For a while, we have wanted to offer more articles on training on TheFalseFullback. I have volunteered as a coach for my hometown club for three years in the district league, training the U13s for two years and the U14s for one year.
I have made some mistakes myself and seen many more mistakes made by coaches when putting their training sessions together. That is another reason why I would like to continue my education and to share this knowledge here. My approach was to train just about everything in game-realistic exercises, only occasionally using isolated drills. In the beginning, I was the absolute opposite of many other coaches on the training ground. As a coach and as a player I have often seen isolated passing and shooting exercises.
I was young and I still enjoy debating today. As a result, I voiced again and again that it is more effective to train to pass in conditions as realistic to a game as possible. I was always presented with two arguments: We are in the district league, here we train passing with these exercises, we have always done it that way. Secondly: you aren’t qualified to be a coach, what would you know?
The first argument, in my opinion, is ridiculous. I’ve always been in a bad position with the second argument as unfortunately I’m still not qualified to coach; university and work take up too much time.
I would like to present here my train of thought as to why I think that passing drills alone are not enough to improve a player’s passing game. As with everything in football, this is my current view of things. Your views change all the time the more and more you learn about this sport.
How is passing play currently trained?
A lot has changed in the last few years. Even in the district league, more and more coaches are using game-realistic drills in training to improve their players. For many, the differentiated learning method and implicit learning are no longer unfamiliar terms or them at least have the same goal without fully being aware of the methods. However, the number of coaches who train in a traditional way does prevail, especially in many local clubs’ youth teams.
Many would now argue that the players there won’t go professional anyway. In my opinion, however, everyone should try to get the most out of themselves. Besides, most children come to football because they want to play, not because they want to run around cones.
What does a session coaching passing play currently look like?
Many coaches employ different exercises. They all have the same goal: as many repetitions as possible, always following the same sequence. Most of the time these passing exercises take place free of any pressure from the opponent. This is how the perfect pass execution ought to be trained.
The lack of pressure from the opponent and the absence of game-realistic conditions are things that can be criticized about these kinds of training exercises. Especially when these passing drills form the main part of a training session or of coaching passing play.
It always seemed to me that the main problem was the lack of a definition for a pass. I think everyone has an idea as to how they would define a pass in football. Wikipedia defines a pass as follows:
“In football, a pass is the passing of a ball to a player in the same team.”
A pass is therefore always understood in terms of the execution. Many people are also aware that timing and precision are just as important for a good pass as the space into which the pass is played. However, the execution stays in their head as the main component of a pass. Perhaps this is why so many coaches concentrate exclusively on the execution, which can be trained with many repetitions in isolated passing exercises.
Defining a pass
In order to effectively train in game-realistic conditions, basic sequences should be understood during the game. Whether it be the use of certain tactical measures, strategic ideas or technique during the game. In order to train passing play effectively, we should therefore firstly think about passing play during the actual game. A good passing action requires much more than just the execution.
The pass itself must be well prepared in advance through correct positioning, a good perception of the game and controlling the ball well. In addition, the player on the ball must make the right decision. Do I play a pass now? And if so, to which player? Into which space? Onto which foot? How strong or weak? Do I play a high or a low pass?
Only then does the actual pass follow, the execution, which of course must be successfully carried out. Even after a successful pass, the player must immediately offer himself correctly again. That also belongs to the action of a pass.
What does a simple passing drill consist of?
It is impossible to train all five aspects in traditional passing drills. Only the execution is trained without pressure from the opponent in the classic passing exercise, used by so many coaches in Germany. Of course, this component is important: if the technical execution of the pass is bad, then it is impossible to play successful and beautiful football. However, a good passing technique alone does not mean that you have a good passing play. Especially if you train without pressure from your opponent.
In the basic passing drill, attention is usually only paid to the execution of the pass. Coaches rarely focus on controlling the ball. Of course, controlling the ball at a cone can be perceived as a game situation, but there are no consequences if a mistake is made.
You can adapt the passing drill by having passive or semi-active opponents on each cone. This makes the whole situation more realistic and the player learns implicitly which effects controlling a ball has in the respective direction. The correct way to receive the ball can therefore be coached. The same applies to follow-up actions after a pass.
Even Pep Guardiola used passing drills in which players had to make decisions themselves, dependent on the previous action. However, decision making can never be trained to the same extent as it is trained under pressure from opponents in smaller playing fields and/or in game-realistic exercises. All in all, it is difficult to train all five aspects of passing in a passing drill.
Therefore, a game-oriented approach ought to be taken; only under pressure from the opponent and the introduction of game-like situations can all aspects be trained in one action. These game situations must always be adapted to the level of the players. They shouldn’t constantly have too much asked of them, even if this isn’t always a bad thing.
Does this mean that passing drills should be scrapped? No, because passing drills do have a purpose. They are definitely useful for training basic motor skills. However, an unrealistic drill in which there is no context to pass from player A to player B should not be the main part of a training session. Passing exercises become meaningful with the use of semi-active opponents or the implementation of certain rules which force the players into making decisions. You can find out exactly what this will look like in the next few months on our blog which is going to focus more on training work in the future.
This is meant to be a short introduction to the topic and to show that it is important to think about the details of the technique. It can be seen as a small plea against isolated drills or as an introduction to game-realistic training. Ultimately, the game should be seen as the starting point of every aspect of training for every coach. This is another reason why the isolated training of individual aspects in a sport like football is so difficult, as it is always a combination of many different influences.
Author: Tobias Hahn