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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Not all football is football apparently…

A few months ago, while talking to a parent they told me their son doesn’t like indoor football/futsal at all and only likes playing outdoor. My first reaction was to ask why as for me it is all football. If I’m honest my next thought was there has to be a blog in this somewhere as it seemed such a peculiar thing to say.

To give you some background the player in question is someone I have known for a number of years who rarely misses outdoor training. One of the first things you would notice about him is that he is always smiling when he plays. To be truthful though he is an average player but someone I would expect to see playing football for life as they just seem to enjoy it so much.

The parents comment surprised me because I thought he didn’t attend any of the indoor programs I run any more simply because he couldn’t. I assumed he would enjoy them as much as he enjoyed the outdoor programs.

Since then I have brought up the topic with a few other parents and have been surprised that this isn’t an isolated case. There were several in my small survey who had kids the same who had tried and didn’t want to play indoor but loved outdoor football.

By the way none of the parents really knew why. The only common theme that was mentioned a few times was that the other players were too greedy and never passed. I am not totally dismissing this as the quicker pace of futsal does mean that players tend to run with the ball more but I have my doubts about it.

My indoor sessions are usually ‘walk in’ sessions so each week there is a different composition of players. The bulk of the players though would be the same players that these children play outdoor with so why don’t they like playing indoor with a similar group of players.

This had me thinking about what are the differences between indoor and outdoor football that could cause a player to dislike one and clearly enjoy the other.

There are the obvious differences such as the ball and the surface but I cannot see either as a genuine obstacle to players enjoying playing the game. I would love to hear from anyone who has a good suggestion for why either of these could make a player not want to play football indoors.

I see them both as positives. The ball being smaller and heavier makes it easier to control and the surface being flat and true makes a change from the bumpy pitches that I hear parents complaining about through the season.

Another reason that is less obvious may be the answer. Recently I went to the Futsal Nationals here in Australia. Although I was in charge of only one team I was involved in the trials for all the teams that went so I got to see lots of futsal players. At one of the trials there was a particular player who was very memorable.

Although I don’t think the ball simply being different is an obstacle to player’s enjoyable and do think it causes a problem for some players.

In simplistic terms the ball being far easier to control diminishes the core skill of 1st Touch.

With the ball being more often controlled players are more regularly in a situation where they have to make a decision on what to do next based solely on their perception abilities and how they read each situation.

This could possibly be why some players don’t enjoy it as much. In outdoor football a player’s thinking or perceptual abilities can be concealed by them having to react to a 1st Touch but in futsal when the player more often than not controls the ball instantly it is more obvious to see a player’s thinking or lack of thinking.

Back to the player from the futsal trials. The memorable player in question is a good kid who plays a similar standard of outdoor football as the other players at the trial. What made them stand out was the quite frankly ludicrous decisions they made when in possession of the ball. My personal favourite being the stepover done far too far away from the defender so they did another stepover and were still too far way then hesitated for a bit then did another stepover but this time were too close so headbutted the defender before they both ended up in a pile on the floor.

At the start, it was quite fun to watch but gradually we began to feel sorry for them. I’m positive they have no idea why they struggled to play.

In fairness, this player is far more likely to be described as a ‘busy, hardworking player’ than a ‘technically gifted player’ in outdoor but this doesn’t change the fact when this player was faced with taking a better 1st touch constantly because of the smaller, heavier ball they then had an unfamiliar problem of what do I do next.

The obvious test for this is to play indoor with the traditional bouncy green ball of my youth and see if the players who dislike indoor now come back. This isn’t something I am keen to do though.

As ever I am keen to hear your thoughts.

Please follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

A few observations….

A while ago now I spent a pleasant three hours or so on a lovely day down at a park with my wife. From where I was I saw six footballs being kicked. Now this is why I am writing this blog. All I could see was footballs being kicked I never saw a game of football.

Six different families it seemed had brought a football to the park and predominantly the Dad was kicking the ball back to the son. The only game like activity was when a family of four showed up and the Dad was in goal and the Mum and Daughter played against the Son. This lasted about five mins until the Mum decided she had had enough.

One young boy who had basically worn his Dad out sat down on his football near another Dad who was kicking the ball back and forth with his two sons and watched them. It was clear if he had been asked he would have jumped at the chance to get involved but he was never asked and eventually they sat down too so he went back to his family.

All the children were roughly 8 to 13 years old so a decent game could easily have been played but there was not even a flicker of a chance of this happening.

I imagine those kids in the park that day could count on one hand the amount of times they have been involved in a spontaneous game of football.

I have actually heard children come back from holidays and say the best thing that happened was that, at whatever resort they were at, in the mornings all the kids got together and played football.

As a child I played lots of football and I also kicked a ball lots on my own. I did all the things I had read so many times about kicking a ball against a wall with your right foot and your left. I set up a line of old bricks in the back yard and dribbled in and out of them. I tied a ball up to the washing line in a shopping bag (the onion bag looked better but made your forehead go red) to practice headers. Just about everything I heard I gave it a go.

As a Coach now looking back at my own development I would say the word that stands out for me is balance. I did both playing football and kicking a ball on my own in almost equal measure. It is rare nowadays to find a player who has the same balance. I see lots of children who clearly spend lots of time kicking a ball but seem to have little idea on how to play the game itself.

I am sorry but I have forgotten who said this quote but I have never forgotten the quote

‘A friend to the ball but a stranger to the game’

This perfectly describes what I see most often.

I think a big hindrance to young players today is the myths that have grown around how the greats developed. How many times have we heard a great player talk about how they used to do something for hours on their own. I have no doubt they did but they also played lots of football which isn’t mentioned quite as often.

I suppose it isn’t mentioned as often because if a great player when probed to give the secret of their success says it is I played with my mates every day then surely someone will ask the difficult question about what happened to the rest of your mates. Why didn’t they make it as well? Therefore we get some obscure exercise that is given as the secret to making it.

An imbalance is created because people take this too literally. A sentence from an article or a 15 second sound bite from an interview is not the basis for a young player’s development. Spending time at training sessions trying to kick a ball through a hoop hanging from the crossbar one at a time because David Beckham did this is not going to be the answer.

For me enthusiastic young footballers today have more than enough opportunity to practice alone. The cost of good quality footballs now is low enough that having access to a ball is easy. The internet is so full of ideas that even the most unimaginative child can still find lots of different ways to kick a ball and have fun on their own.

The difference is it is far more difficult for that enthusiastic young footballer today to find ways to play lots of football. The old avenues for playing football informally don’t really exist anymore for a variety of reasons.

As a consequence, players who love football and have good mastery over the ball are not actually very good at playing football due to lack of practice.

By the way I do not believe that opposed or unopposed practice are the only two things that go in to developing footballers. There are many factors but from what I see in my grassroots environment we need to readdress the current imbalance and allow players to experience playing the game as much as possible at training so they can be friends with the game as well as the ball.

If they don’t play football at your sessions then where and when do they get the chance to experience playing football.

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

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

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

Creative training games

I am sure most of the Coaches reading this blog have either done this drill as a player or as a Coach. I know I have done it as both. The Coach sets out two lines of cones facing each other about 20-25m apart. Now one player stands between 2 x cones on one line while their partner stands directly opposite between two cones on the other line. The drill is can you strike the ball to your partner 20-25m away.

 

Normally this type of drill is to get the players to practice striking the ball in the air. I can remember trying to make it a game by saying such things as you got a point if your partner could catch the ball without having to take a step or one bounce into partner’s hands without taking a step etc etc.

 

As often is the case with drills all the decision making and any awareness of what is around you was removed totally. The trick is how do we get players to strike the ball in the air in a small sided game. Personally this is something that up until a few years ago I seemed to completely neglect. All my sessions were encouraging the players to keep the ball on the ground and I gave the players few chances to practice striking the ball in the air. This now seems really stupid but if I am honest I had absolutely no idea I was doing it.

 

Last season I came up with the setup for the goals in the picture. I did it at various times with all the age groups in my technical program so players from U6 to U12. I found it worked really well and it is something I think I will use regularly in the future.

 

The players found the set up interesting and wanted to score in the top half of the goal. Obviously some players needed advice and for the majority that did all I needed to say was imagine you are sliding your foot under the ball when you hit it. I never once told anyone where to place their standing foot or to ‘lock their ankle’.

 

The games would be 3 v 3 or 4 v 4 and there were no GKs. The conditions normally progressed along these lines

 

1 – A goal in the Red goals worth 1pt. A goal over the Red goals and inside the height of the poles worth 5 pts.

2 – Same points but can only score in Red goals with your ‘other foot’.

3 – Only goals over the Red goals counted now. ‘Other foot’ worth 5 pts & ‘Usual foot’ now only 1 pt.

 

Obviously I used other variations but the progressions were built around these conditions.

 

Interestingly one player at the club who would have excelled if we had lined up players with partners 20-25m apart really struggled both times he did it. He has what most people would describe as a ‘sweet left peg’ but when he had to create the space in the right position to use it he found it quite difficult.

 

With this set up I particularly liked the players having to decide how to strike the ball in the air or how to score depending on their distance from goal. This meant we had a whole variety of ways to strike the ball in the air practiced from scoops to drives. I really liked players with the 2nd condition switching to the ‘other foot’ as they thought they were too close to get the ball over the Red goals.

 

Personally I found it a very simple set up that efficiently encouraged players to strike the ball in the air but I would love to hear from other Coaches. What conditions they would use with this set up or what small sided games they have used that encourages players to strike the ball in the air.

 

Love to hear what you think.

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

Or if possible leave a comment on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

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