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Jan 2012

Football is part of a group of sports which are known as team sports, and as such can be characterized by the relationship between co-operation (between team mates) and opposition (against an opponent). In the development of the game we can consider 3 basic aspects: time-space aspect, demonstrated in the attacking phase by use of the ball individually and collectively to overcome barriers and opponents, and in the defending phase by the creation of barriers to delay and stop movement of the opponents and the ball with the objective of regaining possession; information aspect demonstrated by the creation of doubt in the opponent and confidence in team mates; and the organisational aspect established by the collective plan integrated with individual actions and vice versa.

When we consider coaching in the development groups, we should refer to not just the means available to the player to help him improve his sporting capacity and ability, but also to contributing to his overall sporting education as a person. As coaches, we organise our work taking in to account some aspects which condition our ‘coaching model’; some factors which are player-related (age, psycho-motor development, level of practice etc) and other environmental issues (personal and material resources, club characteristics, parental relationships etc). So we then create a plan of physical and technical content but we also have to organize a programme of content for tactical work, more than just to promote a better understanding of the game, because it is the players who will require a lot of work on the cognitive component, but also so that we help the general education of the young sportsman.

Without going in to debating terms of definition and concept, we should remember the difficulties with separating technical and tactical work; we can think of tactics as the way the players and the team are organised at each moment in the game to achieve a specific objective, and of technique as the resources available to the player to achieve the tactical objectives in the context of the game; however, each action of a player involves 3 basic cognitive processes:

  • Perception or input of information (extraction of the information relevant to the situation).
  • Decision or mental solution of the problem (choosing the best solution possible).
  • Execution or motor solution (actual production of the mental image).

All of which require a high tactical understanding. Many of the errors committed during a game are based on a failure of one or more of these processes.

We should then try to ensure that the player demonstrates a tactical intelligence and therefore address the need to recreate situations where the players are capable of interpreting action, globally, spatially and individually, taken from the general movements within the model of play; we should be able to direct the coaching towards a development of tactical thinking. As we are talking here about the development groups, it’s important to try to ensure that young players acquire the best technico-tactical toolbox possible so that they can respond to the majority of the many problems they will encounter in the future, with the help of a devoted coach, within a specific model of play.

How then can we structure the tactical concepts? The best answer to this question is to organise the concepts and content working from the global to the specific, from the simple to the complex so that they are in a logical progression.

Firstly, work on the principle objectives of the game in each phase, what we should do when we have or don’t have the ball; in attack we talk about keeping possession, progression and finishing; and in defence, regaining possession, stopping progression of the opponent’s attack and defending the goal.

We have talked about defining the phases of the game, which as we said is what happens in the development of the attacking and defending processes so we can conclude:

 Attack  Defence
 Start of phase.  Delay start of phase.
 Construction or progression of the phase.  Delay construction phase.
 Finishing.  Defend the goal (prevent finish).

Next, we have to consider the basic principles of the phases, common to the attacking and defending phases, demonstrated by the principles which direct the behaviour of the players within the context of the phase; the most important of which is to try to create numerical superiority in the area of the ball; if this is not possible, then maintain numerical equality but always avoid numerical inferiority.

The No 10 creates numerical superiority on one side

When these concepts are clear, we can move on to specific principles:

 Attack  Defence
Penetration (creation of an advantage in space and number; attack the goal). Containment (individual marking of the player on the ball to stop or delay opponent’s attack).
Support the attack ( support player with ball; defensive balance). Defensive cover (support for the team mate marking the player on the ball).
Mobility (interchange of positions; occupation and creation of space; create lines of pass; keeping possession; unbalancing opponent’s defensive structure). Balance (covering space and free players and cutting lines of pass).
Space (width and depth in attack). Concentration (deny width and depth in the opponent’s attack).

We can then construct the method or shape of the organisation of the attack (counter-attack, rapid attack or build up play) and of the defence (man to man, zonal or mixed marking) so that we have a wide repertoire on the individual and collective levels to address the different game situations.

Finally, we could extract some basic norms both in attack and defence, general guidelines where we can direct our team and individual efforts:

Attack Defence
Don’t lose the ball, protect it, keep it away from opponents, control the distances, pass quickly and unpredictably, create lines of pass Get as many players behind the ball as possible
Create and occupy free spaces, play wide and deep , fix defenders in a zone and play to another one, channel the attack through the weakest areas of the opponent, alternate between short and long play, direct and indirect play, switch of play Cover and strengthen the central channel forcing opponents to less
Create doubt in the opposition, alternating direct and indirect play, draw opposition to one zone to finish in another, change of tempo, numerical overload, disguise etc Reduce or prevent lines of pass
  Keep defensive cover and occupy spaces

Width, switch of play and depth.

Technico-tactical actions are the basic tools to work on the more complex tactical concepts and it is where we can most intervene in the early years so that errors do not become habits or ‘vices’ which can be difficult to correct in the future and which make the player more susceptible to errors in the attacking and defending processes. In attack we talk about creation and occupation of space, moving away from markers, overlaps, support, switch of play, overloads, delay, change of tempo, defensive balance; in defence we work on marking, delaying, dropping off, cover (position, change positions, defensive balance), pressing.

It is in the older development ages when we would include more elaborate tactical concepts, like the general tactical models to attack (direct attack, build up or counter-attack) or to defend (organized or situational) because they require a deeper knowledge of the game and establishing understanding between team mates and reading the opposition.

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