Are Players Getting The Touches They Need?
For me as a Football Coach, I’ve always been interested in Player Development. But are we as coaches in England missing a trick with youth & elite level development with the ball? Are players getting enough touches they need to progress?
I’ve always been intrigued at how rapidly Football is progressing. As a Coach, I’m finding more and more players playing with less freedom and creativity on the ball.
You only have to look at the current England squad and think do they really have the players that can compete? Especially against top teams “can they create chances from nothing” I have my doubts.
I’ve watched sessions at different levels from Academy to Grassroots level. The amount a player spends on the ball is concerning at times. I can’t help but think are players getting the time in sessions to be comfortable with the ball?
Like many, I was surprised when doing some research into which Premier League players had the most touches in 2016/2017. Many of the top 10 players I certainly wouldn’t have picked. The top 2 players last year played in a “Defensive” position. Which to me just outlines the importance of being comfortable on the ball.
Are we as coaches training players in their position too much from a young age and putting them into a box which hinders their creativity to a sole position. Look at how in Holland the youth are trained.
We as fans and even coaches sometimes assume players that are dribblers tend to be the likes of Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo and so on. But there are a vast amount of players who’s ball mastery skills are impressive and we don’t automatically classify them as dribblers/ball manipulators.
I feel even more strongly about training touch work and ball mastery in our Youth and Academy set up. It’s crucial to developing players minds and creativity without them feeling they’re in a box because they’re a “defender” or “holding midfielder”.
Spanish La Liga Stats. Shows a number of total touches players had last year with games played and matches started. Surprisingly one of the big stars Cristiano Ronaldo way back with a total of just 2895 touches compared to Barcelona’s Gerard Pique (Defender) who totaled 4452 touches in 4 fewer games and starts than Ronaldo.
These touches don’t mean Ronaldo is less effective we know his goals/games ratio and amount of assists he brings to Real Madrid. I just want to outline the positivity we can create in players by allowing them at a young age to feel comfortable on the ball. For me, this starts in training sessions and is built into the identity of a player at a young age.
Ivan Rakitic Showing His Control In All Areas
We see how managers and players are forever changing the form of positions in football. David Luiz is classed as a center back who can also play in midfield. Victor Moses, James Milner and many other players who are adapting to positions for their team. This for me is down to two aspects.
- Players understanding the game at a high level
- The player being comfortable on the ball
With these elements along with work ethic. You make it easier for your coach to name you on the team sheet.
Developing Robots Or Wizards?
I read an article in the Guardian about Practicing perfection by 10,000 touches. This article exposes training methods coaches at FC Twente use to develop players. He speaks about players given set specific movements and touches on the ball. These progress to advanced movements practiced at match speed.
Each player had a ball and assembled into groups of six and, after hearing instructions, the whistle blew. The entire field of players began a series of ball touches in unison while the crew of coaches clicked away with the counters. It didn’t take me long to figure out what was happening; these players worked through rehearsed ball movements in sets of 100-200 repetitions, at match speed. My technique wasn’t as polished as some of the younger players. The coach told me I had completed a 10,000-touch workout and that each of his young players did it once a day, at least six days a week, and I should do the same. He told me that they completed a variation of that workout daily, usually at home, and every player knew it was necessary. He equated the touches with putting money in a piggybank: a fitting analogy.
I’m not suggesting all our training sessions are based around 10,000 touches a session but maybe changing some areas of our Youth & Elite development can only improve players ball manipulation skills which transfer into matches.
If training sessions once a week through our clubs were based around player technical development with the ball. I think we would see a vast improvement not only players ball control but all-around technique. With the willingness of players wanting to improve outside of training sessions too. Almost taking an approach to the likes of futsal which has a big impact on players technical development.
Are Development Centers To Blame?
A lot of young players now I look at in centers whether it be “development centers or academies”. Either find it hard to or can’t perform some basic football movements. Outside hook, Cruyff turn or a Step Over with disguise at game speed.
Personally, I found working for a club that had a development center didn’t really benefit the players at all. My point of view as a Coach I found it to be a money-making scheme. Not everywhere I accept and have seen and continue to see very good setups which have players best interest and want to develop them.
But for the most part, it’s all about how many numbers can we hit. Not who is progressing from our guidance and coaching & can we help move on to the next level.
At the center, we trained in all the clubs training kit similar to the academy and focused training sessions around the Academies Philosophy. We had players at the centers that weren’t good enough but due to low numbers, we kept them on. Consequently, that leads to players standards dropping due to the ability of others and training being hit by low numbers.
You end up with players who think they’re better than what they’re. Players who don’t train to their maximum and have the attitude that they should be an academy player?
There were times where you would coach a team every week until game day. Then you would be scheduled to take somebody else’s group for the matches. Consequently not knowing any of the player’s names on game day. For me, as a Coach I always tried but ultimately you have little time to learn.
Would we be better off at these centers creating players who are technically developed if nothing else? Knowing each week these players will be worked physically and mentally gaining thousands of touches on the ball. Even if they’re not at Academy level yet they at least feel comfortable with the ball at their feet?
Aren’t these the types of players we should be helping to build?
Like I said, I’ve seen many centers that run a good developing program. Some locally in my opinion look to hit numbers more than progression.
How To Improve Your Touch & Control
- Practice 2/3 skills or ball movements at a time 10-15 minutes a day with both feet
- When you become comfortable with the skill look at progressing doing them at match speed
- Use disguise on the ball, try and fake past cones, mannequins or friend
- Add either a shot, pass or cross after practicing the skills at match speed. The progressions add a sense of game realism, you’re not just doing a skill for the sake of it.
Wanting to develop players prompted me to set up my own 1:1 Personal Coaching program FIT4TEK. I focus on developing various areas of players needs. I look at improving their Technique and Fitness using lots of different methods of practice with video analysis.
I’ve taken team training sessions and 1:1 sessions. Setting up a ball mastery zone mixed with cones and mannequins. I ask the players to use the cones as gates and mannequins as defenders. I challenge them to see if they can go through the zone being creative. Whilst adding your ball movements and skills at game speed?
I train mixed ages from 9-15 year-olds, who play grassroots up to Academy level. I find many of these players struggle to perform the skills or ball movements without repeating the same skills. The players either delay the skills due to overthinking of just don’t have the skills required to perform the drill.
The task at hand is difficult because I feel players at a certain age now are wired to think too much and play without freedom and creativity even in training set ups.
The training I like to put my players through I hope will build up confidence in themselves knowing no matter their “Position” they can still be effective and creative.
As coaches, we have a responsibility to give these players the foundations and confidence to be able to perform these skills. With repetition and guidance, we can help make improvements if we really want to.
Ultimately it is down to the individual to practice but as coaches could we take a different approach?
If you click on the Video Link Here to check out a clip from our 1:1 session with client Jude at FIT4TEK. You’ll see Jude working in our Ball Mastery Zone with the skill and ball movement progressions.
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