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News - Details

Imprinting a Style of Play

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

There is an enormous difference in watching a game where two teams have a defined style of play and vision of the game as opposed to a game where 22 players are all on their own page. To be blunt, the difference is as stark as driving along an open road by the coast watching a beautiful sunset or being stuck in bumper traffic on Interstate 95 watching the smoke stacks. Or to put it another way, it is like watching a game of tennis where the ball is simply served back and forth or watching Barcelona play the game the beautiful way.

I completely understand that the game is about opinions and that some may get excited by seeing players launch the ball towards an opponent’s goal and be appalled by the idea that any player may take more than one touch and go on a mazy dribble. I just am not built that way. In addition, I also believe in player development and that in the final analysis the following equation is true:

Players learn by touching the ball = possession based soccer leads to most touches = player development is accelerated in games where teams try and keep the ball and penetrate by combining with short passes.

I would add the following equation also for those coaches concerned with player development

Attack into space when you can = create numbers up situations and attack there is next option = be surgical and keep the ball as you create these two moments.

So with equations intact I recommend the following three coaching methods as appropriate ways to imprint a style of play on a team

Small sided games with restrictions

Play an enormous number of 3v3 and 4v4 games with the following restrictions

1. All players must touch the ball each time you have possession before your team can score.
2. Two ways to score – set number of passes (7) is a goal and so is scoring through the “goal."
3. A team can only score after a two player combination.

If you play enough small sided games with these guidelines, your team's DNA will be based upon the creed of “let’s not give the ball away needlessly.”

Full Field Shadow Play

Shadow play can be an enormously enjoyable and competitive way of imprinting a style of play on a team, or like most things done poorly, it can be a disaster. Any coach using this coaching tool must:

1. Have a clear vision of how they want the ball moved in the three thirds of the field.
2. Be able to communicate this well and quickly.
3. Be highly energetic and passionate about the vision they are selling.
4. Stay true to the principles of attack (old school – support, width, penetration, mobility and creativity)

Using full field shadow play, the coach plays a starting 11 against 1 (GK) – all balls initially start in the net with the GK with the ten players in front of them. I use the following guidelines to keep it fun and competitive

1. All players must touch the ball and all must move as each pass travels – you have 5 minutes to score 5 goals.
2. All players must touch the ball and you must switch the point of attack twice before you can score – 5 minutes to score 5 goals
3. To score, you must penetrate into the attacking half, reload through your GK's feet, build again create three two player combinations and score from a cross from an overlapping full back.

Using the above guidelines, I focus on showing a team how I wish them to build out of the back (3 options), patterns I would like to see in the midfield third (3 options) and lastly patterns in the final third (3 options).

After these initial stages I add pressure in thirds of the field so as an example if I was focused on building out of the back I might have 3 opponents in this third, two in the midfield third and 1 in the defensive third. (Assuming 18)

Phase Play

Phase play is a training method that involves training two units of a team as the ball moves from one unit and part of the field to another. Perhaps best understood by example, so in my favorite phase play session I play 4-2 (4 midfield players and 2 forwards against 1-4-4 a goalkeeper, back four and 4 midfielders). I focus on the actions of the team attacking the regular goal – the opposing team upon gaining possession typically attack counter attacking goals on the half way. The diagram below illustrates the idea clearly:


Obviously using the phase play coaching tool a coach can focus upon any two units they wish to.

When using phase play, I urge coaches to let the players play as much as possible and to keep it game-like. Coach in the flow or use individual reference and avoid freezing the play as much as possible. Avoid giving orders to the player on the ball. Rather ask How you can? questions of players away from the ball.

I realize that some of the techniques shown may be difficult for a novice coach but I encourage you to try them all out and make sure your teams have a good idea of how you want them to play.