Coaching a 1st Touch

I both love and hate aiming for small continuous improvements. I love it because I am someone who was always going to get around one day to ‘totally revamping’ this or ‘have a good think about’ that and in the end I would never find the time to do it.

Trying to aim for small continuous improvements means over time I get things done without having to find a block of time from nowhere. The reason I hate it is that sometimes it feels like I am not progressing or evolving as a Coach as change goes unnoticed.

It takes something like when I found an old Term Planner I was given by someone I worked for years ago to give me a jolt to how much my coaching has changed. Basically this was a guide to what topics I should coach. It actually made me chuckle as I can remember thinking that it was terrific at the time. It gave me some direction so I was grateful but now I look at it and think it wouldn’t give me any direction now.

I will use this to show how things have changed for me although none of it came in a huge change after a total revamp.

Over the term it had ‘1st Touch’ as a topic twice. Now at the time 1st Touch for me was all about getting the ball under control so this really was enough. I’m not sure what I did for these sessions but I remember I often played lots of 2-Touch. My thinking not extending beyond you have to control the ball then pass so it works your 1st Touch because if it takes two touches to get the ball under control you cannot get success.

From somewhere I was introduced to the concept of a directional 1st Touch. Your 1st Touch sets up what you want to do next. This then changed the way I coached 1st Touch because now it just wasn’t about getting the ball under control.

Originally this didn’t extend beyond simply taking your 1st Touch into space. Gradually this evolved to include into coaching the players about scanning, their body shape and disguising the direction of their 1st Touch.

Gradually I started understanding that a directional 1st Touch didn’t always have to go into space it could go towards the defender and even go past them plus I went backwards to go forwards realising that a player didn’t always take a directional 1st Touch. This was the beginning of understanding that a session on 1st Touch couldn’t just be about the player, their teammates and the nearest defenders but had to include an overall theme of what area of the pitch the players are in.

Now when I coach 1st Touch I alternate between sessions that have two overarching themes. One the players are attacking in the final third and two the players are building up the attack or controlling possession from the defensive and middle thirds of the pitch. Inside these themes I specifically work on different types of 1st Touch that are appropriate for that area of the pitch. To sum it up quickly the differences between taking a 1st Touch under pressure on the edge of your own penalty area compared to the opposition’s penalty area.

Back to the point of the blog that I knew I had changed (without a total revamp) the way I coached 1st Touch but I didn’t realise quite how much until I found that old Term Planner and realised I used to be happy to do sessions that had nothing more to them than just getting the ball under control.

As always I love to hear other Coach’s’ opinions so we can all improve.

Thank you to everyone who engages with the blog it is really appreciated.

Look forward to hearing from you

Please leave a comment or email me seanthecoach@icloud.com

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

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Decision making when the ball is in the air

I had one of those moments over the weekend where I saw something happening in games that I had seen many times before but this time it made me think differently .

A player I have coached many times was what set me off. About two minutes apart he was in an almost identical situation regarding how much space he had and what was probably the best option to take. The only difference being one time the ball came to him on the ground and the other it came to him bouncing about thigh high. On the ground he clearly scanned before the ball came then took a touch and played the ball to the centre forward’s feet and supported the pass. Two minutes later when the ball was bouncing towards him he simply hooked the ball forwards over his shoulder.

This was what set me thinking. Why did he behave so differently in two such similar situations?

After that I started to watch players in all the games to see how the same players behaved when the ball was off the ground compared to on the ground. This is only one day’s viewing but I saw many players play plenty of 1st time passes in the air but only rarely saw a 1st time pass when the ball was on the ground. I can surmise that many of those aerial 1st time passes would not have been made if the ball came to them on the ground.

It seemed players required a lot more space to attempt to control the ball when the ball was even slightly off the ground unless they were close to their opponent’s goal. The player who I mentioned earlier was quite prepared to control a far more difficult aerial ball when it meant he could set up a shot at goal later in the game.

The question I started to ponder was why is the decision making noticeably different when the ball is off the ground compared what I assume the same player would do if the ball was on the ground in the same situation.

Is it that much more difficult to take an aerial 1st Touch than one along the ground?

Is my assumption that a player who assesses the football situation before their 1st touch when the ball is on the ground will also do it before their 1st touch when the ball is in the air actually correct?

Do I need to add conditions to my small sided games to encourage the ball being in the air more to allow players to practice assessing the football situation and decision making when the ball is off the ground?

I have not come to any conclusions yet but I certainly have plenty to ponder and discuss with other Coaches to see if I have change how I conduct my sessions to better prepare the players for the game they play in.

As always please leave a comment or email me seanthecoach@icloud.com

Or follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

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More Creative Small Sided Games

A few weeks ago I wrote ‘Creative Small Sided Games’ (http://wp.me/p5aQfW-2f ) and in that I spoke about how I have challenged myself to do sessions and not use the word ‘Pass’ at all although still encouraging the players to pass the ball.

Basically after I wrote the blog I challenged myself again to come up with a completely new way to do the same thing.

I have to give credit where it is due for this one because I think the original idea came from Ian Dipper (@dipandswerve) which is well worth following in my opinion. I didn’t see this game when it was posted but a friend of mine told me about. This is what sparked off my train of thought when I remembered this game.

Noughts and Crosses#2

Basically the players play a modified game of Noughts and Crosses which is just a wonderfully simple way to engage the players. This is what started me off on ways to adapt this type of thinking.

– We played normal Noughts and Crosses but with my variation you could only have a turn if your team scored a goal. However I put conditions on the games such as 3 or more players had to touch the ball in the build to the goal – the goal had to be scored with one touch finish – the opposition choose one player from your team and they had to set up the goal.

– I even ran this with 2 small sided games going side by side (Reds v Blues on both pitches) so that if the Reds or Blues from either pitch scored a goal that  met the conditions they could have a turn on the single game of Noughts and Crosses.

The players really enjoyed it and passing was encouraged without ever mentioning the word ‘Pass’. The players were so engaged in getting another turn to win the Noughts and Crosses Game that they passed without thinking that the session was about passing.

– This got me thinking that maybe we could do something similar with a word game so I did something similar were I again put a condition on what type of goal had to be scored.  However this time the scorer could come up and guess a letter for a word that was a famous football team.

Word Game#2

Again this really engaged the players and we were able to add other conditions such as only goals counted with a one touch finish with ‘other foot’ – goal had to be set up with a one touch assist – there had to be 3 players touch the ball in the last 5 seconds before the goal was scored.

I am in a terrific situation to try out new ideas as I do so many sessions a week which helped with tweaking some of the conditions. I had really good success with both Noughts and Crosses and the Word Game and would definitely recommend other Coaches giving them a try. The best success was with players U8-U10 though it worked fine with both younger and slightly older players. The older players were too good at guessing the famous football teams though and this meant the games were quite short.

The point of this blog is that with some creative thinking there are lots of ways to do the same thing differently.

Please leave a comment or email me seanthecoach@icloud.com

Or possible leave a comment on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

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Drills. Why not?

I can understand how some Coaches are amazed when I broach the topic that doing drills at training is not an effective way to improve our players. For a major part of my life I too believed that drills were essential to improving as a footballer.

Looking back I can see how I thought this way. Most training I did as a player was very much drills, drills, drills and a little game at the end if all went well.  I cannot remember any adult or Coach placing any particular importance on the game at the end either.

So how did I start thinking differently?

When I first started coaching the first thing that I noticed was that I disliked coaching drills almost as much as I disliked doing them when I was a player. I found them very boring and when players asked about when they were going to play a game I really sympathised with them.

Everything I read or heard about coaching at this point seemed to have two common themes we need to make sure the players get as many touches of the ball as possible and the players need to enjoy the sessions.

The perfect answer for me at the time seemed to be juggling the ball and learning moves with a ball. The players would get lots of touches and the majority of them seemed to really enjoy it. Plus I enjoyed this far more than coaching drills.

Next I got told about playing small sided games such as Line Football or 4 Goal Football and this seemed to meet the criteria as well plus it placated my lingering worries that the players were not passing the ball enough in my sessions.

There were two major turning points for me that I can look back and think that affected my thinking towards doing even more Games Based Training and gradually using less juggling or practicing moves in my sessions.

One was when I was involved in selecting a representative squad to compete at a National Championship. The trials started out with possibly 150+ players and when we had whittled this down to just 25-30 players I wrote out my opinion on each player and whether I thought they should be selected or not. I noticed that regularly I was assessing players as having a very high technical level but then not recommending they be picked.

It stayed in the back of my mind for months that how could a player get to have a high technical level but wasn’t really that good at playing football.

The second turning point came when I was coaching my daughter’s team. The team had an influx of about 4/5 players who had never played before. It became very apparent that they literally had ‘never played before’ and I had a lot of work to do to find a way to do sessions with these new players and the existing players.

I decided to do the majority of the training using small sided games so that I can improve their ‘game sense’ if nothing else while still keeping the better players happy. By the end of the season it was obvious that doing the training this way the new player’s technical level plus their ‘game sense’ had improved massively.

At this stage I was thinking more that Games Based Training worked because the players got lots of touches and enjoyed playing games. I thought as the players were enjoying themselves they simply learnt how to play football quicker.

Then I started to look into the theory behind Skill Acquisition and for the first time understood why Games Based Training actually worked. The amount of times the players touched the ball helped plus the players enjoying themselves helped enormously. However the essence of its success was that the players were practicing everything they needed to improve at football. They were practicing assessing the football situation, making a decision based on that assessment and then executing that decision all at the same time.

Now I totally understand how a player can have high technical ability but not be a good footballer.

If I look at my coaching career I think if I had enjoyed doing drills as a player or coaching drills as a Coach would I still be doing them. The answer is probably yes.

Also something for me to remember is that I never stopped doing drills because I realised they were inefficient so that isn’t something that I should expect other Coaches to realise either.

It took me many years of trial and error and plenty of research to realise that Games Based Training worked better so I shouldn’t expect Coaches to accept this within a few minutes of discussing the topic.

Please leave a comment or email me seanthecoach@icloud.com

Or possible leave a comment on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time