Never waste a moment to develop your players’ understanding of a topic. Too many coaches are not extracting the maximum learning potential of a match situation. Treat a match like a training session.
It’s pre-season and in the last 2 weeks I’ve started working on the defensive side of the game with the U15’s boys team; more specifically the topic of pressing and dropping. Before I leave for University in a few weeks, my aim is to help players understand the basic mechanics of pressing and dropping; both individually and as a team. It is near impossible that they will grasp all of it in the 2 or 3 one hour sessions left, so I have been using matches to further their understanding.
In our last training session, we started on the basics of how to press as a team after observing that they had a good understanding of how to press individually. We’ve also talked about and worked on how to drop as a team in the last couple of training sessions. The biggest problem they were having was they were not pressing or dropping as a team. It was always one or two players pressing or dropping, so there was a big gap in between the forwards and the defence. Players were not moving up the pitch as a TEAM.
So we organised an in-house 9v9 game against the U17 team. We wanted to give them a chance to practice this concept against better opposition. It was about developing the defensive side of their game and putting what they’ve learned to the test.
So I set them a challenge to attempt to win the ball back in the opposition half as much as possible.
They pressed well as a team to begin with and even went 1-0 up by pressing the opposition defenders into a mistake and finishing well. However as the match went on, the boys got picked off time and time again and the U17 boys played the ball around our pressure with ease. At half time I gave them the same objective; try to win the ball back in the opposition half ‘as much as possible’.
Again, the boys tried to win the ball high up the pitch nearly all the time. We lost pretty heavily against a team bigger, stronger and 2 years older. However at full-time I asked them a simple question:
Can you press non-stop for 80 minutes?
A resounding ‘no’ was the answer! The point of the game was for them to see that you have to pick the right moments to press; you can’t press non-stop for 80 minutes. There will be times where they will have to drop and be compact.
The lessons learned in this match lead me to the topic of my next session; when to press and when to drop. However the match also showed me that they also need a bit of work on how to press individually; more specifically pressing with a curved run showing the attacker in the direction you want to force play.
Key Lesson: Set a specific objective on match day that ties into the topic you’ve been attempting to teach them. It will help focus analysis of the match on what is needed in your following training sessions.
Don’t do dribbling one session and defending when outnumbered the next session. Players don’t fully grasp a topic in one or two lessons. It happens over a series of sessions and matches and even then it still needs to be revisited regularly.