Dull work at the Sharp end.

By Roger Wilkinson

In the modern game one feature has become more evident – creating and taking chances in the top third known to the pro’s as the “sharp end” is becoming more complex and difficult as teams are organised to utilise more players in sophisticated defensive formations.

Surely this would suggest that coaches at all levels need to develop players and teams with the individuality and tactical variations that allow them to respond to this concentrated defensive depth and shape.

There is a need for home produced players to display the ability to move defenders whilst carefully preserving and using possession to  create overloads in order to break down their opponents defensive organisation.

Having observed coaches at all levels in the UK my experience has been tinged with disappointment at the quality of the practices that are supposed to prepare the players to operate successfully in this congested area of the pitch.

I’ve generally seen, even at pro level  “bog standard” crossing and finishing drill sessions  or unopposed unimaginative shooting drills where the players are blasting the ball goal wards with no cleverness or accumulated understanding resulting from the session.

At non-league level I have seen little effort to break away from (a) running and fitness work or mannequin led drills that then leads in to (b) a” keep them happy game”  from which the coach then finishes with (c) a fun unopposed and often unrealistic crossing and finishing practice.

At junior club level the practices can be horrendous with sometime queues of up 12+ waiting in a line to play the ball to a coach or set up player who taps it to the side for the player to run and shoot.

I must state that at all levels there are also examples of good practice but to be honest rarely do I see great practice.

Yet this an area of high reward, an area of great excitement so surely it should be a priority to analyse ,identify and practice the cleverness and variety of build-up play needed to create finishing opportunities and then work to improve and maximise the finishing skills

At Premier Skills we’ve identified the tactics and skills needed to make our game-style effective.

Part 3 of the game-style is – Creating clever chances, this involves working on:

–           Areas at the front of the box – a “second penalty area” if you like.

–           The two areas wide of the box.

In the areas at the front of the box we work on:

–          Running across the area,

–          Take-overs, wall passes, and give and go’s.

–          Playing in balls

–          Dribbling, screening and protecting the ball.

–          Quick passing linkage.

–          Support players moving quickly in and out of support positions as the runs and linkage are accelerated in this tight area.

–          Fast breaks on transition to counter attack and expose poor defending.

Note: It is still our priority not to give the ball away in this area. In the old coaching days we were encouraged to “gamble” on the edge of the box but why should we give away our hard earned “wealth” of possession in a crucial area when we’ve worked so hard to earn it.

In the two areas wide of the box we work on:

–          Shifting defenders to create space to give opportunities to get in behind the defence.

–          Dribbling and running defenders inside.

–          Passing linkage, take overs, wall passes, double wall passes

–          Clever support play, overlaps, underlaps.

–          Crossing, when to cross? And the quality of the crosses.

–          How to make inroads in to the box by linking with a post player to create finishing opportunities from wide positions.

Part 4 of the gamestyle is – Maximising our finishing, this involves working on:

–          Passing in to the corners of the goal using both feet.

–          Wrapping your toe around the ball to give the ball curve, extra width and certainty to the finish. ”The moving free kick”

–          The importance of two men scoring easier than one – the keeper being drawn and then the ball played to the second striker.

–          Long range shooting, emphasising hitting through and staying with the ball ,”getting off your feet “and landing on the kicking foot.

–          Following up for rebounds by anticipating and reacting to shots going in.

–          Players knowing how to successfully finish in one to one situations from fast breaks or interceptions.

–          Finding space in the box by clever runs or early positioning to create heading opportunities. Timing of jumps and the body position in the air that allows the player to generate the right force to successfully head               the ball.

–          Heading in to the corners of the goal and the opposite to the area the keeper is moving in to.

As we can see there is a wide range of detail that needs to be introduced to the player.  From a very young age it’s important that young players develop these important creative and finishing skills in a gradual easy to learn manner.

It is vital the coach uses practices that include realistic opposition, graded to develop success and understanding. Especially in this crowded area the sessions need to be programmed to take the learning from short to long term memory so the player develops the high level ability be exciting in this area.

Just writing about the detail has re enforced with me the precision that is needed for the player to successfully operate at the “Sharp end”.

It has also re-emphasised the insight, cleverness and persistence the coach needs to deliver the right practices to produce players with the quality needed.

If we want to successfully coach at the sharp end of the pitch then we too as coaches have to have “sharpness” in our work.

2 thoughts on “Dull work at the Sharp end.

  1. Roger Wilkinson is so right in his criticism of the unimaginative way in which we do finishing practices at all levels in this country.In my opinion this is the result of a misguided approach stemming from the FA Coaching Scheme.From what I have observed everything is rooted in hitting the ball with maximum power in the hope,or so it seems,of breaking the back of the net and bursting the ball as well.There never seems to be any emphasis,or even consideration,of cleverness.
    On the recent Practice/Play Level 1 and Level 2 Courses run at Wimbledon Goals Centre I thought that the little refinements in the finishing work when we had to score by placing the ball between the marker and the goal post and then follow up the initial shot by scoring from the rebound were so simple and yet so effective.It introduced some awareness and cleverness which is often lacking when I see finishing work being done even at the highest levels.
    I recall John Cartwright making the point,I think in ‘Football For The Brave’,that Jimmy Greaves developed his goalscoring ability when he played in the street.If you hammered shots into goal in that environment without proper goals and goalnets then you faced a long trek to retrieve the ball and continue the game.So Greaves developed the art of passing the ball into the goal and that of course was how he scored so many of his goals.Perhaps because street football died so long ago now that no one remains at the FA who remembers the lessons we can still learn from those days.

  2. Your so right Roger. The ‘sharp end’ is the most difficult end to perform well in. The reason for this is quite obvious — less space, more players! Strange, when i see goals or stikes with feet or head at goal in competitive games, there is usually a host of players from either team congesting the surrounding space as the player attempting to finish — i don’t see the same situations in finishing practices i watch. Could it be most finishing practices here are just another example of unrealism and therfore —- a waste of precious practice time?
    The street provided all the realism of the big game — small but congested playing areas; highly competitive playing situations. This is exactly what finishers were ‘fed’ on and it’s what Practice playing methods provides.

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