“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”
– Albert Einstein
What does this mean? If anyone comes to your training and asks about your session or a given drill, you must be able to explain it in simplified terms. Sometimes, coaches tend to overcomplicate their work with fancy equipment and ideas but in the end, they forget their initial target. Coaches should know their strengths and weaknesses and adjust their philosophy way of playing according to the team they are working with. Coaches should have their training methodology written down. Then, explain it to staff, and later to their players. Nowadays, players’ buy-in is fundamental!
Players are smart and ask a lot of questions; therefore, coaches have to be ready to provide answers! So, after understanding the necessity to train as we play (and play as we train), it’s time to start thinking how we can achieve that. Before going to our training methods and methodology, there are some important issues that we need to address:
A) Planning and Periodisation
Soccer periodisation is a planned variation in training load and fatigue levels and should be designed in order to keep players’ readiness across the competitive season as high as possible (Van Winckel et al, 2014). Thus, the main objective of practitioners working in elite football is to increase (or maintain) performance throughout the year and reduce the rate of injuries. A variety of periodisation models have been used in soccer, from traditional: Matveiev’s model & Pendulum model to contemporary: Verkhoschansky training blocks & Bompa’s extended performance model (Delgado & Villanueva, 2018). However, in an annual soccer season with 50-60 competitive games, the “windows” of opportunity to improve physical variables are short. Coaches need to find the way to have efficient training sessions covering the tactical and physical principles of the game.
Tactical periodization model, integrates all these, and provides the coaches with the ability to work on a more holistic approach when preparing their team for competition. The key element is to keep the players fit on the pitch without injuries. Hence, the target should be finding a balance between loading the players in training sessions or matches to promote adaptation and reduce injury risk.
Training your team in relation to competition demands, could be an advantageous strategy for coaches to use within their training periodization models (Martin-Garcia et al, 2018). Periodization of recovery plays a crucial role in keeping your players fresh and ready to perform. Don’t stick to pre-planned strategies, you must be prepared to modify your plans. Monitoring and analyzing your training sessions and your periodisation models can help you improve as a coach. Recently, researchers have attempted to quantify and study different periodisation models from elite teams (Malone et al, 2015; Martin-Garcia et al, 2018), however it is not ideal for coaches to adapt plans and training models from elite teams, as elite players’ characteristics are not the same.
Kicking off early July (or earlier) in pre-season, the first thing you should do is to run a ‘needs analysis’ of each of your players. Identify their tactical and physical weaknesses and work on them throughout the pre-season training; testing their improvements with friendly games. A competitive game is always the best test for you as a coach and for your players’ understanding of the game. As you can see at (figure 1), training is a live process from pre-season to in-season. There aren’t any magic formulas and secrets, just be demanding with yourselves, discuss with your staff, always targeting players’ improvement as a priority. If you see that something is not working the way you wanted, just change it!
B) Level of Structural Organisation
An important aspect we need to consider before starting to design our weekly plans and drills is the structural organization of our players in the game. How does a player behave? How do a group of players behave? And in the end how does the whole team behave when we have the ball or when we don’t have the ball. According to Delgado and Villanueva (2018), we can categorize the levels to:
1. Individual (Video 1): individual responsibilities of each player. It may be a position/individual specific drill or how a player behaves in the collective structure. For example, how a Full-Back defends and close spaces. From amateur to elite level, players need to know their tactical role in the game. Invest time, educating your players on and off the pitch.
2. Sectorial and Group (Video 2): three lines (defense-midfield-offense) or group of players (e.g. left side-right side). In this section, we are progressing from the individual level to how group of players in the same line/sharing close spaces can work together. A fundamental aspect of a successful team is how groups of players in the same line or same area can work together effectively. For example, in defensive organisation, our midfield line in 1-4-3-3, when one jumps to press, it is very important the other two how they will compensate in order to keep the balance in their space.
3. Intersectorial (Video 3): how the lines or the groups are connected between them. In this section, we work on drills and structures to connect defense with midfield and midfield with offense. Isolating moments of the game, we can create our own exercises which we can link with our game model. Taking the example of the sectorial-group level, we could say in the intersectorial level it is very important how the other lines or group of players will react when one player loses his position. Communication and awareness are key elements that can make the difference in this level.
4. Collective (Video 4): how the whole team is connected through the individuals, lines, groups. In this section, from system of play to strategy, we need to prepare our players for any given scenario. Putting this all together, we are targeting specific ways of our team’s offensive and defensive organisation.
C) Drills Classification
“If you train badly, you play badly. If you work like a beast in the training, you play the same way” Pep Guardiola