Updated: Apr 30, 2022
When David Moyes was asked in a recent interview on the High Performance Podcast about the biggest changes that he’s found throughout the years, he said, “I see a change in the training of the players now. We train as a group and you know you’re a team. But I see much more individual individual and group work. So since I’ve came back to West Ham, I’ve tried to introduce more of that, specific on the person or the unit.” There is no doubt that there is much more attention given to positional work at the highest level these days. With match schedules becoming more and more intense and congested, session design is now evolving where load management is becoming a key factor and players have now got more opportunities to get specific work alongside their coaches. In 2014 I wrote Modern Soccer Coach: Position Specific Training book about how the game was changing in all positions, and earlier this year I also released an ebook with 25 Positional Exercises for Forwards. In this article I wanted to share five factors which I believe are crucial in designing and implementing a positional training program with your teams and players.
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I am a big believe that, in order for anything to be successful in a training program, it must be engrained in the weekly or daily schedule with the players. There is so much information coming at players in today’s game, that one session every month will rarely have an impact on the player. When positional training is given consistent time, not only are the players likely to develop better habits, they also get a sense of the importance for a coach. Below is a short video from Clive Allen who worked with Harry Kane for extra training at Tottenham Hotspurs in 2012. "Even if it's just 5 or 10 minutes every day,” Clive says, “it's important they develop a real consistency about how they strike the ball.” In other words, small changes eventually lead up to big results.
With a smaller group of players working on a more specific area of the game, there is a temptation for a coach to continually stop and break down technical areas of the game in order to gain improvements. However, that type of session, particularly with attackers is likely to be less enjoyable for the players and could lead to levels of disengagement within the group or individuals that you are working with. Because so much of positional training is conducted unopposed, the intensity and tempo are critical towards attaining a level of transfer to the game. Therefore, in my opinion, coaches must prioritize this throughout their session. We will look later in the article at the best ways to deliver the feedback, but keeping positional training in a place where players can work without constant stoppages will often achieve a greater level of buy-in as you add it to your weekly schedule.
As coaching education has improved and developed, we are seeing more and more coaches personalize their playing style and build their game models. This should lead to a better understanding of what we want from our players positionally, but sometimes we lack specificity in the design process. Asking a forward to shoot one hundred shots from 10-yards out every day may make them a striker of a ball, but it may not help them develop other areas of their game that can help create those opportunities. The game is not played in a continuous fashion and often actions happen in random order, so perhaps training design must become more variable to prepare players for those challenges. I recently wrote an article on Liverpool assistant coach, Pepijn Lijnders, and the unit work that he has done with the attackers at Liverpool. You can read the article here. What jumps out to me in Lijnder’s design is that there always seems to be multiple actions included in the same exercise. For example, a shot is often followed by a cross or a 1v1 and a player often has three actions in a short period of time which is exactly how the game will also challenge them.
Again, the opportunity to work with individuals often leads coaches towards the shortcomings in their game because, after all, if we fix those, we make them better players right? Maybe it’s not quite that simple. If we want players to achieve their potential, for me the first step to that is having them maximizing their time on the training pitch. And if we want them to really embrace extra practice and begin to drive it themselves, coaches must make it an enjoyable experience in the initial phase. I am a big believer that designing a positional session around the areas that a player does well leads to better engagement and higher levels of intensity and productivity. Can you add in areas of improvement? Absolutely. And that’s where the balance in the planning must be given careful consideration and even discussing this with another coach during the process of preparing the sessions. A good exercise to challenge your views is to ask yourself how you would design a session for Lionel Messi given that this would be his goal breakdown below. Would you work more on his right foot or headers in the hope that he could score more goals? Or keep doing what has obviously been working for years?
5. Effective Feedback
As mentioned, it can be detrimental to the session if the coach continually stops the exercise to make points or correct technique. I am definitely not encouraging coaches not to provide feedback. Instead I would challenge how and when we provide it. I think the best way to give feedback is to first assess the training on video. Looking through the training with a more objective lens allows us to slow down the work and invariably assess everything more accurately. Then following up with a player with some video for a short meeting then challenges coaches to organize and formalize their thoughts, rather than begin a long monologue on the training pitch. Once feedback is ready to deliver to the player, I always think it’s a really good idea to ask them questions on what they see and get their perspective on their performance. Finally, in order to close the loop on the positional training work, you can then look for analysis during the games and show how it’s helping performances and why it’s worth all that extra time on the training pitch. Below is a short clip of Thierry Henry talking to Harry Kane as an analyst, but you can see him unlock a detailed positional conversation in seconds, with the aid of animations and video. Coaches at all levels can do the exact same.
Also, if you would like to watch a FREE webinar that he did on Modern Soccer Coach: Positional Training for Forwards, please click here.