Twitter constraints on coaching-Coaching in context-

Twitter constraints on coaching- Session by Mark O Sullivan

Aim to use not more than 140 characters in total when instructing.

Each question must be less than 140 characters

Free discussion only when initiated by the players.

To coach in context.

At a club where I am involved in educating coaches I was invited in by one of the teams to help them work with their passing. The team in question were 10 year old boys with a very broad variety of ability and level. However like all children there is a great potential to learn. The coach had described to me the type of training that they were doing to try and improve their “passing -technique”. It seemed that they worked mainly in isolation with detailed instructions as to how the players should actually strike the ball.

I got the coach to divide the group up into 2 teams so that they could play a five a side (with 4 goals).

see the ball 1

The reasoning being as I had not actually seen these children play the game I felt that it was necessary for me to observe them in action so that I could do an analysis. It quickly became obvious to me what we needed to be worked on to improve the passing game and technique.

Control-movement- pass. These are for me the essential elements in improving a players passing game.  The ability to control the ball, recognise and see movement and pass. We can work all day in isolation on predetermined passing  movements, it will look great and orderly and I am sure give some impressive short term improvements in performance. But if we are looking for learning to take place then we need to work on the “passing” within context, or as close as possible to the context of the game.

In Mark Upton’s brilliant blog post “Learning v Performance: Challenging Traditional Coaching” he refers to 2 main principles of learning. They are retention and transfer. ( A must read for all coaches)                                                                            

If we work on control-movement-pass in a more variable way, then in the long term the retention rate will be higher. If we examine the more traditional isolated passing drills that the coach was using we see very little if no variable in the control, movement and pass.                                                                                                                                                            

The closer the training resembles the real game the better the transfer of skills from training to the real game.

“Transfer from practice to match conditions depends on the extent to which practice resembles those match conditions”

When talking about long-term player development, a major focus needs to be learning, rather than short-term performance in a drill – Mark Upton

(Check out my coffee with Mark Upton blog  here

After 5 minutes of free play I asked the players to stop and stay exactly where they are.

Question 1: The team in possession, how many of you are in a position to receive the ball? In this case it was only one player.

Question 2: Can you move in to a position where you can receive the ball?

Question 3:  When you are in that position, what can you see?

Eventually it clicked with one young player, “I can see the ball”.

We continued the game using the idea that if I can see the ball I can receive the ball. When a player has a clear line of vision to the ball that means that the passing lane between him and the player in possession is open. He can see the ball!     Almost immediately the movement began to improve. When in possession players looked to take up positions where they could see the ball. More passing options appeared. More time and space was created to control the ball and pick out the next pass.  The overall initial improvement in the performance of the control-movement-pass was marginal when compared to an isolated passing drill but the fact that the young players were working on the technique within context would in the long term enable better learning through retention and transfer. (They also found it a lot more fun)

I broke the teams up into two 4v1 rondos.

see the ball 2

Question 4: What can players on the outside do to improve the passing options?

Answer: See the ball.

Breaking the group up into two rondos gave the player’s time to work on the control-movement-pass under less pressure (we started with large rondos, over time the coach can decrease the size of the rondo) with variability and still within the context of the game.

Question 5: If the ball is passed from the right which foot can we receive the ball with?

We re-enacted a pass from right to left within the rondo. The player receiving the ball first controlled it with his left foot and then controlled the next pass with his right foot.  

Answer:  After much analysis and discussion the players understood that if the pass comes from the right that they should try and find a position where you can control the ball with the left foot. If the pass comes from the left, try and control the ball with the right foot. This means that the player’s body is more open to the general play and therefore open to more passing options. 

We continued the rondos using the two principles

  1. See the ball
  2. Receiving the ball with the foot furthest away

Then we went back to our game to work on applying these principles.

The first game was 6v4 (with 2 jokers)

see the ball 3

The second game was 5v5 (with 2 goalkeepers)

see the ball 4

This was where the learning became very interesting. Right footed players had difficulties controlling the ball with their left foot and visa-versa, especially as they were simultaneously checking for the movement of their teammates so that they can decide the next pass.  At times it was chaotic as both the individual and the teams tried to self –organise and adjust to the demands of the task. Slowly but surely they started to work it out.

At the end of the session I asked. What did we work on and what can we take with us from today’s training? The aim of the session was to work on improving the “passing”.  The answers the kids gave reminded me of the fact that as coaches we  may have aims with what we are trying to achieve in our training session, but that does not necessarily determine what is to be learned.

Here are some of the answers I got:

  1. Passing
  2. Control with the correct foot
  3. Movement
  4. Communication
  5. Create space
  6. See the ball
  7. Patience
  8. When defending stop your opponents from seeing the ball.
  9. Create width when you have the ball
  10. Shooting
  11. Fitness ( we had to move a lot more than usual )
  12. Dribbling ( movement created more space to dribble)

My last question:

Questions: If I am in space and can see the ball what should I always try and do before receiving the ball?

Answer: Look up and look around.

Question: Why?

Answer: So that I know what I can do before I receive the ball.

My personal check list

  1. Is my session in context? Does it resemble the real game or situations that will arise?
  2. Do the players experience many repetitions with variability?
  3. Did the players have fun?
  4. Did I create enough learning opportunities?
  5. Have I challenged the players?
  6. Is my session age appropriate?
  7. Did I have fun 🙂

 Learning can be a messy business. Coaches need to remember that and should not be too eager to control learning .The focus should be on facilitating an environment that creates what Dr Lynn Kidman refers to as learning opportunities. 


3 thoughts on “Twitter constraints on coaching-Coaching in context-

  1. Very interesting questions you asked the players! I will try that tomorrow. Together with the wall-pass rondo as described in your post “The Learning Space”.

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