Counter Attacking in the Modern Game


This week I attend a county FA CPD event on Counter Attacking in the Modern Game. The event, as is typical for these local CPD events, lasted for around 2.5 hours and was a mixture of classroom based discussion and a session demonstration outside.

The event was aimed at Level 2/3.

There was some good early discussion on Counter Attacking with the FA Coach talking about how the game is now about quick transitions whether that’s to get in to defensive shape or to attack quickly. The game is played at such a pace now that players must be able to react to changes in the game and make good decisions at the same time.

We spoke about tactical/technical requirements of Counter Attacking – words such as Speed, Pace, Vision, Decision Making came up as you might expect. We also spoke about the difference between ‘a counter attack’, i.e. identifying an opportunity in a game to attack quickly when the opposition are out of balance, and setting up as a counter attacking side which would require a side to sit deep and look for their opportunity to attack.

If you like to press you’re unlikely to consider yourself a counter attacking side but this depends on your definition of counter attacking. Does it have to come from deeper areas? Can it be triggered from anywhere on the pitch? If you win the ball high up the pitch and score within 2-3 touches/passes, is that a counter attack? All good conversation & discussion.

We also touched on the importance of having cover whilst counter attacking. What if the counter attack breaks down, are you at risk of being counter attacked? How do you mitigate this risk? Player intelligence comes in to this, you need players to get forward quickly & at pace but also players who can recognise the need to cover.

The Counter Attacking Session

Counter Attacking

Additional notes on the session:

  • During the initial part of the session the reds are asked to defend deep so as to provide opportunities for counter attacking (rather than lots of instances of winning the ball from a high press)
  • The coach always wanted the red team to be organised before the whites GK started in the first part of the session
  • There are opportunities to work on strikers playing on the shoulder. Counter Attacks do not have to be pretty, a direct ball over the top if there’s space in behind can be an option
  • Communication is important (when isn’t it)

The session outline is useful and it does provide LOTs of opportunities for transition and counter attacking. As the CPD was Level 2/3 I would have liked to have been given more technical & tactical content but really we were given a session template to work with.

Anyway, if you’re in need of a Counter Attacking session then give this a try – feel free to ask me any questions about it or share how you adapted it, that would be great to hear. Likewise, if you’re not covering Counter Attacking as a topic then maybe this gives you a nudge to think about it alongside the many other topics you’re coaching.

Youth Award Module 2 Overview – Days 3 & 4


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!

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!

Oxfordshire FA Coaches Conference – Review


I attended the annual OFA Coaches Conference yesterday for the first time and thought it was worth highlighting a few notes from it in case others were interested.

The event took place at the very impressive Cokethorpe School in Witney (it’s a private school, the lunch menu looks Michelin star – no chips or other crap on it and in fact it had “a selection of cheese” – at a school!).

I think the OFA had altered things slightly based on what I’ve seen of other conference programs as they split the day in two. The morning was football focused but there were also coaches from netball, hockey & other sports there so the afternoon was two sessions of four topics irrespective of sport.

The day started with an interesting talk from Andy Lindley (Rugby Coach at Leeds) who spoke of his own experiences in coaching within both rugby and the military, where he served for 20+ years. Andy spoke of the need to allow people to develop through their own experiences & freedom to explore rather than being directed (think coaching styles) in how & what they learn.

He also raised points regarding his development as a coach and how, whilst respected as a top coach he found that there wasn’t anyone from his coaching governing body who were coming forward to ask how he wanted to continue to develop and what direction he might want to take as he continued to progress. He shared an example of his masters degree in sports coaching (or similar) and the fact he earned it without anyone watching him coach at any point. He asked why there weren’t coaching pathways and essentially alluded to the fact that we as coaches are not receiving appropriate support & feedback which in turn would enable us to develop.

Finally, whilst talking about coaching & development of British athletes across all sports he asked this question, “Are we (as a nation) ready for excellence?”.

After this we went off in our groups with the football group being guided by Richard Cooper (Regional Coach Development Manager for 5-11 years) & supported by the OFA. Richard introduced the group to the whole-part-whole approach to coaching and used local Ducklington U12s to demonstrate this approach.

For those unfamiliar with the whole-part-whole approach it essentially works like this. The whole is a game, or game situation, the part is a breakdown of the game in to a session which focuses on one particular topic – in this example it was the midfield being narrow to force play wide (but it could be anything, defensive, attacking etc). The final whole is putting what they’ve learned back in to the game.

There are lots of coaches (myself included) who are now starting sessions with a game and this approach is actually a good way of organising a session. You allow the kids to play a game as soon as they arrive (hence feeding their desire simply to play), you then move to the part aspect and work on a part of their game before returning to the whole (or match) where you would then expect to see improvement based upon the part.

Once we’d seen this the coaches then took part in a session (the kids left at this point) where Richard looked at the various coaching styles (i.e. Youth Mod 1 content).

Following this we had lunch where we had a discussion which had been raised by a couple of coaches at the end. The conversation was on skill development and whether the FA should be creating a booklet which breaks down different turns & tricks in to it’s component parts so that kids can be taught a full array of moves. Or, should kids be shown basics and allowed to develop their own turns, tricks & skills through free practice? (The point raised was thought-provoking, the way the guys took it to the FA regional coach was pretty poor, almost aggressive).

The afternoon then saw us move on to the two classroom-based sessions but due to the weather I only attended the first session which was Using Personal Profiling Analysis & Emotional Inteligence to Improve the Coaching Environment, by Dave Doran.

Dave looked at how coaches self-reflect to develop & work with other coaches but also to evaluate their mood & attitude before a coaching session (i.e. putting yourself in a positive mood so this reflects on your players). We looked at different models of self-evaluation (think Belbin or DISC assessment, Google them) and carried out a number of activities which looked at scenarios where a head coach & assistant are having a few issues so we were required to analyse them based on the information and review why they may not be getting on.

The real point was to consider that there are differences in types of people (DISC assessment) and that as coaches we need to consider that, especially in terms of knowing who we are, how we react to situations and how we might need to develop in order to progress as coaches.

Overall an enjoyable day despite the low number of coaches (approx 16-20 – how many coaches in Oxon??) and I took a number of lessons/ideas away which is all you ask for from a day such as this.

Using zones in your coaching session


I was coaching the U16s last night and as part of the session I split a 60×40 area in to three zones (so it was 3 x 20 x 40 zones) with the focus of the session on quick passing. There were goals at each end and within each zone I had a 2v2 setup and the only restrictions were that players had to remain within the zone (initially) and I wanted goalies to throw/roll the ball out.

What I noticed as the session moved forward was that when the ball progressed from the defensive third (based on the team in possession) to the middle third, the players in the defensive third switched off as the focus of the play was then happening between the midfield and forward zones; this was also evident in the opposing team.

To address this I worked with the defensive group on both teams regards them supporting behind the ball, being active and ensuring they were always an option for the midfield zone.

However, on seeing this it occurred to me that this isn’t the first time I’ve seen it happen in such a session (albeit with U9s 6-8 weeks back) and therefore, is the fact that this setup isn’t fully match realistic causing the players in the “inactive” zone to switch off or does the setup actually highlight that the players aren’t inactive?

My views, having not used this extensively, is that it does enable you to focus your coaching point on players in a specific zone and that it does seem to highlight inactivity (i.e. they should be supporting behind the ball) but I’m not convinced players enjoy it (although I haven’t seen/heard evidence of this) because of the restrictions.

The game I used last night became a lot more dynamic once I allowed either team to move a third player in to either zone and that opened up further coaching points but moving forward I’m yet to decide if I’ll use a zone setup again or not.

I’d be interested to know your views on them, do you use them regularly or do you steer away from them due to the lack of game realism?

A league table changes everything


Our under 9s are playing their first season in “league football” and I’ve observed an interesting switch in behaviour by others in and around the team over the course of the season.

At U7 & U8 you just play friendly games so there’s no table and results don’t mean a great deal. Now we are in a league there is suddenly focus on position, how other teams are doing and more importantly (see worryingly) results.

The kids obviously want to be in a good position in the table but I feel that as adults, and as a coach, we should keep their focus on enjoyment of their football and not get caught up in results and winning as these come at a cost; player development.

I’m not able to make every training session (I make 8/10) or every game (similar ratio) due to work and playing commitments but when I’m there I’m trying very hard to get across points about enjoyment, development and coaching through fun sessions or SSGs, not results or drills.

Whilst we are made to play in a league structure it’s always going to be difficult to avoid this focus on results and its no surprise that people have now become focussed on results but I shall continue to ensure that focus is on football being fun, learning and enjoyment of the game.

Coaching Under 13s


I was given the opportunity to coach our club’s Under 13s on Tuesday night so I took up the chance as I knew it’d be a useful exercise for me as a coach, primarily as it was my first session outside of the Under 9s since passing my L2 in May. The guy who I’d covered for had performed a session on support play the week before so I carried on the theme and did a slightly different session on support play.

I have to say, it was a really positive experience. Under 13s are an easier group to coach than the U9s and are a lot more “coachable” in certain respects. It’s a great age to apply the L2 syllabus and because of this it won’t be the last time I coach this team.

There are obvious differences between the age groups and I’m looking forward to doing more sessions with U13s and REALLY understanding what it’s like to coach this age group. It’ll also allow me to embed what I learnt on the L2 course, something which isn’t possible with U9s.

Since I started with the U9s (then U7s) it’s been almost continued focus on 1v1, 2v1, dribbling, ball manipulation whereas this group of U13s were largely pretty comfortable on the ball and therefore you could really work on some of the principles of play which is great for me as I learn & develop.

I’ll use this blog as always to keep you updated with how things go and any learning points I think are worth sharing.

Priorities for U8s


We (the coaches) had a chat at the end of today’s session to talk about priorities for our young players and I’ll give you the context for the discussion…

On Sunday the boys went to a football tournament (I wasn’t there) and we had two teams playing against sides from nearby towns and even a couple from London. Both teams lost most of their games and those who attended said our players seemed to struggle on a few fronts:

1) The other teams seemed bigger and stronger
2) They seemed to have more match awareness
3) They had more positional sense

These points make you think as a coach – am I / are we getting it wrong? Most of our focus is on developing the boys skills and encouraging them to try new tricks etc but I’m wondering if there are areas we’re not covering.

I’m wondering…were you a coach of this team, what questions might you be asking and, ultimately, would a bunch of defeats at a tournament bother you?

FA Level 2 Coaching Certificate


The FA Level 2 in Football CoachingOn Sunday I passed the Level 2 Coaching Certificate and I have to say I’m mightily pleased about it too! It’s a course I’ve wanted to do from the outset because I’d already heard that it’s a step up in terms of technical knowledge and it’s also a course which I think is recognised as a minimum requirement by a lot of football establishments.

The course began in February in sub-zero conditions on a frozen pitch and ended this weekend in near 30C heat so the contrast in weather conditions pretty much matched the transformation in the coaching capabilities of the 16 delegates across the 4 month period!

I have thoroughly enjoyed the course; I’ve enjoyed it’s content, the way it was delivered, the people who attended the course with me and the new knowledge it’s given me – both on a footballing and coaching level.

It is (as many will tell you) a significant step up from Level 1, so you can see why some people drop out during the course. Overall though, it’s a course which is giving you the tools to deliver a better coaching session than you will no doubt have previously been capable of delivering. One of the key essences of the course is important – each evaluation check-list asks, “(The candidate should) demonstrate an ability to improve the performance of individuals and the group”, which is getting down to the nuts and bolts of what a football coach is there to do and that’s a consideration I’ll take with me in to every future session.

I’ve learnt about parts of football I’d never previously been taught (despite fancying myself as a player I’ve never actually had any level of decent training!); support, balance, cover, 1-2-1 defending techniques, receiving, switching play etc. And also how to develop a session so it enables players to practice their individual technique before progressing it (without major changes to area and setup) to a skill-based practice and then a SSG – all fantastic stuff.

Upon passing you’re left with a decision to make – where do you go from here? I already knew, I think. For me it’s now a time to embed what I’ve learnt over the last 4 months and develop my confidence in my ability to deliver successful sessions across all of the topics covered – I want to work really hard at that. I also want to progress further along the Youth Award Modules and in a few years I might then think about the UEFA B, but I have a lot more learning and experience to gain now which is the main aim really, build more experiences, learn, develop.

An Introduction to Futsal


On Wednesday night I attended a course run by the Oxfordshire FA on An Introduction to Futsal. I’m the first to admit that, despite my obsession with football, I only found out about Futsal a relatively short time ago and I’ve been quite interested in finding out more about the game.

The OFA run a number of evening sessions during the year for members of their coaching association which I presume is the same as other county FA’s, and this seemed a great way to spend a couple of hours on a Wednesday night (although it did result in me missing the Barca game!).

As far as 2 hour introductions go this was pretty good. We spent the initial part of the session looking at some Futsal-specific warm ups we could do, we then looked at practices which focused on ball manipulation and then moved on to attacking in 2v1 and 3v2s before finish with a game of Futsal.

The game was interesting because we started with a normal size 5 football before moving to a size 4 Futsal ball. The difference was we saw far less of the ball bouncing around and players appeared to find it a bit easier to control the ball and keep it close whilst dribbling. It’s the first time I’ve played with a futsal ball and it’s heavier / denser design certainly makes it easier to try tricks with and keep close to your body.

I’m very keen to use our local sports hall to do Futsal in the winter across all age groups in our club but most of all I’d like to use it with the younger age groups to improve their ball skills. Futsal excites me and I want to send more time learning about its benefits as I think it can be a real compliment to players and to me as a coach.