The Secret of Planning – part 1

This latest post addresses one of the hardest yet most vital elements of coaching – developing a game style.  This article is brought to you in 4 parts. The article will take you on a journey that will give you the understanding to develop a unique game style for your team!

The Secret of Planning – Part 1.

By Roger Wilkinson

Planning Step 1 – The Playing vision

 “Great coaches always have a picture in their minds of how they want their team to play”, Vince Lombardi.

No meaningful coaching can take place, with players of ANY age unless the coach has a clear vision of his game style. The coach is like a driver setting off on a coaching journey, they must know where they want to finish up. You cannot coach a 5-year-old if you do not have a clear idea of how you want them to play when they are 25!

In soccer we have many examples of coaches who have created successful teams and have changed the way the game is played because they understood the importance of creating a game style.  Helmut Schoen the German national coach in the 60’s and 70’s produced a style full of athleticism, skill and innovative positional play by changing the role of the sweeper from a destructive to a constructive player. Schoen’s vision produced the game style that ensured German International success over a long period of time because it gave SIGNPOSTS to grassroots coaches in Germany to produce the skill and tactical acumen in their young players to make them successful at a later age.

A game style is NOT a playing formation. Brazil have won the World Cup 5 times since its inception, during that time they have changed their formation a number of times from 4-2-4 to 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 but always their game style (with slight variations) has remained constant.

 Rinus Michel’s the Dutch national coach in the 70’s and 80’s had a playing vision entitled. Total Football. Michel’s based his game style on individualism and high level skill allied to clever player rotation. Michel’s’ work elevated the Dutch, a relatively small nation, to one of the power houses of World and European football. Just as significant was the way the Louis van Gaal the first team manager at Ajax Football Club extended and adapted Michel’s vision at club level. Van Gaal recognized that the most important team coaches at the club were the JUNIOR and YOUTH coaches. He ensured they fully understood the first team game style and they were set to work to produce a conveyor belt of young players who eventually played successfully for Ajax and Holland.

The visionary coach can be working at any level.

At Crystal Palace in the 80’s the youth coach John Cartwright developed a game style based on high individualism combined with clever tactical play and his young players provided the base for Palace’s most successful era. The young first team were labelled “the Team of the Eighties”. More importantly Cartwright developed a coaching methodology used by all development coaches at the club based on a street football-chaos learning programme supported by tactical input. This methodology produced natural players at all ages that could con join with their team mates.

So, the message for all coaches is this:


How does a coach develop their playing vision? To simplify the answer to this question break it into 2 parts:

1. Watch great teams play, Brazil, France, Holland, Argentina, German, Barcelona, Manchester Utd, Bayern Munich, Arsenal who have a recognizable style of play.

2. Study their team play and break it down into the general elements of their play. For example look for these aspects:

When in possession: How do they keep possession? When do they play long and when do they work through the thirds? How do they go forward? How do they utilize space at the back, in midfield, up front and in wide positions? How do they work in the top third to create finishing opportunities? How clinical and sophisticated is their finishing in the air and on the ground?

When out of possession: How do they win the ball back both as individuals and as group of players? What parts of the field do they pressurize the ball? Do they maximize attacking opportunities on regaining possession?

Set Plays: How effective are they with attacking set plays? How do they defend against opposition set plays?

 From this research the coach can select and prioritize the key elements they want in their playing philosophy/game style and put them in an order of priority. The breakdown of key elements could look like this:

Here we give example of the first stage. It is important to emphasize that the philosophy/game style is unique to each coach. This is an example of one coaches planning:

General Components

  1. 1.    Govern the Ball: A team understanding of how to create and use space to keep the ball. To know and understand when to exploit playing long and when to exploit playing through the thirds
  2. 2.    Going Forward With Certainty: A team Understanding of how to attack with cleverness whilst maintaining possession and achieving good possession in dangerous areas.
  3. 3.    Create Clever Finishing Opportunities. Creating and achieving various finishing opportunities in and around the box. “Playing in areas” “2nd six yard box” “2nd Penalty Area” “POMO Situations”.
  4. 4.    Maximizing Finishing: Hitting the stanchions, 2 score easier than 1, following up deflections and rebounds, quality heading, volleying and curling shots.
  5. 5.    Defending aggressively:. Attacking the opposition`s possession and winning the ball back in a quick clean and aggressive manner as individuals and as a team.
  6. 6.    Maximizing possession and finishing opportunities on attacking set plays, corners, free kicks and, throw ons.
  7. 7.    Minimizing possession and finishing opportunities for the opposition on their set plays, Corners, free kicks and throw ons.
  8. 8.    Team mobility when in possession players moving and creating support positions defensive shape going narrow, squeezing /dropping in unison. Controlling opposition movement

Step 2 of The Secret of Planning will look at breaking down these general components into the tactical and skill details needed to make your games style work.

Step 2 of The Secret of Planning will be posted soon!

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