1 v 1’s how my sessions have changed

1 v 1’s in football on the surface seem quite simple. In the past, I was definitely a Coach who didn’t think much beyond setting out small grids. One player at each end. Player with ball passes the ball to the other and we go live. You scored by getting past the defender and running the ball over the opposite end line of the grid.

Done. Top Coaching. Let’s go home so you can tell me how great I am to coach 1 v 1’s and not scream at my players to pass all the time.

Last week I read a blog by Dan Wright


and it started me thinking about some of the changes I have made to how I coach 1 v 1’s. One that Dan mentions in his blog has now become pivotal to my 1 v 1 sessions. I will always include a passing option now for the reasons Dan mentioned and to give the player with the ball more practice at deciding the right time to take on a player. Lots of benefits also to the supporting players and other defenders.

Instead of listing all the changes I have made I will discuss the most interesting for me and how this change has had some terrific unexpected benefits.

Like I said originally, I would simply set out a number of grids and have the players in pairs going 1 v 1. After 30/60 seconds, I would stop it and one player from each pair would move to another grid and then start again.

Someone pointed out to me that players need to be explosive in 1 v 1’s to accelerate away from the defender and that nobody can be repeatedly be explosive without breaks. After a bit of trial and error I started to put two pairs on each grid but only one pair plays while the other rests. This had some good benefits because every time the ball left the grid one of the pair not playing passed a new ball on which meant we had a variety of starting positions for the defender and the attacker.

I patted myself on the back again and went back to thinking I really do know everything.

However, once I started to introduce a passing option into the sessions I started to have two or more players off the grid at the same end. This eventually meant players starting to chat to each other when resting. As a result, the sessions started to get sloppy as players often lost focus when not playing.

My next move was to get the players off the pitch at each end to watch the game and then coach the players playing at their end when the game was finished. To discuss with them if they thought the opposing attackers always tried the same move, tried to beat them on the same side, the defenders were always flat etc. This was more what I wanted as the players kept focus however it meant that players essentially got double breaks one when they watched the game and one when they discussed what had happened.

To eliminate the double breaks, I started having all players playing 2 v 2’s or 3 v 3’s at the same time but then when they rested they discussed among themselves as a team what they had noticed on their pitch. The key change here was after the discussion they played the same team again straight away.

Now this is where it got interesting for me. I have long preached for players to be creative or more unpredictable in 1 v 1 situations and not simply doing practiced moves. When the players discussed the opposition players in the breaks then played them again straight away it made all players begin to feel ‘they know what I am going to do’. This is turn made players feel they have to try something different.

I genuinely believe this has provoked players to be more creative than just about anything I have done before.

To really ramp up that feeling sometimes I have had the same teams play each other 3 or 4 times in a row. Often if they are going to play each other this many times I will swap one player over after 2 games and they tell their new teammates what they noticed about them and vice versa.

Of course, like everything some players love these discussions straight away and others need lots of time to discuss players they know like this but it is worth preserving with.

I feel by accident from simply wanting to give the players a physical break so that they can remain explosive in 1 v 1’s. I am now helping them socially plus providing a terrific platform for the players to think differently.

As ever love to hear your thoughts on how you have changed your 1 v 1 sessions over time.

Please follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time


Playing Up

If there is one remark that will make me cautious when talking to someone about a young player I haven’t seen it is if they tell me that they are playing up an age group at their club.

It is a remark laden with connotations that this child is so good that it is a waste of time for them to play with children their own age and they are well on their way to becoming a professional.

Before I continue I will say I am not against players playing up I just think it is overused and to be clear I am talking about players younger than 14/15 years of age.

What makes me cautious is that I feel it can be detrimental to the player’s development as well as have a positive effect. It seems that if a player has success playing up then it is generally thought it can only be good for them whereas I disagree.

As usual what prompted me to write this is that over the last 12 months I seem to have had people constantly telling me this player or that player is playing up.

One week recently a parent rang me up to say was it OK if his son’s mate came along to one of my sessions. He then told me the boy in question was playing 2 years up at his club. The implication was that I would relish seeing this boy play because he was bound to be snapped up soon.

When I got to see the player he was big for his age which I expected, he was very right footed, had a below par 1st Touch, tried to run with the ball every time he got it and got very frustrated as he constantly lost the ball playing 5 v 5 on a 30 x 20m pitch. I was told that apparently the young boy was very fast and in games the team would play the ball over the top and no one could catch him.

My issue in this case from what I saw was that the boy had a physical strength that allowed him to play up and be successful but his technical ability and decision making seemed to be below players his own age. I would imagine it would be a lot harder for him to improve these weaknesses playing and training against players who were bigger, stronger and more experienced than him.

With this player the question has to be asked even though he is having some success playing up two years is it the best thing for his overall development or is he being turned into a ‘one trick pony’ who will only be successful as long as he is able to and has space to outrun the opposition defence.

Another problem I have with players playing up is that they can be treated differently because they are younger than the other players. To put it simply allowances are made for the players they wouldn’t get if they played in their own age groups.

Two players come to mind straight away that I have coached in programs in the last few years. Both players had a very good level of technique and although neither was super quick both were still considered fast even with older players.

The problems came from how they were allowed to play. Both players had always played up, both played a forward role and both players were allowed to do nothing else but attack.

One player played right midfield in a 4-4-2 and when his team wasn’t attacking just stood on the halfway line waiting for his team to win the ball back and start attacking. I knew the Coach and asked why he let him play like that and his first response was “He is a year younger you know”.

Both players when they trained in the program with me had problems remembering any conditions I put on games, had trouble positioning themselves, often ball watched and rarely thought about what they would do until they had the ball in their possession.

Of course it is only my opinion but I do feel the fact they were playing up meant they were treated differently and this wasn’t actually helping them in their development. In this case both players developed a habit of just switching off if the ball wasn’t near them.

Like I said at the start I am not against players playing up I just believe that we have to consider a player’s overall development when we decide to play them up. At the moment it seems in many cases players are judged simply by can they manage to play with older players not whether it is the best thing for them.

I have seen players who I believe can learn nothing by playing in their own age group and needed the challenge of playing against older players but they are a minority.

One thing I think can work is players from time to time training with older players to aid their development instead of joining another team and playing totally outside their age group. I think this way the player can get the best of both worlds.

As usual would love to hear your opinion on the subject.

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

Fixed Mindset & Relative Age Effect together

This blog is about one of my coaching adventures with ‘fixed mindsets’, the ‘relative age effect’ as well as a few other phrases that make me sound really clever.

Currently I am coaching a young player who is an U10. He has been a great challenge to me over the last few years though probably through no fault of his own.

Let me tell you a little bit about him

He is born in the first week of his selection year plus he is quite big for his age anyway. He is well co-ordinated, is physically stronger than most of the other players in his age group and can hit a ball powerfully with his preferred foot.

It is a huge struggle to get him to try anything new. Often when I put a condition on a training game that encourages the use of a technique he isn’t that good at he will go in goal, somehow conveniently forget the condition is on the game or simply drift out of the game till all conditions are removed.

He is intelligent and realises he is more effective than the other players and he has certainly noticed that when he plays the team scores more goals. He knows the right answers to any questions he just regularly makes no effort to actually do what he says. He is also quite immature for his age and certainly feels that the world revolves around him. He has a strong desire to win and regularly tells me how many goals he scored.

I feel I have had very little effect on him and that already although still bigger than most players in his age group so still effective he is beginning to fall behind some of his peers. This is beginning to manifest itself in that he is regularly no longer picked first when players pick or swap players. The first time this happened he was actually moving forward expecting to be picked and his face showed how stunned he was that it wasn’t his name being called.

Here are some (I have tried more than I can mention) of the things I have tried with him. I moved him up with two other bigger players to train with an older age group once a week. The two other players within the first session began to adapt how they played because they could no longer rely on their size. He, however, even after half a season of sessions never changed at all. He still tried to use his physicality all the time although obviously it now worked less often. The only difference in his behaviour was that he started to target the smaller older players in the games and would simply leave the bigger ones totally alone.

An interesting side note to this after about 5 weeks of these 3 players training with the older group. I overheard one of their team mates say to them ‘Why don’t you only train with us on a Wednesday anymore’. One of the 3 players said ‘I don’t know Sean just told us to go on Thursdays instead’ while he said ‘It is because we are too good’.

He is one footed and loves to smash shots in from everywhere. I once did a training game were if a players did 5 turns or passes or shots with their ‘other foot’ in a game then they could have a free shot on goal from 8m. The players had to run off the pitch and mark it on a white board so everyone knew what they were up to. He constantly told other players on his team to use their ‘other foot’ to get free shots but over the course of all the games played only twice did he have to go to the whiteboard himself.

The usual challenges have not worked with him really. What has worked though is giving him and another player a personal challenge. I matched him with his best mate in a 4 v 4 and said they both had to stop each other from scoring and see who won at the end. The first one he lost because he simply never even tried to defend but the next one he went for it. I thought I had cracked it but when I have tried to match him against other players nearer his size often he doesn’t try. Only with his best mate will he be fully engaged every time. It works well with lots of other players I coach. He is about the only one who will just try to outscore the other player and leave the defending up to others.

Another story about him that paints a picture of possibly what environment he has away from football. Once he was dropped off to a holiday program by a relative of his. I didn’t know her but with the player by her side the first thing she said to me was ‘I hear this little lad scores all the goals and is the top scorer for the club’. We have no top scorer awards and the Coaches in his age group don’t record who scored the goals.

In summary I have a player who I feel doesn’t respond well to a challenge and he will soon have a big one when he begins to understand he is not the ‘best’ player on the team anymore. He is possibly in an environment that encourages him to believe and possibly emphasises that he is better than his fellow players.

His current success is largely based on something that is a fluke of his birth and growth rate and will potentially fade as he grows older. Plus his immaturity basically makes him believe that he is already a very good footballer who doesn’t need to learn anything more about football because he is naturally good at it.

I don’t think I have tried everything with him but I have tried enough different ways to engage him to believe that my impact can only be limited until he matures a bit. At the moment he seems to be inside a ‘perfect storm’ that is stopping him developing.

I don’t know if I will be coaching him when he matures by the way as I recently found out he has been telling the other players he plans to trial with ‘bigger’ clubs in the area next season.

Thanks to all the Coaches who contact me and retweet my blog it is really appreciated.

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

Even Better Decision Making in SSGs

I set myself a challenge of coming up with a different variation of Line Football after I wrote the blog ‘Decision Making in SSGs’ http://t.co/ZuhvnLXIz2  a few weeks ago. In particular I wanted to come up with a variation that solved some of the problems I mentioned in the previous blog while leaving all the good elements in place.

Pitch with End Zones

This is what I came up with. I changed the shape of the End Zone and made it resemble a penalty box at either end of a 30m x 20m pitch. The players scored by running the ball into the End Zone. I made the End Zone 7m x 6m so the players had the same amount of area (20m) to run over as when they had to run over the end line of the pitch (20m).

I have only used this once and it was with a good quality group of players. The topic was 1 v 1s specifically could you get past your immediate opponent. I added some conditions to force what I wanted

1 – The ball could not be passed across the End Zone. I did this to almost force a 1 v 1 when players were in the corners of the pitch.

2 – Nobody could run into the End Zone unless they had the ball. I did this to make it difficult for defenders to provide cover so encourage attackers to go 1 v 1 because often space behind the nearest defender.

I made the teams 3 or 4 –a-side because I felt the pitch may be a bit crowded with more players as the End Zone is taking away quite a bit of space.

My first progression was to introduce offside into the exercise. After that it just seemed to flow with the players getting lots of practice in a variety of 1 v 1 situations.

The session was filmed and the most obvious difference was that there seemed to be 1 v 1s happening more often all over the pitch. I think because the End Zones are only 16m apart in the middle the defenders felt they had to engage the player with the ball quickly.

Not allowing the players to pass the ball across the End Zones provoked lots of 1 v 1s in the corners. I didn’t particularly like the defenders having to go 1 v 1 near their own End Zone as they were easily shut down and so may next time allow defenders but not attackers to pass across the End Zone.

I thought the End Zone being on the pitch changed the type of 1 v 1 situations as well. Defenders had to defend against players cutting inside as well not just contend with stopping them going forwards. This meant there were 1 v 1 situations at a whole variety of angles.

I collected some data from the video. I had two games going side by side. One pitch was 3 v 3 and the other 4 v 3. The 3 v 3 group averaged just under six 1 v 1 situations every minute and the 4 v 3 just over six. The group actively played this exercise for approx. 14 minutes broken down into 3 periods of less than 5 mins.

In summary I would say I was pleased with it and would use it again without any major changes but I would love to hear the thoughts of other Coaches who have used this previously or have given it a go after reading this blog.

Thanks to all the Coaches who contact me and retweet my blog it is really appreciated.

Till next time

So what did you learn today?

My last blog was about how sometimes as Coaches we get fixated on using an exercise that we have seen and use it despite it not really being appropriate for the session you are doing.


I got my point across fairly quickly and I thought the blog was a little too short so I added what changes I made after I reviewed the session and how these worked with the next session.

Surprisingly I got more feedback on the fact that I reviewed the session that I got from the topic itself. This really made me think about what I had written as if I am honest I would have never written anything about reviewing the session if it had taken me longer to get my initial point across.

I have read before about how we can learn something valuable but completely off topic from everything and this really brought it home to me. It started me thinking that if I do a game based training session that focuses on a player’s 1st Touch for example what else can be learnt.

First thing that came to mind was for there to be lots of 1st Touches there has to be lots of passes so clearly different ways to strike the ball with different parts of the foot, speed of the pass, accuracy of pass plus a whole variety of types of passes from driven to chipped can all be learnt.

Second thing that came to mind was if the players have lots of 1st Touches then they have to position themselves frequently to receive those passes so clearly we have looking for space, looking for options, losing an opponent and timing of runs to receive the ball.

Next if there are lots of passes then there needs to be frequent communication between the players so now we get checking for opponents shutting team mates down, making sure team mates know they have time plus all the other information that can be passed on.

Clearly there are many more so no matter how well the session is planned I can only point the players or encourage the players to learn the topic I intended but it could be just as likely that they have learnt something else that improves them as a player.

As always I need 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

Did the players really ‘work’ at training tonight

I can’t remember the last time I went for a run. I mean a run were you warm up, run a distance, cool down then go home. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was over 20 years ago. I could make the time and I know all the health benefits of doing it but I don’t do it.

Strangely though I am little sore this morning because I couldn’t resist joining in on a game at training earlier this week. I did too much running and now my hips (plus various other body parts) are feeling their age plus perhaps 20 years.

This blog is about the reasons why someone who has not gone on a run in over 20 years would participate regularly in an activity that required lots of running. The answer for me is simple I enjoy playing football and don’t enjoy running as an activity on its own.

Last year I suggested to the Coaches at the club I am at that we should try to make training sessions as enjoyable as possible. My reasons being

– If the players are enjoying themselves they will behave better, learn more and want to be there.

– A player spends most of their contact time with the club at training therefore if they enjoy training they will probably enjoy being at our club.

Ronaldo laughing

– The vast majority of the players have paid to join our club because they enjoy playing football so surely it is our responsibility to try to make sure they continue to link football with enjoyment and not with being ‘work’.

– If the players are happy and enjoying themselves this normally makes the role of a Coach much easier.

– The players will be more likely to return each year if they have a positive, enjoyable experience.

Essentially I asked the Coaches to consider when they planned their sessions whether the players would enjoy doing the practices or games involved.

I am wondering whether any of you Coaches reading this blog have heard some of the feedback I got

“That’s terrific for the under 7 & 8s but I have got the Div 1 U15s”

“When am I expected to coach if I am trying to make it fun all the time”

“I coach a team of highly motivated 17/18 year old players and they are not going to stand for me putting on fun sessions”

I will admit I was particularly prepared for the discussions that followed because I thought the majority of experienced Coaches when planning their sessions would already consider this. I thought I was only talking to the novice Coaches apparently I wasn’t.

Interestingly it was the Coaches of the older players who thought players didn’t need to or maybe shouldn’t enjoy training.

The discussion went on long into the night.

Why is it that people regard enjoyment and learning to be separate?

We see evidence that the two are linked around us all the time. I would love to be able to draw and have had access all my life to the equipment necessary to practice drawing but I just get bored doing it. However every time I see a great pencil drawing I always think ‘I would love to be able to do that’.

We believe that players need to do thousands of hours of practice to learn the game sufficiently well to be elite but really who expects a child to put in those hours if they find a significant chunk of them unenjoyable.

I showed this 48 second clip and asked the Coaches did this sound familiar.


For the last 5/6 years of his career he gave this answer so many times and hundreds of other older professionals have too and nobody bats an eyelid.

If enjoyment is a prime motivator for players who have achieved so much then why shouldn’t we regard it as a motivator for the young players we coach to continue to participate?

As always I need to hear other Coach’s’ opinions because we all want to coach our players in the best possible manner.

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 seanthecoach@icloud.com

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

Not very realistic though is it Mate!

What I like about writing this blog is that the responses I get from Coaches can set me off on a train of thought that I don’t think I would have considered otherwise. Many discussions I have had with Coaches have included a comment about whether the exercise or game we are discussing is ‘realistic’ or not hence the title.

It is clear from these discussions that I don’t have a clear definition so I thought I need to define for myself what elements need to go into a game or exercise to make it realistic. This is something that I have not had the chance to test so I would appreciate Coaches who disagree or agree with what follows to get in touch. This is my 1st attempt to define it.

These are in no particular order just as they came to mind.


I think all of us if asked to describe football would say it was a game between two teams somewhere in the description. Therefore if you remove one team you are changing a basic requirement for it to be called football.

Opposition players dictate what is a good passing option, what is good positioning plus they also reduce the amount of time you have to complete any action. As a new Coach when talking to more senior Coaches about the best way to develop players for senior football I would hear the same phrase almost every time. They would say they needed a player who could still play under pressure. Opposition players provide the pressure they were talking about.

Without opposition players most of the variables of football and so decision making are removed therefore I would say that opposition is essential to make the exercise realistic.


This sounds very obvious but if there is direction then the ball can move backwards, sideways or forwards. This simple distinction has huge ramifications though for player’s decision making.

In the two diagrams below with direction a pass forwards between two defenders to a player in space is the best option without direction the pass to the player with the least risk in space becomes the best option.

Passing OptionPassing Option 2

Another point is that players positioning is completely changed if there is no direction. If your team is out of possession and there is no goal/area/target player to defend you will position yourself entirely differently from when there is.

Clearly if something as fundamental as the value of a passing option or positioning is affected then I would have to consider what benefits I got from a game without direction as the realism has been compromised. This is not to say that an exercise without direction isn’t beneficial simply saying it isn’t realistic.

Way to Score

Again if most of us were to describe football than I think somewhere we would say a team wins by scoring more goals than the opposition. Therefore scoring is important for both sides.

I prefer both teams to have a way to score. I am not fond of simply winning the ball being a way for the defending team to score. If the defending team has to say at a minimum complete 3 passes, play to a target or run the ball into an area if they win the ball then this means we have the 4 main moments a game so the players have to react to what moment the game is in. Therefore increasing the realism.

Four Main Moments

BP = Your team has Ball Possession.

BP>BPO  = Your team has just lost the ball.

BPO = The other team has Ball Possession.

BPO>BP = Your team has just won the ball.

Another point is that winning the ball then giving it back to the opposition to start again is demoralising and not something you want your defenders to get into the habit of doing.

I would say there has to be a way to score for an exercise to be realistic.


I am debating with myself still if an element of offside or offside needs to be in a game to make it realistic. I am leaning towards yes because again it affects what is a good passing option plus positioning of all players but I would like to hear from other Coaches on that one.

Like I said at the start this is my 1st attempt to define what makes an exercise or game at training realistic so I need to debate it, hear other views, see what needs to added or taken away and think longer on it before I can have faith in my definition.

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

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

Till next time