How to play the TTT way

“Simple football is beautiful. But playing simple football is the hardest thing to do.” Johan Cruyff

TTT (Total Tika Taka) is a combination of Total Football and Tika Taka – a fast, short passing style of play by players who are not limited to playing in one position on the pitch.

It’s an exciting way of playing that has it’s roots in Total Football, pioneered by Dutch football club Ajax Amsterdam in the 1970s.

In Total Football, a player who moves out of her starting position is replaced by another player, thus retaining the team’s original structure. Anyone can be an attacker, a midfielder or a defender depending on the requirements of the game at a particular moment.

Tika Taka is more recent. It’s the name of the fast, short passing style of play primarily associated with La Liga club FC Barcelona and the Spanish national team under managers Luis Aragones and Vicente del Bosque. Anyone who has watched Barca or the Spanish team will know how devastatingly effective Tika Taka (or “touch touch”) can be.

Having a team that plays like Ajax and Barcelona rolled into one may seem wildly overambitious to an U8s coach! But really there is no reason why children can’t play in this way… other than the preoccupation that most youth football coaches have with formations and playing children in fixed positions.

The common focus on formations and planting players in specific positions is not good for young players. It stems from the desire to win matches – rather than teach children how to play football – but it often results in young players becoming what Manny Schellscheidt (ex-USA national team coach) calls “position stuck”.

“When they don’t know exactly what to do,” Schellscheidt says, “they go to the spot they’re most familiar with, regardless of what the game is asking for.”

But, I hear you say, surely you need to have players in certain positions?

Well, yes you do. But you also need to remember that football, although it is played with a ball, is really a game that is played without a ball for 90% of the time.

And unlike some other ball games, (baseball, for example), football does not (or should not) have fixed positions except, perhaps, for the goalkeeper. Instead of having limited responsibilities, players – even U8s – have jobs to do that change as the game progresses around them.

So what does this mean in practice?

Improving your players’ ball control, especially their first touch, should be the focus of 90% of coaching sessions.

How to improve your players’ ball control

Players should be taught to receive and move the ball with all parts of both feet and be encouraged to move to a supporting position immediately after passing the ball.

How to coach movement off the ball

Teach the core skills of passing, shooting and tackling, and explain the various positions on the pitch but minimise the importance of formations and tactics. Players should not be labelled as a “defender”, “attacker” or “midfielder”.

TTT games

Pass and move drills such as Shuttle Passing are useful for embedding basic ball skills while simple keepaway games are excellent for encouraging players to switch positions with each other.

Small-sided games (SSGs) such as the 1-0 Game, the Four Goal Game and the Liverpool Game will help your players learn to use the spaces on the pitch to their advantage and also encourage them to pass and move quickly.

It’s up to you!

While these games and drills will help your team learn the TTT style of play, the biggest factor in their success will be your willingness to accept the fact that allowing your players the freedom of the pitch and discouraging them from playing the long ball is going to result in lost matches in the short term.

But over time, your players will learn how to play football – not just how to win games – and they’ll have a lot of fun doing it!

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