3 - A "Real" coach reacts to what he sees

Following is a practical example. Let’s say that during a team’s practice, defending is the main objective. That seemed to be a problem during the game. The cooperation between the defenders and the midfielders on their own half of the field wasn’t performed well. The opposing team had a few good chances to score because several players were unmarked. This must change! During the practice you notice that right from the start the team you are coaching can carry out the tasks without any problems. This is somewhat strange. During the game opposing players were unmarked very often and now during practice the team plays defense with ease. Obviously the opposite is also possible; the opponent gets chance after chance. At that moment you perhaps may doubt the abilities of the players. How do you tackle this problem as a coach?

First of all you must formulate an objective: to improve defense on your teams own half of the field through good cooperation between the defenders and the midfielders, to ensure that the opposing team can’t create any scoring chances. To achieve this you can choose a game in which the attackers (numbers up) play against the defenders (numbers down). (See drawing # 1). Of course there are many other exercises that can be used, but in this exercise you force the defenders to work together, because they have a player less on the field. Secondly you must observe to see if learning is taking place. In this observation you must use the objective as the starting point. In this case, it means the following:
Are the defenders and midfielders successful in stopping the opposing team from scoring? If they indeed are successful the coach could easily say that the objective has been reached. As the coach you should ask yourself if the players have been stimulated to work together as a unit. Is the opposing team ever able to create chances? Is the composition of the team good? Are they strong enough? Or is the attacking team so weak that the defending team isn’t challenged? Are they playing at a tempo that is too low (ball circulation)? Is the passing up to par (in front of the teammate, to the correct leg)? Are they opening up enough (explosive, right moment)? You can think of even more questions.

Based on the above mentioned questions you must pay some attention to the opposing team. You could coach the opponents to move the ball faster from one wing to the other wing. Use the field-switch pass as a tool (drawing # 2). Now the defensive team is forced to work well together to disrupt the build-up and to stop the other team from scoring. Whatever you, as the coach, see, determines your actions as a coach. Another example: the opposing team scores many goals during this exercise. You could decide to add a player so it becomes an 8v8 situation (see drawing #3). Next, you coach the midfielders and defenders (own team). The defenders and midfielders must force the other team to play to the outside. That is where the pressure is put upon the player with the ball. If all 8 players execute this correctly, then the next exercise could be 8v7.

When should the coach make coaching comments or instructions and/or adjust the exercise? You can’t give a fixed solution for this problem. Whatever a coach sees determines his actions. If he diagnoses that the players (own team and opposing team) don’t show what is needed to reach the objective, then he steps in. Then we can see the "real" coach and not somebody who works on the basis of exercises from a book and/or somebody just copying another coach. Besides that, the coach must always take into consideration the developmental characteristics of the players (age, level of play, motivation).
The exercises used in this article can be used with U13/14 players. When working with older players, depending on their level of play, one must define the objectives more detailed and one should go into the subject deeper.

2 - "The real game" is the foundation for the practice.

In the previous post we mentioned the route a coach should take to improve his players. When deciding on a certain route the coach must ask himself the following questions;
1. What is my objective? What do I want to achieve with the practice?
2. How do I want to reach my objective? Which exercises should I use?
3. How should I adjust the exercises so that the players learn to play efficiently and effectively?

The objective of a practice is based on "the real game". Thus, it is important to categorize the characteristic elements of the game:
The objective of the game is to score more goals than the opponent; in short the objective is to win the game.
During the game you have a team that has the ball and a team that doesn’t have the ball. The team with the ball must attack to reach its objective (to score) and the team without the ball must try to prevent this by playing defense.
During the attack the players must execute the tasks that go hand in hand with building-up and scoring as well as possible. Obviously the opposite counts for the other team; disrupting the build-up and preventing scoring.

In a diagram the above mentioned looks like this;

When deciding on the objective of the practice the coach’s plans are always based on this diagram. The choice of what the coach wants to achieve with the practice can never be disconnected from the game itself with its specific characteristics. That’s logical, isn’t it?


Consider that the coach wants to improve the build-up. What exercise is suited for this objective? The choice is based on the age and the level of the players and what went wrong during the game. When talking about the youngest players we talk more about general objectives. In each age group we can kind of predict what the problem will be during the game. U13’s, when moving up to 11v11, will be confronted with a larger space, bigger distances, more players, new rules and a different "allocation of tasks". The coach then must pay attention to: field positioning/ field occupation, team organization, distances between players, quality of the positional play (with and without the ball), depth in the team’s play and the technical abilities. When working with older youth players and adults we base the practice more on the game itself. What went wrong during the game? This must be analyzed as clear and complete as possible. Based on this information we can formulate an objective for the practice.

Take for example U14 players. These players have been confronted with the larger space, the larger distances between players and what is generally expected from them (tasks and functions within the team organization). With these players we must go deeply into their tasks. The tasks and functions must get more substance. Also the cohesiveness within a line (defense, midfield and offense) and between lines must be worked on to learn how to better improve build-up.


You could say: "Just let them play 11v11 and everything will be fine". The real game can’t be copied any better than that. But you can question if the players then will really learn what was set as the objective. Simplifying the game means more chance for success. You can do this by making the space smaller and using fewer players. The effect is that the distances between the players get smaller, the overall picture becomes clearer and the players will have more touches on the ball. A good coach should choose an exercise in which the players understand quickly what the objective is and are able to make a link/connection o the real game. By using this method players make light work of the most difficult problems they are confronted with. See the drawings for an example of a complete practice.

1 - How can I make my players play better soccer?

Every coach, at any level, wrestles with that question. In this article we will try to answer this age old question.

The starting point: Even as a youth coach you must be able “to read” a game before you can translate that information into a practice. Insight into what all happens in a game is improved if you have played the game yourself. But even if you attend a coaching course, you will get a better understanding of how to read a game. At a coaching course you will learn how to simulate the game at a practice just by simplifying the game.

If you stroll around the field at youth games you can hear the strangest things shouted to the kids by the adults.
The terminology used in professional soccer is used to educate the young players. Should you not talk about tactics with the young players? The great Dutch player Johan Cruyff said it perfectly, “All the young players need is a game organization. The right fullback only has to know that he has to cover the right zone in front of his own goal. The center forward/striker knows he has to play closer to the opposing goal than his own goal. No more is needed when coaching youth-players”. Simple, basic principles are all that are needed for the younger players.

Play together.
If you can play the ball forward then that has preference over playing the ball wide.
Defending and attacking is done with the whole team.

These principles create an excellent tool for a youth coach’s soccer vision. Take, for example, the starting-point, "play together". As a youth coach you can conclude from that statement that when a free kick is taken, a player doesn’t just send an uncontrolled kick into the direction of the opposing goal, but that the player who takes the free kick passes it to a player nearby, so the team stays in ball possession and tries to pass together or dribble from there. If the first pass to the player nearby goes forward then basic principle #2 has also been achieved (play forward). To create the ideal field occupation, we preferably play 4:3:3 in the youth. In ball possession we try to create as many triangles as possible. In the midfield we play with 3 players. In offense we play with a right forward and a left forward (drawing #1). In this series we will discuss the various tactical principles that occur in youth soccer. In part 1 we will start with ball-possession of course; that is the starting point in the Netherlands, isn’t it? Once you have the ball you start with the build-up.

In the build-up it is very important that a player passes the ball perfectly to a teammate. Over a short distance a player does that with the inside of the foot and over a larger distance with the instep, if a youth player is physically able to do so. What are the points a youth coach should look at when practicing passing?

It is possible to explain to youth players that no player is faster than the ball. Prove
that during practice. The ball always has to do the work.
Offer practice situations in which it is made obvious to the youth players that sometimes a ball must be passed hard and other times a ball must be passed soft; for example if the player receiving the ball has more time.
If the players are a little older, the coach can spend more time on a good variation between short and long passes. Be sure to include the important cross-pass, which can be a very efficient weapon. Obviously you can only practice this if the youth player physically can execute such a pass. If needed, one extra player can get involved to transfer the ball from one side of the field to the other side.
The player that receives the ball must ask for the ball (get away from the opponent).

Good positional play means that the ball will be played back and sideways as few times as possible.
A pass to a teammate should be played in front of him and not behind the player (drawing #2).

When one-touching a ball one must pass the ball into the team-mate with the correct speed and on the correct side of the player. The player receiving the ball is then able to one touch the ball to a supporting teammate. Thus the players automatically create the triangles that are so crucial for good positional play. One player concentrates on the pass, one concentrates on receiving the ball and one supports in such a way that he can receive the ball (drawing #3).

Whatever the playing style and formation, it is most important to get into open positions by movement. Explain to a youth player that if he moves with an opponent to a certain position, then space will open up there where the player just was.

Talking to each other means you are helping one another and that is crucial on the field.
Coach your teammates ("Go", "Now", "Time", "One touch".)
Understand that your teammates can make errors.

The goalkeeper is the first attacker. Too often it is forgotten that the build-up starts with the keeper. If the defenders and midfielders are covered by the opponents, then a long kick can be the solution. But, definitely with the younger players, it has preference that the keeper throws the ball to one of the midfielders or defender. Accept as the coach of the team that this can go wrong and even result in goals against. Build-up from behind fits perfectly into the before-mentioned basic principle; just play and have fun.