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.

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Football Coaching Session: Using Scenarios


I was skimming through some of the Youth Mod 2 content last week and came across a note I’d made about using scenarios in sessions as a way to get your topic across. I always try and use different sessions so thought I’d look at using scenarios/situations to continue our recent theme of defending (pressing or being compact).

I’ve heard coaches talking about using situations previously, perhaps at the end of the session or just to introduce a different angle to a game but having tried it last week I think there were good benefits to using this type of session.

Firstly, the setup. We had 12 players so it was perfect for 6v6 in the 35 x 35 area we have (we sometimes have 17 players which is hard work on such an area!) and to begin with they played a 10 minute game to get started. This gets rid of a bit of early energy and also allows me to see if the teams are evenly matched (they create the teams, not me). I also split the pitch in to thirds and asked them to “defend in two but attack in three”.

We then stopped it, allowed them to get a drink and I explained that we’d now play a 10 minute game where the situation was that one team had a 2-0 lead to defend. The team who were to lead were the team who’d lost the opening game so it was an interesting change of focus and challenge for them.

What I like about the situation approach is that it gives team’s a chance to set out a strategy or plan for how they play before the game and it gives you an opportunity to explore what they come up with via some Q&A. What I found interesting was their response to the challenge – they defended more aggressively than in the opening game, generally worked harder and actually won the game.

Before the first situation I was going to give each team the same challenge but due to the outcome of the second game I instead used the same challenge but this time spoke more to the alternate team about how they could change their approach to win the game.

To summarise:

1st Game: Team A beat Team B (by a couple of goals)

2nd Game: Team B beat Team A (Team B had started with 2-0 lead)

In the 2nd game there was no change in performance from Team A but Team B, as shown above, improved considerably.

Game 3 used the same situation but I spoke to Team A about their approach because I wanted to see how they’d react. They wanted to try and draw out Team B who’d sat in a compact shape and didn’t feel they should press because Team B were “going long”. Team B were happy with their approach from the previous game but felt they could be better in possession.

Outcome of Game 3? Team A won, comfortably. The difference? Team A scored an early goal and Team B’s work rate / belief dropped so they didn’t defend as aggressively and conceded soft goals. This provided an opportunity to talk about this with them after the game finished.

In the final situation I wanted to challenge a couple of players in Team A (as they’d won two of the games without too much challenge) so I changed Team A to 4 players and had 6 on Team B. I gave Team A a 2-0 lead and then asked them to discuss how they would approach protecting that lead. The result? The 4 players won the game by securing a 2-1 win.

The different perspectives to the game certainly opened up interesting decisions for them to make regards their game plan. It also altered their work rate and most noticeably, how hard they worked when out of possession.

In addition to this I also had players on Team B being responsible for organising their team’s defensive shape and that was given to a different player in each of the 3 games which gave them a separate challenge to think about.

All in all it was a really good session and a great way to discuss strategies to the game from both an attacking and defensive approach but with the main focus on the latter.

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.

Tired of hearing my own voice


I’ve had a slight change of tact with the style of my sessions recently because I felt it was needed from both my own perspective and the players perspective. With the U16s I coach I’ve tended to find that they can be quite reserved when we do a group Q&A which I think is a trait of that age. However, what I found is that this meant that I ended up doing all the talking because I wasn’t getting much back and therefore I’ve become a bit sick of hearing my own voice.

I also presumed that if I was getting sick of my own voice then the players probably were too! I’ve therefore moved my sessions to be more player lead and work more on the social corner (if considering the four-corner model as advocated by the FA courses).

These are intelligent young men doing their GCSEs so you know that they have valuable input and an ability to discuss any range of topics so I’ve tried to look at ways in which I can get more from them both in terms of verbal communication but also ownership & decision making.

Last week I asked them to setup the warm up, I asked them to set any conditions they wanted and then I gave them a template for a session but asked them to figure out how the rest of it would work (pitch size, teams, formations etc in a game where we had two matches being played both across the pitch and from end-to-end).

This week I did a 7v8 possession game (one I’ve used quite a bit) but I selected the 7 players as they were my defensive players (GK, defenders and defensive midfielders). I let them get on with the possession game and we stopped twice to do a bit of Q&A with them (one coach took the 8, I took the 7) to find out how the game was working, what they could improve in possession and what they could improve when out of possession.

This worked well as their input was very good and as expected the were on the money in terms of what it was they needed to correct. I had a little chat with them and explained that I was working with them directly because in games they might need to work out a problem they have defensively and whilst a team of 11, I wanted them to feel a sense of being a defensive unit.

I’m going to continue this as a theme and work on some more session ideas which allow me to work with different groups of players because what has also been evident is that when it comes to communication with groups of players it seems to be a case of divide and conquer!

Be interested to know if anyone else is going down a similar path, or has input/suggestions on this topic.

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.

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!

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.

SSG_ScoringfromWide

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.

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!

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.