“The most important thing for a forward is speed of thought. Top players read the game.” Samuel Eto’o
It’s useful if your players are fit, strong and have the speed of an Olympic sprinter.
Fast defenders can recover from a mistake and naturally speedy attackers can use their pace to run past defenders as though they weren’t there.
But playing football quickly – and with intelligence – requires much more than athletic ability.
Your players need the confidence that comes with having a good first touch and knowing how to shield the ball.
They also need to be know what is going on around them so they can decide if they should try to take on an opponent or whether it would be better to pass or shoot.
In short, they must be able to “read the game”.
The games described below will help your players develop this ability. They are designed for 12 reasonably experienced and competent young players.
I wouldn’t ask children aged less than nine or 10 to play them exactly as they are described but you can adapt them for younger, less skilled players by allowing more touches, more space to play in or creating more uneven teams.
Speed of play – general coaching points
- Your players will not play faster if you allow them to stay inside their comfort zone. Activities that are too easy are a waste of time.
- Challenge your players to think, to concentrate, to work hard.
- In small-sided games (SSGs), try freezing the play and asking the player on the ball “do you know what’s going on around you?”, “where are the opposition?” and “where are your team mates?”
- Don’t play any of coaching game or activity for too long. Playing for five minutes at 100% match speed is better than fifteen minutes at 75% or less.
- Remember that limiting touches and reducing the space decreases time on the ball and forces players to work harder and play faster. If your players don’t seem to be working flat out, keep making the area smaller until they are.
Before and during the activities, tell them to:
- Move after passing to support the player on the ball. Don’t stand still admiring your pass!
- Receive the ball with your body facing the field and be ready to pass the ball with your first touch.
- Glance around just before receiving the ball so you know who is behind you. Tip: Make sure your players glance round before the ball gets to them, not as it is getting to them. If they take their eye off the ball as they make contact with it, their first touch will be poor.
Activity 1: The warm-up
Players work in pairs, six or seven yards apart, two-touch passing to each other. Challenge them to play perfect passes every time and play the ball hard. Then move to one touch.
The first player to make three mistakes loses.
Key coaching points: Stay on your toes, keep ball out of your feet and don’t let the ball stop.
Activity 2: 4v4 to target players
Three teams of four play in a 40 yards long by 30 yards wide playing area. Two teams are on the pitch and two players from the third team stand on each end line. These are the target players.
The teams on the pitch score a point by passing to a target player at one end then passing to a target player at the other end of the pitch.
The first team to score three times is the winner.
Progress by limiting the number of touches the players are allowed.
Key coaching point: Talk to each other!
Activity 3: 7v4+1
Seven players (team X), four players (team Z) and one target player work in the same playing area as above.
Team X tries to keep the ball away from team Z which must try to put pressure on the team X player in possession of the ball and cut off passing channels.
If team Z wins the ball, it earns a point.
Team X gets a point by passing the ball to the target player.
Rotate the players between the teams every three points.
Key coaching points: Team X – support must appear on both sides of ball instantly. Team Z – put immediate pressure on the ball carrier, try to force a mistake.
Finish with two 3v3 SSGs on small pitches with small goals. Look for and highlight any examples of fast, intelligent play.
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