With pre-season coming up for many coaches around the world, we thought it would be a good idea to share some ideas around session design and objectives. With high hopes of winning games and producing an aggressive, intense style of play, coaches can sometimes skip vital steps in the technical, tactical, and physical development that is required for a team to develop and peak at the right times. The exercises below are ideas for coaches if you are looking to move away from the traditional long distance runs and five-a-side games without any tactical component. If you are interested in finding out more ideas, please register for our FREE MSC Pre-Season Webinar on Tuesday at 3pm. Click here to register. Also, if you are looking to read more about pre-season session planning, check out the Modern Soccer Coach: Pre-Season Training book, or if it’s a tactical framework you are looking to build, you can check out Modern Soccer Coach: Pressing and Building YOUR 4-3-3 book.
Rondo exercise will always be a ‘session favorite’ because of their ability to work on possession, support angles and attacking principles. However, some rondo’s can be detrimental when it comes to session intensity and connecting the physical demands of an aggressive game model. Often the defender in basic rondos will lack a real incentive to win the ball or face a challenge in the transition element of the game. That’s why I believe the rondo activities that you choose to use in pre-season must be carefully devised. Below is a highly competitive 4v1 exercise that extends into a shooting exercise in the transition. Players are organized into two teams of eight players, with four working as possession and four working as pressers. The exercise starts off as a 4v1 inside a very small playing area, depending on the skill level of the players. Once a defender wins the ball in the 4v1, they sprint out of the square and then receive a ball from the coach to shoot on goal. This is the trigger for the next defender to sprint into the square. The attacking team scores by achieving ten consecutive passes. Each game lasts for 3 minutes so the intensity remains high and then players get to switch roles after each game. This allows each player to work on the defensive and attacking side of the game.
There’s no doubt that 1v1 defending is an important aspect of the game in all positions today. However, if you are a coach who does not get enough pre-season time as you may prefer, I would strongly consider how you implement the exercises in your pre-season training program. Lining players up to go 1v1 in small goals can sometimes lack challenge and game realism. Asking people to defend a small area over again will invariably lead to success. But the 1v1 moments in the game are typically random and, especially in transition, required when fatigue or decision making are in player. Therefore, maybe an exercise like this one below may be a better fit for working on 1v1 defending. Teams are organized into a traditional 7v7 game, with all outfield players numbered 1-6. Alongside the playing area, another pitch is set-up with two mini-goals. As the 7v7 game goes underway, the coach calls out a number at random times. Once the number is called, the two players assigned that at the beginning must sprint out and compete in a 1v1 against each other. The coach can manipulate who starts the 1v1, the angle of the 1v1, and the service can even be up in the air to replicate the random moments of the game. Once the players compete against each other, they return to the game and the coach calls another number out. It’s important to remember that the 7v7 game continues without a teammate so they must also manage overload and underload situations.
With energy levels high and match fitness being a key objective, pre-season is a perfect time to work on pressing as a team. However, playing long bouts of 11v11 when players have not built up their fitness capacity can be detrimental in a number of ways. Therefore, incorporating principles in smaller games can improve match fitness, quality of defensive actions, and decision making, both individually and collectively. An exercise like the one below can develop playing principles that you eventually want the group to take into an 11v11 situation. Players are organized into two teams of 7 players, with a field that is split into four horizontal channels. The objective is to incentivize the team to win the ball as high as possible. If they win the ball and transition to score from the highest zone (fourth), they are award 4 points. If they win the ball and transition to score from the third zone (as shown in the video below), they are awarded 3 points. If they win the ball and transition to score from the second zone, they are award 2 points. If they win the ball and transition to score from the first zone, they are awarded one point. The conditions of the game should then encourage both teams to be as aggressive as possible with their press and this will create a faster paced game, and improve fitness levels at the same time.
Of course, the marathon pre-season runs of years ago are becoming a thing of the past, and rightly so. However, high intensity running is a still major components of the game, so building that into your session design can improve teams and individuals, especially if you do not have the benefits of a Sport Science coach to work alongside you. Incorporating sprinting into an exercise like the one below can expose players to the distances and the repetition that they may need to develop during the pre-season period. In this exercise below, it’s about defending with a recovery run against a wide forward, and a 2v2 situation in the middle. Not only does the full-back (in red) have to defend the wide cross, but the defenders in the middle must pick up runners and prevent a goal. This also allows you to be more specific in the types of situations and pictures that you see developing with your game model. If you are a pressing team, exercises like this can help defenders become comfortable with defensively recovering into spaces that they are leaving exposed and also be competitive within the team environment.
Designing intense sessions for pre-season can be quite challenging when you have a lot of numbers in terms of players, but not a lot of field space. Similar to the pressing exercise earlier, incorporating principles of play into your possession exercises can help you develop your game model and then transfer it to 11v11 when the time is right. Using different pitch shapes can help you utilize your numbers as two teams can work intensely and one team can recover use their position as a recovery one. In this exercise below, a 6v6+6 is created and challenges the players to circulate possession with the overload. As a coach, you can manipulate games like this to bring out different objectives in your game model. For example, awarding a point every time the ball is switched can communicate that switching the point of attack is an important aspect of the game style. Likewise, challenging the team in possession to successfully complete six passes before a switch can help build a tactical picture that you are looking to overload an area, shift the defensive side and then exploit the weak side.
Please join us for our FREE MSC Pre-Season Webinar on Tuesday at 3pm. We will discuss session design and share some ideas for coaches who are looking to build a specific game model ahead of the upcoming season. Click here to register. Also, if you are looking to read more about pre-season session planning, check out my Modern Soccer Coach: Pre-Season Training book, or if it’s a tactical framework you are looking to build, you can check out Modern Soccer Coach: Pressing and Building YOUR 4-3-3 book.