• The beautiful game is broadly split into four main categories:
  • Technical - the foundation of players' ability
  • Tactical - decision making, formations and game strategies
  • Physical - players' attributes and capabilities to compete against others
  • Psychological - approach to development, confidence, resilience and interactions with others

While soccer is broadly split into four main pillars: technical, tactical, physical and psychological, how should we as coaches incorporate these elements into our sessions? While there are a few approaches, this will be the first of two articles looking at ideas on how to build these elements into training.

Technical

The technical foundation of a players development is particularly relevant to my current role as a youth coach and each pillar will vary depending on the developmental level of the players. As such, the following are ideas of incorporating technical elements into sessions;

  • Session Structure. Whilst players should hopefully be assigned a ball each in order to get the most touches on the ball, the structure of the session from Developmental Repetitions to Unopposed, Semi Opposed and Fully Opposed should also help ensure they understand the technique as well as how it relates to the Where, When and Why.
  • Ball Mastery. Whilst I believe this is a good way of developing players ability with the ball, (it should be engaging and fun - Motivating Young Soccer Players - Why Inspiration is Key) try to switch things up by adding some music. This will also tie into their co-ordination, rhythm and motor movements as we look at the Physical components later on.
  • Small Sided Games. Keep things to multiple fields of 1 v. 1 or 2 v. 2 in order to keep the ball to player ratio low. This will give players many more touches on the ball rather than a huge 8 v. 8 scrimmage at the end of practice.
 
 Ball mastery is a good start but it's important to show players techniques in relation to the pressure they'll be under. 

Ball mastery is a good start but it's important to show players techniques in relation to the pressure they'll be under. 

 

Tactical

While team tactics may not be easily addressed or understood at the early stages of development, they may be layered in for players to begin to learn and understand. While I wouldn't advocate the use of a whiteboard and lectures involving X's and O's, it is possible to include tactical elements without explicitly laying it out for the players.

  • Group Tactics. Playing small sided games and activities such as 2 v. 2 will allow players to start working on combination play such as the give and go or the overlap and identify ways in which they can work together to achieve goals.
  • Be Quiet. A huge part of tactics is decision making. Try using activities or games in which you as the coach aren't allowed to instruct or commentate in order to allow players to make their own decisions.
  • Transition. Activities and games that involve moments of transition can be useful for helping players understand what to do next. When we win/lose the ball, what's our first thought? 
  • Principles of Play. Some basic concepts can be shared in games with little intervention or time coaching. Making players aware of the need for width and depth or team shape v. individual space may make the world of difference to the game without having to talk about a 1-2-1 formation and how it builds into a 3-4-3.
 
 In the game above, the white team's players 7 and 11 give their team width whilst the 5 and 9 give depth, creating a diamond shape.

In the game above, the white team's players 7 and 11 give their team width whilst the 5 and 9 give depth, creating a diamond shape.

 

Physical

While some may have players pencilled in as they either have it or they don't. There are plenty of ways in which the physical aspects of a players game can be improved and worked upon. This is especially relevant as the relative age effect of birth years continues to dominate discussions in tryouts and academy setups.

  • The Warm Up. We're not talking about 7 year olds preparing their bodies for exercise in the same way as a 37 year old, but the act of learning motor movements and control of their body in relation to what they're working on in practice.
  • SAQ. Speed, Agility, Quickness. Adding elements of SAQ can help players work on their co-ordination, balance, footwork and speed and can go hand in hand with ball mastery. Not just for the warm up, SAQ might also be used in other activities and games to develop the above elements in addition to technical components.
  • Precursor activities and games. Some activities take a while to explain or understand. Allowing players to figure them out without a ball gives more time to spread out the instruction as well as letting players develop an understanding of the physical requirements (changes of speed, relation to defender etc).
 
 In the activity above, players play a change of direction game without the ball, initially developing their motor movements.

In the activity above, players play a change of direction game without the ball, initially developing their motor movements.

 

Psychological (Psycho-Social)

One of the hardest elements for coaches to place into their practices is the mental side of the game. It is important to make a conscious effort to plan and include this side of the game as it goes a long way in a player's development. Players can develop resilience, confidence and their approach to their own development/learning in each session.

  • Give them Ownership. Put the players in charge of their own development. Let them make decisions in certain areas of practice.
  • Scenario Based Activities. Put players in certain scenarios, one team is losing 3-0 or they've got one less player than the opposition. Let them figure out a way to deal with the situation and come up with their own solutions on how to survive and what they see as an achievable outcome.
  • Learn Each Others Names. This is crucial for those who work on camps and with new groups. Ensure players know each others names so that they have a comfort zone where they can be confident and unafraid to make mistakes.
  • Model Behaviors. While not strictly for practices, modeling the ideal behavior on the sideline is vital for young players to see. If your team goes 1-0 down, be calm, be positive, smile. Players feed off of your body language and reactions and take a lot more on board whilst playing than we give them credit for.
 
 Louis Van Gaal was criticized early in his MUFC for a lack of touchline presence, preferring instead to take notes.

Louis Van Gaal was criticized early in his MUFC for a lack of touchline presence, preferring instead to take notes.

 

How do you incorporate the technical, tactical, physical and psychological elements into your practices? What best practices or tips and tricks can you share with your fellow coaches? Feel free to discuss in the comments below or get a thread going on twitter @deanatk .

Dean Atkins is a coach for the Regional Development Schools (RDS) of the New York Red Bulls. Please feel free to get in touch - I enjoy connecting with other coaches and am partial to a good Twitter debate.

 

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