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!

Football Coaching Session: 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.


As always, feedback & thoughts welcome!

Football Coaching Session: 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.


  • 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…


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


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


  • 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.


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.


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!

Football Coaching Session – Switching Play U16s

My U16s have played two games recently and having watched those games I’ve been thinking about how we can improve our ball retention. There were two initial areas which came to mind – one was from throw-ins and the other from the full-back position, this is why I created a PDF summarising my views on how we could improve this (and give it to the players).

Therefore, I decided I’d do some work on this at training tonight. I’d originally planned to have a bit of discussion around this and work through a game-realistic scenario (i.e. keeping possession from a throw-in through actually doing the throw-in, return to feet and then playing across the back four) but I found an interesting session idea on Performance Four Four Two.

This is the session

I usually get 11-12 at training so this was due to work quite well, as it was I had 16 and it was chucking it down it made it a little more difficult to run (Update – I should add that this isn’t a bad thing, great to have more players as hopefully it means sessions are enjoyable!). Anyway, this is some self-reflection from me in terms of how it went.

  • I setup as per the video, 4 midfielders, 4 defenders, 2 strikers beyond the defenders and a GK
  • Due to the fact I had 16 players in total I had 5 players stood near me on the halfway line, one of who served the ball in each time

I informed the defensive unit that I wanted them to remain close by and defend as if they would normally but I wanted them to work across the pitch as a unit. I informed the midfield four that I wanted them to work the ball across the pitch and specifically, I was looking for the middle two to drop off when a wide player received it. Finally, I instructed the strikers to remain central so as not to deny space to the wide players.

Over the course of the session I rotated players fairly frequently, usually in their groups of four. I had my current normal back four as a unit, my midfield from Sunday as a unit and then four players (one new, one who’s not signed on but trains and one who’s playing elsewhere) as a unit.

I began with Sunday’s midfield playing against Sunday’s back four and I had to work on them re-starting from half-way when they lost possession because gradually they were starting to get closer and closer to the 18 yard box which was making it difficult for the wide players to find any space (and this was on a pitch used for U13/U14s).

What I primarily wanted to work on was my back four, as I’m keen that they’re able to drop off when we’re in possession and move the ball from one side to another. With this in mind, I swapped the midfielders with my defenders (essentially, the movements and flow of the ball are the same in this instance as they are if you’re moving the ball from your right back to left back) and they were a lot better at switching play than the midfield four had been – this I think is because I’d worked with the back four previously during our early training sessions.

I continued to rotate the units around and worked on this for about 20 minutes. Some players were able to quickly pick up what was required in terms of dropping off, some often ended up engaging with the back four which, although match realistic, means that you lose the ability to switch from one side to another.

It wasn’t the best night for it as having players waiting around in the rain (even if I was talking them through what I was looking for) isn’t ideal but I really wanted to spend some time working on this as I believe it’ll help and it’s an important part of keeping the ball.

I talked to the players about why I wanted to work on this, what I’d seen in recent games and said that we’d do further work on this. I top and tailed the session with a game – started with 8v8 pop-up goals and a one-touch finish, ended with 8v8 all in but stressed that I wanted to see them switching play to keep the theme of the session.

Overall? Worked ok, could have been a lot better and having 16 turn up threw me a bit.

Positives: Able to work with back four, given them a pattern to think about and see. Same with midfielders and rest of players.

Negatives: A lot of content to try and get across, which means stopping play and in the rain/cold that’s not very easy to do (and I didn’t try to get lots across due to this).

Football Coaching Session: Playing out from the back U16s

I’ve been doing a lot of possession work with the U16s since starting with them 4-5 weeks ago and on Wednesday I did a session on playing out from the back. I want us to be comfortable in possession and believe that it starts from your GK and defenders, otherwise you’re trying to play possession from a long goalkick.

The images below detail how the session was setup.





As the session progressed the boys who played CB & full-back (I rotated positions) picked it up well and some of them were switching on very quickly as soon as our GK got possession which was great to see. I could also observe that it gave the attacking team more to think about in a defensive capacity because of the full-backs pushing higher up the pitch.

It’s something I’ll work on with them again in August when we resume for pre-season and will also look at how the midfielders and full-backs then support by providing good angles for passing out from the back.

Very interested to know how others are coaching this – what setup are you using? Are you building up to this type of scenario through other means? How are you working with the midfielders? I’m doing some reading around the topic where I can so will share what I learn/find out.

U16s: New challenge

Anyone who’s been following my blog since day 1 will know that I started my coaching journey with what were then U7s and have now coached them through the last 3 years with them becoming U10 from next season. The experience has been valuable and it’s been a great age group to begin with as they’re pretty forgiving if you get a session slightly wrong!

However, despite continuing with them I’m keen to expand my horizons and offered to get involved with our under 16s who are a group of lads that want to start playing again following a year out (they folded when their previous manager moved on). I shall therefore be “head coach” for them this season and ran a first session last Wednesday night which went well.

This provides a completely different coaching challenge on a number of levels because obviously it’s an older group of players and it’s 11-a-side so sessions will be at a different level technically & tactically as well as needing to change communication & coaching style  but fundamentals such as sessions being well organised, appropriate, fun etc still apply.

I’m excited about the challenges it’ll bring and am especially looking forward to being able to try and coach a team to play in a style which I believe in and the obvious effort that’ll take to try and convey the way I’d like us to play in terms of our training sessions. I see this as a chance to develop these players & develop myself further as a coach and if I can look back in 12 months and confidently feel I’ve done both I’ll be very happy.

The current plan is for me to run a few sessions between now and the end of June to see what numbers we have and to keep the boys engaged before taking a small break and then coming back for pre-season to prepare for a season in the Oxfordshire Youth Invitational League.

As always, I’ll aim to log our progress and what I learn on this blog as I head in to a very busy season (playing, U9s, U16s & scouting!).

Nutmegs – U9 Warm Up

I’ve suddenly become really fascinated with the whole world of Panna / Street Soccer and have spent the last few days watching a lot of videos on YouTube about it*. One of the street soccer videos showed kids playing 1v1 and to score they had to nutmeg their opposing player which is great, because you’re focussing them on keeping the ball close and looking constantly for that opportunity to stick the ball through his/her opponents leg.

This reminded also reminded me of a session I saw in a Futsal Introduction course run by the Oxon FA. However, in that session the tutor divided a court in to squares and we played 1v1 but you scored a point if you could bounce the ball off your opponents shins which also meant you had to keep the ball very close to you at all times.

I wanted to see how our U9s reacted to this type of challenge. We’ve done a lot of work with them on the ball but I think games such as this represent a different type of challenge because you’re really focussed on keeping the ball close as opposed to a session where you might be dribbling at pace in a direction (as might be typical in a session).

Therefore, before Saturday’s game I set up a 15×15 square area and got the boys in to pairs (approx 6 pairs of players) and  let them play 1v1 with the following rules:

  • Game 1 (before changing partners): 1 point for a nutmeg, first to 3 the winner
  • Game 2 (change of partner): 1 point for a stepover (beating the player) 2 points for a nutmeg
  • Game 3 (change of partner): 1 point for a stepover, 2 points for a nutmeg, 3 points for a 360 (round the world)
  • Game 4 (change of partner): Use any skill to beat a player

The players responded well – we just kept them going, praised, encouraged and observed. They worked hard to keep the ball under control and we trying various ways to attempt nutmegs. I introduced the other moves to open up other ways in which to beat a player and not restrict to looking for a nutmeg.

As the players enjoyed it I’m going to look to do more of this type of work in our training sessions whilst introducing specific skill/technique practice and further variations of 1v1, especially introducing music to sessions as I think that’s a great way of relaxing the players and making sessions even more fun for them. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t immediately feel 10% more skillful if you play football with this in the background!?


*Thanks to the guys on Twitter at ProSkills who provided useful information on Street Soccer. If interested, check out these guys on YouTube – Darren Laver, Mark Tiernan & Soufani.

Simple session on 1v1, 2v2 and defending

I used a really simple session with our U9s tonight as I wanted to start working on a few basics of defending but I was also aware of the weather and wanted to keep them moving at all times. With this in mind I went with a setup (see low quality image below) which meant we worked on the basis of continuous 1v1s which allows for lots of dribbling & experimenting with skills on an attacking point and with the setup it also had the boys thinking about defending space as they had two goals in which they could score.

The setup:

  • 8 players
  • 2 “zones”
  • 4 goals in each zone
  • 1v1 – players had to run through the goal and stop the ball to score a point



How I managed / progressed the session:

  • Began with 1v1s, the only conditions were that you had to stop the ball between the goal posts to score a point and I wanted to see LOTS of skills used. I always encourage players to learn new tricks and practice them.
  • Players rotated partners / opponent every 3-4 minutes, new partner = new challenges (both as an attacker and defender)
  • I stepped in to encourage dribbling at speed as young players can end up walking quite slowly with the ball and I wanted the attacking players to be positive and ensure they introduce a turn of pace
  • I then worked on defensive positioning and I worked on their body shape. That is, “skateboard” position, defending side on. I provided an example and then had the players try it unopposed to make sure they could actually do sidesteps moving backward
  • We then continued the 1v1s but with the focus almost completely on the defenders body position, which they picked up pretty well and almost immediately found it effective
  • We continued to rotate players, I praised where I saw excellent defending side on and I also helped players work on changing their positioning – e.g. not facing the same way at all times and being able to rotate as the attacking player moved
  • The session then progressed to 2v2s, but with a slightly longer pitch area. Again, focus was on defending position but it also gave opportunities to coach where two defenders were leaving a player free or not doing any defending at all.
  • Further rotation of 2v2 and then the session ended in a game

Very simple, very easy to progress, continuous dribbling and 1v1, 2v2 defending practice with focus on defending in a side-on body shape. Good session, enjoyed by players and very little time spent standing around listening to me!


Learning New Tricks

I watched the video below on Friday night having seen it on someone’s Twitter feed and as I hadn’t seen the second trick I watched the video a couple of times and thought nothing more of it.

Skip forward to Saturday morning and I’m with our U9s for a fixture they had away from home. We only had 7 players so before the game they were doing little 1v1 dribbling games, a couple of the boys were passing it between themselves (their choice) and I was messing about with one or two others (we were trying to nutmeg each other, practising scoop flicks etc – their choice) and as they started playing a little game on their own I decided to practice the second skill from STR’s video.

Having tried it around 10-15 times with mixed success (easier with a size 5 ball than size 4 I found!) one or two came over and asked how to do it, so I demonstrated what I’d seen on the video and they spent 5 minutes practising it before the game.

At half-time I noticed the same two practising it again and then a third joined in and they had a little try. They didn’t have much success and I hadn’t purposely shown them the skill as it’s a show-boat trick, not something that you’d use during a game, but I love their willingness to try a new trick and keep trying it & I can guarantee they’ll want to try it again at training on Wednesday.

It makes you realise that even if you’re not a very skilful player (which I’m not), you could take a trick from such a site, practise it yourself and introduce it to your players for them to try. If you know how to break it down you can show them what they need to do, you don’t have to master it.

Is it critical to their development to learn a trick that’s essentially a show-boat  Probably not. Does it help them develop their mastery of the football? Absolutely, so it’s got to be a good thing and another way to vary training sessions.