Thanks everyone for the great questions and comments. I am going to answer as many as I can and hopefully hit most of the inquiries.
Coaching the 11v11 game during practice:
Obviously, if you are going to be playing your games 11v11, you must play some 11v11 in training. However, most of my training sessions have only little portions of 11v11. Of course we have the occasional inter-squad scrimmage. When I do that, I may ask the reserves to play a certain way to try to replicate what our next opponent may do. One of the things I do most with 11v11 is "shadow training". Shadow training is when you basically walk through with little opposition attacking patterns and movements of your team. I also do defensive shadow training so that we choreograph the team defensive movements as the ball and opposing players move. We did some of this defensive shadow training before the Women's World Cup Final against China and I'm happy to say it worked very well. Everyone understood their role and we were able to contain a very good attacking team with a lot of personalities. There are a couple of rules that I would suggest when playing 11v11.
- Unless you are scrimmaging, don't play for too long. Most of my 11v11 play during a training session was less than 20 minutes.
- 11v11 is a strong statement about who is going to play in the next game. Be aware of that and use it as a positive or divide up the teams so that the starting team is split between both teams.
- During practice build up to 11v11 with smaller organizations like 7v7; 8v8 or 9v9.
- Because you may not play for very long, each team should have 1 or 2 objectives. They may be different objectives however. This will give everyone an opportunity to evaluate the play afterwards.
Drills to get players in shape:
I am always concerned with this type of question because coaches of U10 and U18s are going to read it and getting those two different teams in shape may look very different. For the older teams, I think it is important to have some fitness running exercises, however, most of your fitness work should be done with the ball. For the younger teams, all fitness should be done with the ball. An example of a running fitness activity is what we call "stinkers" because they are very demanding. Set a line 30 yards from the start and the players have to run to that line and back 6 times in a designated time. Our national team standard was 60 seconds. However, this standard will be difficult for most junior teams. We would do 5 or 6 of these with some other type of running mixed in to complete a series of 10 -12 exercises. Rest in between each run would vary from 30 - 45 seconds. I much prefer fitness within the game of soccer. An example is 1v1 games. If you play three or four 1v1 games (each game is 2 minutes) that is a demanding game that develops fitness, attacking skills and defensive abilities as well. 2v2 to 4v4 organizations can be very valuable to develop fitness. Finally, we do pressure training exercises that last 30-45 seconds each with the same amount of rest. All these exercises are done with the ball individually or with a partner and are technical skills repeated at high speed and intensity.
How to develop technique:
I feel that American players are generally behind their foreign counterparts technically. By technique, we mean how quickly a player can receive a ball, prepare it and pass it. And how clean one can perform technique when under pressure from an opponent. If I am trying to work on my players 1st touch, then I have to put them in an environment that will challenge that ability. What I mean is that I make the grid sized so that they don't have the luxury of a lot of space or time to receive balls. If their 1st touch is good, they will be successful. If it is not then they will consistently have the ball taken away. Now it's important to build on success so don't be unrealistic. Sometimes create an environment in which it is easier to be successful and other times challenge them more.
How to gain speed:
Sean Emmitt wrote about ways to help gain speed. Probably my first suggestion would be to try to hook up with a speed and conditioning coach in your area. Speed is not something that can be enhanced tremendously, but a little extra speed can go a long way. The current concepts on speed have to do with training the nervous system to fire more quickly. That quicker response translates to some players becoming 3-5% faster. One of the popular concepts is quick footwork movements. Use a line on a field or even lines in a parking lot and start to build a training program for developing quicker feet and adding speed. Some of the exercises are:
- With 1 foot on either side of the line (facing the line) change as quickly as possible.
- With both feet on the same side of the line (facing the line) put your left foot, then your right and then back and repeat as quickly as possible.
- With both feet on the same side of the line (facing forward so that the line is on your left side) perform quick two footed jumps back and forth across the line.
- Do the same thing facing the line.
- Straddle the line and cross your feet and repeat as quickly as possible.
Sean, there are many more exercises, use your imagination and seek out information from professional conditioning coaches and you will come up with 3-5 more. Each exercise should be for 20 seconds. Then rest 20 and repeat. Be sure to stop if you are feeling any pain or if you feel pressure in your shin area, as this could be an indication of shin splits.
Off Season Training:
For the serious athlete, the off-season is where much of the gains are made that will help them reach a new level during the season. The question I received was from a high school captain that wanted to create an off-season program for the team. An off-season high school program should consist of the following:
- Weight training under the supervision of a professional conditioning coach. For soccer players lighter weights with quick repetitions to develop power and explosion are preferred.
- Aerobic and Anaerobic conditioning programs. Much of the fitness gains are made during the off-season. We call this layering fitness. There should be longer and shorter fitness components.
- Technical training is an excellent off-season objective. Each player should have 2 or 3 areas that they want to improve in technically and then create a plan to accomplish those objectives.
- Playing soccer. It is important that as often as possible, players are playing. 4v4 or 6v6 or even 1v1 games are very important.