Pre-season focus


My Under 17s were back in pre-season training last week and we got off to a good start with a session which had a bit of fitness to begin with (ball included!) but really was a chance for me to start talking about some key topics/concepts for the season ahead.

Last year we started well, with sessions on playing out from the back and the like (i.e. using half pitch areas to work on these type of topics) but as soon as the nights drew in we had a smaller space to work in and focus changed to possession/pressing and a range of other themes. I found it hard at times to work on some of the topics I wanted due to the restricted space of our all-weather pitch but I guess that’s the challenge of being a coach!

I’ve decided that I want to get back to basics during this pre-season so I spoke to the players last week about the attacking principles of creating, maintaining & exploiting space – width/depth and then the defensive principles of being compact, denying/restricting space etc. I had them setup in a half-pitch 7v7 which allowed me to talk to both the defending & attacking teams before the part of the session regarding what I was looking for and then we discussed these principles as we went on.

Tomorrow is the second session and I’m going to split the focus again. I’d often avoid discussing (for example) both attacking and defending topics in a session (and many coaches would tell you not to work with two groups) but I want to get my ideas across and I think this is achievable providing you don’t fire too much information across and just keep to 2-3 points.

We’ll have a warm-up, play a SSG which will focus on movement/finding space (to get them sharpe, get them moving the ball quickly and get them working on their movement) as this is something which I want them to take in to the half-pitch 7v7/8v8 practice within which we’ll look at some of the coaching points.

I’ll be looking for my goalkeeper to be vocal with the defensive unit, I want them to squeeze space by being compact and difficult to play through but then opening up when in possession. I’ll be looking for my attacking team to get the two wingers out wide, to have my holding midfielder supporting behind the ball and for my forwards to being working as a pair (dropping, moving, communicating). I might not coach all these points but I’ll be looking for these during the session and I may make the points to the group, a smaller group or just an individual.

I’m in a bit of a rush to get as many coaching points across as possible before we lose our space so the next 3-4 weeks will be all about these principles and focusing on them out on the pitch.

Another season of coaching over! Brief self review.


Well that’s the season over for the U10 & U16 teams I coach/manage in terms of competitive fixtures and it’s been a great season. Both teams enjoyed success in their respective leagues and most importantly they finished the season as better players and a better team than they started it!

It’s been my first season with the U16s and I’m glad I took up the opportunity to coach them as it provides a different experience to that of the U10s who I’d previously been working with. Is it a different challenge? Well, I guess you are working on different topics at points and obviously the age is a difference but you’re still trying to engage players, keep them interested, keep sessions interesting & design sessions which meet their needs so there are huge similarities.

We’ve spent time working with the U10s on technique but also possession, movement, creating space and lots of 1v1s. The U16s worked on topics such as playing out from the back early on but then when it got dark (and space became a factor) we looked at topics such as pressing and then did many different possession games. Now the U16s are back on grass I’m going to look at team shape (attacking & defending) and start to really emphasise those areas as we move in to being U17s.

I’ve essentially managed the U16s (picking team/formation, teamtalks etc) which has been good as that’s never been my responsibility for U10s and so it provides another new experience. I always got in to coaching so that I could continue in the game once I finish playing and the U16s has so far provided a good starting point for starting to build experience which will help at the point I retire from playing!

I attended the Youth Award Mod 2 in October/November 2013 and have tried to embed what I learned on that course but there’s so much you forget when you revisit your notes, I can see why they tell you to “play with it (session content)” for 18 months + after going on the course!

All this alongside playing, helping to run sessions for the team I play for, being the match secretary & starting to help setup a new reserve team means a summer break is very much on the agenda! Next season will be weighted towards the U17s from a coaching perspective and really pushing them on as they move toward adult football. Development wise the UEFA B will be on the agenda for 2015 (or maybe 2016).

Haven’t blogged for a couple of months so felt it was time for an update!

Tired of hearing my own voice


I’ve had a slight change of tact with the style of my sessions recently because I felt it was needed from both my own perspective and the players perspective. With the U16s I coach I’ve tended to find that they can be quite reserved when we do a group Q&A which I think is a trait of that age. However, what I found is that this meant that I ended up doing all the talking because I wasn’t getting much back and therefore I’ve become a bit sick of hearing my own voice.

I also presumed that if I was getting sick of my own voice then the players probably were too! I’ve therefore moved my sessions to be more player lead and work more on the social corner (if considering the four-corner model as advocated by the FA courses).

These are intelligent young men doing their GCSEs so you know that they have valuable input and an ability to discuss any range of topics so I’ve tried to look at ways in which I can get more from them both in terms of verbal communication but also ownership & decision making.

Last week I asked them to setup the warm up, I asked them to set any conditions they wanted and then I gave them a template for a session but asked them to figure out how the rest of it would work (pitch size, teams, formations etc in a game where we had two matches being played both across the pitch and from end-to-end).

This week I did a 7v8 possession game (one I’ve used quite a bit) but I selected the 7 players as they were my defensive players (GK, defenders and defensive midfielders). I let them get on with the possession game and we stopped twice to do a bit of Q&A with them (one coach took the 8, I took the 7) to find out how the game was working, what they could improve in possession and what they could improve when out of possession.

This worked well as their input was very good and as expected the were on the money in terms of what it was they needed to correct. I had a little chat with them and explained that I was working with them directly because in games they might need to work out a problem they have defensively and whilst a team of 11, I wanted them to feel a sense of being a defensive unit.

I’m going to continue this as a theme and work on some more session ideas which allow me to work with different groups of players because what has also been evident is that when it comes to communication with groups of players it seems to be a case of divide and conquer!

Be interested to know if anyone else is going down a similar path, or has input/suggestions on this topic.

U10s: Continuous Attacking Practice


I took one of the sessions from the Youth Award Mod 2 course and used it with our U10s tonight.

The session is as per the image below:

 

 

Image

It’s a great game because of the fact it’s continuous so nobody get’s bored, players got tonnes of opportunities to go in pairs or 1v1, the defenders were really enjoying it because they had a challenge (how often do you see defenders in this type of practice without a challenge) and there are goals!

The one thing I didn’t do was give the goalkeepers a challenge which was my bad, I should have told them that they could give the ball to a defender if they saved it to start a counter-attack. But we had the keepers rotating so they didn’t spend ages watching balls fly past them.

What’s also interesting is when you add the third defender. We started with two defenders and then you add a third who can decided where he or she goes to make it a 2v2. Players can start with a 2v1 but soon find themselves in a 2v2 situation. Sometimes the defender joined near the goal and other times it was higher up the pitch so the defenders really need to be aware of what’s going on around them.

I tried to do some group Q&A but it wasn’t happening because we couldn’t get them to stay quiet. So instead I was talking to the attacking pair (individual or trio depending on what was happening) and simply asking “What’s your plan?”. They were coming up with some great ideas regards different types of runs they could make and ways they could beat the defender (a lot of which were overlapping runs of some form).

Certainly a great practice and hopefully by sharing others can find it useful and use it in their sessions.

Youth Award Mod 2 – Day 3/4 Review


We completed the Youth Award Module 2 this weekend and it’s been great investment in terms of the time/money for the output and reward you get. We returned on Saturday after a week which had seemed to fly by (I literally felt we’d just finished Day 2 and we were already on to Day 3!) and initially we needed to re-visit what we felt we’d gained from the first couple of day.

I wrote this in my notes:

  • Practice Spectrum (Constant practice, Variable practice, Random practice)
  • Trade offs (What I am going to get a lot of in this session and what won’t I get a lot of)
  • Clear learning focus (all the time, what am I trying to teach these players?)
  • Repetition, Realism, Relevance – does each session hit these tags?

We then got in to discussions around the top 3 of these in order of people’s priorities to get a bit of debate and the grey matter working. It was great being able to take time out to discuss views and ideas both on our own table and with others at regular occasions on this course.

After a refresher we then started to look at what players require to progress through stages of development. What does a beginner need to get to intermediate? Intermediate to advanced? Advanced to top pro etc? There was some great discussion around this and we covered topics around ability, self-motivation, opportunity, support etc.

We then moved on to talk round other topics, Early Specialisation, Birth Bias, Early/Late developers which again through out some great points for us as coaches to consider, work with and take in to our own sessions.

There were some key messages around thinking about individuals within this course. There is no “I” in team but how are you working with certain in individuals in a practice? Could you design a practice just for the benefit of one player? Are there certain areas of the 4-corners where specific players need to be challenged or helped? So – as a coach you plan a session to help the group, but how do you ensure you cater for individuals within that too?

Today (Day 4) we’ve had to deliver a session as a pair but you also have to observe and evaluate someone else s session, the observation & evaluation is also a big part of the course. So we evaluated someone else s session first which was a good learning experience (i.e. what you spot versus what the tutor sports) and then we put our session on (U9/Grassroots, Playing out from the back). It’s a bit like level 2 in that you take part in all the other sessions and then at the end of the day there’s a bit of wrap-up, your books are signed and off you go to think about how you take all of these coaching tools you’ve been given and use them to the benefit of your players!

SSG: Crossing & Scoring from wide


This follows on from my blog below where I started to think about this week’s session with the U16s. I decided on the whole-part-whole but even though I knew what I wanted to coach I wasn’t happy with the “part” bit as I felt it wasn’t going to be challenging or (honestly) that enjoyable.

Therefore, I’ve looked at how I might get this topic out in an SSG format and have created the game as per below.

In terms of the scoring rules, I’m going to look at progressing with these. For example, I may start with just 1 rule, then discuss working crosses from deep and add that rule, then discuss overlaps and add that rule so it builds up.

I expect to have in the region of 15-17 at training so I expect this might be a rotation of 3 teams in a 5v5, 6v6 format.

SSG_ScoringfromWide

As always, feedback & thoughts welcome!

Crossing from Wide Areas


After focusing on the topic of Pressing with my U16s for the past 4-5 weeks I feel it’s time to freshen things up a bit. I’ve therefore selected the topic of ‘Crossing from wide areas’ as I think we’ve found it a bit difficult to get balls in to the box when in good positions so far this season.

So, here’s my thought process in terms of a session for Thursday.

In terms of a topic, I’ve broken it down in a couple of different ways to think about what my coaching points are. I’ve written down a few notes in terms of position of delivery, type of delivering and how we might find space to create a deliver.

Position

  • From byline
  • From deep
  • From “standard” position (in and around area between by line and 18-20 yards out)

Type of delivery

  • Low / High
  • Floated / Driven
  • Front post / central / far post

Creating Space

  • Beat a player
  • Support behind
  • Support ahead (overlap)

If we look at it in terms of the four corners…

Technical

  • Crossing
  • Dribbling
  • Passing
  • Control
  • Receiving
  • Shooting
  • Heading

Psychological

  • When to cross
  • Where to cross
  • What type of delivery
  • How to create space
  • How to support in order to create crossing opportunity

Social

  • Communicating type of delivery
  • Communicating support
  • Verbally / non-verbally

Looking at all of that I’ve gone with the following (as it stands):

Format: Whole-Part-Whole

Whole (1): Small sided game, no conditions, I want to observe how often they play wide and also, whether they work crossing opportunities from wide.

Part: I want to focus on two parts of this having broken it down. Firstly, I want to look at creating an opportunity to cross and secondly, I want to look at support from other players to create an opportunity to cross. Therefore, I’m going to set up the part as per below with 3 lanes.

Crossing

More specifically I’d have groups of 3, with players going in both directions (up & down pitch) to create an element of interference. I fully expect them to run as per the diagram with a ball to go out wide and a delivery then coming from wide – I shall ask them to work a delivery from a wide lane.

What I’d then like to do is challenge them with the following question, “How else might we create a crossing situation in a game?” and what I’d specifically be looking for are two answers “Overlap” and “Support behind (or from full-back”. I would then like to see if they can work an overlap situation with their 3 and also create a scenario where they work a cross from deep, or a full-back position. I want to see if they can picture it and create it.

I may then progress by adding a defender or goalkeeper or go in to a SSG with the lanes still setup. Initially, a player can go in a wide lane but cannot be tackled in there. I may then progress to say, they cannot be in the wide lane before the pass is made so they need to move in to receive and that they can only spend 5 seconds in the wide lane before the ball needs to come out.

The lane will focus the game on wide play but it won’t help with support in terms of an overlap of behind so I’d then want to take the lanes out to allow for those opportunities to be explored.

The latter would then move us back in to the whole as soon as we’re in a game situation.

Crossing2

That’s where my thought process is currently. I guess my coaching points are:

  1. Can we get a ball in the box?
  2. How can we create the space to get a cross in to the box? (Beat a player, overlap, support behind)

In terms of recent mod 2 content.

Clear learning focus? Yes

Is it realistic to the game? Yes

Is it relevant to the game? Yes

Is there repetition of the learning focus? Yes

So, a bit of a brain term blog post as it’s helping frame thoughts ahead of Thursday’s session. Expect I’ll re-visit tomorrow night as I want to look at how the SSG could support overlaps or crosses from deep when the wide zones are in place. Thoughts/input welcome!

Youth Mod 2 – Day 2 Review


Back home now after the second day of the Youth Award Mod 2 course and it’s been another day which has really provided a lot of thought with regards how I plan sessions, how I coach players and ultimately, how I can become a better teacher of the game.

Today was split in two really (partly due to outside circumstances) as we spent the morning inside working on theory and then spent this afternoon outside looking at different types of practice.

This morning we looked at some of the practices from yesterday and in particular we were looking at the trade offs each type of practice provided. That is, did the practice give lots of ball contact or minimal ball contact? Did it provide lots of technical development or low technical development? The same question was asked with a number of different cards which had everything from “Endurance” to “Trial & Error” and “Game Craft” written on them. Really, the message is – when planning your session consider what you’re providing lots of and as a result what that means you (well, a player) will get less of.

We also looked at ways in which a coach can support and recognise players who may need support due to where they are in their biological development and also how different types of sessions can or could effect players in this context, i.e. Starting to think that players may need rests or breaks or considering that a player going through a growth spurt may need some time working on constant technique practice as is ABC’s might be affected.

This afternoon we’ve gone outside and looked at four different types of sessions (all great to play in!) and in doing so we’ve looked at how we might deliver them with various age groups or ability, how we can progress them, what sorts of ways you could manage players within them (think stronger/weaker players) and then later on we ranked them again with the high/low scale to see what the trade offs were. We also looked at breaking down a move (say ball control) in to the before – during – after mechanics of it and recognising that we should consider all of these when coaching a player as all are important.

Key messages today have been thinking about the trade offs, thinking about what you really want to get out of your session and also considering the ways in which you can take a practice as a template and alter it for your players. There was a load of other stuff but as far as a summary that’s it till next weekend :-)

Youth Mod 2 – Day 1 Review


Very enjoyable first day on this course and within 2 hours you’ve got that many ideas running through your head that you know exactly why it was you signed up for it in the first place!

First part of the day was a bit of a recap of Mod 1 plus conversations around what makes a good coach, what people want to get out of the course and some interesting talk around that famous “warm up” you see of a coach laying off to strikers to score. This was taken as an example of looking at a form of practice, looking at the outcomes, asking are those outcomes realistic or relevant and looking at alternatives.

We were then tasked with creating sessions in groups of 3 and we had just 10 minutes to do this before two of the groups ran sessions. We looked at were they relevant to the age and level they were positioned at as well as talking around a lot of other factors but it was really about answering three questions; 1. Is the practice relevant to the game? 2. Is it realistic? 3. Does it provide repetition? This was under pinned with a need for a clear learning focus or outcome of the session.

The second part of the day looked at different types of practice; 1. Constant, 2. Variable and 3. Random. We looked at why you might use these, what players might get from it and how you might use them in your session. Very interesting and enlightening topic which makes you think a lot about your own sessions.

There was then a bit more discussion and that was it for day 1. Already taken loads from this course and that’s just 25% of the way through!

U16s – story so far


There’s no better way for a bit of self analysis than writing  a blog post so I thought I’d post an update on how things have been going with the U16s since I first took them for a training session in early June.

Initial training sessions were purely based to see if we had enough for a team and also, what the general level of quality was like and the good news here was that I’ve inherited a capable and good bunch of lads. No issues from them, polite, happy to put the goals up and that gives you a great basis to work on.

So, early on the challenge was really to make sure it was enjoyable and each session was different – both topics that I’ve kept to this date. I used mixtures of various possession games as “warm ups” and in the early sessions we worked on playing out from the back for the first month.

We had a break for a few weeks in the summer and returning mid-August to prepare for the season. Again, we looked at a mixture of sessions where we looked at playing out from the back whilst also looking at keeping sessions flowing so that the time we had was high tempo and worked on their fitness.

The season has gone ok so far but now we’re on the all-weather astro turf it makes sessions a bit different because now I’m factoring in the lack of space, something you don’t have to worry about when on grass. Since training on the astro I’ve looked at pressing as a topic over the past 2-3 sessions which has been done through small games and we’ve looked primarily at when to press and pressing as a team (i.e. if your top player presses than can the rest of the team also go and press with him).

The lads listen well in training and it’s now about taking what we learn from the training ground and to the pitch. I’d like us to have played more football, especially out from the back, but in all honesty this has been difficult on some of the pitches we’re playing on.

The squad has moved from 12/13 to 16 now so that’s great news as we always have plenty of subs. My mantra during games is to ensure every player gets at least 40 minutes (games are 80 minutes), even if that means we change things around a bit and that loses us shape or potentially affects the result. It’s important that all boys get an equal amount of playing time as football’s not about a player sitting on a bench for 60 minutes, getting cold, then coming on for 10 minutes!

In terms of formations we started with 4-4-2 as that’s what they’re used to playing but in the last two games we tried 4-3-3. I asked them at training two weeks ago if they were open to trying new formations and they were so I thought we’d start with 4-3-3. It’s resulted in us being more solid through the middle but we’ve not created as many chances going forward since making this change. Again, it’s quite hard to work on something resembling a new formation when you’re training on an area the size of two tennis courts! We did a session on the shape of the midfield 3 but that’s all we’ve been able to work on so far.

Now I understand more about the players I’d like to define a style of play for us to work with. I think that helps as a footballer – that is; where are we focusing our play? Are we wanting to get it wide? Do we want to play direct? Do we want to play through a front man?

I’ve not defined what that style should be and I’ll certainly consult the players on it. We all want to play the game the right way but perhaps they’ll decide on a style which they feel suits them and doesn’t perhaps fit my own ideologies.

I’m thoroughly enjoying working with this age group. It offers different challenges from the U7-U10s I’ve worked with for the past 3 years (and continue to work with) and it’s good coaching experience for me. With U7-U10 you’re working on the real basics and they’re very mouldable (I know that’s not a word but you get the drift!) whilst with the U16s you’re working on slightly different topics with players who have maybe picked up bad habbits or are more set in the way they play. However, they’re still young enough to develop, they want to learn and you can talk more about tactics and systems.

If I find some time I’ll share some of the sessions we’ve used recently but generally my spare time is spent planning sessions for either the U10s or U16s!

Thanks for reading!

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