Archive for the ‘Tactical’ Category

I had the opportunity to preview this book before it was released.  Stevie Grieve does a great job of breaking down the details of the 4-2-3-1, and it builds well on his first edition of the system (I’ve also read the first book).

In the “Advanced Tactics” he breaks down the defensive and attacking principles of the system.  Looks at certain professional clubs and what he has seen from them and this formation.  He also does a great job of looking at pattern play in developing the attack.

In both books he finished with several training sessions related to the 4-2-3-1 and teaching defensive and attacking principles needed for the system.

I recommend this book if anyone is looking for more detail and information on this modern system that everyone seems to be adopting.  There are definitely things that I am going to take away from Grieve’s book and apply to our 4-3-3 system this upcoming spring.

You can find more information about the book and how to order at this link: World Class Coaching

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So this was the final push.  We tackled 15 candidates of the 20 on day 8, and had five candidates left on day 9.  I happened to be number 17, so I was second on day 9 which did not bother me a bit.  I don’t know if the candidates were extremely nervous, but I felt like the quality of our final training sessions as a course were not on par with where our practice training sessions were.  It was strange because several of us felt like the groups on a whole got better as the practice training sessions went on, and they should because later candidates are listening to the feedback that the instructors are giving and applying it to their sessions.  But it seemed that as a whole we took a step back in our final sessions.

There were some very good sessions, don’t get me wrong, but there were some mistakes that seemed to be pure nerves.  My final sessions felt weird.  I took the comments that my instructor made on my practice session and made a very focused effort to minimize the stoppages and coach specifics to what I saw.  I felt like I was leaving a lot about my topic unspoken, but I was much more brief than I was on my practice topic.

My over all personal evaluation is that I underperformed.  Based on how I did in my last few coaching courses (the “B,” Advanced National and Premier) I was very disappointed in my level at this license.  But I did my best to learn from the practice session and apply the comments he made to me, and I hope it was enough.

Now the waiting begins!  Two months before we start getting our results and finding out if we did enough to pass.  Either way I can’t be done learning.  Achieving a specific license is a great accomplishment, but it’s just the beginning.  As coaches, leaders, we can’t be done learning in our short lifetimes.  There is so much better that my players deserve from me, and I need to do my part by trying to stretch myself and grow as a coach and an individual.

Overall I thought the course was quality.  The instructors were top class with their insight and wisdom about the game.  There were some administrative glitches, and the housing situation hindered the social aspect of the course, but it was a good course.  Learned a lot from tactical sessions with my two roommates watching the USA v. Guatemala game over and over again.  We did spend some time as a course together outside of the USSF activities, and it was great to sit down with some guys and get to know them better as people and not just coaches.

A very positive experience for me, it was an opportunity for me to grow as a coach and a person.  There are lots of nuggets that I am going to take away from this experience and apply to my coaching career.

But first it’s back home to my wife!  Then catch up on work and classes, then maybe I’ll get a chance to evaluate the week more indepth.

This is the home stretch, and the end is in sight.  This evening we have our technical analysis interviews (the old oral examinations), which is part one of our pass/fail.

Since we worked so hard on Thursday to finish up the practice coaching sessions we got a little time to sleep in before we kicked off our lectures in the morning.  Jeff Pill’s lecture covered the development and use of possession.  He had put several clips together of the USWNT and clips from the 2012 FIFA WC technical report to discuss the different possession tactics that are being used in the modern game.  Jeff does a great job of organizing his topic and communicating the essential points.  You can definitely tell he is a teacher.

We wrapped the morning up with our last lecture of the course on fitness.  The staff brought in the director of the exercise physiology department at the Florida International University to cover this for us.  He did a great job communicating the demands of soccer, the reasons we do fitness testing, what to do with the results of that fitness testing, and application of the program.  Some of the information was a little indepth for a room of soccer coaches who work with club kids two or three times a week, but the information was solid and had a lot of application for a college level team.

The oral examinations were specific questions about the tactics we saw in the USA v. Guatemala match.  Several candidates had questions on flank play, defensive tactics of the USA or Guatemala, and my question was to describe how the Guatemala backline and midfield combined to get forward in the attack.  I thought it was a fairly manageable question, and I believe I passed the oral exam.  I think this application of a match analysis is a very good change in the Federation’s course.  Talking to candidates in the “C” and “B” licenses it is something that is being done for all three levels, although the games might be different.  The baseline for coaching is the ability to evaluate our players and determine what they need to improve on most to be more effective playing the game.

I was one of the first candidates to go for my oral exam, so I was done by early afternoon and I decided to take a little mental R&R for myself before our final field sessions kicked off tomorrow.  I went down to the beach, took a small jog along the shore, swam for bit, then had dinner at a small seaside cafe while I started putting my thoughts down for my final practice session.  My topic for the final is “Coach a team to produce crosses to score.”  I think this is a manageable topic that I can apply the comments Mark Berson made on my practice session.  I spent the rest of the night bouncing ideas off of my roommates and finalizing my session outline.

On the third day we were introduced to Ruud Dokter for our first session in the morning.  For a course that is filled with bright spots, Ruud has been the highlight of the course for me to this point, and not just because of the information that he shared in his session.  Ruud was most recently the Dutch National U16 Boy’s Head Coach, he was the National Women’s Head Coach from 1995-2001, and is currently very involved with the KNVB coaches training program as well as helping to consult the USSF on our coaching curriculum and methodology.

Ruud led a field session on counter attacking and finishing.  Very simple build up with a long grid and players trying to win the ball deep in their defensive half and finding the target to build counter.  There were some technical break downs with the U18 boys team we were using, but his coach demeanor was fantastic.  He did a great job relaying the information that was pertinent and made the topic work for the players that he had in front of him.  I’ve seen several instructors get frustrated with the level of demo players, but this is coaching; communicating and relaying an idea about the game to players, no matter what level they are at.  That is the mark of a good coach, not that he can teach the good players how to play, but that he/she can develop the players that are in front of them as they are.

Tom Durkin followed up this field session with another addressing defenders playing out of the back third.  Tom’s coaching style is fantastic to learn from!  He is unwavering about what he wants out of the players and their attention to the small things.  Even though he demands so much from the players, his energy and demeanor communicate that he wants them to succeed and he celebrates their success.  His communication style and ability to transfer the ideas in his head to the players, and WHY, reached the kids and we saw marked improvement in the topic.  The technical level of the U16 team he was working with was drastically different than the previous team, and it was very apparent that Tom was frustrated with the level of play, but he was very patient and stayed on task through the entire session.

Then we went inside for a lecture on counter attacking presented by Jeff.  Here is why I’m enjoying Ruud so much; in the front row, notepad out and taking notes the entire time, was Ruud Dockter.  He is definitely the most senior, and most experienced clinician at the course, however he sits in the front row and takes notes constantly when he is not instructing.

In the afternoon we had two field sessions; training the midfield and forwards in the attack (Mark Berson), and analyzing the 1-3-5-2 v. the 1-4-3-3 (Tom Durkin).  We had the U18 girls to work with, and they were the worse technical group to point.  It was a struggle for the clinicians to get their topics covered, but both did a great job being patient with the ladies and improving their level of play related to the topic.

In the evening with met with our evaluating instructors and did a review in groups of four over our match analysis of the USA v. Guatemala.  Our technical reports were handed back to us and we covered the things that were deficient and what we needed to improve on before our oral exams.

The day started right at 8am with a field session on Deep Defending by Jeff Pill.  The way the course is set up is very different from the Premier Course (which is great for me to get a weeks worth of new information) in that the topics are geared towards styles and tactics used in an 11v11 match.  The Premier Diploma focuses on systems and styles of play commonly used within those systems (which I also thoroughly enjoyed learning) taught by four coaches who are currently, or were using those systems with the teams they coached on a regular basis.  The “A” license is looking at systems of play, but is primarily focused on tactics used by coaches in full sided games such as deep defending, high pressure, flank play, counter attacking, or build up play.

The other theme that I’m starting to catch on to at the course is the emphasis given to answering the “5 W’s” when analyzing the game of soccer; Who, What, Where, When, and Why?  Jeff presented his topic of deep defending by addressing these “5 W’s” during his model session.  The build up lead to a full-sided game on the full field.

The second field session of the morning was the 1-4-4-2 v. a 1-4-5-1 presented by Tom Durkin, and the tactical elements we need to consider in the attack and in defending.  Issues like defending the the extra man, attacking weaknesses, and strengths and weaknesses of the two systems were demonstrated in a full 11v11 match.

Jeff followed up his field session with a classroom lecture on the principles he covered in the field session.  In the afternoon we had the privilege of having Peter Mellor (former English professional with Fulham and Portsmouth) and one of our course candidates, Paul Rogers (current USWNT goalkeepers coach) conduct a classroom lecture and field session on goal keeping in a team system.  Key coaching points were the importance of organizing team shape and initiating the teams transition into attack.

Finally in the evening Tom Durkin conducted a classroom lecture on the elements required for a team to regain possession early by pressing.  By this session I’ve started to have a growing respect for the attention to detail, and the demand of a high standard, that Tom places on his players.  He demands a high level of attention to the small things that will make a team better, and it has been a great experience for me to listen to Tom talk about, and teach, the game of soccer.  There are things I find to be a little over the top about his coaching style and method, but you have to respect that standard he demands from his players, and the purposeful teaching method he uses for attention to details.

More to come with day 3…

The spring has been an bit up and down.  We’ve been trying to implement a few things into our style of play, and they’ve been a little shaky on the results.

This past weekend we hosted a triangular and the results were a little frustrating, but even more frustrating was the soccer on the field.  We gave our opponents several opportunities just outside the penalty area because we were very lax on our passing.  Passes were not crisp, they were off target, and they were constantly being lifted.  This made for a very tough possession game, and we couldn’t advance the ball.

Our defensive strategy is coming along, we still don’t have enough experience in it and we are leaving gaps open all over the place because we are not consistent in all our positioning.  We will probably have to go back to our style from this past fall, and continue working on it next spring and see what we can do with another two months working on it.

2012 is shaping up to be a year of question marks for us right now, and I’m starting to lean more towards sticking with what has gotten us here in the first place than implementing the next big thing.  But I don’t want to throw everything out.  We will take a look at the film over the summer, watch our games from this past season, and see where we can make improvements during pre-season and non-conference play next fall.

Four weeks into the spring semester for our university and second week of off-season training.  Just thought I’d discuss our off-season principles and priorities.

Technical, physical, mental and tactical development are all intermixed in off-season training.  We break our spring semester into two phases; Phase one runs from mid-January to early March and we focus more on technical and physical development during this phase.  Phase two runs mid-March through April and the focus is implementing tactical elements and developing the mental side of the game.

Phase one will run six weeks and includes three main elements.  The first is individual skills training in small groups of 4-6 athletes twice a week.  One session is always a touch and passing accuracy skills circuit that the players are ranked on every week.  Scores accumulate for the whole six weeks and players are ranked for the entire period.  The second skills session is up to the coaching staff to focus on the technical elements that were seen lacking during the previous season.

The second element of phase one is weight training.  We lift year round, but during this six week period we will run through a metabolic routine that really pushes the players lactic acid threshold.  We have two lower body days and an upper body day with at least 72 hours rest between the two lower body days.

The final element involves film and tactical sessions once a week.  These sessions are held with the entire team, or in their lines depending on the tactical elements that we want to address with the players.

Phase two is a five week period when we go back outside and also schedule three dates of scrimmages that we normally term “spring ball.”  For each spring ball session the coaching staff identifies a couple tactical elements that we feel need attention before the upcoming competitive season.  It is also a time for us to look at new line ups that will be options for the upcoming fall.  We normally train three times a week at normal training times, and have a team meeting once a week to either watch film or address mental skills training.

According to league rules we are allowed to schedule three competitive dates during this period.  Normally we schedule scrimmages against non-conference schools to give us a different look, and we prefer playing teams who are a division above ours to really push our limits and prepare us for the fall.  And if we can schedule it, we will try to have an alumni scrimmage in the spring as well to give us a fourth date of competition and to bring the graduates back to campus and see where the program is headed.

Over the years I’ve noticed that spring semester is a tough time for fall sports.  The season seems so far off in the distance, and the winter months seem long.  Motivation is usually a tough thing, and it’s important to keep team goals for the upcoming season in front of the players.  Still, it is a challenge to keep the intensity high during this period.  But it usually helps to get back outside in March and start getting back to playing other teams.

The Annual NSCAA Convention is one of my favorite events.  I haven’t had the privilege of attending as often as I’d like because of distance and cost, but when ever I’ve been able to attend it has been an enjoyable event.

I love learning, and I enjoy this fraternity of coaches in our profession.  It’s one of the greatest benefits of this career and I would recommend to anyone to pursue any opportunities that arise to get involved and get around other coaches.

This years event had several highlights for me.  I’m just going to run through the highlights, but hopefully will have time to put down specific notes later on from sessions that I really got a lot out of.

The convention started off for me when I attended a panel discussion that included Anson Dorrance, Jay Martin, Janet Redfield and others as they covered developing the mental side of coaching.  It was a great session that covered topics such as the complete athlete, competitive caldron, quantitative measurements, and leadership.  The experience sitting on that panel alone would have been enough to make the convention worth while.

I attended several field sessions that seemed more geared towards attacking in the final third this year.  Clinicians like Paul Power (U-15 Manchester City FC coach), Tom Sermanni (Australian Women’s National Team coach), Peter Vermes (Sporting KC coach), Albertin Montoya (U-17 USA Women’s National Team coach), Shellas Hyndman (FC Dallas coach and personal favorite), and Tony DiCicco (former USA Women’s National Team coach).  Good content from most of the sessions, and I took something away from every person.

But this year I learned a lot from the lectures.  One of my favorites was a session led by Dave Dilanni (Head Women’s Coach at Grand Valley State) on the topic of creating a competitive environment at your university.  It was great not only because of the content he covered, but after every topic he would have us discuss what we would do at our own schools in that area with the coaches sitting at our tables.  Took a lot away from this session.

Another highlighted lecture for me was Martin Rennie’s (Vancouver Whitecaps coach) discussion on his journey from the corporate world to coaching in the Premier Development League, and finally all the way to coaching in the MLS.  It was great information because he discussed his personal coaching philosophy, key points to building a culture of success, and personal lessons on leadership.

I was also honored to be asked to sit on a panel for a session on how to get into coaching.  It was a small seminar held in conjunction with the national convention that was geared towards young or aspiring coaches.  The seminar was hosted by Deb Raber (Head Women’s Coach at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts) and Gary Cook (Head Boy’s Coach at Wilbraham & Monson Academy), both NSCAA National Academy staff members.  I sat in on some of the sessions throughout the day and it was great to see the NSCAA offer a course like this that was helping young coaches think about the paths they want to take to get into coaching.  The finished with a panel discussion including myself, Simon Nee (Director of Recruiting for the New York Red Bulls) and Theresa Echtermeyer (DOC for Highland Ranch Soccer Association and also a National Staff member of the NSCAA).  We simply shared our stories about how we got into coaching and then it was opened to questions from the audience.  Definitely a highlight for me to be sitting with three national staff members and a professional ranks coach.

And finally, the biggest highlight of the convention this year was the opportunities I had to talk with so many experienced coaches.  The first was Dave Brandt (Head Men’s Coach at US Naval Academy) who helped orchestrate the success at Messiah College on the men’s side.  He agreed to sit down with us for 1.5 hours to discuss his coaching philosophy, methods, and tactical system.  I think it ‘s great when a coach with experience like that is willing to sit down and “talk shop” with people he doesn’t even know.  Also had the privilege of talking to Doug Williamson (Asst Director of Education and Coaching Development for the NSCAA), Shellas Hyndman (FC Dallas coach), Dr. Tiffany Jones (President of X-Factor Performance Consulting), Rick McKinley (Director of the Chicago Eagles Summer Academy), Simon Clements (Exact Sports) and so many friends and peers.

Great event, very enjoyable, and hopefully I can digest everything I learned and become a better coach because of the experience.

The season has been a series of close games for us this year, and as a typical coach I see the things we struggle in more than the successes we’ve had.

We’re one month into the season, and there is month left in the season.  Our record is 4-5-0, and our conference just opened last week and we are 2-1-0 tied for fourth currently.  Below is my mid-season analysis and a break down of some objectives I want to see for the second half of the season personally, and as a team.

2011 Goals

  1. Finish top six of the conference (qualify for tournament): currently tied for 4th
  2. Average 1.75 goals per game in conference: currently averaging 2.67
  3. Average 0.85 goals allowed per game in conference: currently averaging 1.00
  4. Shutout 30% of our opponents: currently have four shutouts, two in conference, out of nine games

Personal Analysis of Games

We’ve had a tough schedule this year, and we wanted it that way this season.  We’ve played the defending national champions, three teams who have been nationally ranked or received national votes, and a fifth team that was at the national tournament last year.  Our record against these five opponents 2-3, and in two of the losses we had the lead at one point.  Every loss has been by a single goal, and we’ve had two double overtime games.

Our record isn’t that impressive, however we’ve seen some huge successes on the field in areas that can’t be measured with just the win-loss-tie record.  For instance, our shots on goal percentage is 0.598 this year.  This means we are getting quality chances at the goal, not just shots.  Our team’s passing accuracy for the season is just under 80% at 0.77 of all passes; we’re doing a good job finding feet and limiting mistakes.  Our backs have a passing percentage higher than our midfielders, and midfielders have a higher percentage than our forwards.  To me this means we’re making good decisions and taking risks in the proper thirds of the field like we should be.

There are some areas that I have concern about and our coaching staff needs to address for the second half of the season.  We’ve allowed nine goals in nine games, not bad.  However, only one of those goals has come in the first half, the other eight have occurred either in the second half or overtimes.  We are obviously not substituting properly to maintain a level of intensity that matches the first half.  We are also giving up more corners in the second half of games, and this means we’ve allowed teams to dictate the play a little more in the later parts of matches.

Another stat that troubles me are the three leads we’ve given away to lose a match, and the five matches we’ve loss by a single goal.  We struggle to close out matches and find the goals to put opponents away.  We need to work more on game management and decision making on the field to maintain a lead, or to push harder for a winning or tying goal.

Team spirits are high, and the players are training hard.  We’re meeting our goals and objectives we’ve set for ourselves and the players see the results of those with the quality competition.  We need to start instilling an attitude of winning however in training, to help our players recognize how and when to close out a game.  We need to focus on the second half of games and be more aware of energy and intensity level.

Hope to see us learn from our mistakes and successes and finish the season strong.

We won our season opener against a rival team at home in front of 295 fans (a good sized crowd for our college).  This session is going to be used to help us prepare for our next opponent, currently the #10 team in the country, who presses a lot in the middle third of the field to create counter attacks.  The boys have been training real hard and are mentally preparing for the long stretch of nationally ranked opponents that we have this month.

Topic: Attacking Out of Pressure

Objective: Help the players recognize when to play a penetrating pass and advance the attack.

3:30 Keepers with GK Coach: Reaction Saves

3:45 Technical Warm-Up: Rectangle Passing

4:00 Technical Activity: Continuous Passing

-Two grids 30×40, two teams per grid with colors.  Each team has one ball.  Teams will pass the ball one touch continuously inside the grid to their teammates.  Be aware of the other team in the grid and play accurate and properly weighted passes.  Progress to sequence passing in teams (1 passes to 2, 2 passes to 3).  Progress by having to pass to player on opposite team.

-Coaching points: Play the ball the way you’re facing.  Head up as the ball travels to you, make your decision before passing.  Get body ready for the ball and next pass.  Move off the ball for one another.

4:15 Small Sided Activity: Four Goal Game

-Two grids 20×30, four gates set up diagonally inside the grid’s four corners.  Two teams of four players, one team waiting to get on.  Teams can score by either passing or dribbling through the gates.  Teams must “open” scoring first by going through a gate, and then they can score for each gate they go through after that as long as they have possession.  Once the lose possession they have to re-open scoring, but score picks up where it left off.

-Coaching points: Move off the ball for teammates to quality passing angles.  Ability to dribble out of pressure and create a quality pass.

4:30 Expanded Activity: Six Goal Game

-Two grids 30×40, six gates along the two end lines.  Two teams of five players, subs waiting at diagonal corners with balls at their feet.  Teams can score by either passing or dribbling through the three gates they are attacking.  Keepers stand behind each end line, they can act as support for their team.  Progress to finding target players before scoring.  Keepers act as target players, have two touches to lay the ball off.  Can only score through the gates off of a lay-off by target players.

-Coaching Points: Pick your head up and advance the ball as soon as possible.  Look for when to penetrate.  Focus on player’s decision making, but encourage them to go forward.  When target players are added focus turns to supporting runs, third man runs, etc.

5:00 Match Play: Middle 3rd 10v10

-Full field with a 40 yard zone running across midfield.  Two teams playing 11v11 including keepers.  All 20 field players have to play within the middle third zone, defending team is allowed to come back and receive the ball from their keeper.  Attacking team is allowed to attack into the attacking third only, no defending.  Progess to allowing defending team to drop and defend the attack.  Progress to open play.

-Coaching Points: Looking for creativity and ability to break the pressure and play a ball through to start the attack.

5:30 Cool Down