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.

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!

FA Youth Award Module 2 Overview – Day 2


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 🙂

FA Youth Award Module 2 Overview – Day 1


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!

Bravo Lancashire FA, Bravo!


If you’ve been on Twitter today then you may have noticed the talk about Lancashire FA’s tweeting regards different aspects of the grassroots game, such as coaches conduct, parents conduct and a number of other initiatives which make the grassroots game all the more friendly and young-player orientated.

I’d thoroughly recommend taking a look back at their timeline from this month but if you’re not Twitter-savvy then take a look at the list below which are just some of the ideas and comments they made.

However lowly you rate your ref this weekend shake their hand and invite them back.That way they come back better rather than not at all.

Offside is often contentious in youth football but only to adults who put winning before enjoyment and development.Accept errors occur.

Can we have a Silent Weekend where no parents or coaches shout? If you agree tell us and we’ll promote it county wide. #letthechildrenplay

Parents. If you can’t attend this weekend will you ask your child if they won or whether they enjoyed the game?  #culturechange

Why not appoint 2 or 3 regular parents to welcome opposition parents this weekend & invite them to stand with you?#breakingdownbarriers

One club today excused disrespect to a referee on his failure to see pushes! Still lots of work to do to change outdated attitudes.

Coaches. Bored pushing the trolley in Tesco? Chuck in some sweets for your players to give to their opponents after the weekend game #respect

Just spoken to a girls coach who allows no coaching during the game, trusting the players instead. Could you do that? #whosegameisit

Coaches. Could young players put on brief sessions on your training night? Do they have an input into how your team is selected? #theirgame

How can you empower young people in your club? Player on your committee? Junior committee with CWO observing?  #theirgametheirsay

Will you welcome opposition parents today with a warm brew and stand with them? Youth footie no place for club rivalries #makingfriends

How nice for your kids to give sweets to their opponents after today’s match #changingattitudes

Coaches. Key point for this morning DON’T PLAY THE GAME FOR THEM #letthemplay

If both teams have subs organise a 2v2 or 3v3 so the kids are active, warm and ready to go in when called.

Challenge to all our coaches. Try putting four cones down this weekend and standing inside them. Bet you see more and act more calmly.

Do you have a couple of spare jackets if children getting excessively cold or wet? Be a forward thinking coach and help to prevent neglect.

If opposition adults behave badly, don’t reciprocate.Two wrongs don’t make a right.Show a proper example to impressionable children

Some clubs still tend to fall in behind parochial rivalries and excuse poor behaviour of adults by blaming opposition #dotherightthing

More reports coming in of youth games ruined by appalling adult behaviour last weekend.Ongoing crusade to challenge and change attitudes

One player today bellowing foul language all game on a pitch in a residential area.Is this acceptable? Who should take responsibility?

I think it’s excellent that they’ve taken to Twitter to back up and relay some of the messages that you see many involved with the game talking about and full credit for that.

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).

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.

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.

Playingout1

Playout2

Playout3

Playout4

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.

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?

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!).