Finally, we have a team in the A-League where coaches and players can look to see basic/advanced football functions being practiced consistently at a high level. Even though Brisbane Roar has been beaten in their last two games, they are demonstrating concepts of the NC. That is not to say that other teams don’t do this at times. Brisbane have consistently demonstrated: playing out from the back, possession, structured formation, take over roles, patient attacking build up, defending as a team, pressing, flexibility in formation etc. Whilst a work in progress, it is enjoyable to watch and it is now interesting to see how the other teams have developed their attacking and defensive strategies. This only gives strength to the A-League.
The implementation of the National Curriculum is now well advanced and we can see changes taking place in the youth systems of each state. Further structural changes will take place in the next two years of our state leagues. In NSW, the 11 and 12 year age groups have been re-branded as the Skill Acquisition League, with an emphasis on technique and team positions. A pilot program will also take place in 2012 called the Premier Development Program (10-12yrs) for 9v9 and 11v11. The Skilleroos (what a name!) and NSWIS continue as elite pathways. There is also a Skill Acquisition Program (SAP). Confused yet?
If the stages of the NC have been implemented correctly, the next stage of learning for our young U14 and U15 players should see them learning to function and play as a team. Positions can become specialized from these age groups onwards.
Age Group Characteristics
Increase in muscle bulk (power) and long bone growth in both girls and boys and more obvious physical changes take place during these age groups.
The hormonal surges, also sees changes in a player’s psycho-social development. Coaches will see:
- Stubbornness and moodiness
- Challenges to authority
- Winning becomes more important
- Ability to better understand and solve more complex problems and situations
Training Content and Objectives
According to the NC (TIC) the emphasis now is on insight (I). Players are now encouraged to make correct decisions based on a set of circumstances during play. Coaches must help players make better decisions as situations arise. Game based and related match based exercises are extremely powerful tools for these outcomes.
Technique (T) is still practiced and communication (C) is encouraged. Players must learn how to be team players and develop an understanding of the tasks of the team. Players should learn the tasks of each line of the team and the tasks of each member of the team.
Players at this age are genuinely capable of playing enjoyable competitive football. By aged 15 years, some consideration can be made to periodising their fitness component. I personally enjoy a holistic, logical and scientific approach that fits with my professional knowledge. As a result, Dr. Raymond Verheijen’s concepts fit well with me.
Sample Session: Midfield Function within Team Attacking Concepts
Whilst learning field positions is introduced in the U11/12s and 13s, players must now start to understand how the team functions and their positional roles within the formation. Coaches in this sample session can emphasise attack, defence, or transition separately or together and how the midfield players link with the forwards to build up the attack and score. The session is designed for advancing players with good technique. In fact, I used this session with an elite U14 State League team in 2010 and a community U15 team in 2011. Different information was imparted for the two skill levels, however.
All these points may sound complex, but because the training is all game and position based, the players rapidly understand their roles.
- Maintenance of the midfield shape in attack and defence. I emphasized the triangular shape in attack (two holders staggered, one attacking).
- 4 passing options during BP.
- Rapid transition
- Take over roles
- Attacking runs (3rd man running)
- Space between the lines and within the lines
- Integration of the midfield with the forwards
- Integration of the midfield with backs
As this session also focused on passing and receiving as a technical skill, I used a team passing warm-up to start with lots of progressions. The players were briefed on the session and a review was given from the previous week’s game.
a) I asked the player to take two balls and lightly jog around the perimeter of the field, passing between one another whilst doing dynamic stretching off the ball. This also serves as a way to get players mentally ready for the session. One could also use a fun game instead, as a variation. When they returned, the players quickly went into a rhythmic style of warm-up. There are huge variations that are possible with dynamic warm-ups. I just used a basic two line rhythmic warm-up with many dynamic stretches. I currently use a dynamic warm-up using a diamond shape with 4 lines intersecting in the middle.
b) I divided the players into 3 teams in a specified area. Each team has a ball and has to pass to a player within their team and move into a different area. As the warm-up progressed, I asked the players to do a 5-10m sprint after passing. The tempo is gradually increased with focus on technical skill and ball speed. This is further progressed by getting players to sprint after passing to their nearest cone and touching it and returning to the field. The situation becomes quite complex with 3 balls being passed around as players sprint to cones off the ball.
c) As a variation, players are asked to pass a ball to a different colour.
d) More dynamic stretching.
e) Play 2 teams vs 1 team in a possession game. This game has all 3 phases of the game. The team that makes a mistake becomes the defending team, or at the coaches discretion. Passing and receiving corrections can be made here. Alter the rules as required.
Set up a 30x40m field just outside the penalty area (as per Figure 1). Change players as required. If there is an Assistant Coach and there are enough players consider marking out two areas of play.
a) Play 4v3. Use a flat 4 (two central players) vs a number 10, 8 and 6 in a midfield formation. To score, the player dribbles to the line. The team that scores transitions and attacks on the opposite line. Limit touches. This basic game introduces the players to the concepts of the session. Make your basic coaching points then progress the game quickly.
b) Progress the game with target players to simulate the number 9, between small goals and transition as above (see figure 1). Pass option 1 is emphasized. This requires co-operation of the midfield and the target player (number 9).
Figure 1. 4v3 Midfield Exercise with Target Players
c) Progress with wide players (wing backs/wing forwards Figure 2). These two players can only play with the midfield 3 on the outside. Their field positions are also coachable. How would you coach these players and their relationship with the midfield?
Figure 2. 4v3 Midfield Exercise with Wide Players
d) Progress by adding goal keepers (Figure 3) in full sized goals some 15m behind the target player or as per a marked field. The target player (9) then lays the ball off for a midfield player (10, 8 or 6) to shoot at goal.
Figure 3. 4v3 Midfield Exercise with GKs
e) Other progressions are to allow 1 defender into the goal area for free play (1v1 + GK). Then allow an extra attacker into the box to create a 2v1 + GK situation. eg. 9 and 10 vs a defender. Allow the number 6 and 8 to make shots on goals as well. Many variations can be applied.
For the final part, setup a 6v5 + GKs (1-3-3 vs 1-3-2) SSG/phase game as per figure 4. Progress the game by widening the field to 7v7 + GKs (1-1-3-3 vs 1-4-3). See figure 5. Use specific field positions from the 1-4-3-3 system. Ensure that the number 7 and 11 do their wide jobs in defence, so the midfield can maintain their numbers and shape in the middle of the field. Encourage take over roles of the number 9 and 10, and within the midfield 3 as per the main part of the session.
Figure 4. 6v5 + GKs on two goals
Figure 5. 7v7+GKs on Two Full Sized Goals
Whilst the session above is based around 14 and 15 year olds, there is no reason that higher age groups would not benefit from a better understanding of midfield attacking function, if playing a similar 1-4-3-3 system. Repeated over and over with different coaching emphasis and field arrangement (add goals and players), this style of session can help players understand their role within the team and how to make better decisions which will help the forwards and backs in their roles.
Coaching methodology and behaviours are constantly being evaluated and researched. The FFA Curriculum is focusing on game centred learning as an approach. This includes guided discovery for the acceleration of learning, self confidence and game intelligence. The philosophy surrounding this type of learning is backed by good research. But how does the coach impart the information? What behaviours does the coach use? Traditionally, coaching has been done with only an autocratic approach, where the player is told what to do and when to do it, and there is a stop start demonstration component. Whilst these tools/behaviours are useful at times, coaches are now encouraged to change the game parameters to create a learning environment for players with plenty of positive re-enforcement. Silent observation is another coaching behaviour that is very powerful when used selectively and appropriately. It is part of a democratic type of teaching. It encourages experimenting to promote innovation, inventiveness, and the development and the learning of creativity. The coach can use his observation skills during these silent periods to allow the learning to take place and/or to modify the situation to create outcomes. This behaviour is outlined well by Michael Francis Pollin in a recent article in Soccer Coaching International (1). Francis Pollin suggests that coaches need to be pedagogically skilled. “They need to develop (through coach education) a conscious awareness of democratic coaching behaviours including Silence, which permits them to accommodate player centred learning” (1). New age perhaps, what is your opinion?
During this past year, I used the new approaches and coaching behaviours on a typical mid level mixed community team (U14/15 with females), and was amazed by the technical and tactical improvement in the players. This approach was in contrast to an autocratic reductionist style the players experienced the previous year by the players. By focusing on the players positive attributes, using guiding learning, question and answer and silent observation the players began to own the information presented. Of course, there were times where an autocratic approach was used and the coaching sessions had to be modified adhoc to get my coaching points across. The team played a 1-4-3-3 basic system. Their results and playing style were outstanding. Two players from the team have made it into elite programs. For me, as a coach, this was a great learning experience for which I am grateful. For the players it was a very empowering year for them personally.
It’s now onto older age groups for 2012 in an elite competition for another learning experience, experimenting with coaching concepts and perhaps a few more real life blogs.
(1) Francis Pollin M. , Coaching Behaviors Silence is Golden Soccer Coaching International No 53 2011