From bumps and bruises on the estate, to championship rings in The States. Abi Mills is taken this issue’s coaches clinic, and will equip you with a grassroots warm up drill to get your team ready.
Abigail Mills spent her youth career with Arsenal and Chelsea and went on to captain Chelsea Under 21s to league success before setting sail to the States. There, Abi studied at the University of South Alabama, winning two championship rings in three years with the NCAA Division 1 institution, and has most recently become the Director of Coaching at a local team. This month, Abi takes our Coaches Clinic and reflects on her inspiring journey from the grassroots game in London.
I grew up in North London, merely a stone’s throw away from the rumble of Highbury stadium and within eyeshot of the Emirates. Football laid its claim on my heart well before I’d even had the chance to oppose it. The trajectory of my journey through football – from humble beginnings to championship rings overseas – is one that still beguiles me whenever I take a moment to reflect on it.
As is the case with many, my love for the game was birthed on the streets of London, with makeshift goals, worn-out balls, trips underneath the neighbours’ cars to retrieve a stray pass and an ever-evolving list of cuts, bruises and niggles that affirmed my dedication to the game. The thought of playing beyond the confines of my local estate with the boys that I had grown up with was a pipedream, carefully concealed in the deepest recesses of my heart.
Having spent my first season of non-competitive football with a local boys’ team at Clissold Park on Saturday mornings, there remained little proof of football being more than just an outlet and a pastime. At that point, Eni Aluko was the only direct representation that I had to aspire to in the realm of female football, and the dream of one day rubbing shoulders with her seemed far-fetched. (I was wrong, and I’m so thankful that I was!)
Unbeknownst to me, an invitation to a football clinic at Highbury Fields School held by the former Arsenal and England Ladies captain, Faye White, served as the catalyst for the most humbling and horizon-broadening journey that a ten-year-old could only dream of. I distinctly remember Faye pulling me aside and asking, ‘would you like to play for Arsenal Ladies?’. As I am pretty sure that I blacked out at that moment, I can only assume that my answer was a resounding ‘YES’. Soon after, I put pen to paper for my first love: my childhood club.
After just shy of a decade of playing at the top flight within my age bracket, I ventured out to the States. Three years and two championship rings later, I have graduated from my alma mater and I am now pursuing a Master’s degree whilst fulfilling the role of Director of Coaching for a local soccer team, paving the way for the next generation to succeed at the grassroots level and beyond. The places I’ve been, the people I’ve met and the person I have become are all anchored in the soil of grassroots football, and for that I am eternally grateful.
The beauty of this warm-up is that it requires absolutely no equipment, bar a handful of footballs. Utilising the eighteen-yard box, this progressive drill does a good job of ensuring physical readiness for play, as well as incorporating elements of communication, spatial awareness and tact.
PHASE ONE: NUMBERS
Prior to starting the drill, assign each player with a number in ascending order, according to how many people you have on your team (e.g 1-16). This will be needed for the later phases of the drill.
PHASE TWO: JOGGING AND STRETCHING
Get the players moving on a light jog (approx. 50% pace) and periodically initiate a different dynamic stretch every 90 seconds. Once you have worked through the core muscle groups, increase the jogging tempo to 60, 80, and then 90% movement, adding a change of pace and direction on the coach’s command.
PHASE THREE: BALLWORK
Introduce four balls and ask the players to pass them through the group in number order. Allow a trial run for the team to find solutions to the problems that will inevitably arise, before adding the conditions of a two-touch-limit and 90 seconds on the clock.
PHASE FOUR: REVERSE!
At the coach’s discretion, the “REVERSE” command will require players to complete the pattern in reverse order, still with the two-touch limitation. If the ball strays beyond the eighteen-yard box, hits another player accidentally, or if someone takes more than two touches, the entire team is to perform the “5 & 5 punishment” (five sit-ups, five push-ups). If the team successfully completes the pattern in under 90 seconds, decrease the amount of time allotted.
PHASE FIVE: POSSESSION
The drill now evolves into a possession game, where the even numbers form one team and the odd numbers form the other. Non-directional, within the confines of the eighteen-yard box, five consecutive passes = one goal, ten consecutive passes = three goals. The winner is the highest-scoring team within three minutes.
PHASE SIX: PROGRESSION
Introduce a two-touch limit. Three to four high tempo rounds will have the team warm and technically ready for the rest of the session!