Is this what we do at training?

Is this what we do at training? You don’t make us do stuff.”

This was an U11 player who has just joined the club I work at. He has had two sessions with me and in that time I think we have improved his 1st Touch.

Both sessions he has attended were about maintaining possession with his 1st Touch so I am glad there has been some change in that behaviour. He isn’t an elite player by any stretch and it looks very much like he was the big kid who played at the back and was cheered when he kicked the ball a long way at his previous club.

The point of this blog is to explain why he made this comment.

Over the last 18 months I have been experimenting with making sessions totally game based. Often everything including the warm up is done in the form of a small sided game (SSG). I think at this point it would be good to point out that I work primarily with players U8 – U12 and I wouldn’t really recommend having a SSG as a warm up for older youth or senior players. I have had no muscle injuries no matter how I do the warm up.

As explained in a previous blog ( I have my session topic and then I come up with the four things I want to see the players do in the session. The warm up is a SSG that simply introduces the topic and the things I want to see in a low intensity way. For instance in the 2nd session this player played in the warm up SSG was Passing Points (refer to previous blog ) were a goal is worth as many points as passes involved in the build-up. I did the Darts Style scoring system which was recommended to me in that blog. It makes the game more fun plus provides more decision making.

This game tends to promote lots of extra passing so players tend to get lots of repetition on their 1st Touch often not under strong pressure so it qualifies for me as a both a warm up and a way to introduce the topic to the players.

I don’t want to go through the whole session in detail but to give you a brief summary all the SSGs we did until the end of the session promoted passing so there were lots of 1st Touches. To encourage players to close down the player on the ball and force them to take a 1st touch to maintain possession no matter what SSG we played I added the condition that every player must take a minimum two touches and if an opponent touched the ball before your 2nd touch they got a goal.

I follow the principles of planning a session that I have been instructed to do on many coaching courses (I have not included names for the stages as they have changed so many times)

Stage 1 – Prepare the players for the session and introduce the topic for the session under minimal if any opposition.

Stage 2 – Plan for as many repetitions of topic as possible. Increase the opposition.

Stage 3 – Bring the technique they have practiced into a game setting with as many elements of the real game involved as possible.

Stage 4 – Free Play

The only difference being is that I use SSGs throughout.

My first observation is that the players like it. As you can imagine I have never had anyone ask for a drill at the end of the session. Strangely though I was once asked are we going to have a game at the end? I said ‘What are you playing now’ to which he replied ‘No I mean a game when we don’t have to do anything’. I think the session may have been too taxing for him that day.

Secondly I think the players transfer the technique practiced to match day easily because it is learnt in a game setting. The only difference being that there are more players.

Thirdly I enjoy it as well.

I could list many positives for using this method but I must admit I have some doubts. I am concerned that as the training is based around SSGs you cannot regulate how many repetitions each player gets. If 1 or 2 players dominate then they may get 100 x 1st Touches but the other players may only get 50 each. It is likely the players getting the lower numbers are the ones who require the most practice. I have videoed a number of sessions specifically to count technique repetitions and not found a significant discrepancy but it is a concern that it could be happening regularly and is maybe too difficult to spot unless the discrepancy is huge in a single session.

The other concern is that a player can avoid practicing a technique in a SSG. If a player doesn’t like going 1 v 1 for example then they can simply take the passing option in a SSG every time. I have to take lots of care to plan the SSGs so that players are forced into situations where they have to perform the technique. By the way normally with 1 v 1s I find reducing the number of players per side reduces the number of passing options and so encourages more 1 v 1s from all the players.

Back to the comment at the start of the blog I think the player was delighted he was just getting to play football which is why he joined the club and wasn’t being made to do stuff at training that he didn’t enjoy.

As always I need to hear other Coach’s’ opinions especially those who can see other concerns with using this method. Thank you to everyone who contacts me and leaves messages on the blog it is really appreciated.

Look forward to hearing from you

Please leave a comment or email me

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time


Xbox is good for young players

I have read many times that Coaches need to think creatively about how to engage with their players. Also I have read about how about blending how a PlayStation/Xbox game engages players into a training session could lead to interesting results.


This week I decided it was a good time to give it a go. Instead of me introducing progressions within the session the players had to earn the progressions. I run a technical program within my club so I work with many different groups of players. I have done a similar session three times this week all with groups aged from 11-13 years of age.

The focus of the session was to work on the players 1st Touch specifically using the 1st Touch to create an angle for a pass. Two of the groups were of mixed ability and one group above average ability.

The four things I wanted to see the players do were

1 – Positioning themselves to support player on ball plus having option to pass/shoot.

2 – Adjusting body shape to play forwards.

3 – Players maintaining possession on 1st Touch.

4 – Evidence players planned ahead i.e repositioning themselves before receiving a pass.

Normally I will tell the players what the topic is plus what I want to see but at these sessions I simply explained the conditions of the session and let it unfold.

We used 2 x 30 x 20m pitches with four small sided teams and simply played 5 min games through the session.

For a team to pass all the way through First Level

Level 1.1              1 x player must score a goal with a 1-Touch finish

Level 1.2              2 x players must score two more goals with a 1-Touch finish

Level 1.3              3 x players must score three more goals with a 1-Touch finish

All games last 5 minutes and if you haven’t progressed through a stage of a level when the whistle went then any goals scored were wiped for next game i.e if on Level 1.3 and have scored 2 goals when whistle went then these goals are wiped for next game and you have to score 3 goals again.

I wanted it to be easy to get through the first levels so that players could get hooked on the idea. When they got through a level a player had to come out and write the colour of their team on the board that had a table draw on it with all the levels so all teams knew what level the other teams were on.

To help teams who got stuck I had an occasional Bonus Round were teams could nominate a player to take a penalty if they scored they advanced. There was only one penalty per team so it was nice and quick then back to the games.

Second Level

Level 2.1              1 x player must score a goal with a 1-Touch finish with ‘other foot’

Level 2.2              2 x players must score two more goals with a 1-Touch finish with ‘other foot’

Level 2.3              3 x players must score three more goals with a 1-Touch finish with ‘other foot’

On reflection I think the Second Level possibly slowed the progression of the mixed ability groups down too much. When I redo with players at this level I will probably allow a finish with a maximum of 2 touches.

Third Level

Level 3.1              All players must be involved in the move to score a goal (inc GK)

Level 3.2              The goal must be scored on the 3rd, 4th or 5th pass of a move.

Level 3.3              The goal must be scored on the 5th, 6th or 7th pass of a move.

The above average ability group was the only group were teams reached this level but their session was 15 mins longer than the mixed ability groups who only had 60 min session this week. This level progressed smoothly because with all groups there were lots of passing combinations so it didn’t require a change in play just put a new condition, therefore more decision making, into the passing combinations.

I think the asking for a 1-Touch finish somehow influenced the play because there was very little running with the ball in any session. The focus was to work on the players 1st Touch specifically using the 1st Touch to create an angle for a pass and I think the players got solid practice at this. I will watch closely to see if allowing a maximum 2-Touch finish in second level doesn’t in some way affect the style of play.

I believe the session was a success on two fronts

1 – Players who I have had some trouble keeping focused and engaged for a full session in the past were sprinting past me to write their team colour on the board in the last 15 mins.

2 – The players got multiple opportunities to practice their 1st Touch in the specific way I was hoping for from the session.

I think the concept would lose its appeal if done too often however I would recommend you play with the idea to see if it can provide your team with a different type of session.

I would love to hear from Coaches who have tried something similar to find out how they went.

Look forward to hearing from you

Please leave a comment or email me

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

I mentioned Throw Ins once but I think I got away with it

One of the biggest time wasters in youth football (U12 & younger) is the simple Throw In. When Coaches approach me on the subject the remaining hair that is clinging defiantly to (mainly the sides of) my head starts to get worried.

Before I start it is good idea to look at why a Throw In has evolved the way it has.

Throw In

The first consideration is why a Throw In is given. There has been a minor infringement that often happens accidentally. Logically no team deserves a significant advantage over the other team when the game is restarted after such an incident.

When the rules of football were being formalised the game was very much about gaining territory and getting the ball closer to the opponent’s goal in a very direct manner. This had to be considered when discussing how to create a fair way to restart the game.

This ruled out restarting the game by kicking the ball in because clearly the ball could be kicked a large distance towards the opponent’s goal. Throwing the ball in could result in a similar advantage if any type of throwing was permissible.

To simplify the story what was developed was a simple set of restrictions to limit the distance a ball could be thrown so throwing the ball in was a fair way to restart the game.

Interestingly this is how Australian Rules Football and Rugby chose to fix the issue of how to restart the game in a fair manner.

In summary a Throw In is nothing more than a fair way to restart the game by restricting how far the ball can be thrown while still keeping the essence of the game that the ball can move in any direction.

Problem #1

These were designed as a simple set of restrictions for adults not for children. Regularly children below the age of 12 years struggle to throw the ball at all or only a very short distance if they follow these restrictions correctly. It drives me mad to see referees giving multiple foul throws at U8s or U9s because ‘they have got to learn to do it correctly’ when the team gained no advantage from the throw.

I feel all we are doing is stopping the young players playing and that depending on the age of the players involved we allow some flexibility with the Throw In technique if they gain no advantage from the throw. Not following the correct technique and subsequently throwing the ball a long way is different altogether.

Problem #2

As players get penalised for inadvertent foul throws this leads to Coaches feeling they have to spend time specifically to ‘teach Throw Ins’ to their young players. This generally leads to players standing in 2’s throwing the ball to each other. One coach, a number of years ago, proudly told me he does this for 5 mins at the start of each session.

I think this is a waste of time for the simple reason that the original rule makers were right they have devised a simple set of restrictions for adults. I would suggest anyone reading this blog would expect an adult, even a complete novice to football, could be shown how to take a Throw In properly within a few attempts.

I prefer Coaches when appropriate introduce Throw Ins into exercises or SSGs at training were the Throw In is more hidden learning. This way the players can get some practice taking Throw Ins but also the players receiving the Thrown In get some practice about where to position themselves.

If we think differently we can start any exercise with a Throw In although you have to stick with it. The first time I had the players restart a 5 v 2 possession exercise with a Throw In it went very poorly for quite a while till they figured out what to do.

I feel the positioning of the thrower’s team mates contributes to many of the foul throws. Often foul throws in youth football happen when the thrower tries to throw too far, often up the line, over a cluster of players. If we can get the other team mates to simply offer a forwards, backwards or sideways option to the thrower then I think we will reduce the number of foul throws plus the players are learning the basics of positioning.

As always I would be delighted to hear from any other Coaches on this topic.

Thank you to all the Coaches who retweet my blog it is very much appreciated.

Look forward to hearing from you

Please leave a comment or email me

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time