What You Will Learn:

  • The importance of relating tactics to the game
  • How to develop and coach your team tactics
  • How players learn - general to the specific
  • Different learning styles
  • How to use questions
  • Coaching styles - democratic etc

The aim of this manual is summed up by a recent comment from a customer in the USA.

I've been coaching for 12 years, and this is the first book that I've found that actually looks at tactics in real game situations....

So how does a coach get his/her side to play the beautiful game and understand their defensive and attack role. This manual will develop players and a team in 4 ways

  1. Develop confidence and enjoyment. Tactics give confidence to a team and its players and help them enjoy the game more as they are clear what they are supposed to do. Tactics get the best out of players as, when attacking, they will regularly get the ball an essential part of enjoying soccer. Understanding tactics will mean a coach will have the confidence to deliver a tactical team talk.
  2. Demonstrate to coaches that they need to prioritise development and attacking play over the result. Teams need to play to dominate games, create chances and hopefully score goals and if they do this and lose it does not matter as in the long run as the players will be better and the team will win.
  3. Show you how to coach tactics and what to coach. When coaching it is important to move from the general to the specific. To start any coaching session by considering it in the game situation it relates to, this can be on the pitch or a whiteboard etc. Players should always have the chance to ask and answer questions. All the drills that follow can now easily be related to the game. The manual breaks down the movement and passing required to successfully defend and attack. Two attacking tactics all progressive coaches must adopt are firstly play the ball out from the back as often as possible and secondly try to attack and create chances as appose to a safety first approach. Defensivley teams need to play zonally, passing players on and ensuring there is cover.
  4. Learn from successful teams and coaches to see the tactics they use.

Football, or soccer as I shall often call it from now on, is far from the simple game that many people claim and in Jose Mourinho's words football is a game for intelligent people. As a coach the reason you have bought this manual is that you want you and your team to understand how to be organized and enjoy the beautiful game. You want your players to develop.

Tactics help bring enjoyment. We all enjoy something if we know what we are supposed to do (are confident) and play an active and creative part in the game. Tactics explain what to do when attacking and defending. Tactics can be both creative (attacking) and destructive (when defending).

Tactics release of creativity comes from the attacking movement, timing, choice of pass on offer, technical ability in tight spaces etc. Attacking movement is determined by the attacking side. The team needs to move to create space and let creative players have the ball in places where they can be effective. If for example a player is good ball dribbler with skill the teams tactics will give him/her the ball in the areas where they can be most effective, the movement of the team will help create this space for the individual.

The destructive part of tactics comes from defending which is more about concentration and discipline than technical skill. Defensive movement is determined by the opposition. Defending does not give a player as much chance to demonstrate technical ability or creative skills. The movement and positioning is based of the fact that the ball may arrive in this space as such much defending is based on "what if" (the ball arrived) hence the player who has run back and is correctly in position to defend will often not have the ball played to the space they are in. It is therefore important that they do not view their efforts as wasted and they are recognized by the coach and other players. These observations raise 2 key coaching points that all coaches should be aware of.

A passing line is the line between the player with the ball and another player on their team along which the ball can be safely played. The passing line may involve a ball into a players feet or in to space for them to run on to. It is important that players create a passing line that offers support with the correct distance so that when the ball is played and received they have enough time to control or chose a pass, without the opposition players closing them down.

The hardest thing to do as a coach is to watch a game and decide on what is tactically going wrong. To help you understand the tactical side of the game, for the first time, a theory has been developed called space and time. This theory can be related to all aspects of the game.

As well as developing a theory the manual also looks at what we can learn from successful teams and coaches. Throughout this manual there are quotes from top coaches and top teams are analysed.

Before moving on we need to look at how best to coach tactics as this explains why this manual sets out drills in the way it does. To successfully coach tactics requires a change to current coaching practice as most coaching does not develop a team tactically because it does not relate what is being taught specifically to a game situation. Therefore, coaches need to completely re-think how they organise their sessions and as Jose Mourinho's recently stated-

You have to find exercises in football to give you the organisation you need- because football is all about organisation. Tactics form that organisation.

The biggest change is that to coach tactics players need to start every session by having a look at the match situation it relates to. This means either putting players in the actual match situation and discussing key issues or do the same thing on a whiteboard/using chess pieces etc and allow players to ask questions and discuss issues. This doesn't have to take a long time but the important thing is that players see how the tactic/s they are about to work on relate/s to the game.

In the absence of this type of learning, most players tend to learn through trial and error. They try a position or a pass: if it works they will repeat and learn to be successful. If they make a mistake they try alternative methods. This can take time and it also leads to a more instinctive behavior which is difficult to change. They have no clear understanding of why they perform the way they do. In short, players may do the right thing but they are unaware of the reason they do it. This is typical of most football players at all levels as good players rarely make good coaches. Kevin Mitchell, writing in the Observer (2004), claims of footballers comments on soccer games what they say is invariably useless. A good analogy is that we may drive a car and get to where we want to go but we don't understand how it works and what to do if it goes wrong.

A coach needs to create an atmosphere of guided discovery (Mourinho ). This guided discover y of the often complicated behavior required to develop tactical awareness is to create a level of understanding through explanation and discussion rather than just trial and error. People need to understand in order to change their behavior.

The best way to help them to do this is to set a situation in which they have to think - in this case watch/take part in a real match situation and analyse it with questions. We all learn better if we go from the general (match situation) to the specific (movement, positioning and passes etc) that make up the match situation. An example of this is made by the following comment:

"A few times Dyer didn't spot Bridge overlapping and they need to work on team play in training so that the Southampton player, who has a super left foot, is given a chance to cross. It might even mean walking through things to build an understanding."

(Ron Atkinson, Monday March 31st, 2003, The Guardian)

In short start coaching need to start at the end and work back. This means that if you have worked out and explained the end tactic (which are all explained in this manual) and follow the simple guidelines for drills/small sided games (see later) players will be confident about what to do in a match situation. All the drills that follow the initial discussion must relate to the technical or tactical requirements ending with the actual match situation on a pitch.

Players with fantastic technique, pace ability with the ball are not effective if they cannot apply this to a game situation. Coaches need to focus on learning as well as knowledge/ technique. Players need to develop skills to learn to reflect, answer questions. This will lead to innovation and creativity. Developing learning means a shift away from coach based learning with a set knowledge base to student centered learning. A Democratic coaching style is the best way to develop learning. The sharing approach for a coach would involve (national learning network website) a coach.

I will outline the problem, pose questions and invite solutions,?I directly involve players in decision making, If a solution is agreed by all of us then it's more likely that it will succeed, I still need to make and justify the final decision.

Many coaches are uncomfortable with this style of coaching with many ex players in particular not bought up in this environment. Coaches have to ask questions in order to allow players to reflect. The question is a powerful tool if used correctly. Create a situation where players are not afraid of answering a question incorrectly. If a players gives an incorrect answer a coach can guide the player to the correct answer "do you think this is the best option, can you see any other options?" The important thing is to develop "thought" to make people think. Asking one person a question means only one person has to think.

Imagine a situation in a practice game where a player has not made the best decision about the pass he has chosen . The coach correctly stops the game. The ball goes back to the player who made the pass. Now at this point the coach asks the question - what was the better pass?

If the coach always asks the player who made the mistake ( this seems logical) the correct answer then only one player has had to consider/reflect. Maybe some other players involved also followed this reflective process. However a better alternative is to make all players feel that they might be asked, that you may choose anyone to come over and coach the point. The advantage of this is that every player could get picked to do this therefore every player has to have the answer ready. If you always chose the player who made the pass the other 21 can "switch off" not think. Use questions well and you will develop learning.

The Key Coaching Points are- has learning taken place? Did all the players have to think? Can they apply this learning to a game situation?

Here is an example of the way the match situation/drills work. In this instance certain players are out of the correct position but it highlights many other factors. In this situation players can discuss issues and tactics answer questions etc. Look at the next "A Practical Drill" and have a go at answering the questions before advancing to find the answers on the page after it.

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