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.

Advertisements

Football Coaching Session: Playing wide & Getting Feedback


As I stated in my previous blog post I spent a chunk of the U17s pre-season working on getting the ball wide because in the previous season we’d attacked very well centrally but hadn’t always been able to stretch teams.

Not only did I want us to think about getting the ball out to our wide players and working with the wingers, I wanted us to look to think about changing the point of attack from one side of the pitch to the other and be more patient when in possession.

I spoke to the players at each session about the principles of width & depth and used a session one particular week which worked very well and which I’ve shared below.

The session was not just interesting from a players point of view but I also asked a local academy coach to watch the session and provide feedback, more on that below…

The session isn’t new and I’m sure others have used it but I always like to share sessions which work well as someone may see it and find it useful. The setup was a full pitch width and we played from 18 yard to halfway with the pitch split in to thirds with the wide channels narrower than the middle section.

We had two teams of 5/6 and then had two neutral wingers. The neutral wingers obviously played for whichever team was in possession and they were encouraged to be positive and attack either goal when they received the ball. We said that it would be 1 goal if a team scored in the central goal or two in the wide goal.

What works nicely with this session is because the pitch is wider than it is long it forces play to go wide naturally and importantly, there were lots of opportunities for players to provide support behind the ball. Being able to provide support behind the ball isn’t always a movement which comes naturally to players when their desire is to get forward and score goals so this session was great in that there were lots of examples of this happening.

It’s important the neutral wingers are rotated often because there may be periods where they’re inactive so you need to get them involved. In the session I put on one team in particular were having more success so I changed it and asked one or two of their players to try and play one or two touch so that they were challenged whilst also giving the other side a chance to get in to the game.

We played for around 15 minutes and then did some Q&A, allowed teams to reflect, change formation & decide if they wanted to press the ball higher up the pitch or not.

There were examples where teams tried to play repeatedly down one side without success so we spoke about changing the angle of attack and shifting the ball from right-to-left or vice-versa – again, this session gives lots of opportunities for that to happen.

If you’re looking for a session which gives plenty of chances for players to get the ball wide, look at overlaps and change the angle of attack I’d suggest giving this a go as it provides all of that.

Playing wide

Getting Feedback

I’ve attended coaching courses and CPD events but apart from when on the courses I’ve never had any direct feedback on my coaching style and as I was keen to get some input I asked a local academy coach if he’d do it after he’d run a couple of goalkeeper training sessions for our adults.

He came and observed the session above & the feedback I got was very good but what I noticed is it’s incredibly hard trying to manage a session when a) you’re getting feedback actively and b) you’re thinking as much about what the other coach is thinking as you are about what’s happening in the session!

What I noticed from the feedback was that when I coach a session I’m very much observing the topic and asking “are they getting it?” and “what do I need to coach?”. The feedback I had on the session asked “Is one team getting more success than the other?” and “if so, what can I do to change this?”. We spoke about making it harder for players on the team who were getting success (asking them “Can you try and play 1 or 2 touch?”) and also discussed how we could change the dynamics of the session such as topics you cover on L2 (space, equipment, players etc) to either make it more difficult for a team or easier for the other.

We spoke about communication and the need to be concise. Get in, get the point across and let them get back to playing!

The feedback also looked at how you can communicate directly with players on a one-to-one level to pull them out & praise them, ask them questions and perhaps if required, lift their motivation levels if you see them drop.

There was lots and lots I wrote down but to summarise my main take-away points:

Key notes:

  • What’s the topic?
  • Is there success? (For each team)
  • If it’s easy, how can you challenge?
  • If it’s hard, how can you adjust it?
  • Communication, shorter – change of tone where required
  • Individuals – pull them out, challenge them, congratulate them, question them

I’ve tried to take all of this in to the sessions we’ve had since the feedback and it’s been really useful so far. You have to be open and a little brave to want feedback but it’s only going to help you improve as a coach.

Football Coaching Session: Continuous Attacking Practice with U10s


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.

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!

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.

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?

Visit to Brentford FC Academy


I was invited down to meet the guys at Brentford’s academy on Tuesday as (through a contact) I’d been asked if I’d be interested in doing some scouting for them in the Oxfordshire area.

I won’t discuss too much regards the academy but I must say it was absolutely fascinating being in that kind of environment for the 5-6 hours I was there. For those of us who volunteer in grassroots you generally haven’t seen inside the football world as you’re doing your day job and spending a few hours a week either coaching, playing or watching a local game.

I sat there listening to the conversations, observing all the football related work going on around me and generally feeling like “these guys are living the dream”. Of course it wasn’t glam, but to be in an environment where it’s your job to talk about & work in football is amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.

Having spoken to their recruitment team about the scouting I then hung around for an hour (which spent listening/observing) before heading out to watch their U9s/U10s being coached. This was great, I took down lots of ideas which I’ll bring in to my coaching but thought the caliber of players, the level of information the coaches provided and the way in which they used Q&A was fantastic. The players were clearly enjoying it and the football they played when it came to a match situation was most impressive.

Again, to find myself mid-afternoon on a Tuesday in amongst U9s/10s being coached on one pitch, Under 15s (roughly) on another, Under 16s on another and then a game between the academy and some triallists on one of the main pitches was all a bit surreal, especially to a guy who works 9-5 in an office!

So anyway, they’re looking for a scout to work in the Oxon area and this is interesting because I’ve previously been critical of players being picked up at such young ages. It challenges my views on the topic because the challenge of being able to find good young players is an interesting one to me personally and I’m also not sure if I can be any good at it or not!

The effort required is obviously open to me, the more matches I watch the more chance I have of finding a good player.

I’m keen to take on the challenge and see if I can be of value, especially given the positive impression I had been given about their academy before visiting and the positive impression I took away having visited them. I’ll keep you posted with how it goes & what I learn along the way.

Image

Small Sided Games


Question to coaches: When organising small sided games are you randomly splitting your players in to teams / games or are you setting up one game amongst one group of equal ability and one game amongst players of a different ability?

Pros & Cons to each; does playing against a better play enhance learning or does it restrict?

FA Video: Kids perspective on pitch sizes


I really like this video which scales up a full size pitch in the context of a 10 year old and then adult coaches play a match on it.