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!

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.

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.

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.


FA Level 2 and Under 8s

Last week was an interesting week from a coaching perspective as the two Under 8 sessions I had were the first I’d run following my participation on the first week of the FA’s Level 2 course. Of course, when I say “interesting” what I really mean is I felt there were some highs & lows.

The session I ran on Tuesday went pretty well I felt. I had 8 players which is a great number to work with and we did a game of tag to warm up (with footballs) before I worked with them on their dribbling (using L2 coaching points) before progressing in to an SSG with 4 goals and finishing with a game.

The smaller number of players makes it easier to gain everyone’s concentration for the 30 seconds I needed to get a point across or progress the session. I progressed the dribbling work we did in to a SSG with 4 goals (two at each end) as I felt that gave the dribblers more opportunity to succeed as there are multiple targets. This seemed to work well and also saw a couple of the players demonstrate a good awareness of space by taking up a un-marked wide position.

The session as a whole went pretty well but once you’re in to an SSG at U8 level I think it becomes quite difficult to stop the session (to praise/correct) because the kids just want to play and it’s one of the areas of the L2 syllabus which I think is quite difficult to apply to this age group. With that in mind, I only stopped the session once to positively praise something which I was really happy with.

The other part of the L2 syllabus which I think is hard to apply at U8 is that of recreation, e.g. getting a player to try or practice something before resuming the session. Having been on the Youth Award Module 1 I was very aware of the impact this may have on self-esteem so I avoided opportunities to help a player correct what they were doing wrong if I could see they were reluctant to do so in front of the group.

The second session I took last week was supposed to be the first Level 2 practice session I needed to run in between our course and our next catch up day. I planned a session around dribbling and had parts where I included the whole group (18 players) and parts where we split the group up (albeit doing the same exercise) and I don’t think this session worked particularly well.


  • Firstly, 18 (Under 8s) is far too big a group to do any kind of Q&A or guided introduction of coaching points.
  • Secondly, the area we had to work with (we’re on an astro pitch which is essentially 2 x tennis courts) wasn’t big enough to allow success in one of the exercises.

However, I did still feel there were benefits to the session. The warm up we did meant each player had LOTS of touches and they were constantly having to dribble in different directions and were frequently turning. The game I progressed to also had lots of decision making and dribbling but I think there are better ways of doing it in the future.

The week’s demonstrated to me that I need to work with a smaller group if I’m to effectively practice my Level 2 understanding and I also need to alter sessions & games so that a) the information is relevant to the age group and b) the practice is still fun and ultimately, a game.

Any coach will empathise with how you feel when you know a session hasn’t gone well but as per some of the great advice I had on Twitter last week, it’s given me an opportunity to learn & re-plan for this week with that experience behind me.

The Level 2 syllabus IS difficult to apply to an under 8s team but I’m confident that with some tweaking it can be applied to benefit the players (main priority) as well as my progression toward passing my Level 2.


FA Level 2: Day 6 Summary

Today was our final day together as a group before we head off to embed what we’ve learnt over the last 6 days and we finished early which was presumably recognition of the fact that neither our bodies or brains could take any more!

The final day has been quite interesting because in one sense you’ve just come to the end of a journey but then when your tutor talks you through what you now need to go and do you realise you’re actually just beginning.

Today has really just been about the final few coaches running through their SSGs, a bit of admin/paperwork and then the expectation setting from the tutor ahead of the next assessment day in mid-March. It’s at this point where (if you haven’t done your L2) you’ll be wondering what tasks we’ve been given to take away so to cure your curiosity here’s the gist:

  • 4 x 1hr sessions on a particular theme (e.g. Passing) where focus should be on delivering a technical practice, skill practice, SSG and one other session linked to that theme.
  • We also have around 4 tasks to compete in our folders. To give examples, one is on nutrition and another is about laws of the game.
  • Each session we do between now and the final assessment needs a witness who will provide a name & number to verify you actually performed the session.
  • After our catch-up day in March we’ll then need to complete a further 8 practices (of any topic) before our final assessment in May.

So despite sounding cheesy the hard work really does start now and we need to make sure we take what we’ve learnt in to our next sessions – something which is even tougher for those who aren’t linked to clubs already!


I’ve learnt a ton of stuff about football this week and at some point I’ll summarise what I’ve learnt in another blog but for now that’s the conclusion to 6 days of L2 summaries! I very much hope this might have inspired other coaches to invest the time and effort in to doing their level 2.

FA Level 2: Day 5 Summary

 Another testing day today as we had to put on our small-sided-games and with real emphasis on our understanding of technical points and the coaching process. As with Tuesday, everybody put on a good session and I think everyone succeeded in improving & affecting the quality of both the individual and group during the session (although I had an AP on this).

I’d been given “Deep Defending” which I’d planned last night with some support from the coaches on Twitter but I was nervous about the session as it hadn’t been demonstrated by our tutor during the course.

I was on in the afternoon and the session went as follows:

  • I’d laid out a pitch which was too small (35 x 20) so the tutor asked me early on to adjust it and it was adjusted to something like 45 x 30. I think I’d made it on the small side to allow some success for the defending team (my focus) but the size prohibited any chance to play I behind which was one of they key coaching points.
  • I’d used two cones on the side of the pitch to represent an offside line of sorts and that was the area I wanted my two CB defenders to protect but the tutor then suggested I place a number of cones across the pitch to better represent and identify the zone which we wanted the defending team to protect.
  • This adjustment meant that we were actually asking the defending team to play a high line and press higher up the pitch so I think the topic could be better worded; if not to help the defending team better understand their objective.
  • Other than the adjustments my feedback was pretty positive and I had two action points. These were:
  1. Ensuring the size of the pitch is appropriate to the session
  2. Ensuring I also affect players off the ball and thinking about how I demonstrate where they could be (e.g. Q&A, self-correct or demonstrate myself).

It was a fairly difficult session to put on but obviously the point is to experiment and to learn, both of which have been achieved this afternoon.


My football knowledge has improved incredibly in the last 5 days and it’s changed the way I watch a game of football – be that an SSG or match on the TV.


Our 6th and final day tomorrow, then starts the work to embed what we’ve learnt.

FA Level 2: Day 4 Summary

With weary legs and bodies in abundance this morning we cracked on with Day 4 of our Level 2 course! The first two days were focussed on the transition from a “technical” to a “skills” practice and we then put this in to action on Tuesday when each coach ran a 15-20 minute session. Today we altered focus slightly as we started to look at SSGs – both in isolation and we saw an example of taking a topic from technical > skill > SSG.

Our day began with a look at session evaluation and self-reflection, e.g. which components of a coaching session should be evaluated?

  • Session organisation
  • Safety
  • Coaching technique / style
  • Were the coaching points delivered?
  • Did the coach improve the performance of an individual & the group?

We also looked at the types of people who we could use for feedback on our coaching or sessions, e.g.

  • Coaches
  • Parents
  • Players

On the topic of feedback – I’m hoping to use one of the Level 2 coaches at our club to observe some of my sessions so that he can provide feedback based on an awareness of the L2 syllabus.

After this in-class work we then went outside and slowly found the energy to compete in a number of sessions. This morning we looked at:

  • Dribbling (Technical > Skill)
  • Heading (Technical > Skill)

This afternoon we looked at:

  • Finishing (Technical > Skill > SSG)
  • Defending when outnumbered (SSG)
  • Ball control (SSG)

Some of the key points we’ve seen / learnt today are:

  • Ensuring you continue to cover all CPs during the session (e.g. not just focussing on the one you last introduced)
  • Use of target men/floaters during an SSG to add an alternate dimension (or achieve an objective)
  • The importance of any supporting players getting the practice right (to prevent your practice breaking down)
  • Alterations to increase success during a session
  • Transition from Technical to Skill to SSG

I’m sure there’s more but I’m out of thinking capacity now! Still finding it thoroughly enjoyable and the people are helping – all very open & supportive of each other (as with L1 and YAM1 really).

More tomorrow as I’ll have done my next session, a SSG on “Defending Deep” – eck!