I recently presented at the Mass Youth Soccer Coaches Workshop with the topic: Getting More from a Rondo. No, don’t worry, I’m not saying we need to eliminate them from our session plans. Definitely not! They are a great way to teach, players enjoy them, and they can build really good habits in possession. But… I do believe that relying too heavily on a certain type of rondo to teach a number of different aspects of the game can be counter-productive when trying to develop decision makers, unrealistic when it comes to game transfer, and may simply be too easy for our players.
My starting point is the end result. For me, one of the greatest example of rondos transferring to a game was from Juventus vs Udinese and involved Sami Khedira (below). Possession was used initially to create the time for the team to transition effectively and obtain width in the attack. Once that was achieved (in a 5v2 mini-game) the ball was then transferred to the weak side and it created an opportunity for an attack. Khedira was not finished however, and continued his run into the box to finish with a header.
So how do you build your rondo's to accommodate or recreate pictures like this? The switch of play, moving from possession to penetration, and the 40-yard run timed to perfection to complete the move, are difficult to replicate course, particularly in a warm-up, but that's what I want to challenge or question in our session design and use of rondos. How can we take them to the next level? How can we adapt them to ask a little more from our players? How can we present them in a way that engages and inspires our players to think and problem solve a little more naturally than constant instructions, or everyone trying to find the same solution? So I started with the 4v2 rondo (below) and pointed out some strengths and weaknesses. In my opinion, the strengths are that it provides a really good framework for passing along with receiving and supporting angles. It also facilitates decision-making and challenges players to be aware of distances and pressure so they can potentially find a higher pass.
The first progression I want to try and create is the ability to turn and the understanding of playing a longer pass once the space has opened up. To do this, I set up the following: Five attacking players against two defensive players. Players organized into a 10x10 yard box and a basic 4v2, with one of the attackers located 20 yards ahead to act as a target player. The objective of the rondo is to complete 6 passes and then look to play a long pass to the target player. When the pass is played successfully, the target player dribbles back, the attackers rotate around the square and a new target player takes his/her place. After 45 seconds, rotate the defenders. (See below)
Another progression would be to add a goal and a shooting aspect to the exercise. Again, we start with a 4v2 and a fifth player as a target outside the area. This time, after 6 passes, the ball can be played into the target player and the highest player in the rondo spins off to support. They then receive from the target player and finish on goal. As they are finishing on goal, the target player then transitions back into the rondo and players can switch positions before restarting quickly. (See Below)
Another idea alongside the idea of using possession to create an opportunity to play forward is this exercise below. Players are organized into two teams of three and one group of four. The pitch is a diamond shape 15x15 yards, with the four supporting players each taking one side. The objective of the game is to create a 7v4 in possession. After 5 passes the team in possession can score in either goal. If the defensive team win possession, the roles change. It is a good exercise to train or teach midfield movement and rotation. Again, similar to the Sami Khedira clip, you could progress this into an attack versus defense game if you remove the two mini-goals and add two final thirds.
The last rondo focuses on breaking a team down with an overload alongside a transition element Teams are organized into two teams of five players with one goalkeeper on each team. The field is split in half with the goals in the middle. Teams are designated one goal each to score into. To start the game, the attacking team attacks in a 5v4 situation on one half of the field. The defensive team keep one player in the other half. After three passes, the attacking team can score and if they are successful, they get possession back and keep attacking. If the defensive team win the ball, they are looking to transfer it to their teammate on the opposite side of the field and support them to try and score. If this happens, teams transition and switch roles. (See below)
To conclude, I love rondos and think they have huge amount of value in youth and senior environments. On the Modern Soccer Coach Community Platform, we have over 70 of them in the Video Room and I think these variations are key. If we are introducing the same exercises to players at the same time every week, they become familiar with the routine. Familiarity is not always a bad thing, but too much of it creates an environment where players move (and more importantly) think at half-speed. So while the exercise may replicate aspects of the game, the behavior of the players may be moving further away from it. Therefore I think it's crucial that coaches challenge themselves to create different pictures that can stimulate variations in technique and creativity from our players.