FC Bayern Rondo

Rondo (or 5 v. 2 as it will always be in my mind) is a form of keepaway or numbers up possession game used by some of the world's most dominant teams. It's rise in popularity recently is linked to the Tiki Taka of Barcelona and the continued dominance of anything or anyone that Pep Guardiola touches.

The concept of the activity is short, sharp passing with slight movement from outside players and the ability to think quickly whilst under pressure from the players in the middle. Players are forced into controlling the ball away from pressure or play first time in order to avoid losing the ball and ending up in the middle (the punishment for making a mistake).

Rondo's Application in Training

The Rondo (as it is now known) is traditionally used as a warm up activity in addition to dynamic exercises to prepare players for the training session ahead. It can be manipulated in a number of ways in order to make it more competitive which can set the tone for the practice session ahead. A standard Rondo activity might look as follows:

5 v. 2 - defenders hold on to pinnies in order to signify who is currently a defender

10x10 grid in order to keep things tight and test the players first touch and decision making (this area size can be adjusted based on ability level)

Rules:

  • If the defender wins it, the person who messed up and the person to their left go in the middle.
  • Attackers can earn an extra life by 1) getting 10 passes, 2) nutmegging a defender (putting it through their legs), 3) playing a split pass (a pass that goes between both defenders and reaches a team mate).
  • If the attackers earn an extra life, the defenders must stay in the middle for one more go regardless of whether they win it or not.
rondo

The beauty of the Rondo is that it can be completely left alone and the competitive nature of the game should ensure that the players play quickly and move the ball in a manner that keeps possession as they don't want to go in the middle. Making adjustments may be necessary in order to create the right environment. For example, making the area smaller for competent players will challenge them and force them to think/move/pass quicker. On the other hand, making the area bigger or reducing the number of defenders can make it more manageable for players of a lower ability level.

In order to not facilitate and actually coach (a discussion for another time), the benefit of this activity is that there are a number of different topics that you can coach and work on whilst still playing a variation of this game. For instance, I might coach body shape when receiving the ball, opening up with the back foot and angle of support in one session and the next I might work on how to suck players in with shorter passes and then when to pass/when to penetrate.

As you'll start to see below, different variations cater to different topics and coaching points. The coach should manipulate the session/activity to put players in the relevant scenarios in order to work on that topic. For example, I might dictate that the only way to get an extra life is by splitting the two defenders (passing between them), if my topic for that session is penetrating passes. Now we're looking at ways to manipulate the defenders and movement of the players off the ball to find opportunities for the split. If the defenders stand together the whole time, now I might add the ten passes for an extra life back in so that they have to work to win the ball back and hopefully that might open up the gaps again. By manipulating the game/area/rules/defenders the coach is able to cater the session to the topic and the needs of his players.

Variations of the Rondo - Run-do

As previously mentioned, Rondo isn't an activity with set rules. It is flexible and easily manipulated to work on a wide range of topics. One of the best examples I've seen of Rondo being adapted for a session is one I like to call Run-do. The game is set up as follows:

3 v. 1 - defender holds on to a pinny to signify who's in the middle

8x8 grid

Rules:

  • Play for two minutes
  • If the defender wins the ball, they get 1 pt
  • If the attackers get ten passes, they get 1 pt
  • Switch the defender after two minutes
3 v. 1 But coach, I have to run-do

In the above activity, rondo, becomes run-do because the players on the outside have a very important role in supporting the player in possession. Each time the player in possession receives the ball, he wants to have options and be able to pass to either two players. As a result, there is a lot of movement off the ball every time the ball is passed as the player not receiving must get into a position where he can get the ball off the next player in possession.

This leads me on to the name and some of the coaching points that can be squeezed out of this variation of rondo. I remember the first time I used this in a session and the first thing my U9 girls said to me after explaining the need for movement off the ball was, "but coach, I don't like to run-though" and the name was born.

The necessity for movement off the ball is an easy coaching point, as, without that, the game wouldn't work. From there, the when and why of that movement can be taught to players. Is it any good to make your move once the player  in possession has the ball? Would it be more beneficial to be there already as they receive it? This is a great example of coaching the when and the why rather than just the technique (the how). The player needs to anticipate the pass and the ball leaves his foot, the supporting player needs to be moving to support the new player in possession of the ball. The why is simple, if the supporting player isn't there, the player with the ball only has one option - back to where it came. If that's the case, the defender's job just became a lot easier.

Making the area smaller in run-do means less running but quicker reactions and movement and any way you play this game, players get lots of touches on the ball during the two minutes - making this a great warm up activity. One of the best applications of this activity I saw was with goalkeepers. It gives the players lots of repetition, practicing taking their first touch away from pressure (much like any time they get a pass back) and also helps with their distribution as they start to recognize front foot v. back foot and the level of pressure/weight of pass needed each time they have the ball at their feet.

Flipping the Rondo to a Round-o

Just to further illustrate the rondo's versatility, I just wanted to share another version; the round-o. Named for it's change in shape, the round-o is played with a much greater number of players and focuses on the defenders rather than the attackers. As with anything, as long as the session is manipulated in the right manner, you can find ways to coach your topic and rondo is no different.

9 v. 3 - defenders holding pinnies to signify who's in the middle

Circle formation - typically I use the centre circle and step inwards/outwards as appropriate

Rules:

  • If the defenders win the ball, the person who makes the mistake and a player either side of them goes in the middle
  • Attackers can earn an extra life by 1) getting 10 passes, 2) nutmegging a defender (putting it through their legs), 3) playing a split pass (a pass that goes between both defenders and reaches a team mate).
  • If the attackers earn an extra life, the defenders must stay in the middle for one more go regardless of whether they win it or not.
Round-o: for obvious reasons

Round-o focuses on the role of the defender and can be used to coach the roles and responsibilities of the first, second and third defender. The concept of pressure/cover/balance can also be applied and the freeze method (stopping every player where they are; recreating, rectifying, rehearsing and repeating) is a great way to show players what their roles are and how their positioning can be adjusted to deny penetration. Communication between the three defenders is vital in order to attempt to win the ball back and knowing when to pressure can also be taught, e.g. a bad touch, bad pass, head down, numbers up etc.

Again, manipulating the game is key for success. The size of the area is important so that it's big enough that the players in the middle have to work hard but not so big that they can't get anywhere near the ball. Mandating that the attacking players must take 2 or even 3 touches may be necessary in order to give the defenders time to get into position and paint the best picture for them.

A Word of Caution

Rondo and it's variations are great for coaching a diverse number of topics. Possession based games have been popular for many years. One of it's biggest drawbacks though, is it's lack of direction. Players learn to keep the ball, move off the ball or develop their defending roles. However, they do so without the biggest focal point in mind: the goal. It's important that players learn to penetrate and go forwards as their number one option. The purpose of moving off the ball should be so that the team can penetrate and get to goal. Defenders should be pressing, covering, providing balance, with relation to the goal behind them. Without that point of reference, sometimes it's easy to paint the wrong picture. Players are technically able to function, but are unaware tactically of why and where these concepts might apply. This needs to be kept in mind when planning any session.