This article was written by Pablo Toledo, Rush Soccer’s Sporting Project Director.
So here we are in this part IV and last of these series of posts about coaching U9 and U11 teams, and it might be the most interesting part.
As we spoke before, we coach these teams at my club guiding ourselves by the topic charts of Rush’s Curriculum per age group / ability level (to the point that we highlighted that our U11 team is actually working with the U10 curriculum), and using the sessions from Rush Coaching Manual as an initial reference or a fountain of ideas, to then tweak them depending on the objectives we are pursuing in each session and our observations about player development.
Then, every 6-8 weeks we make a checkpoint in which using colors we assess the evolution of the players. Example below.
This is simple yet very important to stay focused on your role and objective as a coach. I’m in charge of teaching these topics to my players so the next coach can teach the following set of topics, that will require these, in many cases, as a foundation.
One of the things that we mentioned in the previous three parts of these series is that our players just came out of a recreational program, so all of these topics are new to them. Therefore, the first part of the season we are not constantly alternating topics but ‘going in chunks’, picking two or three and coaching just those for a few weeks, so as to build an initial foundation. As explained before, the newer the topic the more frequently you want to repeat it. Let me give you a simple example to clarify that: If you’re teaching kids to multiply for the first time, you wouldn’t want to give an amazing class about multiplying and then not cover the topic again for six months because your students would forget. Well, the same happens with coaching soccer. You don’t need to repeat the same thing for two months in a row, but maybe in a period of two or three weeks you want to make sure you repeat the topic (the topic, not necessarily the session) a couple of times to build that initial base of understanding. After that, you can start spacing the topic out in time.
Now, in our case, we are reaching the end of this initial period in which we wanted to build the bases over all of the chart’s topics, and we are ready to, after the Christmas break, start working with a more interleaved model (alternating topics). For that, we are going to use the season planner of the Rush Coaching Manual in two month cycles, so there’s checkpoints along the way.
I’m hoping, obviously, that at some point in time and over these checkpoints, I’ll feel like the U11 team is proficient enough in these topics to jump up to the U11 curriculum. That would be incredible progress for this team, but if they’re not ready that’s fine as well. Hopefully it will happen by next season.
Our last cycle, in that sense, was a short cycle to present the topics we were missing, adjusted to the time frame we had prior to the Christmas break. Here is how it looked.
Now, what I would like to share in this post is something interesting that happened in the last couple of sessions and that we all discuss frequently as coaches, that is the dilemma between opposed and unopposed training at these stages.
As you probably know if you’ve taken the Rush Way Certification courses, is that Rush seeks for 75% of opposed training in every session, so the most common misunderstanding is to think that Rush has a preference for opposed training, when it is not really about that. In my opinion, the fundamental aspect here is to be cognizant of the difference between ‘technique’ and ‘skill’, in which the second one means that ‘you’re effective at applying a technique in a game situation’, so if we make an agreement that we all want skillful players rather than technical players (without making a big deal out of semantics), we need training sessions in which game situations are present. In other words, how can you possibly develop a skill without a game situation if it’s saying by definition that it needs it?
Now, that doesn’t mean that unopposed training is purposeless. All we are saying, and the reason why we have that Blue Thread element of 75% opposed training, is that at some point you’re going to need to take that technique and put it in a game situation so it can turn into a skill, but that’s not a pejorative statement against unopposed training. Moreover, I’d be skeptical of the idea that ‘great players learnt it all playing with others on the street’ because they also used to spend a lot of time playing on their own, against the wall, the curve, juggling, etc. Now, given that in nowadays world training might be the only instance in which there are others to play with, I’d strongly support using a majority of it to try to turn the technique into skill in opposed environments, and then trying my best to increase time on task in days off.
Beyond that, I think we should all understand that opposed and unopposed training have pros and cons and are tools to an end. Opposed allows you to apply it in game-like situations favoring the development of skills, and unopposed allows you to work on the reps to correct technical mistakes, so at the end what’s really important is to try to escape from prescriptions. I’m constantly listening to people argue that ‘we only do opposed training because of this’ and/or ‘kids should start with unopposed training to then move onto opposed training’. I’m particularly against this last statement, which I consider overly linear and simplistic. Not everything goes from simple to complex or can be isolated and then sticked back together. I think everybody is just wrong when they make these statements simply because they are searching for a definitive statement. THERE IS NO FORMULA. It goes case by case, and I’ll give you a real example to justify that opinion: I have two players on the same team, let’s call them Johnny and Billy here. It happens that Johnny, who’s never done unopposed training in his life (in reference to formal training sessions), has a perfect passing and receiving technique. He might have just discovered that playing, so if I take Johnny to club “A’ in which they state that ‘players should start with unopposed training at these ages’, the club would be wasting Johnny’s time, because he can do that already, so instead he should be training to develop the skill, which is far from perfect. In simple words, he passes and receives perfectly, but he doesn’t always pass to the right place nor at the right time, and the same when it comes to receiving.
Now the opposite happens with Billy, who’s also never had unopposed training in his life, and although he’s been playing in predominantly opposed environments these first three months of the season, he hasn’t really discovered the technique to control and pass the ball and is struggling with it, so we’ve been coaching him during training to try to guide him towards that discovery, but at this point we don’t think it’s being effective. Then this is the time we want to separate the Billy’s from the Johnny’s, because they’re needing different training types. At the end, remember that your role as a coach and as a club is to accelerate learning, and that implies adjusting to the specific individual you’re coaching.
Let me exemplify all of this reflection with the dynamic we’ve been using in the last couple of sessions with these teams. Here’s the last one in fact:
- We separated the groups, who train at the same time, per ability level in each particular skill instead of per age group.
- The top level group trained passing and receiving in activities with opposition the entire time.
- The lower level group worked with myself in correcting technical mistakes in unopposed activities.
- Then in the second part of the session we put them all in a game-like situation, a simple 5v5 game in which they needed three passes to be allowed to score. Now, because we had three teams, we made 5 minute games, and the team waiting outside continued to train technical aspects with me while waiting.
- Now here’s one of the cool things we did within this dynamic: Not all players doing technical drills with me outside were doing the same. As we mentioned before, the levels were different, so once again we were escaping the one size fits all / formula based model. Each team had, let’s say, two Johnny’s and two Billy’s as far as their ability level, so the lower level players were literally passing through a gate in two touches, and the higher level players started by doing the same in one touch, to then progress into an oriented control drill.
Here’s the dynamic exemplified in graphics.
This can be a very useful alternative to coach your players a bit more on a case by case basis, yet not the only one. There are many ways of applying similar dynamics.
Well then, you’ve reached the end of these posts. Hopefully, through them, we’ve been successfully at giving you real life examples of:
- Why it matters to work with a curriculum, but not as a magical formula. Instead, using it as an initial reference to then adjust to your player needs.
- How to organize season plans using pedagogical concepts.
- How to assess progress.
- How to modify sessions to adjust to your players and depending on your observations.
Reach out if we can help you further coach!