As part of BEST Soccer’s training program with Millis SC this spring, a weekly update will be made available to Millis SC coaches. This update will go over the exercises used and the points of emphasis, as well as some notes from BEST Soccer coaches on attendance and how the players performed in the session.
The purposes of these clinics is to increase the player’s technical ability and also their decision making and confidence in using those skills and making decisions. The coaches will demonstrate and train different methods for dribbling, passing, receiving and protecting the ball. We will also allow for individual decision making from the players as much as possible.
Most of the exercises used, including the game to conclude each session, will be kept to small numbers in multiple groups to maximize decision making opportunities, as well as touches on the ball. The repetition of decision making is seen as equal in importance to repetition of touches, we want them doing and thinking as much as possible.
Week one of Millis Academy focused on dribbling technique and attacking in 1v1 and 2v2 situations. Attendance was 20+ for the boy’s first hour, about a dozen for the second hour. The girl’s first hour had about 16 players, the second hour had 9.
During the technical portion of training players were tasked with different dribbling techniques and encouraged to maximize touches, keep close control while pushing themselves to move quickly.
During 1v1s and 2v2s, player were tasked with controlling the ball with their first touch, attacking the defender quickly, beating their opponent and then accelerating away to the end line. Players were asked to take a positive(forward) first touch, get into the middle of the playing area(to allow them the option of going left or right) and constantly be aware of where they had space to attack.
Areas for coaches to look after would be players consistently having a controlled first touch and being more willing to change direction. Players who struggled often could not control the ball played into them and dribbled straight ahead down the touch line. Some players from both groups did show good technical ability and also were able to recognize where they had space to attack and change direction.
During the end of training small sided games most players in all groups struggled to apply the methods in the session to the game. There was a reluctance to take players on 1v1 and there was a lot of rushed clearances and kicks to no one in particular. By using small numbers and tight spaces each week, we will continue to encourage the players to look for better solutions and feel the freedom to take players on in 1v1 situations.
One other aspect that jumped out to us, across all groups, was that players playing as “defenders” tended to stay very close to their own goal and not engage much in attacking play. In a small sided game of 3v3/4v4, even the players at the back should feel free to come forward and at least support attacking play. There was a reluctance to do so. All players, generally, like to attack and go forward.
We would encourage coaches, at least in training, to allow for their defensive players to engage more often in attacking play.
Below are the exercises from this week’s sessions. Please comment below with any questions or follow ups to the session!
The second week of Millis Academy had players focusing on passing technique, decision making with the ball and maintaining possession. Attendance was strong again for the second week with the third and fourth grade boys and girls having around 20 players and the older group having around a dozen.
Each group started off with simple passing lines where the focus was solely on passing technique. No decision making nor was their passing opposed in anyway. Certain players from each group found this exercise to be too simple, however, many struggled with the task of controlling and passing a ball with only two touches. The older girls group was able to breeze through this activity better than the others.
The players were then partnered up with a ball between them and asked to play passes back and forth between one another within the boundaries of the small playing area. Up to six pairs were in each area passing and moving at the same time. Thus, players were now tasked with passing a ball to a moving player while needing to be mindful of other players and soccer balls in the playing area. This added in a decision making component as the players had to deal with passive opposition to their task.
The two older groups were much more successful than their younger counterparts in this exercise. These older groups were then challenged with different tasks beyond simply passing to their partner. They were asked, for example, to receive and pass only with their left foot or to receive, dribble between two players and then play the next pass. This exercise, when the players are focused, is an excellent way to train technique and decision making simultaneously.
Before ending with small sided scrimmages, the players were asked to carryover their passing technique and decision making in the previous two exercises into an opposed game. Players played 3v3 in a small area and were asked to try and complete five passes in a row to win the round. Some groups had more success than others, those who did have success were able to utilizing dribbling and protecting the ball well, until passes could be played.
Overall, it would appear that most players need additional training on basic passing technique. Many touches, either to receive or pass, were taken with toes or scooped up into the air. Many players were able to identify verbally that passes should, generally, be made with the insides of their feet. The application of this knowledge, however, was lacking.
One item worth mentioning from this week would be for coaches to encourage players to utilize dribbling where necessary in “possession” type games. It is often assumed by players, reinforced by coaches, that when doing possession type games, only passing should be utilized. This is not realistic to a game situation, however, players should always be given the option to choose what is best, a pass or dribble, even when focusing training on a team retaining possession.
To expand on this, we don’t place mandatory touch restrictions on players during possession type or small sided games. We did ask, not demand, that players look to play two touch passes when possible. It is not realistic to demand passes be played with two touches only, this restricts decision making and creativity of players. When it is the correct decision the pass should be played with two touches, but this should not be a rule.
Below are the exercises used in week two.
The third week of Millis Academy focused on dribbling technique and attacking in 1v1 situations. This was a revisit to the theme of the first week, however, new exercises were used and the end of session scrimmage was slightly expanded. Attendance continued to be strong for regularly scheduled sessions across both hours for the boys and girls.
All groups started off very simply with ball mastery in an open space. Players were challenged with dribbling on their right foot only, left foot only, insides of the feet and asked to perform various change of direction moves as well. This was a completely open area, leaving players free to decide where to dribble at all times. That is good for developing the ability to pick their head up while dribbling to foster good decision making on the ball. It also allows for them to develop coordination and agility in having to quickly maneuver with the ball in tight spaces.
This is a simple technical warm-up, however, it does leave players who do not want to put in a good effort a lot of leeway in not doing so. Some players moved about very slowly or just dribbled in a wide arcing circle around the space. Here then, motivation from the coach is needed to get the best out of every player. One simple tactic we used was challenging them to get a certain number of touches as quickly as possible. This worked well enough to motivate many players as they did not want to be seen as the last one completing their dribbling. Turning technical training into a competition or assigning specific targets can help to motivate the players.
The players then performed another indirectly opposed technical exercise. This was focused on 1v1 moves to go around an opponent. Players were split into groups of six, with half of each group at one cone and the other half at another cone about ten yards away. They were tasked with dribbling toward one another, performing a 1v1 move and then finishing their dribble to the opposite side that they started.
This exercise allowed the players to approach an opponent and try to time their move correctly to go around the opponent, complete the move and accelerate away. The fact that both players were performing a move meant they were being pressured but not dealing with an active defender. This allows for focus on the technique and again, a need for awareness of what’s in front of them. Some coaches will use passive defenders without a ball for this purpose. However, we don’t recommend the use of “passive” defenders in training, in a game you would never want your players to passively defend in a 1v1 situation. Thus, we don’t use it in training.
Afterward, the players moved into playing against a direct opponent. Players were split up again on either side of a 10 by 15 yard playing area and tasked with dribbling passed an opponent across the end line on the far side of the playing area. The attacking players started with the ball and were encouraged to take their first touch into the center of the playing area. Getting into the middle of the area allowed them to attack the defender by going left or right.
Many players struggled to take on the opponent at speed and wound up turning their back to the defender and holding up the ball. Which can be effective, however, we were looking for them to take risks, try moves and be aggressive in trying to get passed an opponent. It’s important to highlight this to the players, we want them to understand it is fine to take risks in this type of environment to push themselves to improve.
This exercise could progress to a game of 3v3 in which the area is broken into three zones, thus allowing for three 1v1 battles in a game of 3v3. The players would then have gone from dribbling against indirect, then direct, opponents and finally expanding to adding the option to pass on top of their dribbling.
All sessions then finished as usual with small sided scrimmages of 3v3 or 4v4.
Here are the exercises from week three:
The fourth week of Millis Academy was the second week of sessions focused on passing and keeping possession of the ball. Attendance across all four sessions was down slightly from previous weeks. All four sessions did have at least ten players in attendance.
The players started off with a simple, unopposed, passing excercise with much of the focus on passing technique and first touch. Establishing eye contact, passing to the correct foot and moving quickly off the ball were also highlighted. Players had a partner and were about 5 yards apart, one at a cone, the other on the touch line. Each pair would play for one minute and then switch roles.
The player at the cone was asked to move quickly from one side of the cone to the other, receive a pass and play it back to their partner. They were asked to receive with their right foot on the right side of the cone and left foot on the left side. Players were asked to either take two touches with the same foot or switch feet. All touches were with the inside of the foot, except the last round in which players received with the outside of their foot to pass back with the inside of the same foot.
Repetition of two touch passes was the main goal of the exercise, thus the distance between the players was kept short. We have observed many players struggling with receiving and passing across all groups this spring and wanted to really focus in on the correct technique. Not that every pass must be played with the inside of the foot! We wanted to try and get them away from using their toes and “scooping” passes into the air with their laces.
On that last point, some coaches will tell players they cannot receive or pass the ball with the outside of their foot. This is simply not the case. There are situations in which receiving the ball or passing it with the outside of the foot is advantageous. One example would be a player being closed down from their left side with a ball played to the inside of their left foot. The player might decide, correctly, to receive the pass with outside of their right foot to take a sharp touch away from the opponent,to the right.
Allowing players to understand that in most cases, yes, the inside of the foot should be used for passes is critical to get them away from using their toes and laces(scooping) and once that has been established, a reintroduction of passing the ball in other ways can be brought into training. Much in the same way that we tell players not to control the ball with the sole of their foot, only to later tell them, that sometimes that might actually be the best solution.
After the technical warm-up, players partnered up again to play in an open space with cone goals around the playing area. Here, players were asked to play passes through sets of cones with one another while avoiding other players and other balls. Players were encouraged to get their heads up and search for areas of the field with sets of cones and few, if any, other players. This combined technique with decision making, communication and off ball movement while in an indirectly opposed playing area.
Players were subsequently then asked to receive a pass, dribble, through a set of cones and then find their partner with a pass and finally, they were asked to make a run through the cones to then receive a pass on the other side. This last, leading pass, portion was difficult for the players to execute the first time around. After discussing with each group a bit more about what we were trying to do, play a leading pass to a runner, there was improvement from each group.
This exercises then progressed as one partnership played as defenders, trying to win the ball from the other partners in the playing area who were still attempting to play passes through cones. Thus, another transition through the session from unopposed technical training, to indirectly opposed with decision making, to an opposed game and finally a scrimmage.
This training process has gone over well with most players and has allowed for a good balance of technical improvement and enjoyment as the session moves along quickly. By moving through three exercises in 45 minutes the players don’t get bored and the progressive addition of new challenges and opposition keeps most of them interested enough. And knowing they have a game at the end helps as well(especially with the boys).
We did begin this week’s scrimmages with a five minute restriction that teams had to play two passes before scoring. This restriction was lifted for the final ten minutes and we saw improved passing from each group even after allowing them free play.
Here are the exercises for week four: