By John Cartwright
At PREMIER SKILLS, we believe that we have developed a coaching methodology that provides a new, realistic and progressive approach for the development of players. The programme starts with very young children and follows on to senior players; each development level providing the foundations for the next level and continues towards a designated playing style (Vision).
This coaching methodology has become popular with coaches and their players of all ages over the past few years. However, I have always been concerned with the problem of taking charge of a group of older players who have had insufficient or inadequate coaching during their development years: where does one begin their football re-education – how does one set about changing both their thinking and playing of the game in a short space of time?
Recently, I was asked to do some coaching with boys of 16 years of age who had applied to attend a College at which a football programme was combined with other educational lessons. This situation occurs throughout education in this country – players are only enrolled on the scheme if they have achieved a required educational standard. 24 boys attended on day 1. All had various coaching backgrounds; a few displayed some general ability, some were just full of effort – but all lacked both sufficient skill and game understanding that boys of this age should possess. Here is the problem; what does a coach need to do to quickly ‘resurrect’ the playing ability of these players? Here’s a description of how I went about changing their thinking and playing of the game over a three day period.
It is important to explain to the group what is to be attempted over the three days and why this is necessary at this time.
It must also be noted that the content of the work must proceed in a progressive manner towards the pre-designated playing style (vision) as mentioned above.
The work was to be carried out over three days; each day would be split into two hour sessions. Total time available was six hours.
Two teams of equal playing ability were selected and players played in the positions they normally played.
Certain pitch markings were set up to promote visual awareness of aspects of the game – a central line of cones was laid through the centre of the pitch from penalty area to penalty area to make the players aware of the possibility of changing the game from congested areas of play to more open spaces on the other side of the field; and two semi-circle lines of cones were placed across the field at both ends ; these are called PLAY-ROUND (PR) AREAS – PR1 curves back into the penalty box and goes to the far forward edge of it on either side. PR2 curves backwards and across the field half way inside a team’s own half of the field. Both of these PR areas are for defenders to use when in possession of the ball to promote turning the ball . Later, as more emphasis was placed on achieving forward targets, the back PR areas were taken away and two forward PR areas for attacking teams replaced them; PR3 curves back across the field halfway inside the opposing half of the field. PR4 curves back within the front third of the field around the penalty areas at both ends. These forward PR areas are there to provide a visual guide to turn the ball around these areas.
A full pitch Keep-ball period lasting one hour began the work, this was followed by an hour in which more ‘positive’ keep-ball was attempted – (a) a pass count was made only when the ball was in the opponents half of the field. (b) In order to exploit space advantages achieved during possession play, forward direction was increased. Teams were asked to make entries into, followed by exits from target areas around the opposing penalty area and later, into an opposing penalty area. Ball retention after an exit from these areas with possession maintained was required before a ‘goal’ could be given.
Observations on skill and tactical deficiencies were made both to individuals and in general terms. Ball possession combined with patience during preparation play was the primary objective of this period and all the PR areas were used.
During this period, aspects of defending; for individuals, for groups and as a team was covered.
Goalkeepers’ were given the role of ‘Deepest Sweeper’ and were only involved in supportive receiving and delivering situations.
Day two was about Alternative playing methods.
We all want to play attractive football with a positive end result, but football is a competitive sport and the ability to play attractively and win must be earned, Success with style is not achieved easily.
The tactical use of Pressuring forces teams’ in possession to adapt their style of play to offset the problem of losing possession close to their own goal. Even Barcelona, often find it difficult to play their normal passing game from back areas against pressure tactics….. and they possess some of the finest footballers in the world today! So there has to be an alternative playing style that reduces the impact of pressure on ones own back area and quickly transfers play to areas of the field that forces immediate pressure onto the opposition…..the long forward pass.
In order to provide less space and time in which to play I reduced the width of the playing area and retained the central line through the field as before. PR3 and 4 were retained to promote ball possession in forward areas after a long pass had been received successfully. Playing from back positions became more difficult… but not an impossibility. Areas to which kicking longer passes were to be delivered were set out and kicking methods were demonstrated. In conjunction with this, movements by receiving players in forward positions was shown and team support quickly forward was also explained.
Decision making with regards to short or longer playing deliveries was the important feature of this practice period and the work completed on day one provided the choices for play variations on day two. The use of one and two touch passing was also necessary in the reduced field sizes. Defending, should possession be lost from the long pass, was also introduced and closing down on opposition from this situation was covered.
Goals were once again ‘scored’ by success in achieving possession of the ball into and exiting the opponents target corner areas or penalty area. Goalkeepers were again required to support at the back but deliveries from them were of either short or longer length according to the situation at the time.
Day three was split into two periods – (am) the tactical use of Overloading.
(pm) this period was used as a full game examination of the work completed over the three days.
A full-size playing area was used to allow sufficient spaces to occur during the game for players to penetrate into other positions and for covering rotations to take place.
Goals were brought into play and goalkeepers were used both defensively and offensively
(am) Overloading by back players into mid-field and rotation of players to cover vacated positions was demonstrated. This was followed by front players dropping deep to create extra players in mid-field and wide or central mid-field players breaking into forward spaces. Time did not allow me to introduce other overload opportunities.
Restarts situations both offensive and defensive was covered as the games progressed.
(pm) A full game lasting one hour was played. The time was split into two thirty minute periods. Period one was played on a field where there was a reduction in playing width. Period two was played on a full size field.
In these final two periods it was possible to see a tremendous difference in game understanding and individual playing qualities of the boys from day one.
I am not saying that this ‘formula’ is perfect, there is a great deal of work involved but it did do two important things; it provided the boys with a quick ‘picture’ of where their playing levels should be at this time and they did show a big improvement. It also gives a coach a better chance to quickly take players beyond their previous playing levels and provides a development point from which to progress whilst having to play competitive fixtures.
I hope this helps with the problem of taking over players who are actively involved in competitive football.