In the next 3-4 months, I will have the pleasure to coach a pretty advanced local U15 team. In the upcoming weeks, I will share 5 full sessions to give you a brief outlook on what I want to achieve with this team and how I set up my training sessions. Feedback is very much appreciated as I’m still in a learning/reflection process, you can get in touch with me as well on Twitter (@daniel_baehr_).
In our so-called „DFB-Stützpunkt“ we have some very skilled players from different clubs in a local area. Many players are already playing against bigger Bundesliga youth teams, so the overall skill level is pretty high. The training load is one session per week. Usually, we are around 10-14 players.
Since we no pressure to get match results, my focus is on maximizing the qualities of Individual, Unit & Collective to achieve a development beyond the expectation of the players. My training approach is almost entirely game-based, which means that our sessions purely consist of games against opponents. From time to time we did some small fun games (especially for warm-up), but this was kept to a minimum. I want them to become better decision-makers and better football players and this is, in my opinion, achieved only through football. Therefore most of our games are small-sided games with high intensity. Besides that, I’m always trying to form the session in an „implicit-learning style“, so the players learn through positive/negative game experiences.
The second training session – „Developing Space Artists“ // 12 players
Today marks the second Episode of my ongoing series where I present you selected training sessions I conduct with my training group.
In this episode, I will introduce you to some training more training examples that I love to use and the underlying concept. Much of it is about the question of how I can develop my players to become so-called „Space Artists“. „Space Artist“ is a term I picked up from Yiannis Tsala (which you should follow on Twitter). Two of today’s training exercises are based on his ideas and only slightly modified by myself. But first, some more information about this approach.
Space Artists – A game based approach to skill adaption
„A coach can tell his players that they should combine or play directly, or he can create situations where they are forced to.“ – Christoph Bierman
Some thoughts by Yiannis:
#1 All aspects of football are trained at the same time. This way we do not train the technical, tactical, social, pschological, physical or the attacking, defending and transition phases in isolation.
#2 Training in this way ensures a greater level of familiarity come game time. This means less stress and in turn a greater ability to cope with pressure and space constraints as well as process informations thus enhancing decision making.
#3 There are implicit aspects to the games that coach for you (as a coach). This means the game speaks for you if the conditions are strategically layered into training and there is a good, continuous flow. You can coach defending while an activity promotes attacking play. This makes for a richer training experience.
Moreover, a large value is assigned to decision making.
Perception (Information) – Action Cycle (Movement).
Some more thoughts by René:
„Basically, being “football specific” is the base. Everything you do should be extracted from the game and its principles itself; not the opposite. Many go the other way and do weight lifting because “you need power too in football”. That’s the wrong starting point in my eyes. Football specific comes from the game itself. If you do that as base, there are four basic things which have to follow.
The drill has to be holistic; should train as many aspects as possible as the game itself never has an isolated aspect to it. There’s always context. Try to make an image of the game in your drills and put everything you can coach for an action into it. But these aspects have to interact with each other, as they do in the game.
That’s “complexity”. The simultaneous interaction between the aspects makes it complex. The complexity should be arranged in a way it makes the whole thing more than the sum of its parts (“synergistic”). Every decision in the drill interacts with what happened before and what will happen after; the possible consequences of the next actions are part of every decision! Then it should be flexible and varying every time with every repetition. Not repetition should be the exact same. That’s “differential”.“
All of these thoughts are included in my training sessions. Of course, and I’m very aware of the fact that this is mostly common sense in professional areas. Nevertheless, there are still many other approaches (and I don’t want to say that these are false!) and when I’m talking to other coaches, many think otherwise. So I wanted to take you with me in my thought process. And this is my state of mind. So I base my training sessions on this approach.
Now finally: Today’s session
For warming up and general acclimatization with the ball, 6 more players from another group spontaneously joined us. Therefore I decided to do the following exercises.
Warm-Up: Arrival Game // 18 players
In total, a large square was formed with 4 squares in the middle, in which the now 18 players should move freely. In total 9 balls were distributed. It should be noted that – contrary to the graphic – no colors and/or teams were formed in the warm-up exercises. The different colors (white and red) are used in the following for better clarity.
Organization // Rules
Players should play with the balls and be in constant motion. There was only one rule: when you played a pass you had to change the field. In addition, there were smaller playful elements such as one-touch passes, „Steil-Klatsch“ combinations, weak foot passes, etc.
Duration: 3-5 minutes to get started
Warm-Up: Adding technical challenges // 18 players
The second part of our warm-up program was a bit more complex. As in the first part, the players had to move freely in the four fields. If they met another player, they had to complete a given pass sequence.
Examples I used:
#1 Throw – Head – Catch
#2 Throw – Volley – Catch
#3 Throw – Volley – Volley – Catch
#4 Throw – Head – Volley – Volley – Catch
#5 Throw – Head – Volley – Volley – Head – Catch
After that, as before, the players had to move to another square.
Duration: Approx. 5-7 minutes
Advanced version: Warm-Up x El caos // 18 players
The organization stayed the same (we added 8 goals, as you can see below). Thus the pairs of two play in a direct one-on-one after they completed the last passing sequence (Throw – Head – Volley – Volley – Head – Catch). The ball leader tries to score a goal while the defender tries to prevent this by capturing the ball and then trying to score a goal himself.
Why did I add this „El caos“ situation at the end of our Warm-Up“?
The behavior in one-on-one situations is a technical-tactical basis of football. The players should be taught the ability to stand their ground in dribblings and duels. The largely free course of the „El caos“ allows the players to try out tricks and deceptions and, thanks to the pressure from the opponent, they receive immediate feedback on their actions. In addition to their own duel, the opponents must also pay attention to the other pairs besides on the ball, which has a positive influence on their orientation and peripheral vision.
The large number of pairs (8 in total), the required zone change after the „technical challenge sequence“ and the high number of goals (also 8) make this „El caos“ such an unpredictable, exciting & very
Nevertheless, great importance must be attached to fairness. Besides the high intensity and competitive character, the factors mentioned above quickly lead to over-motivated tackles and reckless slide tackles, then you as a trainer should urgently intervene.
Some Coaching Points I made during small breakes (approx. 30 seconds each)
- For attackers: It is important to keep tight control of the ball so that the attacker always has charge of the ball. The following applies: The tighter the ball control, the more difficult the defender can win the ball
- For attackers: Try to manipulate your opponent by changing your direction
- For defenders: Individual tactical elements of defensive behavior from starting, positioning, guiding, speeding up to winning the ball
We played this 5 times and everyone with a negative record (e.g. 2:3, 1:2, 0:1, etc.) was demanded to make 10 push-ups.
Duration: Approx: 5-7 minutes
3 vs. 3 +3 Hexagon Positioning Game (YT)
This is a a great activity to focus on 3rd player actions.
Organisation // Rules
Create a Hexagon (length should be applied to the skill level of your players). Inside a 3 vs. 3 is played with alternating Reds and Whites outside.
#1 Perimeter players can enter if their team loses possession (but must return if the counterpressing fails and the team that regained possession secures it tio one of their perimeter teammates)
#1 Points awarded for a set number of passes – 1 point
#2 Points awarded for 3rd player actions – 1 point
#3 Points for each time ball is transfered from one perimeter to another perimeter – 2 points
Implicit Coaching Points
- Attract pressure to overplay
- Looking for target player
- Playing into depth
Explicit Coaching Points
- Give pointers to the 3rd attacker on body orientations and timing of blindside movement to stay connected to the 2nd attacker.
- If defenders inside man-mark tightly, the challenge will be for the players in possession (inside) to manipulate the defenders, so the perimeter players can play directly to each other to maintain possession
Duration: 4 x 2:30 minutes
Double Counterpressing Hexagon (YT / small change)
Organization // Rules
In the next game form, the hexagon should now be enlarged a little bit. The following is still valid: Adjust the length and width to the level of your players (both in the technical-tactical and physical area). Furthermore, You should now place a small square in the middle and 4 goals on the sides.
Inside the smaller quare a 5 vs. 2 Rondo is played. (You can vary the numbers here, but in my opinion, this was well suited.). If the two red players win possession they transition by playing out to their teammates in the larger space, and the game now becomes 7 + 1 vs. 4. The 4 that lost possession must counterpress to not let the 2 + 1 (yellow plays always with the possession team, even directly after losing the ball) escape.
Now once it is 7 + 1 vs. 4, red score with passes throught the square (Scoring points are mentioned below). The 4 defend until they regain possessionand score in any of the 4 mini goals or dribble out of the hexagon. The 7 now should try to intercept that by counterpressing them.
I especially liked the idea of leaving a yellow player in the middle in 5 vs. 2. This player was limited to one contact throughout the whole game. If the ball was won by the red players, the player continued to act as a fixed point in the middle to initiate pass actions over the third. Thus, the understanding of „ball possession – counter-pressing – counter-situation“ was especially sharpened for this player. His adaptation behavior is very much oriented towards that of a center player and this should play a role in the selection of the yellow player.
#1 Yellow player and one red player are locked inside the smaller square for the entire activity
#2 Goals are open to score for White anytime, but red is allowed to have 2 more players inside the smaller square
#1 During 5 vs. 2 – 1 point for every determined set of passes
#2 During 7+1 vs. 4 – 1 point if white scores or dribbles out of the hexagon after regaining possession through counterpressing
#3 During 7+1 vs. 4 – 1 point for Red if they can plan through the square
#4 During 7+1 vs. 4 – 2 points if Red finds yellow in the square and a „one-touch-third man pass via another inside red player“ finds his way to a teammate
YT already mentioned that that the intensity initially could lead to lower passing strings in the first place. Patience is required by the coach to allow the players to find their rhythm (In our case it was okay).
Implicit Coaching Points
- Looking for target player / Playing into depth (First option should always be the furthest vertical player)
- Attract defenders, fixate their perception, remove defnders!
- Quick orientation, positioning & Gegenpressing after losing the ball
- Attacking player movements
- Player in posession must be able to recognize which teammate is in
position superiority (positional superiority > numerical superiority)
Explicit Coaching Points
- „What angles benefit you best?“ – a question/game of positioning
- Body orientation before receiving!
- Manipulate your opponents!
- Attract to overplay!
Duration: 4 x 2:30 minutes
Closing Game – Hexagon Form 1 // 13 players
As I outlined earlier, the final game should also be game based and include all game moments.
Organization // Rules
At the end of today’s training session, I decided to play a final game in 5 vs. 5 plus 3 neutral players. The hexagon was enlarged again and should now serve as a playing field.The three neutral players had to stay in their fields and were limited to one contact.
Variation possibility: Defensive team have to stay in their area (2-2-1).
Some combinations that occured frequently (and I demanded):
- Space: Be the free player!
- Passing to attract (and then overplay)
- Using numerical superiority to advance
- Passing with a message
- Final Third Movements (Arrive with 3!!)
One could argue that the 8 against 5 superiority for the possession team is too much to handle and they can score pretty easily. But that was, in fact, not the case. Especially the influence of the two outside yellow players was not that huge.
This way a high action density could be created, which is one of the most important things for me, especially in the current function.
A train of thought worth thinking about
First consideration: The game ends 2-0. The central defenders made no mistakes and therefore an objectively „good game“.
2nd consideration: The game ends 3:4. The central defenders were very busy and could still record many clarifying actions. From a generalistic point of view, however, their game will not be described as „good“.
Here is another thesis
If an attacker does 15% of his actions in a game „very well“, it is very likely that he scores a goal and his game is objectively (side note: I really don’t want to evaluate the concept of „objectiv morality here) perceived as „good“.
If a defender again does 85% of his actions „very good“, it is likely that he made one or more mistakes which possibly led to high-percentage chances for the opponent.
What I want to say is that if we play 8 vs 5 like in today’s example and the final score after 5 minutes is 7:4, it doesn’t mean that my defensive players don’t learn anything. Of course, if we play 4 vs. 4 and the score is 1:1 the defenders seem to have had a good session – but that’s maybe not the case if they did not need to make many tackles etc.
It can even make sense, especially with youth teams (and the above thought processes should represent that) to consciously overload the ball possession team to force actions and success situations.
You can find a really good article about that discussion here.
Duration: 2 x 5 minutes
Closing Game – Hexagon Form 2
Organization // Rules
The rules remained the same as before. But now the yellow player had to remain outside and were still restricted to one touch. Defensive team had to stay in their area (2-2-1), as well.
I created this drill at the end of our today’s sesson because I wanted my players to realize how they could play from the back.
Main coaching points here:
#1 Face Up – Build up!
#2 Be the free player!
#3 Invite the press!
#4 Look into detph!
#5 Avoid the „sideline“ pass!
This „sideline-pass“ is one of the weakest passes in football, in my opinion, because it creates almost no space and you get pressed immediately.
Better options would be to play „in-out-in“ or „out-in-out“ for example.
Duration: 2 x 7:30 minutes
Another exhausting but very rewarding session has found its end. Today’s session was a very important one. No matter what system or basic formation I want to play. Especially in possession of the ball, the right behaviour in the room is one of the principles for a good positional game.
Even if the players don’t become „space artists“ after one unit, it was nice to see how they internalized the game references:
- Key Spaces
- Laws of the game
from time to time!