Skill Acquisition Game

Quite by accident I have managed to come up with a game that I think has exciting potential to be used in a number of ways. It is a small sided game but I will outline the roundabout way the game evolved.

A few years ago I was doing a session with young players I think they were U6/U7s. I was playing games of 2 v 2 with small portable goals. One player every time the ball came near him would just kick it as hard as he could. The ball would go in all directions there was no thought to it just a big kick. Unfortunately for me on this day he managed to score 2 goals in this manner so I was having no joy whatsoever trying to encourage him to control the ball. I had a brain wave and turned the goals around so they were backwards which meant it was now impossible to score with a fortuitous big kick from the other end of the pitch.

backwards-goals

Immediately I noticed now that the players all ran with the ball much more to get around the goal and score. I was delighted and have managed to use backwards goals for a variety of purposes over the last few years since (check this blog out http://wp.me/p5aQfW-2S ).

With younger players (up to 11ish) I have used it often as an alternative to playing variations of Line Football (were the players score by running the ball over the Endline). The younger players tend to have little patience with a game where they cannot actually kick a goal so this is one of my alternatives for them.

It is challenging for the players as they have to turn at speed while keeping control of the ball to score. It provides lots of decision making such as which way do I turn, how tight is the defender (or are they still there), is the goal open, do I pass etc etc.

One of the drawbacks was that when a player had run the ball into a position to turn and shoot the defender tracking them would regularly leave the player and simply defend the goal. This meant that the turn wasn’t always executed with a defender close so an opportunity was regularly getting missed to practice a technique under pressure.

A fortnight ago I had a lightbulb moment and decided to combine this backwards goal game with Line Football. Now the attacker has 2 ways to score

1 – In the goal facing backwards

2 – Running the ball over the endline. I added that a defender only has to tag the attacker as they go over the endline and it isn’t a goal.

bwards-line-football

I have since done it in 3 sessions with U8s, U9s and a U10/U11 group. So far it has solved the problem of the defender leaving the attacker to turn and just defend the goal.

However, what has really grabbed my attention is that without losing anything this change has added some interesting decision making for both the defender and the attacker.

At first thought, unintentionally this game looks like it has potential to practice a player’s decision making in crossing situations because both the player and defender have to consider.

  • Is there enough space to continue running forward to get success?
  • What happens if the player with the ball changes direction?
  • What happens if the player disguises to change direction/continue forward then does the opposite?

It is very much early days as I have only done it 3 times with this one but I feel it is an exciting addition and wonder what I will be able to use it for in the future. Would be very interested to hear form other Coaches who have already done this or similar and what techniques they use the game to work on.

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

“Talking lads. You have to talk to each other”

There is one Coach who I simply cannot think about without seeing a vision of him with his head bowed and shaking from side to side, his hands above his head furiously tapping his fingers against his thumbs as he shouts to the ground

“Talking lads. You have to talk to each other”.

His solution to just about everything was that the ‘lads’ needed to talk to each other more. For those old enough to remember it always reminded me of the Birdie Dance and he was just about as useful.

For last week’s blog

1 v 1’s how my sessions have changed http://wp.me/p5aQfW-4Y

most of the messages I got were about the players talking to each other during sessions.

This set me thinking about some of the parts of my sessions that allow/force the players to talk to each other that I never included or even thought of including when I first started coaching. Remember I work predominantly with players aged between 8 – 15 years of age.

Pick Teams

Not having Captains who pick the teams as that is all about getting the strongest team for yourself instead sometimes ask the players to discuss and come up with the most even teams they possibly can whether they need to pick 2, 3 or 4 teams.

In my experience if I emphasise that the more even the teams are the more the players will learn they tend to do it properly. However, I have had to ask players if they want to redo the teams after a few games more than once when clearly one team is dominating. Rarely are the teams uneven after they redo them.

With older youth players, I will remind them of the topic of the session and encourage them to make the teams even based on the topic.

Transfer Window

No matter how the initial teams were chosen after playing for a while give the teams the chance to get a player or players from another team. The players get 30/60 seconds to discuss who they want which they all must agree on. No team is allowed to refuse a request.

Every now and again I will also say that the team picking the player has to tell the squad why they picked them. I, also, include that saying because they are good isn’t enough they have to be specific.

With Transfer Windows sometimes a dominant player will override the discussion so if I think this has happened I will ask a specific player usually sitting to the side of the group which player their team has chosen. If there is any hint of disagreement or they don’t know because they weren’t included in the discussion then ask them to discuss again and come up with a player they all agree on.

Coach and team discussions

I have asked the players to discuss what they think the next conditions should be on the game we are playing to make it harder or easier. I will explain the topic again and ask for suggestions. Whichever condition all the players agree on we will do next.

All of these things as I said I didn’t do when I started coaching. I was very much a Coach who thought any time the players weren’t getting touches of the ball was wasted time. I still think we need to maximise how often the player is in contact with the ball but have grown to realise that all other time is not wasted.

I suppose to put it very simply it is ridiculous to expect the players to work as a team or to communicate with each other during the hustle and bustle of the weekend game when you don’t practice this at all in your training sessions.

As ever love to hear your thoughts.

Please follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

‘Unconsciously Incompetent’

I was sent to a Physio recently because I have been having a different sort of pain in my hips. My left hip has a condition called Perthes Disease so I have had pain in my hips since I was a child but this was different.

To my immense relief, the diagnosis was that it is just a muscle problem. I was given some exercises to do to build up some muscles that weren’t doing much and most of the pain has gone already in less than 3 weeks. The fears of a possible hip replacement already seem a distant memory.

I asked him would it help if I stretched the area more and he said that would be fine. I told him I was a Football Coach and knew a few stretches. He immediately told me not to do the traditional groin stretch that just about every footballer in the world does including David Luiz in the above photo. He said it wouldn’t help and I would have more chance of getting an adductor tear than making myself more flexible. I quizzed him about it and he was of the opinion that it was less used than I thought and was being phased out at top level sport.

I am not sure why but it felt like he was insulting an old friend and it has been on my mind ever since. I even brought it up again at our 2nd appointment.

Don’t misunderstand me I have not done static stretching as a warm up before a session in years. I am firmly a dynamic flex warm up Coach. However, I still use static stretching since I stopped using it as a warm up in recovery sessions or to increase flexibility. Just about every time I do any static stretching this is the stretch I would do either 1st or 2nd. Like I said it is like an old friend, an old favourite.

I like my physio and I think he knows what he is talking about but I will do more research and try to talk to other physios as well just to see if this stretch is being phased out.

I think I may have found out though why it has played on my mind so much. I read an article I saved from ages ago this week about the ‘Four Stages of Competence’. This article made me think about my first coaching sessions and basically how I was the definition of ‘unconsciously incompetent’.

In plain language ‘unconsciously incompetent’ means you don’t realise you aren’t very good at something.

I have no memory of the contents of my first ever coaching session but I do know that it is extremely likely that the very first thing I ever did was to get the group together and do this groin stretch.

I have already ready recognised that I was ‘unconsciously incompetent’ at this stage of my coaching career but this made me realise that I am still ‘unconsciously incompetent’ as a Football Coach just not in the same ways.

Love to hear from anyone who can help me form an opinion on whether I should start to phase out using this stretch or not.

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

Reflections

kloppI am sure I am not the only one who has looked at old session plans and winced. I did the other day and I couldn’t believe what I was reading. There seemed to be no detail, the session objectives were really vague and sometimes the exercises themselves were designed in such a way that I don’t think the players were practicing what I thought they were practicing.

To give some background I work primarily with 9 – 13 year old players and normally coach in a technical program and not teams as such.

Now if I look at this logically as this isn’t the first time this has happened then I can expect to be looking back at my current plans in 2021 and wincing at how rubbish I am today. The trick for me is to try to see into the future by looking at the past with some of the core skills I coach.

So here is a rough guide to the evolution

1st Touch

10 years ago – Sessions were little more than the players having to control the ball a lot.

5 years ago – Emphasis on disguise and direction of 1st Touch, facing forwards on 1st Touch, using both feet however mostly 1st Touch into space. Very strong emphasis on planning 1st Touch before receive the ball. Encouraging players to use all parts of foot to control ball not just insides.

Currently – All of the above but more specific with direction of 1st Touch which can be towards defender to engage them as well away from defender to create space plus past nearest defender. More sessions were players have to control ball in the air.

2021 – I feel I am moving towards asking the players to think an extra step earlier. Not just plan the disguise or direction of their 1st Touch before the ball arrives but asking them to think can they reposition themselves before their 1st Touch.

Striking the Ball

10 years ago – Lots of shooting exercises and passing for passing sake. Coaching the correct ways to pass.

5 years ago – Shift towards allowing a player to strike the ball in more unorthodox ways and encouraging the use of the both feet constantly not just in specific use ‘other foot’ exercises. Beginnings of being more specific with types of passing such as inbetween passes, killer passes and switching point of attack.

Currently – All of above and again encouraging passes in the air not just on ground as with 1st Touch. With my current shift to playing small sided games from start to finish of session I no longer do sessions about shooting as all sessions require the players to score goals from start to finish. Feel sessions are more refined and the design of the conditions specifically encourages the players to play the passes I want not simply do lots of passing.

2021 – I think these sessions are going to head towards passing in match situations were the opposition are going to be asked to employ a tactic such as high press, low block or man for man.

Running with Ball

10 years ago – the most embarrassing sessions of all as seemed to involve little more than giving each player a ball and then playing TAG games so everyone was running with a ball at their feet. Plus working on specific turns to change direction.

5 years ago – Still very non-specific. Lots of sessions with areas that the ball must be run across but little detail. Players just encouraged to run with ball and keep it under control while turning or altering direction or speed. Vast amount of sessions simply about running with ball into space.

Currently – More specific with topics such as running with ball to engage defenders to create overloads & space for others, to move defenders out of position to create space, to allow team mates time to get into position or make runs as well as running with ball to attack free space. No turns coached at all as players playing games all the time so need to turn with ball constantly so whatever works for them is fine with me.

2021 – I need time to experiment but I think I can manipulate the dimensions of the area more with these sessions. For example I reread a session were I seemed to be very positive that the pitch being long and narrow was a major positive influence on the session but appear to have done little experimenting with the dimensions of the pitch since.

I think I will move towards more sessions on running with ball to move defenders and less towards attacking free space too.

1 v 1’s

10 years ago – Taught specific moves to beat players as all sessions about beating defender. Defender was almost always in front of the attacker. Players forced to go 1 v 1 often as no passing option given to players so little decision making except what move to use.

5 years ago – Shift towards the defender not always having to be directly in front of attacker and the attacker having a passing option so could decide to go 1 v 1 or pass. Focus on player going to both sides of defender and using both feet. Still a 1 v 1 session was always about going past a defender.

Currently – Strong encouragement for player to be unpredictable. Again more specific so now a 1 v 1 session can be about creating space for shot/pass or create space for a cross/ball behind defence as well as beating a defender. Always have a passing option in sessions now and more emphasis on decision making about right time not just constant encouragement to go for it.

2021 – I think this is going to be similar to 1st Touch in that more emphasis will go onto repositioning or readjusting body shape before 1 v 1 opportunity. How can a player make the 1 v 1 more likely to be successful before the opportunity arises without the player simply dropping off into a less threatening position.

I think I will still be looking back in 2021 and thinking I was getting away with murder with my plans but I have found this exercise very useful.

Merry Christmas in case this time next week I am rushing around the shops instead of writing a blog.

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

Or follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

Confused Coaches

I was recently on a course that included a 4-day Strength & Conditioning component. The topic was raised about the language used by Sports Scientists. Almost every Coach agreed that they don’t want to hear a load of jargon about underloads, overloads or maximum aerobic speed they just want to know if the players are as fit as possible to play football.

As Coaches it was quite obvious we didn’t want someone coming into our football environment using language we are unfamiliar with and had any trouble understanding.

Recently I watched a training session were U8s were getting shouted at to take the ball on the half-turn constantly. Now this is language I am familiar with as I suppose is everyone reading this blog but would it be something I would expect an U8 to understand.

In the past when I have mentioned to Coaches that they might be using language that confuses younger players I inevitably end up in a debate not about using clearer language but how the kids should know the meaning of the phrases the Coach is using.

If we flip this and return to the Sports Scientists at the start of the blog. How long would a Sports Scientist be employed if they suggested to the Head Coach they weren’t going to change the language they are comfortable using but instead the Head Coach should learn to understand them.

A few seasons back I had a discussion about language used by Coaches at a meeting and both the Coaches in question were as usual saying the fault lay with the players. The players didn’t know what something meant because they don’t understand football these days like we did etc etc.

I have no idea where it came from but I said to the Coaches

‘Do you know what a ‘Sweaty Goal’ is.’

Both of them looked at me with pretty much the same expression I had when someone first spoke to me about half spaces.

‘Ask your players and I reckon every single one of them will know.’

I think one of the Coaches actually googled ‘Sweaty Goal’ right there and then and were amazed that they got an answer as they thought I was just making it up. I told them only a few weeks before with their players I did a game when a goal was worth double if it was a sweaty. It was great for working on players supporting the attack and positioning themselves to support the player on the ball.

The point is the information you give has to be understood before the players can actually use that information. If the players don’t understand then think of another way to phrase it that is clearer.

As usual would love to hear your opinion on the subject and whether you know what a ‘Sweaty Goal’ is.

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

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

Till next time

You can’t always get what you want

You know when you have a great idea for an exercise and it seems like you have thought out every possibility then reality hits. One of my sessions each week is with the U6/7s. Now they are a top group but like all groups they prefer certain types of exercises over others.

A few years ago the U6/7s at the club loved relay races. I did a different set up but essentially did a relay race every session and they never grew tired of them. The group I have now love playing ‘Chasey type’ games. I mean games were each player has a ball and someone is chasing them and they have to keep control of their football while getting away from the Chaser.

I have done plenty of different games but lately it has been getting harder and harder to come up with new ones.

This week I took my own advice about being creative (How you can be more creative http://wp.me/p5aQfW-21 ) and set about coming up with something new. I played with lots of ideas and then suddenly it hit me. I have two older brothers who come down every week and both are really sensible. I would use them to chase the players but the twist would be I would make them wear woolly hats pulled down over their eyes and they would have to chase the players under my instructions. I would call it Remote Control Chasey.

I thought what could go wrong

1 – They could just dash around madly and knock over the young players so I thought I will make it so the Remote Control Chasers can only walk.

2 – Possibly being totally unsighted the older brothers would only move very slowly so the young players just wouldn’t need to run with the ball but I checked the woolly hats by putting them on myself and actually you could see shapes through them so they weren’t completely unsighted.

To cut a long story short I thought it was going to work big time so I was excited to give it a go. I was setting up the session and my phone goes unfortunately one of the young players with the older brother was sick so they weren’t coming. No problem I still have the other older brother. I finished setting up the session and the young players started coming but not the player with the older brother. I was gutted but I thought I’ll just use it next week.

About 5 mins into the session a player turns up late and to my joy out of the car pops his older brother who never usually comes to the sessions. I was delighted even though he is not quite as sensible as the other two I thought it was back on.

Anyway we will call the older brother Brian (it is obvious I have changed the name here as I don’t think I have coached a young player called Brian for about 15 years). I explained it to Brian and asked him was he OK helping me and he seemed to think it will be a laugh too.

I got all the players in and explained we were going to play REMOTE CONTROL CHASEY. They all started laughing when I put the hat over Brian’s eyes. I was buzzing I thought this is going to be great. I could imagine the youngsters dribbling up to him shouting then turning away and leaving Brian floundering.

I had a quick check and asked Brian quietly when all the kids were running off to find space could he see how many fingers I was holding up. He said he couldn’t see anything at all. At this point I realised that maybe the fact that my head is bigger might stretch the fabric more than a 9 year old’s head allowing me to see through it but not him. As I am a super experienced Coach I completely ignored this.

‘EVERYBODY READY… YES……IS E_VERY_BO_D_Y READYYYYY……YEEEEEEEESSSSS’

‘Brian go forward… forward… forward…now RIGHT’

Brian went left.

I walked up to Brian like the super experienced Coach I am and said when I say right I mean ‘your right’. As I was walking back I thought I heard the faint sound of a warning bell when I realised we were both facing the same way but as I am a super experienced Coach I ignored that too.

‘Brian forwards….forwards….WHO IS GOING TO GET CAUGHT BY THE REMOTE CONTROLLED CATCHER… forwards… left. No… left Brian the other way. No…. turn around. No not all the way around…..OK go forwards… forwards… right, right…..OK just hold it a second there.’

I walked up to Brain and quietly asked him did he know his left from his right to which he replied no he didn’t with a massive gap toothed smile. I quickly explained that he writes with his right hand and the other one is his left (I coach him as well so I know he is right handed so that is not the next disaster in case you were thinking ahead). Brian didn’t look quite so smiley now but I quickly explained it again and walked back.

Brian forwards….forwards….. WHO IS GOING TO GET CAUGHT….. Brian right (Brian goes to the right. I am thinking wonderful)……right (Brian switches to left thinking he had made a mistake again)……No Brian go back the way you were going…….No back the way you were going when I said right the first time……..tell you what Brian why don’t you tell me were to go and then when you get home you can tell your mum you told your Coach where you go….How does that sound.

Brian is clearly happy not to be doing it anymore as he was losing enthusiasm for this Remote Control Chasey while I was determined to keep it going as despite not having anything to chase them the young players were laughing and running about with the ball having a blast going up to Brian then spinning away.

So I put on the woolly hat. The players are laughing and I can see a few already thinking what a great opportunity this is.

OK Bri ……………………………………………………………………………OK Bri so you just tell me where you want me to go to catch the players. Why don’t you get me to chase your little brother…..forwards (I set off)………………………………………………………………………………….…………………………………….(by now I have walked at least 10 steps off the grid) OK tell you what Bri I’ll just chase after them and can you make sure they don’t leave the grid. How does that sound.

It went brilliantly in the end just took a little while to get there.

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

Or possible leave a comment on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time