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Technical Training Threads
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Pick a couple of techniques that you would really like your players to master during the year. This is an important choice. Use these as the basis for your technical warm-up before every practice and match. Techniques with 1 ball per player or 1 ball between two players are appropriate. Carry these technical threads through the entire year as your foundation, then add a match correction segment or another teaching segment on top for each practice.

Examples: (you are only picking 2)

  1. turning the ball behind a standing leg
  2. V move to change the direction of the ball (sole of foot on top of ball)
  3. swivel attacking move
  4. elevator settle
  5. checking back hard and killing the ball from a throw-in or driven service
  6. receiving the ball on the front foot and turning with the inside of the foot

There are many different ways to spend 15 minutes at the start of each practice or match warm-up to work these in so as to make it fun and game-like. You can mix in light stretching as you go until you get enough heart rate and muscle temperature to start full stretching with 60-90 second hold times on large muscle groups. (It is tragic to see teams hold stretches for a count of 8, what are they trying to do ?)

For example, with a V move, you can have players avoid each other in a 10 yard grid, you can have relay races with a V move required at each end, you can have a partner pass the ball to another who must take the ball off the line of play before the server arrives to take the receiver's place, or you can have groups working in synchrony doing V moves, like Coerver robots. Four different ways to get a lot of V moves, there are more.

(V move: ball is in front of left foot. Reach across body with right foot, put sole of right foot on top of ball, roll ball back toward right side, play away to right side going out from body. Path of ball makes small V on ground with vertex on line of play between legs.)

Practice Themes and Reinforcement

Each practice needs its own single theme. Most teams would be best served by teaching the same theme twice in the same week, using two different progressions with different warm-ups, but emphasizing the same technique or tactic. New learning needs strong reinforcement, and both clinical experiments and practical coaching experience have shown that learning is best reinforced following a learn-sleep-learn pattern. Kids desperately need time to make some progress, recognize that they have made progress, and to receive praise and encouragement for the progress. If you do a partially successful practice on Tuesday and change to another topic Thursday with similar results, you have really wasted a week.

You may be tempted to try to cover two technical subjects that support a tactical topic. For example, offering brief progressions on crossing and volleying before a tactical progression on crossing attack might seem logical, but it works very poorly. The psychological and physical activity profile will be wrong, and the drop from intense technical activity to a less intense tactical exercise will very likely de-focus your team unless you are a very, very good trainer.

Sooooo..., do your technical warm-up, mix in light stretching, stretch seriously, play a couple of fast (don't talk) warm-up games or exercise related to your topic, stretch more, then go to your theme and stick with it. Drive it all the way to the real game, and stop two minutes early to talk to the kids. Point out what they have done well, remind them of the progress that they have each made, and go out of your way to embarrass several of them by complimenting their hard work in front of the team. Stretch out and go home happy.

Two Weeks before the Tournament

What you train just before the tournament is what you get in the tournament. Choose one goal for the tournament, like having lots of crossing attack. Train on crossing attack for three or four practices, using many different exercises. Encourage it as you go, and point out that's what you want for the tournament. Before each match, set a goal (20 crosses each half), and you will get some decent results.

Last Practice before the Tournament

Just before a tournament, many coaches reach the practice field with a long list of unrelated problems to resolve, and try to get them all sorted out in one last, very uneven and very unsatisfying, training session. This is a good way to destroy your team psychologically before the tournament, because you, the coach, will be unhappy that you could not get all the way through your list, you will try to rush through too much stuff, and you'll be barking at the players because they don't snap through the exercises as you'd envisioned. Everyone goes home unsettled and frustrated, and the team chemistry and confidence is diminished.

Avoid teaching a theme in the last full practice before hitting the airport. Instead, work on very mindless but intense technical exercises and games that have a lot of passing, movement, possession, 1v1 competition, and shooting. Most youth teams shoot poorly, so spending time doing a lot of shooting before a tournament really helps. If you had only an hour left before the big tournament, 60 minutes of shooting would be more valuable than 60 minutes of free kick play rehearsal. Shooting exercises under pressure, done in your last practice, are far more likely to help the team.