By Tom Turner
The five variables outlined below constitute the “bag of tricks” available to coaches who endeavor to create realistic and challenging training activities for their players without over-coaching. Coaches who look to experiment with the mix of these variables will learn from their successes and failures and, in time, become better at their craft.
1. Number of Players
• The higher the number of players in a game or activity, the fewer opportunities each player has to actively participate.
• The higher the number of players in a game or activity, the more difficult it becomes to create space and maintain possession.
• With smaller numbers, the onus is on the players to apply the basic principles of play.
• With larger numbers, the onus is on the players to demonstrate positional understanding and how to play away from the ball.
• Smaller playing numbers increase anaerobic fitness demands.
• Larger playing numbers provide for more natural rest periods within any game or activity.
• Neutral players encourage possession and attacking success.
• Neutral players pose additional problems for defenders.
2. Method of Scoring
• Providing a way to win improves motivation and purpose.
• Providing a means of transitioning from defense to attack and vice versa improves motivation.
• Games played through 180 degrees (directional) are more challenging for attackers.
• Games played through 360 degrees (non-directional) are more challenging for defenders.
• Games with more than one goal to attack provide for more scoring and creativity.
• Games with more than one goal to attack increase the challenge for defenders.
• Games with goalkeepers or targets provide for better flow in transition.
• Games with goalkeepers are more realistic.
• The larger the goal, the more likely it is that players will shoot.
• The larger the goal, the more likely it is that players will shoot from distance.
• The larger the goal, the earlier players will start to defend.
• The method of scoring influences the technical, tactical, physical and psychological demands of any game.
• The smaller the space, the higher the demands on technique and spatial awareness.
• Younger players need larger spaces.
• Better players should play in smaller spaces.
• The playing space should provide for adequate flow.
• The playing space should provide for adequate challenge.
• The playing space must be proportional to the number of players on the field.
• The playing space can be square or rectangular, but most games should be played in a rectangle.
• The configuration of the playing space will influence the technical, tactical, physical and psychological demands of any game.
• Goals do not always have to be opposite each other.
• The players should know how long they are playing for before they start.
• Playing time should be related to the fitness demands of the game or activity.
• The fewer the players, the shorter the playing time.
• With no rest, players will go into oxygen debt in 60-90 seconds.
• Playing time should be related to a way to win (time or score).
5. Conditions and Playing Rules
• Conditions and playing rules must be realistic to the game of soccer.
• Positive conditions (points rewarding successful application of a concept) are usually more motivating.
• Negative conditions (penalizing players for non-compliance) should be used sparingly.
• Absolute conditions (players must perform “X” before going to goal) usually produce unrealistic soccer games.
• Conditions should never become more important than scoring goals.
• Playing rules can and should be modified to provide maximum flow to activities.
-Enforcing offside challenges attacking players to be more sophisticated in creating chances.
-Enforcing offside gives defenders the option to stop tracking runners or step up.
-Enforcing offside provides goalkeepers with space to assess starting positions and cut down angles.
-Moving the offside line back from the half-way line favors attackers and attacking concepts, such as stretching the field from front to back.
-Not having an offside line hinders defenders and the development of defensive concepts, such as squeezing the field from front to back.
Tom Turner is a U.S. Soccer National Staff Coach, Region II Boys ODP Coach, Ohio North State Director of Coaching. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.