When is enough enough..

The question I am asking myself is how much practice is enough so that a player can reach their technical potential.

 

I am a strong believer in games based training but I cannot deny that when I try to re-examine my beliefs I always have a little doubt in the back of my mind about do I give the players enough repetitions at all the techniques required to have a strong technical base.

 

I do have large concerns over techniques that happen less regularly in small sided games such as longer passing or controlling the ball in the air for example but that isn’t the focus of this blog. The blog’s focus is on what is the right number of repetitions of a technique for a player to reach their technical potential.

 

If a drill based session is coached properly then a player will get more practice at the technique they are working on how to do than a player who is involved with a games based session. There may be little or no perception or decision making but there will be more repetitions. The fact there is more repetitions is the basis of the argument of most Coaches I have met who prefer drill based sessions.

 

The argument is simple and appears to be common sense. The player did it more times therefore they have gotten better than if they did it less times. Argument over.

 

This leads me back to the question I keep asking myself is how many repetitions at how to do a technique is enough. Am I giving the players I train the ability to transfer the techniques they practice to a competitive game more easily because it is learnt with Perception- Action coupling but not giving them enough repetitions at the technique for them to have the best possible technical level.

 

Should I be doing a blend of drills and games based training to increase the number of repetitions. If so what number of repetitions should I increase it to so that they have done enough.

 

Many years ago, I used to be a Coach who aimed for 1,000 touches per player per session. Where did that number come from and has it been proven to be a number of any significance or was it as I came to believe simply a nice round number that meant players touched the ball a lot.

 

To further add to my confusion, I have had a new player trying out a training program I do. He has done 3 sessions with me now in a very good standard group. He is 11 years old. The first two sessions he barely touched the ball and when he did he regularly lost it before he could complete an action. In the 2nd session he got the ball in space and simply smashed it at goal immediately completely ignoring the conditions on the game. He said he had forgotten but I was pretty sure he was just frustrated at his lack of involvement.

 

Now I’m sure you expect me to say in the 3rd session he started to touch the ball more and he played really well but there was no perceivable increase in touches. He still had the lowest number of touches out of anyone in the group by a margin but the thing was he kept possession. Whereas in his first sessions he attempted to simply control the ball and so would have it taken off him regularly. Now the few times he got the ball he managed to keep possession probably because he was scanning noticeably more so knew where the defenders where and controlled it in a deliberate direction away from them.

 

I understand that the level of his 1st Touch may have not improved significantly simply his ability to apply his 1st Touch in a game situation has. The problem this has set me is that he has done this with so few repetitions. I was going to say to him that perhaps he needs to look for another training program but now I am interested to see how this unfolds over the next few weeks.

 

I am now pondering perhaps can this be applied to improving technical level. Does a player require a lower number of repetitions of a technique if all the repetitions are in a game situation compared to being done in isolation?

 

Perhaps the hours I spent as a kid controlling the ball with my chest off our back wall was equal to the, I guessing here, 7/8 times I would do it in some sort of game each week.

 

Just my thoughts but I would be interested to hear from other Coaches especially those who may have any articles or studies that could make my thinking clearer.

 

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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Coaching & Chloroform

My mind has been racing since someone posted on Twitter an extract from the 1952 English FA book ‘Soccer Coaching’ by Walter Winterbottom. The extract although only one page was really thought provoking particularly this

 

Some of the early ideas of ‘what to coach’ or ‘how to coach’ have changed. Lessons built from unrelated activities like dribbling around sticks and circle heading have been largely abandoned. Today, emphasis is on the applied development of particular skills in settings closely resembling the game itself.

 

Now this was first published in Jan 1952. Yet about a month ago some 65 years after publication I was an Instructor on a Grassroots Coaching Course (for players U9 or younger) and every Coach there thought that developing ‘technique or skill’ inside a game was a new concept. One Coach who was particularly open to the content of the course was left open mouthed when I said that running around cones with a ball could develop bad habits and there were much better and more enjoyable ways to get practice running with a ball. I think he felt I was insulting an old friend of his.

 

I am a Technical Director at a club and every new season with new Coaches becoming involved I have to debate using Games Based Training as an alternative to using drills. Each year I have Coaches who it is obvious think that what I am saying is all just a fad and that eventually everyone will see sense and we will all go back to proper coaching.

 

Seeing this extract on Twitter got me thinking that why if Coaches as prestigious as Walter Winterbottom in 1952 were thinking in this manner then how is it still regarded as a new concept so many years later.

 

A simple but I don’t think totally accurate answer is that drilling players can be easy. I helped out a friend a few weeks ago as at the last minute as he was going to be short of Coaches at an event. I was asked to take a group of between 12-16 players and do a passing drill with them. I thought I was going to have 3 different groups this size in 15 mins so would have each group for around 4 mins allowing for change over. Instead I had each group for 15 mins straight. In my head I worked out a progression or two and started. I looked over at my friend after about 3 or 4 mins to see how long was left to which he gave me a quizzical look and held up 10 fingers.

 

Now remember I have not done any passing drills in my own coaching for over 10 years and I now have 10 mins to fill with fourteen U18 players and no idea how to fill it. I simply made it up as I went along and none of the players noticed. With the next two groups I challenged myself to make up something different each time. Basically, if you are confident enough in your delivery you can simply make it all up as you go along because the Coach dictates everything. A player can’t really challenge you because where the ball moves to is down to the Coach.

 

Like I said I think that is a very simple answer and not totally accurate but I feel it is a part of why isolated practices or drills continue to feature so significantly in a team setting.

 

Then, for a reason I will explain later, I looked critically at the images I see of football training on telly. Teams preparing for international matches seem to be always running around pitches or doing simple isolated practices while a voiceover describes the star players who are injured or anything newsworthy for the upcoming game.

 

I have no doubt this is because the cameras are cleared out or not allowed to film any training that may help the Opposition figure out the game plan but the audience just gets to see International players doing isolated practices.

 

A TV advert for a football camp sponsored by a star player showed him putting the youngsters through their paces and surprise, surprise they ran around cones. Another TV advert showed young players shooting at a professional goalkeeper one at a time after passing to a current professional who set up the shot presumably while all the others stood in line waiting for their turn.

 

I’ve been involved in filming such adverts and normally it is the cameraman or the photographer, probably with no coaching experience, who dictates what practice is done so they can get a good shot in the shortest possible time. However, to the average Coach it looks as if the International or Professional players are conducting the session so by inference this must be something they do.

 

Watch any Hollywood film about football and at some point, the player/team will do isolated practices or drills more than likely for the same reason as the adverts but this time the director who probably has no coaching experience is dictating what shots are taken.

 

I am not a fan now of dribbling a ball around cones but I can remember as a kid following the instructions in the Daily Mirror during Argentina ’78. I placed out some bricks (who had cones in 1978) in a line just like they said and tried to learn to dribble like Mario Kempes in my back yard.

 

This dribbling drill was probably written by some journalist who has never coached a minute of football in their lives and was simply filling up space in the newspaper but to me I thought I was doing what Argentina were doing at training that very same day.

 

My trigger for writing the blog in this way was something I saw in an article called ‘Don’t believe everything you see’. Apparently, it takes 5 minutes to knock someone out with a cloth soaked in Chloroform but yet I have seen baddies in movies or TV shows sneaking up on people and rendering them unconscious in a matter of seconds for years. In fact, I saw it in a film only 2 days ago and never questioned it for a second.

 

My point is this people are surrounded by images of what proper coaching appears to look like for years and so when they become Coaches themselves they believe they already know the basic concepts of coaching. Maybe this is why it is so hard for some Coaches to try to coach another way as it goes against everything they have ever seen about coaching.

 

Maybe like me with the Chloroform you just accept that is what coaching is and never challenge it.

 

Just my thoughts but I would be interested to hear from other Coaches.

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

A Developing Story….

Often, I present these blogs as completed stories. This was the issue/problem/situation and this was how I dealt with it and this is the moral of the story etc.

 

This time I am writing about a developing story. This year I began coaching a boy in one of my programs. He is around 11 years of age and to say he was new to football doesn’t quite cover it. He was aware of the rules but it was the first time he had actually tried playing the game.

 

I have read many times that talent identification before puberty is ridiculous but I felt safe on only one viewing in predicting that this boy will have a successful career in accountancy.

 

He struggled to kick the ball forwards instead he had a sort of sweeping motion which ended up with the ball going sideways to his left. He never controlled the ball he just kicked it as soon as it came near him in any direction. If he didn’t have room to swing at the ball he would roll the ball backwards with the sole of his foot. I could go on but I think I have established his credentials.

 

One other thing though is important to know is he seemed to have no self-confidence. He always asked me to clarify the rules of each game to him individually plus he constantly told me he wasn’t very good.

 

Initially I didn’t realise what an opportunity he is because, if you think about it, I am getting to coach a player who is like Mr Bean. He appears to have just dropped from the sky and now wants to play football with no previous influences.

 

About this time there was another flare up of the opposed v unopposed training debate on Twitter which I mentioned in a previous blog. I realised that for many Coaches (even those who lean towards games based training) they would take one look at this player and say they have to teach him some basic techniques in unopposed exercises first.

 

I am being quite literal that if 6 months ago this player had been asked to pass back and forth with another player 5m away. It would have been difficult for him and probably painful to watch and to be a part of. He would have been unable to control the pass he received and unable to pass to the other player accurately.

 

I do the majority of my coaching through small sided games and I decided he could be a sort of test case for me. Basically, he has just played in 2 v 2, 3 v 3 or 4 v 4 conditioned games with me since he started.

 

Obviously because I am closely monitoring him I can remember some of our first exchanges. In the 2nd /3rd week we played a game were the players had to take a minimum 2 touches every time they got the ball. I have used this game for a variety of reasons but for this level group it was primarily to encourage them to consider something more than kicking the ball away as soon as it came near them.

 

As I am sure you would expect he didn’t take a directional 1st touch instead he tried to stamp on the ball to get it to stop. After 10 mins or so I stopped the play just as he stamped on the ball in loads of space

 

Me: “So what goal are you trying to score in”

Player points to goal over his shoulder

Me: “What direction was the ball rolling in”

Player points forwards in the direction of the goal over his shoulder.

Me: “Then why did you stop the ball if it was already going towards the goal you want to score in”

Player: “Coz I have to take two touches”

Me: “But if it was already going the way you wanted why stop it. Could you use those two touches in another way? I’ll pass you the ball again and you show me something other than stopping the ball.”

 

We replayed the situation with me thinking to myself what a top, top Coach I am. I passed him the ball and he didn’t stamp on the ball but let it roll past him in the direction of the goal I was momentarily delighted as unfortunately, he remained completely stationary only moving his head to watch the ball roll 5m past him and be collected by an opposition player. At this point I began to calculate how many years till my retirement and did I have enough time left with this player to make a difference.

 

To his credit during the rest of the session he allowed the ball to roll forwards a few times so I had something that I could use to praise him. He was absolutely delighted to be praised for trying hard to improve. Fortunately, he finishes every session sweaty and bright red in the face so I can always praise his physical effort to improve as well.

 

A few months ago, while still maintaining the once a week session with me he began training once a week with me one of our Team Coaches. His Team Coach also does games based training so he is still being exposed to similar coaching. I manage to watch all his home games so I can monitor improvements outside of training sessions.

 

To summarise him currently after 6 months his technical level is still low but it has certainly improved. He now has a directional 1st Touch. He can control easy, slow passes although bouncing balls and balls in the air are still difficult for him. He can now strike the ball forwards and can accurately pass over short distances plus now has the self-confidence even to take a corner kick during a game. He will run with the ball and be able to control its general direction. He infrequently attempts 1 v 1s in games but in training he does and his ability to manipulate the ball under pressure is limited although improving.

 

One of the biggest changes in him is that the game doesn’t seem to constantly surprise him anymore. About 5 weeks ago we were playing 4-a-side at training and the conditions were your team won if you were the first team were every player scored a certain type of goal i.e goal with ‘other foot’, 1st time strike, along the ground, top half of goal etc.

 

In this particular game, it was score with a 1st time strike when he anticipated where the ball was going to be in two passes time and deliberately moved about 15m from a central area and positioned himself near the far post and scored. It was brilliant to witness him moving off the ball plus he was the second player to score on his team so he wasn’t prompted to simply get close to the goal as he ‘had to score next’.

 

My thoughts at this moment are the games based approach to coaching him is going well. He is enjoying playing football and I would be surprised if he didn’t continue playing. His technical level although still low has shown considerable improvement. He no longer tells me he isn’t very good and doesn’t stand out anymore as the player who has never played before.

 

Would his technical level be greater if I had used unopposed training exercises with him is impossible to say. What I am more comfortably saying is he wouldn’t have his current technical level plus be reading the game the way he is if he hadn’t have spent the majority of his first 100 hours of football experience actually playing football.

 

I am still trying to have an open mind and will update you on his further progress at a later date.

 

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

Letter to my younger self…

Recently in one of the many debates that I see discussed (rage) over Twitter about benefits of isolated practice one person chipped into a conversation with the tweet

 

‘If you can’t control ball you can’t make a decision. Technique first. No brainer’

 

and then left immediately as if he had stated the obvious and surely everyone would understand now.

 

I know how he felt as I heard a comment very similar to this perhaps 20 years ago. At the time, it really resonated with me and provoked a mental image of a perfectly weighted pass being completely miscontrolled in front of goal. Of course, it just seemed to make perfect sense you have to have the technique before anything else. I was hooked.

 

In hindsight, I took this completely on face value and yet this thinking had a strong influence over how I coached for quite a number of years.

 

As is fashionable at the moment I am going to write this blog in the style of a letter to my younger self.

 

The first advice I would give to my younger self would be why don’t you ask a few questions because anything that is worth basing how you are going to coach on deserves to be checked thoroughly.

 

If ‘can’t control ball can’t make a decision’ is the basis of your coaching then what type of coaching do you do with a player who can consistently control the ball.

 

What level of controlling the ball does a player need to reach before they can train with decisions.

 

You constantly tell the players you coach that the best players know what they are going to do before they get the ball. Why haven’t you considered there is some conflict between this and the way you coach. Shouldn’t the fact that you believe technique should be taught first yet you tell the players that a decision comes first in a game at least set off a few warning bells?

 

Why do you tell players the old chestnut ‘the top 3 inches are the most important part of your body’ then remove players getting practice making decisions from large parts of your training?

 

Why haven’t you considered what affect adding decisions into the mix at a later stage will have.

 

Why don’t you consider your training might be the reason when players display good levels of technique in sessions but less so in games. Why don’t you think about what is the difference between your training and the game?

 

Why do you lament that ‘young players today’ can’t read the game or suggest young players don’t play enough football and then play so little football yourself in the sessions you plan?

 

There are many other questions but the last one is this why when in other walks of your life you always look for the best way yet with your passion, football, you simply copy what everyone else is doing.

 

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

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

http://www.coachdanwright.com/blog/2017/2/4/individual-possession

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

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

Can you help

When I was 16 I got a ‘B’ in my French O Level at school which I was quite pleased about. In my early 20’s I spent 3 weeks in France and I was no better at speaking to the locals than my girlfriend who had never done a French lesson in her life.

However, my girlfriend had Dutch parents who although by the time I met her rarely if ever spoke Dutch at home did so quite a bit when she was little she told me. When we were in the Netherlands for 3 weeks within a few hours she was able to hold conversations with her relatives and by the end of the stay was chatting away comfortably.

Why am I telling you this?

Well I can see lots of parallels with coaching football.

I had done 4 years of French at school with the volcanic Miss Black but it was proving useless to me when I was actually in France needing to speak French. For me to impress my girlfriend I was going to have to bump into someone called Mr Bertillon who had forgotten to wear his watch and wanted to know the time so desperately he was prepared to ask a tourist. To really cap it off Mr Bertillon would have to be prepared to stand there while I asked him “where is the train station”or my personal favourite “where is the library” although I probably wouldn’t have understood any of his answers.

My girlfriend on the other hand had never had a ‘proper’ education in Dutch. She had simply been in an environment where Dutch was spoken.

The parallel comes from the current debate about whether a proper education in football involves a sizeable amount of time spent doing drills or isolated technical practices compared to a games based method of training.

Just so you know I am a firm believer in learning how to play football with as many elements of the actual game involved as possible.

Now the reason I am writing this blog is I feel I keep finding ways to back up the fact I prefer games based training. I have even managed to see a trip around Europe in the late 80’s as proof it works.

What I would like is to hear from Coaches or read articles that have the opposite view.

Could anyone point me towards articles or studies that challenge my current thinking. It would be most appreciated as I feel all I do is read articles that back up what I think and so may simply be looking in the wrong places.

Love to hear from you

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

Or follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time