By Jacob Daniel
The modern game requires that players have the ability to receive the ball and turn with it in any direction. This is especially true of midfielders and forwards. Well organized defenses are adept at squeezing space quickly and adopting very compact team shape. This requires midfielders and forwards to operate in crowded areas with little margin for error. Players must learn how to use the gaps between the lines to control passes instantly and make quick decisions. The technical demands often dictate that players ˜receive and swivel’ with their first touch either to escape pressure, switch the point of attack, or to pivot into a forward facing stance.
In order for players to receive and turn in any direction, they have to learn to use many parts of their body to control and propel the ball, such as the inside and outside of both their feet, their chest, both thighs, and the sole of their feet. They also have to learn to twist their bodies and use deceptive body maneuvers to keep their markers guessing or send them the wrong way.
But many of our players have not developed the repertoire, flexibility and body control to manipulate the ball in a 360° range. Many of our players are very stiff and are quite limited in the number of ways they can control a pass. Some players always use the same way to control the ball, even if the situation calls for a different maneuver. It makes our players predictable and limits their options.
Many of our midfielders, even at the national team level, have a hard time receiving balls from the backline and turning into a new direction. Their limited technique and stiffness forces them to play it safe by passing it back to a defender. The coaching jargon Play the way you face! is often a good advice. But it is also an admission of skill limitation.
Top players find a way to turn under pressure in tight areas and play the ball in any direction. This makes them unpredictable and hard to contain. We need to help our players become 360° players if we want to compete at the highest level.
Obviously, this issue needs to be addressed in practice and it needs to start at the young ages, even as early as U-9. The warm up is an ideal time to work on this deficiency. Warm up activities that challenge the players to twist and turn on the move while bringing the ball under control under game like conditions. By ˜game like conditions’, we mean the players need to control a variety of pass lengths, heights and trajectories, with different body surfaces, and execute everything at game speed. Standing 10 yards apart and passing the ball in a static activity will not develop the skills needed to become a 360° player. Receiving and passing the ball the way one is facing is relatively easy to execute, even on the move. Yet, too often, this is what warm ups look like at our youth clubs. Static warm ups might be appropriate for recreational level players, but our better players need to be technically stretched, starting with the warm up.
The warm up needs to be structured to maximize touches by keeping it in small groups of 2-4 players per ball. An activity where 6-10 players are sharing one ball is not conducive to technical development. And, as stated before, it needs to be dynamic, where players have to manipulate the ball on the move, and do it at game speed. Coaches, for their part, need to demand concentration and effort and execution at speed, otherwise players just go through the motions and don’t reap the full benefits of the activity.
From there, the practice can progress to small-sided activities that allow players many repetitions under some pressure of opponents and eventually progress to scrimmages where the quality and choice of the first touch is evaluated and freedom of expression is encouraged to increase the range of deceptive skills, comfort level and composure on the ball.
Coaches can use this approach to key in on the three main aspects of developing the 360° player:
- Technique (repetition, all surfaces)
- Vision (open body, half turned, head swivel)
- Deception (fakes, body maneuvers, delay first touch)
The following are examples of warm up and small-sided activities that will enhance your players’ ability to truly become 360° players. Remember to demand that everything is done at game speed with quality:
WARM UP ACTIVITIES
1. Juggle and Explode (twisting and deception)
Players juggle the ball using all parts of their body and both feet and thighs. Every 10-15 seconds they let the balls hit the ground and kill off the bounce with one-touch turning and dribble in a direction different to the one they faced while juggling the ball.
2. Pendulum (footwork, deception, passing and receiving)
Groups of three about 20 yards apart. Players at each end are servers with a ball each. Player in the middle faces forward (not facing the servers) all the time as he moves sideways-on to receive a pass from each server and returns ball with one touch. Middle player lets the ball run across his body and returns pass with the far foot (i.e. in diagram below, middle player passes to player on the right with his left foot).
Progression: Middle player lets the ball run across his body and controls the ball with the inside of his far foot and uses the outside of his far foot to pass the ball to the opposite server and then moves towards him and repeats the other way. This should be done with deception by faking a pass back to the first server and letting the ball run across the body and passing to the second server (for this sequence, use only one ball).
Progression: The players increase distance to 30 yards between the two servers. Middle player starts sequence by facing the server with the ball and checking to him to receive pass (back-to-goal stance). Middle player passes back to server and turns to face opposite server by moving to a support angle and opening body. He gets a second pass from server and controls and passes to opposite server and repeats sequence by checking to opposite server in the back-to-goal stance.
3. Receive and Fake (receiving, passing and deception)
Players are in pairs outside a long and narrow grid, as shown below. They pass to each other and use the first touch to pretend to go towards one cone and use second touch to quickly turn and go towards the opposite cone. Once close to the second cone, player passes back to partner who is waiting between his cones and does the same thing.
4. Throw-Control-Pass (controlling a bouncing ball, deception)
Groups of three about 15 yards apart. Players go through a sequence of throw-control-pass in a triangle. Player 1 starts sequence with a throw-in. Player 2 receiving the throw-in opens body and lets the ball run/bounce across his body as if he plans to continue in that direction but then cuts the ball with the outside of his foot back towards the thrower and then passes the ball to the third player who picks up the ball and start the sequence with a throw-in to player 1.
5. Receive-Pass-Shoot (when to wall-pass, when to spin away)
Groups of 5 arranged as shown below. In diagram 1, player 1 passes to player 2 who controls the ball with his front foot and with the second touch slips it to the second forward using the outside of the same foot for a wall pass and then he shoots on goal. Player 3 goes for the rebound. To keep the repetition going quickly, player 1 takes the place of player 2 and player 2 takes the place of player 3 and player 3 gets the ball and goes to the back of the line.
In diagram 2, player 2 uses the outside of his back foot to turn away and sends a through ball for player 3 to shoot. Player 3 times his run with an initial flat run to avoid off-side and then sprints for the ball once it’s passed.
Coach takes the role of passive defender and marks player 2. Player 2 needs to read the cues and decide which technique to use. When coach marking is loose, player 2 controls with front foot and does wall-pass. When coach marks tight, player 2 spins away and sends the through pass
6. In-Back-Through (quick combination play)
Groups of 5 players arranged as shown below. Player 1 passes to player 2 who lays back the ball to player 3 and spins around an imaginary defender for a return ball and shoots. Players rotate as in exercise 5 above. All passes are executed one touch with speed. Player 3 times his checking run towards player 2 and supports at an angle that allows a short one touch through pass.
7. Spokes of the Wheel (passing, receiving, deception, vision)
Groups of 5 players arranged as shown below. Start with two balls and progress to three balls. Outside players start with the balls. Player inside the 15×15 grid checks to receive a pass from one of the outside players, turns with his first touch towards an outside player without a ball and passes to him. He then checks towards another player and repeats the sequence. In the meantime, the outside players pass the remaining balls to each other.
Progress by adding movement and getting the players to run into and out of the grid as follows: The inside player passes to an outside player and follows the pass. The outside player receiving the pass controls the ball and leaves it and runs into the grid to become the next inside player. Meanwhile the outside players continue to pas the remaining ball to each other.
SMALL GROUP ACTIVITIES
8. Fetch The Ball (vision, turning in all directions, passing , receiving)
Two teams of 3-6 players. Coach throws a ball randomly and both teams try to win the ball and play it back to the coach to score a point. Coach keeps moving around so that players have to constantly search for him.
9. One Goal Game (vision, support, turning in all directions, passing and receiving)
Three teams of 4 players and one keeper. Two teams play each other inside the grid and one team is outside acting as servers. The keeper defends one goal in the middle of the grid of 30×30 to 40×40. Goal can be scored from either side of the goal. When the defending team wins the ball, they must first pass to an outside player before they can score. The outside players cannot be used to help in possession. The outside players are only used to restart the attack on a turnover, as explained above.
10. Switching The Point of Attack (vision, support, turning in all directions)
Two teams of 4-6 players playing possession in the inner grid of 30×30. The outer grid of 40×40 is used to score points. A point is scored each time a team makes a pass from the inner grid to the outer grid and a teammate makes a run to control it in the outer grid. The run must be timed to avoid off-side (the inner grid perimeter is the off-side line). Player who scores a point can pass or dribble it back into the inner grid. But the next point must be scored through another side of the grid.