As players develop, their technique improves more rapidly than any other part of their game. They can usually learn to kick, catch, fist, block, solo etc. with a fair degree of comfort. The better players often practise these skills at home and come on faster than those who only rely on drills in coaching sessions once or twice a week.
What they find more difficult is to develop the ability to make the right decision in a game - when to pass, who to pass to, where to run, how to pass.
A coach who prepares a squad through sessions filled with drills, is only working at one part of the game.
How can a drill solve problems like 'forwards bunching' or 'lack of midfield support' or 'no width' or 'poor use of quick frees'? The answer is...it CAN'T!
If a player is a poor kicker of the ball, there is work done to solve that problem. What are we doing to help the player who takes the wrong option more often than the right one in a game?
Get working at games. Remember...Games = Problems. Start solving the problems!
One of the more difficult things to coach to young players is the need to modify their individual styles for the good of the team.
If you have spent time ensuring that players are comfortable on the ball, it means you have worked on kicking, catching, lifting, blocking, tackling, shooting, evasion skills and solo running.
The most attractive of these skills to a young player is very often 'solo running'.
The feeling the player gets when he/she can run while making a ball spin from toe to hand is tremendous. Many players want to use this technique as often as possible.
So, when you step in to coach team play and take players to another level, some see it as a denial of the right to try out this great skill of solo running.
However, it has to be done. There are no easy answers, but if you explain that you recognise their position and, at the same time, remind them that your job is to take them to higher and higher levels of play [i.e. adding more skills to their repertoire] you may find it easier to introduce.
Conditions, limits, modifications....whatever you choose to call them, must be set for players to experience the beauty of good teamwork and to learn how passing, support running and shooting can bring as good a feeling as individual solo running.
Remember.....you may only have to limit a few players at a time, rather than impose a blanket ban on all solo running. One trick is to take a team aside [e.g. in a 9v9 game] and choose two of the players from one team who must play the ball immediately. Only inform their team-mates [not the opposition] and let them respond to this for a five or ten minute spell. The roles may be rotated among the team to let all practise.
This lets you see how well two players can change their games to benefit teamplay and how quickly their team-mates learn to make themselves available for passes from them.
Try it out - soon!
One of the most annoying sights in coaching is a long queue of players lining up to take part in a drill or an exercise.
Who can state a valid reason for a queue of 8, 9 or 10 players [or more], each waiting in turn for two seconds of action?
All coaches, when designing drills or exercises, should look carefully at how the WORK:REST RATIO pans out.
If an exercise means that a player has 2-3 seconds of movement for a ball, followed by 30-40 seconds of lining up for the next bus, there is something wrong with the drill set-up.
Think the exercise through and divide the group or increase the number of footballs being used - do anything except let the queue continue to form and the players continue to lose out!
If the drill involves jogging, a good rule of thumb is a work:rest ratio of 1:1. Should the emphasis be on speed, then set a ratio of 1:4 or 1:5.
In effect, this means that you simply include two players in a queue for the jogging exercise and five or six players maximum in the speed drill. The numbers used will determine the work:rest ratio.
Many people will associate this title with Rugby. For years now, Rugby coaches and selectors have played 'probables v possibles' games when coaching. This simply means that they pick the strongest team on paper and play them as a unit. The opposition is made up of the remainder of the squad.
Ask any top Rugby coach and he'll tell you that this system helps in a number of ways:
Those players most likely to make up the first team get the opportunity to play together, get used to habits, patterns of play etc.
Those players on the 'possibles' who stand out and catch the eye will have done so against better opposition.
Those on the 'probables' who find it tough may find themselves replaced by a 'possible' who really wants a place.
In Gaelic Football we tend to take a squad of 30 players and play our strongest backs against our strongest forwards. There is nothing wrong with this if you wish to play like v like, but it will never give the best 15 a chance to play together, blend and prove themselves. Nor will it give the coach/selector a true picture of the reserve player who shines.
So, if you are blessed with a big squad, think about promoting the use of 'probables v possibles'. Go a step further and always 'bib' the probables in your own club colours. The task for every 'possible' is to win a bib and the task for every 'probable' is to retain it.
Let's assume you have a squad of 30 players and only one pitch on which to train. You'd really like to work on shooting from distance in a game situation but the 15v15 set-up doesn't lend itself to it. Well, here's one recipe!
Take out two goalkeepers and put them in goals at either end. Set out a line of markers across the pitch about 30m from goal. Do likewise at the other end of the pitch. Now take your players and create four teams - red, blue, green, yellow [7 outfield players in each]. Play Red v Blue inside the zone created by the two lines of markers [i.e. in the middle 70m of a typical pitch].
No outfield player may enter the 30m zones close to either goal. Effectively these become the goalkeepers' areas only. Ask the 'keepers to take kick outs as normal and let play develop. To speed up play, the goalies should always have a spare ball set up for the next kick-out. Players may only score from outside these zones. Play a 10-minute game.
So...do the Greens and Yellows simply wait about and get cold while this game progresses? Not at all. If you think about it, the 30m zones at either end of the pitch should only be used for kick-outs. Why not set up a drill inside each zone, staying closer to the corners than to the goals? For example - run a tackling exercise for 4 minutes in one corner and a catching exercise in the other corner for the same period. The drills will not get in the way of the game. Swap the Greens and Yellows over, run the drills again and there's the 10 minutes used constructively.
Now play Greens v Yellows in the game and let the Reds and Blues work on the drills. Swap once more and you have a 45 minute session after warm-ups.
You'll find that the game not only promotes shooting from distance, but also shows players the value of ball being played quickly and accurately upfield rather than across the park. The game also forces players to work harder and to get the ball into the shooting area before the other team has an opportunity to regroup.
Here is one way to develop teamplay. It also allows you, the coach, to step back, spot where things are going wrong and move to fix them.
Think of the pitch as three separate zones: The first, Zone A, runs from your own team's end line to the 45m line. Zone B lies between the two 45m lines and Zone C is that section from the far 45m line to the opposition's end line. When your team is in possession, watch carefully what happens in each zone.
Priority in Zone A is 'KEEP BALL', with the emphasis on keeping possession through close passing and plenty of support play.
Once in Zone B, the focus changes to 'SET UP'. In this area a player should aim to use the ball quickly and directly to set up teammates who are inside the opposition's 45m line. The ball must not stay in this zone for any longer than 3-4 seconds or for more than 2 passes.
Zone C is the 'SCORE' zone. In here the aim is to get into position to either go for a score or to directly assist a score. Aim to reduce the passes in this zone to no more than 2 before a shot is taken.
NB. It does not matter which player is in which zone.....the task remains the same.
Find the player with no technical problems in his or her game and I’ll find you a leprechaun in return. All players need specific technical coaching at some time during their careers. Granted, this is best done at an early stage [e.g. between the ages of 7 and 11], but the reality is that coaches deal with many older players who still have problems with kicking, catching, tackling, blocking, evading, lifting, fist passing etc. that were probably not fixed years ago.
If you coach, then you should be able to ‘spot and fix’ faults in technique. To ignore such problems is tantamount to saying….’He never could do it and he never will’. Let’s hope you’re not the coach who recognises the problem, but prefers to work on physical fitness instead – there are plenty about! So, how do you fix once you have spotted?
The secret lies in the phrase ‘Head, Hands, Feet for Better Technique’. If you watch a player perform a technique [e.g. a shot for a point] you must look for head position, hand position and feet position during the execution of the technique. This sounds so complicated and yet it isn’t.
Take the example of a player kicking for a point with his right foot. More often than not, he misses to the right of the posts. Some coaches may try to solve the problem by asking the player to ‘aim left’, but that is like asking a golfer who slices to aim down another fairway so that the ball can curve back. Better to look for the following –
HEAD…is his/her head up as he/she kicks? This will cause the player to lean back and push the ball further to the right.
HANDS…is he/she dropping the ball two-handed, cross-handed or is he/she holding the ball too far from his body?
FEET….is his standing foot pointing nowhere near the target? Is he playing the ball off the outside of his/her boot?
Think about coaching through HEAD, HANDS, FEET.
Is it not time that we rethought the role of half-forwards?
Flavour of the month is to by-pass this group when attacking and employ them more and more as defenders who track back to block opposition attacks and close in to look for breaks from midfield. More than any other group, we need half-forwards to help the team keep its shape.
A centre-half forward should be a creative player...one who orchestrates, who has great passing ability [preferably with both feet] and who has a tactical brain. Wing half-forwards must be blessed with both stamina and pace, for they are link players who have to fetch, carry and support more often than any other group.
So, how about looking at your own team! Have you a playmaker pulling the strings at CHF? Do your wing forwards have the necessary characteristics to take them through a game? Or have you simply created three extra defenders who help the defence and watch long balls fly over their heads at such a rate that a Derby horse would do well to get up in support?
Oh...and one more thing they should be able to do.......SCORE!
One of the traits a good player has is the ability to look up when in possession and scan the area ahead. He/she is scanning in order to make the right decision.
It is this very decision-making process that we, as coaches, must help players to speed up. Too often we simply admire the player who appears to have an innate ability to receive the ball, scan and make the quick and proper decision. This allows us a 'get-out clause'....the most famous one in coaching.......
"You can't teach that....it's instinctive. You either have it or you don't."
Not so! You may not be able to coach players to the very high standards set by the instinctive footballer, but you can certainly close the gap and improve both players and team when doing so.
One of the easiest methods is by running the 'Three Second Game'. This simply means playing a match or a backs v forwards game and introducing the rule that allows each player a maximum count of '3' on the ball.
To highlight this, the coach should referee the game and think "1, 2, 3" when a player receives the ball. Should the ball be played on the count of '2' then the coach begins again as the next player receives the ball. Should any player still be in possession after the count of '3', a free may be awarded to the opposition. The same count applies to the free kick.
The 'Three Second' approach has proved much better than the traditional 'one toe-tap, one bounce' game, for many players took this too literally and made sure they got in a toe-tap and a bounce before scanning for possibilities. Counting to '3' forces more players to look up first and, indeed, leads to more team-mates making better-timed runs for passes.
A few coaches decry such conditions, saying they do not mirror the real game. The same coaches, however, never seem to be able to suggest an alternative way to help speed up decision-making. They still prefer to hide behind the call 'You can't teach that..it's instinctive'.
Which type of coach are you?
Many drills and practice exercises on the pitch are excellent, but often they do not mirror reality.
For example: A coach may run two or three drills in different areas of the pitch, all involving passing or catching or solo running or lifting etc. and all happening at the same time.
Small groups of players take part in each and there is always plenty of space in which to work. This is fine up to a point.
If coaches took two different drills, let players get used to them first and then moved the cones to superimpose the exercises one on top of the other at different angles, this would allow players to practise skills and techniques while others moved among them and around the same area.
Players who can learn to cope with 'increased traffic' in a smaller area will be able to carry this through to a game, where there are team-mates and opponents getting in the way of passes etc.
Go on...try it!