COACHES CLINIC: SWITCHING PLAY

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Nick Bearham takes this issue’s Coaches Clininc.

To date, football has taken me on many exciting journeys, with time spent coaching in six countries across four continents, from America to Sri Lanka and China. My journey into coaching football started very similarly to many others, playing on muddy, uneven park pitches, the true home of grassroots football. It was there that I fell in love with the game and always wanted to stay in it. Coaching was the answer and I sought out opportunities to coach the junior age groups at my local football club while I progressed onto achieving my UEFA B License, taking on any new challenge that came my way. In my decade-plus affair with the game I have learnt a variety of transferable skills, the most key being how to adapt; being able to dive into those back pocket ideas and change on the spot.

THE SESSION:
Switching play in a whole-part-whole practice

Whole-part-whole is essentially a match, then training and repeating the match. It is a great style of practice to use, especially when you may have players arriving at different times, so you are able to start the session with different formats – 2 v 1, 5 v 4, 7 v 7 – until everyone is at training. In its simplest form, whole-part-whole translates as match-training-match, but how you link the parts is key. This session focuses on switching play so the first whole (match) should be set up more square than rectangle which will limit the amount of vertical passing options. Therefore, the space to attack is in wide areas, encouraging more horizontal passes, so we can move play from the left side of the pitch to the right and vice versa. Depending on the number of players, you may use a 35m x 30m area, but I would encourage you to experiment, as long as there are a lot of moments where the players can switch play. You may need to add some team challenges to condition the game, such as “you can only score once your team has switched play”, or “every switch your team executes is an additional goal”. 

When using whole-part-whole the key is to have four or five “parts” planned as you may notice that the learning coming from the whole may be different. When switching play it might be that you focus on the long passing or a central player – perhaps a centre midfielder or centre back – receiving the ball to execute the switch. In the part I have planned, the session will continue with the game theme in the form of the six goal game. 

The area to use for the “part” activity is the opposite of the whole and is more rectangular, with goals positioned as illustrated. Depending on what you want to achieve in the part practice, you could use dribbling gates positioned centrally or wide, which would encourage different outcomes. You can create dribbling gates, or the goals, by simply using cones, or you can go old school with jumpers for goalposts! With the focus on switching play I would use smaller 2m x 1m goals wide of a central goal. It is to be expected that players are going to force play forward towards the central goal; therefore, incentivising the wider goals so that a goal scored there is worth two goals will encourage play to attack the wide areas. I really enjoy using this practice because it recreates realistic situations, boosts ball speed and is a game so it can be really competitive. The part will also expose different switching opportunities: combining with the central player, a direct pass, a switch through the unit behind play.

Once you have achieved the learning from the part (training) section, you will need to revisit the whole (the second match). You should use the same whole from the start of the session, which will allow you to expose the players to the same challenges they faced, but now with the skills gained from the part along with the knowledge and confidence to switch play.

WHAT YOU NEED IN YOUR KIT BAG

1. Whiteboard

You don’t need a fancy whiteboard – a clear one does the same job. In your session you will have people who all learn in different ways, so using a white board to show the different areas you will use and the different movements to help the players succeed will be an effective learning tool. A small one that fits in your backpack will do the same job as a large tactics board that you expect to see on a changing room wall!

2. Coach’s Eye App

With everyone nowadays having a smartphone or tablet, the Coach’s Eye app is a great addition, available for only a fiver from your app store. You can record action that happens and use the app’s tools to draw lines and highlight areas, as well as using the slo-mo function and drag wheel to move through the action at your own pace. This allows players to re-watch their execution in detail straight away.

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