As pre-season starts for many teams this month, it’s an exciting time for coaches who are keen to get back on the grass with their teams. However, with more time available to work with our players, it’s very easy for potential boredom to set into the mindset of the players and for a mundane atmosphere to creep into training environments. I’m a huge believer that sessions must not only be carefully planned, but also continually change and paint different pictures for the players. As coaches, we all have our favorite exercises, but by continually exposing players to the exact same situations every day, can they potentially become better performing an exercise but maybe less effective in playing the game itself? We know that the game is so complex and always open to change, so I think creating a training program that communicates that to players, you may have a better chance of developing open minded teams who are agile with their thinking. That’s not to say that you need 500 training exercises, but I think you should constantly be tweaking sessions to change how players perceive certain elements of the game and continually be open to change. In this blog, I wanted to take a look at how one exercise can change with conditions and field size. This article will be centered around a 3v3+3 scenario with nine players used continually. Do certain changes in this game bring out different challenges for the players?
In the first exercise, the objective is possession and ball circulation against a pressing team. In the video below, the blue and yellow team work together against the red team to create a 6v3. The conditions of the game are simple: the team of six players can score one point for every series of eight consecutive passes, while the defending red team score two points for every goal scored in the mini-goals after winning the ball. This is a good exercise for a warm-up where the coach wants to work on pressing or an in-possession topic. There are no fixed positions so it allows players the freedom to problem solve throughout the game, in terms of finding space and moving the opponent. I would recommend that the games are short (approximately 45-60 seconds) so that the defensive team can maintain the intensity required to press effectively and really challenge the possession team. After every set, the teams change roles.
In the next 3v3+3 game, the goal is more directional possession as opposed to simply maintaining the ball. The overload is looking to move the ball from one end to the other, using the numerical advantage on the outside and with one player in the middle. If the blue team loses possession, they switch roles immediately with the yellow team. This transitional element in this game creates a counter-pressing situation and adds an extra level of intensity. Another change in this game is the shape of the pitch. Because of the emphasis on direction, the game is more narrow, which creates a challenge for players to transfer the ball from one end to the other. Because of this, body positioning and combination plays (up-back and through) are key details that can be brought out by the coach.
Below is an example of Ajax Amsterdam doing this exercise in a training session prior to a European competition game and you can see the speed of the transitions, along with the detail on body shape and combination play.
Another 3v3+3 example is played in a triangle with a 3v3 in the middle and three neutral players on the outside. The team in possession can use the outside players to create a 6v3 and circulate the ball. Similar to the game before, if the defensive team win possession, the game continues and roles simply change, challenging the players in transition. The obvious change in this game is the triangle shape, and that creates a number of scenarios that a coach can bring out in the session. For example, it allows the players to focus on body shape and positioning where they must continually work on adjusting in relation to the ball and the pressure.
The last example is a game with very similar conditions, played in a circle, with the neutral players on the outside staggered around three mini-goals. The shape of the field again works on positioning and passing angles. This can be a realistic practice for a team who plays with a midfield three and want to use possession to open up key spaces in other areas of the pitch. Another change here is the conditions of the game. Rather than rewarding the defensive team to win the ball and score in the mini-goals, as we did in the first exercise, we know incentivize the possession team to circulate the ball. After eight passes, the team in possession can now score in the mini-goals and if possession is lost, the teams in the middle switch immediately. switch roles. Again, the transitional aspect of the game can add intensity and an element of chaos to the game.
With tactical systems becoming more flexible and the speed of the game continuing to rise and rise, the coach of today now has a responsibility to create a training environment that develops teams and players to thrive in these conditions. Small changes can lead to big differences in how a player views a situation and modifying our work can also continually challenge us to produce high quality training sessions for our players. The imagination of the coach is such a key component as we build our game models and our environments, because we must see specifically what our players need, where are the next challenges, and how to balance changing aspects of the environment while maintaining consistency with messaging and behaviors. This take a huge amount of reflection and conversations with your staff and peers. If you want some additional ideas around video analysis and creating feedback processes for our players, please check out my recent MSC Pre-Season Webinar.
If you are a coach who is looking for affordable tactical analysis software, MSC would highly recommend KeyFrame. They are one of the most efficient, effective and affordable solutions for coaches looking to build graphics and animations alongside their analysis work and are perfect for player meetings and remote learning. You can find out more about them here.