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Individual Development In A Team Environment

From June 2019 until May 2020, I had the privilege to participate in the prestigious UEFA A and UEFA Elite Youth A License course with the Welsh Football Association. Throughout the course, we covered topics such as game model development, performance psychology, current trends in elite youth development, practice design and much more. Under the topic of practice design, we learned and were assessed on four different practice designs - Principle Based, Team Training, Match Preparation, and Individual Training.

I was really intrigued by the Individual Training design, mainly due to the relevance of those types of practices in the reality of high performance soccer. There are many great usages of this kind of training drill such as before/after team training or on a strength or speed day inside the training week. Additionally, if we analyze the state of professional soccer, currently, teams all across the world are experiencing fixture congestion with multiple games per week, leaving minimal training time with the entire group. Typically, the day after a match, the players who did not play or had few minutes will be the ones to participate in full training sessions. Having reduced numbers in a training session can present some different challenges for a coaching staff when trying periodize the loading appropriately from a acceleration/deceleration and high-speed running perspective. In my experiences, individual specific training exercises can be a useful way to balance physical preparation that is specific to the demands of the position, player engagement through training variability, and continuing the individual player development process related to each player.

From 2019 season - Brett coaching a specific individual training session for UEFA A License Assessment.

When thinking about individual player development in the context of team sports, these three quotes from Johan Cruyff come to mind:

  • "Teams don't learn. Individuals within the team learn. Development is a personal process even when conducted in a team environment."

  • On average a player has the ball for 3 minutes in a game. It's what you do during those 87 minutes when you do not have the ball. That is what determines whether you're a good player or not."

  • Technique is not being able to juggle a ball 1000 times. Anyone can do that by practicing. Technique is passing the ball with one touch, with the right speed, at the right foot of your teammate."

There are obviously different ways to design these types of training exercises, so here are some of the questions I think about to help guide me in the exercise creation process:

  • How many players do I have at my disposal and what positions do they play? - This will lay the foundation for the entire design process.

  • What do the players need to improve? - This will help generate player engagement and development because the players will feel as though the exercise was specifically designed for them. What technical actions do the players need to improve? What fundamentals do the players need to improve?

  • With opposition or without opposition? Or Mixed? - Depending on what the players need to improve and the ideal load of the exercise will dictate whether or not I choose to use opposition.

  • How many coaches will help me with the exercise? - This will help me understand how complex the exercise could/should be and how specific the coaching can be at each 'station' in the exercise.

  • How does the exercise relate to the game and the game model? - The exercise will ideally follow the logic of the game in sequences that the players will be normally exposed to. The game model will guide the specific actions inside those game sequences.

  • When was the previous game and when is the next game? - This will help guide the physical demands of the exercise and the necessary work to rest ratios, coordinated with the fitness coach.

The answers to these questions will help guide the process towards generating an exercise that is specific to the game model and to the individual player(s).

Now let's examine an example from the highest level.

Here is a Leeds United individual training exercise where it appears they are training 'runs in behind the defensive line when the midfield receives with time and space to play forward'. In the exercise we could say that the midfielder is training micro-aspects such as body orientation, orientated controls, and aerial passes in progression related to the situation of a forward running in behind the defensive line. Meanwhile, the forward appears to be training the individual fundamentals of running in between defenders to attack the space behind the defensive line, body orientation before finishing, and finishing with one touch.

Here is an example of the training situation in the real game - go to 0:51 in the video below to see Kalvin Phillips execute an almost identical pass towards Bamford moving in behind the second center-back. The only thing missing is the great one touch finish!

In my experiences, using individual training exercises is a great way to really dial in on specific details related to situations, movements, and technical gestures to name a few. It is a great way to provide individualized feedback to each player that perhaps is more difficult to communicate in the collective exercises. When coaching, I try to always keep in mind this great quote from Javier Mallo in the book Complex Football, where he cites the wisdom of Paco Seirul.lo, "...the player must feel as if the training was focused on him, to satisfy his own demands."

For those interested, you can download a FREE individual training session by clicking the link below. The password to receive the free training session is TOGsoccer14

TOG Soccer - Individual Training
Download PDF • 573KB

Thank you for reading!


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