5 Elements of Training Activity

Just like the W's, this has been adapted from my experience on the US Soccer A and B licenses. These elements have helped me to observe the practice and the consequences of the activity. When observing, you also the unintended consequences of the activity also. Unintended? Yes, every consequence has an unintended consequence:

Restart play, all the time from the goalkeeper. The consequence - The blue team gets to build out a lot and practice patterns, movement, breaking lines, training within the game model set out by the coach.

The unintended consequence - The blue team is often pinned in their own third and mistakes are heavily punished. The red team is constantly pressing high and the blue team only practice building from the 'keeper and never from open play or recycling of the ball because they are just trying to get 'out'.

To build on from the consequence scenario, above, I have 'challenged' myself to start setting up exercises that replicate the game, including rules and removing some of the confusing aspects of complex training activities, such as touch limits or pass requirements. Enjoy.

Element 1. Organization.

Is it organized? A typical response is yes, the cones were straight, and the goals were in place. We had spare balls around the outside of the field and played to our periodized time limits.

Nice, I'm sure it looked great but was it really organized?

Go back to my previous blog post on the W's.

Did the number of players playing match up to your game model/style of play/formation from the W's you highlighted in your planning for the activity/session?

To continue the theme of building out, are the blue team organized in their buildout? Are they set up as desired and are they playing with the same intentions as they would in a game? Is the formation the same, the players playing in positions the same?

Now get really organized by observing the red team. Are they set up the same as your previous/upcoming opponent (most Northern CA team play a 1-4-3-3 so it is safe to guess your opponent's style in this case) and are they pressing in the same way you witnessed/expect? If not, set them up to press the 'right' way.

That is organizing your practice, on top of the balls and cones being set nicely.

Element 2. Game-like.

Does it look like a game? Returning to the introduction, I stated that I try to create a replica of the game as much as possible due mainly to this element. You cannot always train 11v11 as some might argue for the only way for it to be like a game, but you can set up with the best intentions for it to be like the game as much as possible:

Are there lots of cones/zones with strict playing lines? I don't think this is the game, and therefore I avoid these types of 'games'. However, it is your space and you can set up as you like, but as you observe watch for unintended consequences, such as players 'freezing' on a cone line that they 'cannot' cross or the players arguing about the player crossing when they shouldn't.

A discussion on the various types of 'goals' for your training activity has been covered in this blog post and is always a factor in the game-like setup of the activity.

The opposition also needs a reason to play. If they win the ball what are they doing with it and why? Do they have a goal to counterattack or a target to hit for them to be involved in the game and to 'punish' the opponent for losing the ball?

We can take game-like further. Is there genuine competition and a desire to win? Does the training match the same intensity from the game? Opposition purpose is one key moment, but how else are you setting this environment up to be as game-like as possible? You might be training on a recovery day or a day before a competition, so the intensity is necessarily lower but you should consider the need to replicate the game situation you are training as much as possible for a purposeful relation for 'why'.

Element 3. Repetition.

Lots of shots on goal is certainly repetition, but how is the repetition being achieved? Is it a lay off with the coach and a one-touch shot from the edge of the box? If so, how many of those come from a game? Or is it a 5v5 to the goal with a training focus for creating layoff shot opportunities and counterattack opportunities to replicate the game. The same situation holds true from the introduction with 'building out from the back' being repeated from goal kicks and how that may happen several times in a game, but there are also other focuses for building out, such as recycling possession or from a deep throw-in. Getting repetition for these moments can be as 'simple' as a small-sided game played to goals and played with regular rules for throw-ins, corners, and goal kicks. A small-sided game of 4v4/5v5/6v6 will give lots of touches and display lots of game moments for you to focus on. How else might you address complex situations without forcing the repetition and the unintended consequences, such as facing a constant high press?

Element 4. Challenging.

I am a huge proponent of even number training sessions. I love that it adds an extra demand on the players to create and exploit overloads. We can focus on defending in attack with positional dominance and the opponent can solve the problem of exposing the team in possession.

Not so long ago the theory was to overload a training activity for success. Playing 8v5 would surely result in success for the 8 and the consequence would be 'improved xxx'. However, the unintended consequence is that the opponent on Saturday has more than 5 players. The same could be said for spaces too small or too big - the unintended consequence on your team needs to be observed and the 'why' needs to be challenged all of the time.

Underloads are becoming popular and logically it makes sense. In attack, my front three are often pitted against a back four. I could add a #10, but he is often tracked by a defensive #6 (on paper anyway). This gives us a setup of 4v5 and an argument that is certainly game-like at the moment, but also challenging for the four to figure out 'how' to beat the 5 defending players.

Side note. You sometimes get 9/11/13/15 players that attend practice and you need to deal with that. A goalkeeper often helps balance game numbers (6v6 with a GK for example) but I avoid 'neutral' players unless the neutral is recovering from an injury or could really benefit from a specific demand, but I am yet to find many of those. I use the odd number player as a rotation player that is responsible for feeding the ball in as soon as it goes out. Part of 'challenging' I believe comes from the intensity of playing 'uncomfortably fast' with the ball in play for prolonged periods, which is aided by the odd number player who also gets to rotate in every 'x' minutes.

Are the players failing and succeeding? If they are succeeding early on, you will have to adjust the red team to force failure on the blue team. This is now challenging. Too challenging and you will need to support the blue team more and this is where you can move to element 5.

Element 5. Coaching.

We're paid to coach/we are coaches so we should be coaching.

My experience from the licensing pathway, however you feel about licensing and coaching school in general, is that the previous four steps need to be correct for correct coaching to happen. Here is where philosophy and semantics get in the way. I was taught and I believe that any coaching that happens outside of the four previous steps is false.

Semantics - coaching is 'false' anyway as we manipulate the game for success.

Me - not if we get the first four steps correct. If they are correct, we have created as real of an experience as possible and are therefore now coaching to the real situation to improve our players. The blue team needs our help because they are failing to play out against the press from the red team so we can coach them with our toolbox for success.

I cover these elements, and how to improve 1v1's in practice, in my book - 1v1's Outside The Box. Check it today!

I recently released an episode of the Heads and Volleys Podcast which touched on 'the coaches toolbox' and I will be expanding on the art of coaching in another blog post, but getting to this coaching stage should be a goal for any training session. To summarize, the tools could be 'freeze' moments. Coaching in the flow. Coaching individuals. Q+A. Guided discovery and so on.

Plan your activity:

- So that it is organized to the game.

- So that it is as game-like as possible, including justifications for the 'goals' you use, and the counterattacking purpose.

- So the game presents as many real repetitions as possible.

- So there is a real challenge for all involved, including failure

- Plan for unintended consequences.

Then observe and consider the four points. Tweak, adjust, manipulate as you need so you can coach for success.

I hope you enjoyed this. Let me know what you think @leedunnesoccer