Category Archives: Soccer Drills

Training Session: Player Development Model from Lake City Hawks Guest Carl

lake-city-hawks
Lake City Hawks 1970-1975

I was reviewing my old posts on this site and stumbled across a great reply that we received from an ex-professional player.  His name is Carl from Seattle.  He included a session broken down by minute from his favorite coach.  Here is a link to the Lake City Hawks Facebook page.  I also discovered that the coach, Walter Schmetzer, Sr., runs a store and skill academy.  Here is a link to that.  And, it looks like from what I saw, that Walter’s son is the coach of the Seattle Sounders.  For all those reasons, and because you just want to learn, read closely what Carl posted:

The Team Training Session Focused on Player Development

Coaches have asked me what an ideal practice looks like if player development, as opposed to team development, is the primary objective. It looks today, as I practice it, just as it did as practiced by Coach Schmetzer–my former youth coach–the most successful coach in developing players to excel in ODP since its inception in 1977. He didn’t coach elite players; he coached ordinary players who became elite.

Before the days of “super clubs,” Coach Schmetzer, a master at player development, who did no recruiting, produced, from a single U18 boys team, the Seattle-based Lake City Hawks, six Washington State U18 ODP team players. Of those, three made the regional team. Of those three, two –at 17 years of age–played for the U19 youth national team. Three of his 18 players turned pro, all before age 21.

What I, who didn’t start playing competitive soccer until U15, learned from him allowed me to represent our country in international play at 17 and play this amazing game professionally at 18.

His brilliance was in his simple approach, as demonstrated here is his typical practice, which can–and should–be used with children as young as 10:

First, before any player arrives, set up the three following areas with a total of 12 cones, 4 for each area:
1) 20yds X 20yds, the “juggling box”
2) 5yds X 20yds, the “skills rectangle”
3) U-12-U-14, 35yds X 35yds or U-15 to U-19, 40yds by 40yds, the 9 vs. 9 “keep-away square.”
These three separate areas should be close to each other.

Second, place practice bibs in a pile in your “rest break” area.
Note: Every player is to have brought his or her own soccer ball, so there’s one ball per player.

Third, when players arrive at practice—even if early—they are to go immediately to the juggling square and juggle.
The first fifteen minutes of a two hour practice is spent juggling.

Fourth, players pair up and go to the skills rectangle. Players are lined up on one side, 5 yards opposite their partner..
Instruct players to do 1-touch passing, back and forth between the two partners. When you estimate each player has made 200 passes, change the drill.
One player tosses the ball to his partner, who traps it with his thigh and then does a trap-pass, using the inside of his foot, back to his skills partner. When each player has done about 30 traps, move on to the next drill.

Tell players that in 60 seconds, they—the pair— are to try to get as many volley-catches back and forth as they can. They’re to count. You tell them you’ll see which pair gets the highest number of successful volley-catches. To start, the players with the ball, in hands, lean over the ball, drop it lightly and, using the instep, volley it to their partner, who attempts to catch the ball with his hands. Each time a pair does this successfully, it counts as one.

Next, the players, with partners standing about four feet from each other, are to head the ball back and forth as many times as they can without the ball dropping.

In the drill that follows, one player, with the ball in hands, tosses it up about 15 feet, and out about 20ft. His skills partner sprints out to the ball, trying to catch up with it to do a trap, using his feet, to turn back toward his partner; once trapped, the ball is passed to the partner who tosses it. This player sprints to the line and his partner tosses the ball again. This drill, which incorporates fitness training, is done for one minute. Players do these as fast as they can.

While this is just a sampling of skill drills, you continue the skills training for 45 minutes before taking a 2-3 minute break, during which time you randomly hand out the nine practice bibs to players who are to put them on before returning for more skill drills. At this point, you are an hour into the two-hour practice.

Fifth, you resume skills training and, again with players pairing up, continue for another 35 minutes.

Sixth, without taking a break, take your players over to the 9 vs. 9 “keep-away” square. Be sure to take 10-12 balls with you in the event some are kicked far away during the game. Your players spend the last 15-20 minutes of practice playing 9 vs. 9.

Here are the instructions:
One team starts the game, anywhere in the square, with a free-kick. No opposing player or teammate may be closer than 10 yards to the player taking the free-kick (a “start” of play or “restart’) at any time in the game. The game is 2-touch soccer. If a player touches the ball more than twice, you blow the whistle to stop the game and the opposing team gets a free-kick to restart the game. Teams score by completing four consecutive passes. If a team gets a point, blow your whistle to stop play. The team that just scored gets to restart the game with a free-kick.

Any time the ball is intercepted (possession is gained) by the opposing team, blow your whistle to stop play. That opposing team, whose players just intercepted a pass and gained control of the ball, now restarts the game with a free-kick. Any player taking the free-kick must, before making a pass to restart the game, look around and behind him (360-degree view). If he fails to do that before making the restart pass, blow the whistle to stop the game, say ”Didn’t look around” and the ball goes to the opposing team for a restart free-kick.

Also, if any player during the course of the game does not know where he is going with the ball before he gets it, then blow your whistle, stop the game and say, “didn’t know where you were going with the ball,” and the opposing team gets the ball for a restart free-kick. If at any time the ball goes out of bounds, a throw-in restarts the game.

Note: While at first there are a lot of stoppages, you will be amazed at how quickly your players pick this up. Plus, as you will see, you are quick on the whistle, which gives players no time to daydream. It’s intense, exceptionally fast-paced and challenging for players.

Once teams are getting four consecutive passes frequently, bump the requirement up to five, then six, seven and eight to score a goal. Once your players have mastered the 2-touch and 8-pass requirement, it’s time for one-touch soccer. Start with three passes equals a goal and follow the same procedure you did for 2-touch, bumping up the requirement of the number of consecutive passes to get a goal.

We Lake City Hawks played 9 vs. 9 one-touch keep-away during the last 15-20 minutes of every single practice, after 1hr. and 35-minutes of skill training, for four years. In my thirty years in the game as a player and coach, I have never seen any single training drill that does more for player development (“game play”) than this one.

The Reason Why

What’s most important for you is to know why such skill training is so effective.

1. First, it’s very efficient. Players arrive at practice and immediately go to the juggling square. During the 15 minutes of juggling, each player will get an average of 600 touches on the ball. Also, by having players do skill drills in pairs—not two lines of nine players
with sixteen standing, watching and waiting to pass the ball—you maximize players’ touches on the ball.

2. Second, you introduce competition (i.e., get as many headers back and forth as you can), and time restrictions (i.e., you are to trap, turn and pass back to your partner, doing these as fast as you can for the next minute), both of which require players to perform at game pace, or as close to game pace as is possible. Thus, players get accustomed to trapping etc. under pressure. Furthermore, you are incorporating fitness into skill drills.

3. Third, it’s effective. In the 1hr and 35-minutes of practice so far, your players have likely gotten at least 3,000 touches on the ball, more than some players get in three or four of their club team practices.
How?

1. It teaches your players the most important facets of the game: to think one step ahead, to consider their options before the ball arrives; they realize the incredible efficiency and effectiveness of 1-2 touch play, so they don’t hold onto the ball too long; they gain an appreciation for the importance of excellent vision, getting the 360-degree look to see the whole field; as they are in such a tight space and have limited touches on the ball, they are forced to make excellent supporting runs for teammates. Furthermore, this game requires a very high level of focus and concentration. It all carries over to actual game play.

2. Also, in 9 vs. 9 keep-away, your players are playing at faster-than-game pace, in an area much smaller than the actual playing field. So when they do get to an actual game, they will have more time and space in which to play.

3. Your players don’t pick up bad habits. The rules and restrictions of the 9 vs. 9 game (and your quick whistle) don’t allow for them. In contrast, in a scrimmage with unlimited touches, full field, etc., players invariably pick up bad habits and these, unfortunately, carry over to the game.

4. In addition, your players will play “purposeful possession,” being patient, smart, willing to play the ball in any direction to maintain possession. There’s no “reckless race” the opponents’ goal.

What’s the Next Step You Can Take for Your Players?

I encourage you to use game time for player development. I have a recommendation that has proved very successful: Impose a 2-touch restriction during actual game play. Before you do, ensure your players have mastered 1-touch play during 9 vs. 9 keep-away. Also, the first time you do this, select any 20-minute segment of play for the 2-touch to start any time after the first ten minutes of the game. Players, of course, can use 1 or 2 touches to play the ball.

Furthermore, tell your players during your pre-game instructions that they’ll be playing 2-touch for that specific 20 minutes you’ve chosen. And all that you ask of each player during that time is that she knows where she’s going with the ball before she gets it. Add that the only time a player may use more than two touches is if she is in the opponents’ penalty area—this should, but it doesn’t always, take care of the inevitable question at least one player asks, “But, coach, what if I’m in front of the goal and need to dribble to take a shot?”

Also, tell your players you’re setting a team goal of six consecutive passes. Why six? They’ll achieve this goal and, regardless of the outcome (score) of the game, will feel a sense of achievement and be eager to try 2-touch again the next time you ask them to. Plus, they quickly become believers of the efficiency and effectiveness of 1- and 2-touch play.

 

8v8, 6v6 and SSG: Coaching Fails or, Alternatively, Where a Little Bit of Information Goes a Long Way

225862_1070322646729_406_nSmall-sided (“Small sided games” or “SSG”) soccer has been introduced in the States.  It has, through the years, trickled down to even the smallest clubs.  Courses are taught praising SSG — and that we should “let the game be the teacher.”  We still have a long way to go.  Coaches attend courses and hear what they want to hear.  Then there are those who take it too far — whether by choice or laziness.

Letting the game be the teacher can be a crutch to a coach.  Why bother preparing coaching points, questions, activities — just let them play.  And, if I do that, then I am letting the “game be the teacher.”

But, if you coach/teach players U8-U13 (even older), “letting the game be the teacher” is not an excuse for lack of preparation.  It is not an excuse for ignoring the needs of your team.  In the U8-U13 ages, players are entering the world of team play — and advanced team play.  It is in these times, a little bit of information goes a long way.  What kind of information?

Here are some Coaching Fails for this age group where a little bit of information goes a long way.

1.  Your team concedes lot of goals on goal kicks.  The Coaching fail is not taking time to teach the players how to take a goal kick, where to take a goal kick, options to the kick, where your teammates can be, or maybe even a play.  I do not buy the excuse that we should avoid tactics at these ages.  A few minutes here and there, a bit of organization, and problem solved.  I have no problems with my teams conceding goals, but the kids work too hard to have them give them away because they do not have a few pieces of information.

2.  Your goalie doesn’t know when he can pick the ball up and when he has to play with his feet.  Again, a little bit of information goes a long way.  Even with rotated keepers, it doesn’t take much effort to teach them when they can pick up a ball — most kids, without the information — will assume that even an errant ball, or a rebounded ball off a teammate — is off limits.  What if a teammate passes to them intentionally – hopefully we are teaching our players to include the keeper.  Educate them on the Laws of the Game.  I hate seeing keepers concede silly goals because they just do not know.

3.  Your goalie doesn’t know she can play a higher line than the goal line.  Again, a little information goes a long way.   Plus, it is more fun for the keeper to get involved.  Just give the keeper a little of your attention in the game.

4.  Your team gives away the kickoff most times.  Players taking the kickoff do not know how far the touch forward has to be or can be.  Take a few minutes and teach them some options.  Better yet, give them 5 minutes at the end of practice and let them design their own kickoff.

5.  Your team does not know how to take an indirect free kick (or what the signal is).  Incorporate the hand signal in your scrimmage at end — randomly call fouls, direct and indirect.  I even let the kids act like they were fouled and they get to blame someone.  Then, teach them how to take an indirect kick.  Bring a phone – go to youtube – show them some cool ones.  Let them create their own.  Same for direct kicks – teach them the hand signal.  Show them some examples — let them make their own.  They love working on this.  

At the same time, let your keeper(s) practice setting up a defensive plan for the free kicks.  Teach them an offside line.  When do they want it?  How do they set it?  How can they make sure everyone is marked.  Let the keeper practice the instructions.  Put the wall in the wrong place — let the keeper fix it.  This can be incorporated into the flow of a scrimmage with little effort and disruption.

6.  Your team does not know how to set a wall.  Especially on an indirect kick — they can set the wall inside the box.  Let them practice.  Blow stops occasionally during scrimmage and let them work on it.

7.  This is a horrible one — your keeper doesn’t know how far out she can go before distributing the ball.  They think their area is the goalie box, not the penalty area.  Explain the difference to them.  Give them this information.  This is particularly true if you follow U.S. Youth Guidelines and rotate keepers.  A little bit of information goes a long way for a keeper.

8.  Your team loses possession because of illegal throws.  OK — so you have taught them to keep both feet on the ground — now teach them that the ball must go completely behind their head.  A little bit of information goes a long way.  I hate seeing kids making illegal throws because of this and not knowing what they did wrong (they say – “but my feet were on the ground!”).

9.  Your team concedes a lot of goals on corners.  Well  have you worked on it?  Do you have a plan?  Working on defending corners is great practice because you get to work on this key defensive point:  “can you see the defender you are marking and the ball?”  Or, for young players, how do you “mark” a player?  Give the information — give them a plan — then let them implement it, alter it.  Empower your keeper to control the exercise.

10.  Your team concedes a lot of goals off of punted balls (this is a small-sided games problem).  It bugs you — the other coach imploring his keeper to punt the ball.  It is a small field.  I hate it.  You hate it.  It is not promoting development.  It is particularly tough because players in this range have hard time judging balls in flight.  Plus, I do not want players this age heading punted balls.  So, what information can you share to help?  Have a plan.  If you know the field is small (8v8 and 6v6 fields vary), instruct your defenders to retreat when their keeper picks the ball up.  If your outside backs are pushed up, focus on your center back.  Have them retreat well inside your half.  Yes, you can tell them “don’t let it bounce” but part of the problem is that the player you put back there may have difficulty judging balls in flight (ask Sam Snow).  So, put them in a position to succeed.  There is nothing so demoralizing to a center back or a team to be winning possession, using creative attacks, involving their teammates, only to concede on punted balls to a “fast forward” to a team that emphasizes win at all costs.

Try this.  Tell your center back to retreat and, if under pressure, play the ball to safety.  If they can control it, great.  You get to teach the vocabulary “safety first.”

This is a real pet peeve of mine.  At U9-12, success from a punted ball is fools gold.  In a few short years, those center backs will have no trouble with the ball.  Why teams emphasize it is usually because the coach has made the game about him.

Well, those are just a few examples where a little bit of information goes a long way.  I am a big believer in incorporating the Laws of the Game into my sessions to educate the players on these items.  I think we, as coaches, have an obligation to share this information.

Parent-Coaching: Perspectives of an Elite Player’s Parent (College-Bound Player)

piano teacherThis comment was left to my post on Can a Parent-Coach be a Professional Coach.  I received a lot of email regarding that post –  Sam Snow, our U.S. Director of Coaches, distributed it to all 55 State Association Technical Directors.  But this particular comment was left by a parent who I have great respect for and who has navigated the elite youth soccer world.  I think her comment is great and enlightening to any parent who has a soccer player and are worried about their development.  It was just too good to bury as a comment to a post — here goes:

Love the post. I read it just before going on a trip with my daughter to visit a soccer school, so it was the perfect time to reflect on her experiences and how it relates to your post. The college coach sat down and told us why he was recruiting her. “She has courage on the ball…she plays creatively…she wants to control and possess, which is our style….” This school we were visiting is ranked in the top 10 in the country, and I couldn’t help but pause and think of how she developed these skills that got them to notice her. She has only played at the ECNL level for two years. For the rest of her career, she was “parent coached”. She was given the creativity to “make something happen”. She was challenged to take a player on. She was never afraid to make mistakes. She was taught a concept called “magic” where you could give the ball away…run to space, and it would magically come right back. (That is now a style that defines her.) She learned soccer in an environment that was rewarding in every way…which includes socially and psychologically. It was the right amount of focus on winning/developing. It had the social elements the right environment (sometimes low pressure…sometimes more pressure) that must exist in order to avoid player burnout by the time they get to high school. Her parent coaches had an almost obsessive desire to learn more about “the beautiful game.” The coaching never got stale. There was always something else to master…a new skill or formation or style to learn and try out. It was always exciting to her…always like playtime.

In my opinion, “professional” is a term that indicates ability/effectiveness as a coach. I think listening and paying attention and then knowing what to do with the information is the first step. (I listen and pay attention, but I don’t know what to do with that information. I look at skill and technique, but I don’t pay attention to the game as a whole as well as a professional coach. My brain doesn’t work that way.) My oldest daughter’s piano teacher couldn’t play that well…so he said. I don’t know. I never heard him play. But he would listen with his eyes closed, and then stop my daughter and correct her again and again…the same measure over and over. Until it was perfect. He was a genius at listening and paying attention to the details. At times, he wanted my daughter to hear the piece played, so he would bring in his wife to play it because he couldn’t…then he’d go back to teaching. He was a brilliant teacher because he paid attention to every single detail and then knew exactly what to do with that information.

Enthusiasm and ability to motivate the young kids, especially when the newness is over and it is hot and you might be losing…or when a player isn’t as good as they want to be (or think they are) …that’s tough. A professional coach can do that. They can keep the kids engaged and willing to work day after day. They can keep the intensity up in practices. They teach the kid to “compete”…an invaluable trait in a soccer player. It is easy to do that the first season…but what about the 10th…or longer. It is a long journey—a marathon. You have to know when to sprint and when to jog, and even when to rest… When to push and when to back off. It is a skill that requires an ability to understand people—kids in particularly. You have to push them hard, but still delicately at the same time. You have to be able to get them to listen to you…to want to make you proud of them. They have to think, “I can’t let my coach down.”

Humility and hunger to learn: A great coach has to be confident but also have a desire to learn from the experts. When they feel that their player/team needs more, they need to bring in the help. Both of my daughter’s “parent coaches” were continually seeking out the experts to run special sessions. There were so many. They were like master classes. A “professional” coach will soak up new information and then get excited about passing it on to the player. They will learn new drills and teaching methods that allow for maximum player development. They are not intimidated by those who know more and who are better. They are in fact drawn to them.

Not every parent can be a professional coach. I can’t. I have the enthusiasm and love for the game. I could watch it all day every day. I can identify talent and appreciate a great play. But I’m not a coach. I have one or two of the necessary elements (such as a love for the game), but not enough of them. You have to have a coaches mind. You have to see the game in a way that is at a different speed/level than others. Coaching is a talent that combines a certain combination of several skills, and when someone has it, you know it. You can see it immediately.

As we drove home from the college visit, we asked our daughter what she liked about the different schools. Her answer is not surprising. It’s all about the coach. She wants to play for an amazing soccer coach who inspires her and motivates her and is obsessive about helping her get better. That…and blue bell ice cream. One of the schools had a cafeteria with a huge freezer full of blue bell, right around the corner from the room she’d be staying in. That was impressive too. :)

Rebecca Chilton

Thanks Rebecca.

Ajax Video Review Part I: Heroes of the Future, The Ajax Training Concept (age 7-12)

D381-2I purchased the video set from Ajax titled Heroes of the Future to get a glimpse at Ajax’ storied youth development model.  I will post about different parts of it in a series.

1.  Recognition of Talent

Everyone is born with different hereditary differences and whether a player will develop into a star may be based on genetics.  Here are characteristics they look at:

  • Technical – how a player touches the ball; ball control
  • Tactical – ability to read the game and make decisions; anticipation
  • Mental – discipline, self-knowledge, and the will to win
  • Physical – agility and good acceleration

Characteristics are the traits you inherit – for some, you can do nothing to improve them (like height), but for others you can stretch them (within limits).  Skill is the process of improving your characteristics.

2.  Key Determining Factors

The two factors are (1) the Playing Concept and (2) biological considerations (emphasizing different skills at different ages).

3.  Integrated Approach

The 4 skills are interwoven in soccer training.  Depending on the age, depends on the amount of focus.  For example, Technique is worked on from 7-9 — you must learn to master the ball.

  • Technical – heavier focus from 8-12
  • Tactical – heavier focus from 12-18
  • Physical – throughout

Ajax has their players participate in judo and gymnastics at young ages to compliment physical development of agility and acceleration.  Ajax refers to this as “multi-skills” and they see this as critical in the 7-12 ages for proper development of the motor system.  In other words, playing other sports and doing other activities other than soccer is seen as not only healthy, but as assisting the development of soccer-related physical skills (agility, coordination, speed, strength).

4.  Self Confidence (7-12)

Coaches are critical to players being creative.  Coaches must be careful (1) what they say, (2) when they say it, and (3) how they say it.  Never give negative feedback to players during play, especially at young ages.  Give praise when they do something well.  There is no need to praise all the time as it marginalizes the praise when it is earned. Be specific with your praise.

5.  Age Considerations

While coaches will work on all 4 categories throughout the soccer education, you will work on some more at some ages.  In the young ages, more time should be spent on technical work and Ajax likes the use of repetitions.  For example, repetitions of dribbling sequences.  “The best way to learn is to constantly repeat the same move in the same situation.”  What I get from this is that static dribbling exercises are encouraged.  Everything does not have to be dynamic.

Do not criticize decision-making at the young age (7-12).  That is a tactical approach that is focused on from 12-18.  The “have you made the right choice” question is reserved for the 14-18 ages when training is more focused on teams and less on individual play.  “You mustn’t clutter players’ minds with team tactics too early…too much emphasis on team tactics can be detrimental to a player’s development…that is why in the large part of the program, team tactics are subordinate to individual talent.”

6.  Passing

Ajax is most concerned with the accuracy and speed of the pass as opposed to who the pass is played to.  This is where they advise staying away from criticizing decision-making; rather, design exercises where good decisions are easy to make.

7.  Individual Learning Plan

Each player has his own individual learning plan.  You must discover the specific skills a player has.  One player may have vision but lack speed, or vice-versa.  Here are the questions they pose for each player:

  • What characteristics does he have?  What skills does he have?
  • What skills does he need for his position?
  • In what area should he improve?
  • What is the best way to achieve that?

It is different for every player.  As a coach, you must be honest with the time spent on developing a skill with a player.

I will share information from the other videos one by one.  Very interesting stuff.