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From Academy Staff Coach Neil Hull: Confrontation or Clumps?

Posted by Neil Hull, NSCAA Academy Staff on Apr 27, 2016 0 Comments

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Neil Hull is a member of the NSCAA Coaching Academy staff and is the NSCAA State Director in Texas. He has coached a variety of NSCAA diplomas and has been coaching in the United States for 17 years of his 24 coaching years. Neil is also the director of Players Academy of Soccer Skills (PASS). Contact him on Twitter (@VerbalVitamins).


It’s not just the high-profile games that teach us, but also the recreational ones if we allow them. Coaches pride themselves on the art of the game, being the teacher, but do we allow the teacher to be taught by the game? Soccer can be a fabulous laboratory to evolve the conceptual advancement of our players. Many times one might be on the sideline focusing on issues and how to correct them, or why we cannot achieve a various aspect practiced in training.

Are we playing down to another team’s level?

Are we having our game taken away from us by a more intense "pressing" team?

What attacking or defending principals are we missing?

To tactically adjust the game with a girls U10 team can be a challenge, we can move players around the field to enforce areas of a players’ individual technical ability, attempting to enhance the tactical shape and integrity. But generally, as we know, many aspects of the game at this age break down on a technical or cognitive basis. For women’s soccer to reach the next level, there has to be an increase in artistry and deception (Anson Dorrance).

Lots can be done in training, but what about the game? Far too often at the developing levels, teams end up playing "clump, kick and chase ball." Utilizing the advance conceptual tactic of "lines of confrontation" to reduce these "clumps of confusion," could possibly offer an answer.

Leave one target player up front, stretching the field making it "big,” drop the rest of the team back to midfield.

Create a line of confrontation around the forward area of midfield, allowing the opposition to break out of their own defense. Hence making their play predictable, channeling their attack, into your "numbers up" midfield, thus opening the field up for you to gain possession and counter their counter.

As they break and open, we press in shape, win possession and counter through horizontal penetration, providing width to our attack, directly feeding our target player, now in space via an onside penetrating pass.

This could all sound too much, but let us break it down in to the whys and wherefores. First, is it us creating the confusion and lack of productive space or the opposition? Why possibly do we swarm around the ball in the first place?

One answer could be due to lack of space creation. They say we practice like we play. If we can remove this "honey pot" area of our game in training, it will develop the space in the game. The ball polarizes the game, creating a magnetic field, drawing more and more players in. At the younger ages, players see the ball as the focal or primary task, thus all wanting to be a part of it. Addressing this area of space orientation in the early years is essential towards a player’s spatial development.

If it is our team causing the swarm, how do we train to correct it?

The gathering around the ball originates in the earliest stages of player technical developmental. Playing the smallest of small sided games (1v1 and 2v2) are the ideal format to encourage an individual’s breakaway mentality. Anson Dorrance states “1v1 is the most important drill for teaching not only optimum soccer skills, but the psychological dimension needed to compete. The strength of playing against someone else who is trying to destroy you is wonderful for your athletic development.”

From this format minimal numbers are on the field, increasing the movement and individual role of the player, facilitate via the small sided game. Offering players the confidence and knowledge when and where to penetrate with the ball, on a self managed basis. The use of target players, rather than goals, to offer as an objective, creates the product picture, so players get used to seeing their target players rather than "target toys" and become willing to make the pass.

If it is not our team causing the clump, as in the case of this article, then let us look at another option.

Ultimately these kind of issues are directed at our recreational / academy level players, yes we are focusing on their technical advancement. But team shapes are as integral as the technique, which when taught correctly, leads to the tactic, after all no matter how many players are on the field, the game is never really any bigger than a 2v1.

Breaking down our comments from above, if we are to remain in this Velcro-like clump we will only be attracted to it, committing our players to the oppositions ground, they dictate and control. Our team should not dance to the other teams's tune, but make them dance to ours. We should tactically withdraw to an area we are superior in, by numbers, shape and support; letting them advance to us, creating our Alamo! This is the point where we draw our pre determined line in the sand (line of confrontation) and defend it with strength, depth and shape, ready to challenge their counter. As this develops we leave one player, our target man, on the flank, in space. This player will not only stretch our field, but due to their lacking width, will open up visual channels in the opposition’s defense.

Due to our preparedness and strong shape in midfield, we can confidently contain, control and counter their attack as it enters our tackle zone and runs out of support. Once possession is gained, we penetrate to our target player, or use him to draw play and take advantage of open channels and displaced players from the opposition. From our 1v1 training, this gives us immediate penetration into attacking space, utilizing 2v1 to also give us support in our attack, with creation of width from our target, now third attacking player. Leaving the opposition clumped in confusion!

The question arises how do we explain this to our nine year old. The answer: we don't! By empowering your players you get them to buy into your coaching plan. By giving your players leadership moments, no matter how small, you will develop leadership (Tony DiCicco). As previously mentioned we are not there to teach tactics at this age, but to advance technical play and team shapes. We know and understand the concepts of the game, to fill their mind would possibly just add to the fog of war. We audibly tell our six man team, playing a 1-1-3-1 to leave the lead attacker (target man) high and open side wide and drop our slice of pizza (mid field pressure-cover-cover) off to allow them to break out of the clump in to our 'tackle zone'. Then on our wipe board we pictorially re-in force the plan by outlining the task, have the team captain 'fill in the dots' to complete the plan for the rest of the team. Once play resumes, to confirm, we can coach in the game, minimally, from the sideline; completing the cognitive development curve.

Not once did we mention to our academy level team the advance tactical concepts utilized by Chelsea, FC Dallas or Barcelona  playing low and high pressure systems every Saturday. We utilized the application of our coaching knowledge to develop their playing style. Remembering coaching is not a lecture nor an example, but a leading influence.

More from Neil Hull

From Academy Staff Coach Neil Hull: Involving the "Time Man" into Your Systems

Mars vs. Venus: The Differences Between the Male & Female Game 

From NSCAA Academy Staff Member, Neil Hull: Coaching Methodology--Guided Discovery

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