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News - Details

Imprinting a Style of Play and Making the Game Make Sense

By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association

Despite the enormous popularity of the game and the numbers playing large sided games, 7v7, 9v9 and 11v11, very few youth teams have an identifiable style of play, or more simply put, a team plan. Haunted by a culture and parents who preach a message of “it’s all about me,” teams play like a collection of individuals all doing their own thing. Despite the amount of quality soccer from around the world broadcast on a variety of channels almost 24 hours a day and seven days a week, we have not yet graduated into a deep soccer-watching country.

The combination of the two factors above equate to teams with no vivid team idea of this is our style of play, this is the way we attack as a team and this is the way we defend as a team. The carnage which ensues frequently turns the game into an 11v11 kick for distance or tennis match. When this happens three tragic events occur:

1. Learning and player development ceases

2. The beauty and majesty of the world’s game is lost

3. A team game becomes an individual game

Due to the unfortunate yet undeniable truths above, it is imperative that any youth coach should have the tools and methods to successfully imprint a style of play on his team, giving them an identity and plan that unifies their individual efforts and MAKES THEM A TEAM, the sum of which is worth far more than their individual efforts.

Unfortunately, many of the coaching tools used to imprint a style of play like phase play, shadow play and 11v11 practice games, are methods that involve big numbers and require highly effective coaching to make a success. By far the simplest method to imprint a style of play is through the use of SSG (small sided games). I recommend all use the street soccer festival approach outlined below.


Street Soccer to Imprint a Style of Play

Set up fields as shown below and divide the teams randomly into 3v3 teams (4v3 or 3v2 work and playing numbers up or down is a vital part of the game). Each 3v3 game lasts for 12 minutes and is divided into three periods of 4 minutes. The rules that govern each 4 minutes are:

• First 4 – all must touch the ball before a goal can be scored.

• Second 4 – two ways to score, either 5 passes in a row or through the cones.

• Final 4 – open game score only through the cones.

Other rules to use depending on age are restarts by pass in or throw in and the ball must be back in play within 20 seconds of going out.


A word on dividing the teams:

After each game, line the players up side by side with the team they just played with, and use the following four (assuming 12 players or 6, assuming 18 players categories) to divide the teams:

• Great player characteristics (honesty, effort ,honor, passion, reliability, pride)

• Things you should be at practice – present, coachable, helpful, reliable, hardest worker, on time.

• Soccer Legends ( Cryuff, Pele, Maradonna, Scholes, Giggs, Rooney)

• Great Soccer Club Teams – (Barcelona, Real Madrid, Man Utd, Arsenal, PSG, Leicester)

• Great world teams – (Brazil, England, US, Germany, France, Holland)

Using the above format and playing three or four games in a session, you start to build a team culture, imprint a style of play and can inspire them to watch the game on TV and become true soccer fans.


Shadow Play

Shadow Play is an advanced coaching method that requires some skill and a definite vision from the coach on how he wishes his team to play and move the ball before it can be effectively used.

In its simplest form shadow play (11v11 example) has the starting 11 out on a full field playing against only opposing GK. All the balls start in one goal and the team are given a set time to score a number of goals. To imprint s style of play the coach uses the following commands after each five minutes

1. All players must touch the ball before we can score and the units of the team must concertina.

2. All players must touch the ball and you must switch the point of attack twice before scoring a goal.

3. All players must touch the ball and there must be three two player combinations before a goal can be scored.

4. All players must touch the ball and a goal can only be scored from a one touch finish off of a cross.

It is essential when using Shadow Play to imprint a style of play that the coach insists on each player trying to improve their teams speed of play. The coach must insist that all players:

• Make decisions quickly and deal with the ball with as few touches as possible.

• Go to meet each pass and not stand and wait for the ball.

• Play each pass with as much pace as possible.

• Be aware of the blade of grass they will move to as soon as they have played a pass.

• Sprint after each pass has been played.

After a team have mastered all the above playing against only 1 GK, a coach then adds limited pressure based upon the area of the field that he wishes to focus. So if the focus is on building out of the back, perhaps play 11 v an opposing GK and two opposing forwards. Next stage might be to add 2 midfield players so now you have 11v opposing GK and four outfield players.


Full Field Shadow Play with Two Teams

When done with great energy with a coach demanding excellence and a vivid idea of how their team should attack ,11v11 full field shadow play is both a great challenge and great fun.

Both teams are set with 10 balls in their own goal and get starting shape as though it were a goal kick. When the coach calls go (and using the commands 1-4 above) they take the GK and the first team to score wins the round. Neither team can defend the other team’s ball.

Phase Play

The simplest way to consider phase play is when the ball moves from one unit of the team (or one third of the field to another). So if you wanted to do a phase play session on attacking out of 4-4-2, you would take the four midfield players and two forwards and play them in half field against opposing players.

Using the above scenario if the phase play focus was on patterns in midfield, the organization in the diagram below might be suitable.


Using the same attacking scenario alluded to above but now with the focus on how the front two can combine, perhaps the first stage of the session is organized as shown below.


Whatever mixture of methods a coach wishes to use to ensure that his team are all the same page and can play effectively as a team with a definite attacking and defending style of play is entirely at his or her discretion. What should be abundantly clear to all is that it is impossible to play as ta eam and enjoy all the joys of cooperating as a small cog in much more powerful entity until all players are somehow empowered with the same team vision of this is how we play.

Throughout the year, the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association will instruct a variety of courses where small sided games, phase play and shadow play will be among the coaching tools taught.