A model training session

I have always been reluctant to post model training sessions. Probably the most important reason is that coaches may take that model and then simply copy it, without putting in any of their own philosophy or ideas. Having taken model sessions from others and trying to implement it never worked out that well. The next issue is that the session should match the players as well as possible and that takes the ability to read the session and making changes as the session progresses.

However, after watching hundreds of practices, I came to the conclusion that my model of providing coaching courses, suggesting activities and dropping in on practices was not giving me the quality of session from my coaches that I was hoping to see. In short, only a few practices were at an acceptable level. The vast majority were of low quality and did not focus on the core skills I have identified as important to develop players.

So this season, I decided to do a relatively generic session that included the same elements in each practice and that were repeated through successive sessions. I focused on the core skills that all coaches in my program should be working on in their sessions: dribbling; controlling the ball; shield and turn. I also added some running skills to the warm up. I used the format for U6-U12 groups. I added skills (like passing) to the older age groups later in the season.

Warm up
Grid 30 yards long x 15 yards wide (can be made wider for more space). 

We all have a natural running style, but almost all of us could benefit from running skills training. So this year I decided to add some running skills to the warmup. We started with some very simple form drills that focused on swinging the arms and landing on the toes.

Here is the sequence:
Slow/Fast- Soccer is a sprint/recovery activity. Players need to run fast and then recover. Slow/Fast helps them focus on their form while also mimicking the game with players starting out in a SLOW jog and then on call transitioning to sprinting and then back to slow.
Skipping- these are BIG skips with the focus in players skipping but being airborne (both feet off the ground) for as long as possible.
45's- Because soccer demands changes of direction as well, running skills training should include activities like 45's. In this activity, players take two steps and then make a 45 degree cut using first the right and then the left foot (step, step, cut, step, step cut).

Some additional ones you can look up and do include: carioca's, running backwards, back and forth and ladder drills.

Running skills only lasted 2-4 minutes before we moved on to ball skills.

Ball Skills
same grid as warmup, can be changed in size to make it easier or more difficult depending on numbers (more= bigger grid) and skill of players (better= smaller grid)

Forcefields: I started out with players running in the grid as if they had a forcefield around themselves. If they got close to another player, the forcefield would push the players away (change direction) from each other. This made a lot of sense to the players and they could easily see that there were a lot of ways to get away from the other player including a simple change of direction or to turn away.

Forcefield with ball: same game, simply add the ball. I used this time to review moves we have learned in previous sessions. I could also add coaches/parents to increase the pressure on the players. They tried to tag the players and the players tried to avoid the tag by using a move or their body to keep the coaches/parents away from the ball.

New skills-
Here are some skills (along with an associated video to see how to do them)
inside cut - video
single stepover- video
single lunge- video video2
pull back and go- video
speed dribble (laces)- video
Cruyff turn- video
outside cut- video (skip to 1:00)

Of course, there are many more moves that you can do with your players, however in a single rec season, you should focus on a small number of moves and encourage players to master them by repetition and focus on where they can use the moves in a game situation. Not all defenders will be approaching from in front of the players, so try to have the players recognize what move works for what situation.

Also, if you want to skip the running drills, you could spend more time on ball control exercises. The Coerver sequences are great and offer you lots of options. I have included one video with some specific examples, but there are thousands out there. Just remember that you do need to progress to some kind of challenge for the players or they will quickly get bored with ball skill exercises.

Here are some examples of challenges I used this year:

Sharks and minnows (same grid size as ball skills, change to fit skill level of players)
Typically, this game is played as an elimination game, but because we want to keep everyone engaged and increase each player's number of touches, we play this game in a more soccer-like way.

The sharks don't have a ball and carry a vest in one hand. When released, they try to take away (NOT kick away) a player's ball.
If the shark is successful, then s/he drops the vest and dribbles away with the other players ball.
The player who just lost the ball picks up the vest and goes hunting for another (different) ball.
This game can last for up to two minutes and gives players plenty of opportunities to face pressure.

You can do rounds of this game where each time you increase the number of sharks depending on the skill level of your players.
You can make the grid smaller.

oh no
This game emphasizes a change of direction at its lowest level and then figuring out how to beat a defender at higher progressions.
use a grid with 3 zones, the middle zone is only 5 yards long. The other two zones are 10-15 yards long.

Players start on one side of the grid. When the coach calls "Oh NO" (with energy), players are to try and turn and get into the other grid as quickly as possible. 
Once in the other grid, players continue to dribble and move until they hear the call. 

add parent/coach defenders in the middle grid. These defenders can apply no pressure and then you can have them increase pressure. If they win a ball, then they put it back in the grid where the player started and allow the player through on the 2nd attempt. 
Add more defenders with the same rules. 

For higher levels (U10 and 12), you can add a target at each end of the grid. A player can pass the ball to the target instead of dribbling through the grid to solve the problem. If the player misses the target, then s/he has to go get the ball and get back into the grid before the next Oh NO call. 

Tag games (same grid size, change to fit skill level of players)

First progression- In this game all the players have balls. In the first round, players try to tag as many other players as possible on the shoulder and keep count of how many they tagged. Players must stay in bounds and must move the entire time. Highest number of tags wins.

The second progression- players try NOT to get tagged by others and only count the times the player actually got tagged. As coach, you can add penalties like 5 tags for dribbling out of bounds or standing still. Lowest number of tags wins.

Freeze tag- a game for older players (U10 and up), break the group up into two teams. players can freeze the other team's players the same as before. Teammates can untag their partners by dribbling the ball through their legs. The first team to freeze all of the other team's players is the winner.

As with the dribbling moves, there are hundreds of games you can play to increase pressure on players that are appropriate for each age group and skill level. When choosing an activity, make sure that it satisfies our basic principles: it is soccer or soccer-like, all players are actively participating and the game is fun/challenging for the players. You know the activity is not good if the players are standing around or players only rarely touch the ball or you find yourself doing a lot of yelling. If that happens, end it and move on.

Controlling the ball

Every session includes controlling the ball activities. Juggling is a foundational activity that helps the player get comfortable with the ball in the air. It also teaches them body shape and position.

Thigh juggling-
Players hold the ball with both hands near their thigh and raise their thigh to pop the ball up and then catch it. First they do it with the right thigh and then the left. Once they get comfortable, have them walk and juggle, alternating right and left.

The next challenge is 2 juggles, right- left- catch. After that, then they try to get as many juggles as they can before the ball hits the ground. This time, they don't catch it, but instead try to juggle it as long as possible before it rolls on the ground.

Bounce Juggling-
Players toss the ball above their head and then let it bounce. Once it comes down a second time, they use their right foot to kick it back up in the air again. Then they repeat with their left foot. Once they become comfortable, they can try to alternate right/ left as long as possible. So the pattern is: bounce- right foot- bounce- left foot-bounce- right foot...

Once they are comfortable with both thigh and foot, you can challenge them to do combinations such as right thigh, left foot. For more skilled players you can challenge them to get higher numbers of consecutive juggles or more complex combinations. The best players won't need to let the ball bounce between juggles and should be encouraged to not let the ball bounce.

Once you have gone through these progressions, you can add bouncing or flighted balls to any service in the small-sided games to challenge players to get comfortable controlling difficult balls. You can make controlling the ball the focus of a small-sided game or a feature of the game.

Small-Sided games
Once you have spent about 15-20 minutes on the warmup and foundational skills, then you will need to move to a game-like situation that employs the skills covered in the last section. My favorite is the 1 v 1 to two goals activity.

1 v 1 to two goals

In this game, the coach gets 4-6 players and divides them into two groups. Players place their ball next to the coach.
The reason why we play this to two goals is that it can emphasize deception and change of direction for the player with the ball. It also forces the defender to choose a defensive strategy based on the attacking players skill and movement.

A rectangle has 4 sides, each player defends two sides and can score by dribbling over EITHER of the other two sides.

to start the game, the coach plays the ball to the player at the far end of the grid. That player then receives the ball and tries to dribble over EITHER of the two lines farthest away from where s/he is starting.

The defending player must steal the ball and then dribble it over EITHER of the attacking player's lines.

The coach can help level the game by the quality of the serve provided. A strong player would receive a more difficult serve than a weaker player.

Emphasis is on dribbling the ball over the line. If a player cannot dribble the ball past the line and touch it on the other side of the line, then a goal is not credited. Have players keep track of how many goals s/he have scored.

Play the game for a fixed period of time (2-3 minutes). Depending on your team size, you can then split them up into 2 groups based on the number of goals scored. This allows you to make it more challenging for the stronger players and easier on the weaker players.

If you play three rounds, then you can easily see who has the best skill, who is improving and who lacks confidence so that you can then plan your activities apporpriately for future practices.

2 v 1
This game provides older players a chance to choose between dribbling or passing to solve a problem. Not only does the player have to read the defender, s/he also has to communicate with her teammate. This communication can be auditory, but it is more likely to be visual cues that are important.

Divide the team into two groups. In the diagram above, the blue team is attacking and the red team is defending. Keep them in this orientation for rounds of 2-3 minutes.

Game starts on a ball served by the coach to either attacking player. As in the 1 v 1, a goal is scored when the ball is dribbled over the defender's line or a pass is completed to a teammate over the line.

For the attacking team, a goal counts 1 point, for the defending team a goal counts for two points.
Play two rounds of this game (each team gets to attack and defend).

While this game is focused on the attacking elements (when to dribble, what move to make, when to pass), you can also focus on the defending elements (pressure, angle of approach, speed of approach). However, only coach EITHER the attacking or defending element in a particular session.

2 v 2
The structure of this game is the same, only you add a 2nd defender. Because you have 2 defenders, there is no defensive goal bonus, if either team scores a goal, they get a point. Play 2 rounds of 2-3 minutes.

In this game, you can coach either the attackers or the defenders. Again, focus on one or the other, but not both during the session. Because you can come back to this exercise repeatedly, it should make the transition easy and then you can choose to focus on a different aspect than the last time you played it.
Because there are now two defenders, you can spend more time covering the basic defending principles of pressure, cover and balance. If you aren't sure of how to do this, the basic premise is simple. the first defender pressures the ball, the 2nd defender covers his teammate.

As a defensive philosophy, you want your players to stop the ball. While the 2nd defender has to keep an eye on the 2nd attacker, you don't need her to "cover" the player who doesn't have the ball. Instead, the 2nd defender covers his teammate. If the teammate gets beaten, then the 2nd defender immediately steps up to pressure the 1st attacker (the player with the ball). So many coaches worry about players not "marking up" or "covering" a defender. This is a waste of energy and doesn't help your team's defending at all. Focus instead on 2 things:

  • Stop the ball 
  • cover your teammate

3 v 3 or 4 v 4
Now expand the size of your grid, depending on your age group, and number of players, you can make it much bigger or just a little bigger than the 2 v 2 grid. Then add small goals and play 3 v 3 up to 5 v 5 games. If you have access to a full size goal, you can have a small goal (or 2 small goals) on one side and the full-size goal on the other side. Often, I choose NOT to have GK's (remember there are no GK's in U6 and U8 anyway), but if I do, then only 1 team has a GK.

Whatever your focus of training was that day should be valued in these larger games. You can play for 10-15 minutes in which you reward players for doing something you worked on earlier in practice or the theme of the night within a game where the players are playing and trying to score goals.

For example, if you worked on the lunge move during dribbling skills, anytime a player tries a lunge move, her team gets a point. If the player successfully dribbles past an opponent by using the move, give her team 2 points. Goals can count for as many points as you want, but whatever you value, your kids will try to earn that reward. So if you value dribbling moves 3 points and goals 1 point, then they will try to dribble more and score goals less.

Regardless of the quality of your practice, your kids will only want to do one thing, PLAY. So for at least 20 minutes, you want to play the game. You can add GK's if you haven't done so already.

Your Role
The most important thing you can do now as a coach is step back and assess what your kids are doing and if they have picked up anything from the practices you have run so far.

This is your chance to be less vocal and let the kids take control. So instead of "getting into the game" and yelling at the kids, instead, evaluate one kid for 2-3 minutes and see how he is doing. What skills does he need to work on? What has he gotten better at since the start of the season? What should you do next to help him get better?

This process lets you know how well you are doing as a coach and provides you with information to plan your next sessions.

Final Thoughts

  1. While this model training session is good, it doesn't cover everything. In particular, I never discussed positions, formations or free kick situations. While you can work on those elements, I would strongly encourage you to focus more on the development of skills. Nothing will help your kids more. 
  2. In my real training sessions, I often include problem solving activities that force players to solve problems in small groups. In my U10 groups, I will often have problem solving activities built around passing the ball so that kids understand that passing the ball is not just to give the ball to someone else, but instead is done with the purpose of solving a problem. 
  3. It is really fun to coach soccer. Even when the kids aren't doing well, they are out there trying something new and being challenged in ways that may be uncomfortable. Instead of focusing on what they are doing wrong (which is going to be happening most of the time), I look for the times when they do something well and make a big deal out of that. 
  4. Judge your practice by the number and quality of touches that a player gets. The more touches a player gets, the more experience he has to learn how to be a better player. If you have an assistant, have that coach choose one player and count how many times she touches the ball during a fixed period of time (10 minutes, a whole practice). A good coach can get a player to get over 1,000 touches in a typical 75 minute practice. Obviously, you can get lots of touches when the player is dribbling a ball in open space, but how many of the touches come against some kind of pressure (including a small grid, lots of players, defenders, a game situation)



Popular posts from this blog

A good game spoiled

The Lowest Common Denominator pet peeves list

U8 Resources for coaches