I was recently reflecting on a session I was involved in a few weeks back as guest coach to a group of 10 year old’s. The information I had received from the coach was that he wanted to improve the teams passing game. The team coach and I set up some simple 3v1 rondos to start the session. The challenge given to the players was to identify, open and occupy space where they could receive the ball with the foot furthest away. After a while we discussed the relationship (communication) between the player in possession (focus of attention) and the players looking to be available to receive (focus of attention). This was to promote:
- An external focus of attention to promote perception/action (a focus on the effect or outcome of the act as opposed to how the action was carried out) https://twitter.com/markstkhlm/status/835143356934127618
- Help develop a body profile that will promote an external focus of attention
During the 3v1 rondos the coach commented that some of the players had problems with “passing technique” (passing was to soft, lacked power and the ball was intercepted or went out of play). Before the session began, having arrived early, I had seen many of these players successfully hit the crossbar with powerful shots from 15-20 meter or had no problem knocking a 15-20 meter pass. So, what was the problem?
We want players to detect information sources that are best suited to performance in that situation. By designing sessions that are affordance-driven young players can educate their attention and learn which sources of information to act upon and when to act, while also learning which sources of information are less useful or irrelevant for that particular task.
Therefore, training must not be based on the repetition of exercises, as the learning process requires an intention in the action to achieve a real educative purpose (Oliveira et al., 2007).
My reply to the coach was that we need to educate their attention.
- Practice repetition without repetition
- Keep perception and action coupled
- Training is affordance driven
- Promote an external focus of attention
- Representative Learning Design (see here)
Design the task not the solution.
In many national coach education curricula, there is a tendency to give the solution to the problem in the theme of the session. This traditional methodology risks the development of an internal focus of attention among our young learners
In the following practical session, we analyse “Attacking play”- as ‘identify’, ‘create’, ‘occupy’ and ‘attack’ space. Attacking play is carried out through football actions. These Football actions are solutions (opportunities for action) and we should design training where young learners seek out and use these solutions (our invitations for action). The learners decide which football action should be used and how, where and when it should be executed. In this way training design is ‘affordance-driven’. Football actions can be composed of several elements – for example, when a player runs, dribbles and ends with a shot on goal. The action may also be a single element – such as a header duel with jumping and landing.
A model is an “imitation or simulation of reality, built after specific elements of the phenomenon which is observed and investigated” (Navarro, 1997).
Deliberate design with a deliberate learning intent
These tasks should promote interactions between the footballers, as intelligence is developed when people collaborate and cooperate with other people to solve problems (Punset, 2007). Using the principles of co-adaptability at the scale of performance and learning the coach can try and “nudge” the young learners in to constantly trying to adapt new ways to counteract new strategies that opponents are introducing in to the game. The relationships with teammates and interaction with opponents develops an interesting dialogue and an astute coach will observe and use this dialogue to create a learning space.
To understand “football action” one must understand the big picture. A picture that dictates that no action is isolated but is nested in interactions between team mates and opponents both within the game and from previous games.
Football actions are solutions and we should design training where young learners seek out these solutions. They decide which football action should be used and how where and when it should be executed. Training design is affordance driven -“we use constraints to afford” (Danny Newcombe).
Football action: Can be composed of several elements – for example, when a player runs, dribbles and ends with a shot on goal. The action may also be a single element – such as a header duel with jumping and landing.
4v4 Game- Developing Attacking Play – Finding Gaps
Score a goal by taking the ball over under control between the yellow or red cones line using football actions
- Red cones = 1 point
- Yellow cones = 2 points
8 players (mixture of 10 and 11 year olds)
2 of the players were regular goalkeepers for their teams. I spoke with the goalkeepers before the session about the role of the modern goalkeeper. We decided that the first part of this session would place a focus on the goalkeeper’s role in the build-up of play and what are the relevant football actions.
I want to create learning opportunities where the players can develop the concept of how we identify, create, attack and occupy space in attacking play. The training design should promote an external focus of attention. The players in the attacking team (with and without the ball) search for gaps to exploit (information).
I have observed that many young learners will pass the ball instead of accepting the better affordance of a gap in the opponent’s defensive organisation (inattentional blindness?). This gap often affords the opportunity for dribbling/driving the ball (or perhaps a penetrating pass in depth from the goalkeeper?) in to free space and thus threaten the opponents goal.
- How can we manipulate the task so that the young players are forced to search and identify gaps to drive/dribble (the solution) the ball into so that they can create a goal scoring chance?
- How can we manipulate the task so that the young players can create space to drive/dribble (the solution) the ball into?
- How can we further manipulate the task if the defending team (principles of co-adaptability) come up with a solution that limits the possibility of space for the attacking team to exploit?
To encourage the players to create, identify and attack free space we can add a “no forward passes” rule. (observe this is a brief temporary constraint for further learning) The goalkeeper was the only player allowed to pass forward. This also creates another learning opportunity with regards to the principles of the game. A player will naturally take up a position of support and depth behind the player in possession and this will in turn create space for that player to attack with the ball. When the goalkeeper is in possession players may look for gaps to run in to behind the different lines of defensive pressure to enable them to receive a forward penetrating pass.
Discussions with the goalkeepers:
- Positioning – Open to receive pass (always offer depth)
- Body profile – find position to receive ball with foot furthest away
- Horizontal movement in support play
- Vertical movement in support play
- Identifying space/ gaps
Discussions with all players
- Positioning – open to receive pass or give support in depth
- Width and depth especially when the goalkeeper is in possession
- Timing (ie un in depth to receive pass from goalkeeper)
- Using football actions to provoke and deceive (to disorganise opponents) to create space for yourself and others
- Identify and attack space (dribble or receive a pass from goalkeeper)
Let’s develop the game and open the possibility of the use of other tactical components.
Before we further manipulate the task, there is a distinct possibility that due to the no forward pass rule the defending team have decided to press high (solution) and try and gain possession high up the pitch. We can create an opportunity for the attacking team to also exploit the space behind the defending team if the defending team press high.
Rule: Forward passes may be played from the attacking teams own half.
We still want to encourage the players to identify and attack free space (gaps) by dribbling the ball. Now we also want them to achieve something similar by passing the ball in depth to an oncoming forward (identifying gaps and timing) who will attempt to drive/dribble the ball between the cone goals.
Review of discussions and open out the game
I would like to conclude with a great quote from Mark Upton in a recent blog. “We can’t be our best until you’re your best” (see here)– this for me is a great reference point for the type of dynamic our training environment, the learning space should promote. This is what I was referring to earlier when I said that the relationships with teammates and interaction with opponents develops an interesting dialogue and an astute coach will observe and use this dialogue to create a learning space to help each player be their best.
Practice is repetition without repetition