Here's a game from Derry's coach, John Morrison. He could have kept it to himself but he chose to share it, so that others may try it and benefit from it.
If you want your 'free' takers to practise in a realistic environment, where they've been running in the game, making tackles, breaking tackles, passing, shooting etc,. and if you want to recreate a degree of pressure on the 'free' taker, do the following:-
Set up a practice game between two teams on a full pitch or near enough a full pitch [teams from 10 v10 up to 15 v15].
Before the game starts, scatter five or six flexible multimarkers [not the domes!] in an area between the 13m line and about 40m from goal. Do likewise at the opposite end.
Play the game as normal until one team gets a score from play. Now let a 'free' taker choose which marker to shoot from and let him take a 'free' from that spot. If he/she scores add this point to the original one scored from play. If he/she misses, take away the original point.
If he/she scores, remove the marker from that spot. This forces him/her to choose another marker next time. If he/she misses, leave the marker there, so that he/she will have to take a 'free' from that spot again sometime later in the game [i.e. pressure]
To ensure that the game flows and there is not a lengthy delay as the 'free' taker prepares, have at least two footballs behind the goal.
Let the 'keeper set up a ball ready for the kick out, while the 'free' taker is getting set. Once the shot is taken, the other ball should be kicked out.
Think about it. The 'free' taker has the added pressure of doubling the score rather than the double whammy of missing and wiping out the original one that earned him the 'free'.
Try it. It works a treat!
How many times have you seen a Gaelic football team earn an 'extra man' and still lose? How many times have you seen the same happen in soccer?
Unfair comparison? - Team size different? Number of players different? These are only smokescreens behind which a coach may hide.
Fact - When opponents lose a player, they will reorganise and this reorganisation will determine who is left free on our team. So, for the first few minutes, our coach cannot claim to nominate the 'extra man'.
Fact - The player left free is, more often than not, a defender. This comes about when opponents lose a defender or a midfielder or a forward. In the latter case there is little or no reorganisation needed. If they lose a defender or a midfielder, they will withdraw a forward to plug the gap. In either case, our side is left with a spare defender.
Fact - Few, if any, coaches prepare for playing with an 'extra man', so decisions are often made on the spur of the moment, rather than with any method.
Fact - Players must know and have experienced the various options re. using an 'extra man'. So, whatever strategies you devise as a coach for such an eventuality [e.g. playing the 'extra man' wide on the wing to receive passes, double-teaming on a particularly dangerous opponent, patrolling the area along the 45m line, acting as a 3rd midfielder to mop up loose ball etc.] must be practised if you want it to work rather than just hope it will work.
My own preference is to practise using the 'extra man' wide. Opponents find it much more difficult to mark width rather than depth. It tends to stretch them much more and gaps begin to appear. Playing the 'extra man' wide also provides a release player for others on the team. Players are not lulled into a false sense of security about the 'extra man' covering for them if they mark loosely. What's more, if the opponents move a player to mark this 'extra man' after while, the response is simple - move the new 'extra man' wide on the other side of the pitch. Believe me, it does work and it has worked!
Whatever you decide, make sure you practise it. Gone are the days when any of us can afford fill sessions with endless drills and without reference to the 'what ifs' that appear in a match!
Here's a simple idea for use in either small-sided games or full practice games, best used for short periods at a time [e.g. 5 minutes]. One of Ireland's top coaches uses it regularly.
Rather than point out the advantages of such a game, I'm going to leave them out.
Here are the rules:
Start the game as you want to play it, be it a small-sided or full-sided one, be it on a shortened pitch or not. Let the game run for a few minutes to get the flow going and then introduce a single rule. NO SPEECH ON THE PITCH! That includes...no calling for passes, no reminding teammates to mark opponents, no speaking to the referee, no issuing instructions of any kind.
Should any player break the 'no speech' rule, award a 'free' to the opposition.
Remember...impose the rule only for short periods at a time [e.g. five minutes on, five minutes off]. The concentration required and the frustration endured will prove too much for some and the game will lose its zest.
You may decide to tell players beforehand your reasons for running such a game or you may decide to let them find out for themselves.
A word of warning to all of those coaches who have been swept away by the craze that is 'Ladder Work'. Without doubt, ladders have their place in coaching.
They are useful tools to aid the development of fast footwork, balance and coordination.
However, such is the interest in this approach, that some coaches are overdoing ladder work. Will this lead to a generation of footballers who are both nimble and evasive, but have forgotten the absolute need to develop long strides instead of short ones in order to break a tackle, complete a good lift and make ground more efficiently?
Last year I watched a player jink his way about the pitch, looking busy at all times. It wasn't until I saw him up against a long-striding opponent or two that I realised he was busy going nowhere and that the speed of his footwork was doing nothing for his pace over the ground. Only sustained work on lengthening his stride improved his effectiveness.
How good is your coaching session? How well does it address the needs of your players, be they 8, 18 or 28 years of age?
Here's one suggestion for a checklist...a guide to follow when planning a coaching session.
In every session you should be working to develop:-
SPEED OF THOUGHT
Forget the idea that there should be whole sessions with no ball involved. Design your sessions to include each of these four elements and the players will not only develop more quickly, they'll enjoy doing so.
Working on TECHNIQUE means seeking to improve each player's first touch on the ball. First touch is often only applied to receiving the ball, but if you think about it, first touch covers all techniques - a better kick pass, a better block, a better lift etc. You must be prepared to help players to develop the correct techniques and never let bad habits linger.
ATHLETICISM is an umbrella term for all physical fitness work. You may be able to develop this using the ball or you may have to set aside a specific part of a session to work on it. Whatever the case, there is little reason to work on it in a forest, on the roads or on a mountain - do it on the pitch...but not to the exclusion of everything else.
SPEED OF THOUGHT is the part of any session that frightens coaches. Many tend to steer clear of it and argue that it's something that a player either has or hasn't. No chance!
All you have to do to develop speed of thought is to set appropriate conditions on a drill or a game during the session. Do you want your midfielders to release the ball earlier? - put a two-touch condition on them to help develop the correct instincts. But don't just do it in one session and never again. Repetition is the key - even for 10 minutes of every practice game.
Just think about ways you'd like a player to change - then work out a method to do so in practice - simply hoping for it after a chat will not work!
TEAMPLAY - Does your team have any game plans? How often do you practise them? Do you simply talk about them and expect players to act it out? Think about it - does a director of a play simply hand out the script and put the actors straight onto the stage in front of the audience? - rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!
So...look at your next session - have you included work on these four elements? If not, do it now!
For underage players the key to this is really to let the players experience the problems and work out the solutions for themselves. If you decide to use the game, do not be tempted to give players the answers. If they think it through themselves, they'll learn to use their ideas in a game proper.
Create a mini-pitch [approx. 40m x 25m]. At one end only, set up goals using cones or posts.
Choose two teams of four players each. Start one team in a line across an end line. Give the ball to the other team and start them from the end line that has the set of goals, but with only three of their players lined across it. The fourth player does goals to allow a 3 v 4 situation to develop outfield.
On the whistle, one of the three kicks the ball high and long towards the opposing team of four. Both teams advance quickly to meet each other. The team of four should now be in possession of the ball.
The four must work the ball past the three to get in a shot for goal. A score is only awarded if the ball is kicked low into the goal [on or close to the ground].
Should the three win the ball back, they simply work it out to the far end-line.
After each play, the teams switch roles, rotate goalkeepers and start again.
Not much to it! So it seems. Quite a boring game then!
Not so! What happens is that the team of three will win the ball back and score more often than the team of four. This is not due to any slick move on the part of the three, but on poor use of players by the team of four.
You, as the coach should let these situations develop for a while, before taking the four aside and suggesting that they come up with a better decision re. how they use the extra player. In no time at all, the game will switch in favour of the four. Remember...let them make the decision...and let them think of new ones each time so that the opponents cannot counter.
With regard to contour-moves, you may also find that the three will sort out some defensive ploys themselves. So much the better. Everybody develops, everybody wins and you get a taste of what players can do for themselves [with a little coach input, of course]. Good luck.
How many of us set up drills and exercises that involve a pivotal player? This is the person who, in a line drill, stands in the middle, receives a kick pass from a player, feeds it back as the same player runs by and then turns to wait for the next pass from the opposite end.
Acting as a pivot does mirror the game, but only if the pivotal player builds movement into his/her role. There is little or no point in standing still at any stage when playing this part. To let players do so, will only lead to them copying it in a match. A pivot should always keep on the move, mimicking the movement from a match when he/she is jogging or walking about, while being marked by an opponent.
The pivot should do this as he/she weighs up the situation and decides when to change pace and move to receive the pass and return it. In a game there will be a brief window when this is possible, so in a drill it must be the same.
To sum up - never leave a standing pivot to dig a hole in the one spot on a pitch. Keep that player on the move, even when the ball is not being passed. Then build in a change of pace for the pass. Try it in your next session. The game demands it and so should you!
This is a method of spotting potential future stars for professional soccer. It is used by scouts and those who wish to sign the young players who may make it big. So what has it to do with Gaelic Games? We can use it to encourage players to change.
T stands for TECHNIQUE....I stands for INTELLIGENCE.....P stands for PERSONALITY.....and S stands for SPEED.
Three of these always seemed sensible and were easily understood. Scouts looked for players who had good technical skills, made quick and proper decisions on the pitch and were fast, both in reaction and speed over the ground.
But what exactly did personality mean? Did they reject players who were sullen or quiet or dull or loud or volatile? No! It seems they determine personality as a 'willingness to learn from mistakes and an openness to new ideas'.
So, if you know of any player who simply wants to play his/her own game and has no 'personality', tell them to find one quickly - their future in Gaelic Games depends on it!
What about a game to allow defenders to work on tackling without fouling? What if the same game gave forwards the incentive to get closer to goal and even draw 'frees' from the opposition?
Let's say you have 21 players; set your pitch from the far '45 to one set of goals [i.e. approx. 75m in length]. In front of the goals create a large semi-circle of multimarkers. This must start on the end line, 20m from the left post, arc out to 30m in front of goal and then arc in to finish 20m from the right post on the end line.
Play 11v10 with one team made up primarily of attackers and the other of defenders. The goalkeeper plays for the defenders. Start each play with a kickout. Let the forwards attack the goal when in possession. Only points count.
Should they shoot and score from outside the semi-circle, they are awarded 1 point. A score from inside the zone earns 2 points. A 'free' scored from inside the zone earns 3 points.
Defenders must work to keep the scores to a minimum, so they must make sure they do not commit fouls inside the zone and that they mark tightly enough to keep down the number of 2 point scores. Defenders can earn scores for themselves, by winning the ball and working it up the pitch to cross the far 45m line while still in possession. The coach can determine how many points should be given.
Try it...show defenders that if they are too rash and lack organisation they will pay the price!
A simple message for all coaches -
Make sure you work regularly to get your players to attack the ball when going for it and to break the tackle when moving forward with the ball.
To let players away with waiting for a nice bounce, stopping when faced by an opponent or trying to kick through them will only lead to a generation of average footballers in our county - don't let it happen...always work to make them the best we can!