When working regularly with young players we have a responsibility as coaches to ensure we are supporting the individual technical development of all the players under our care. There is often pressure and expectation from parents and most likely club management for the ‘team’ to play effectively together and in many cases ‘win’ the game. Now I may not necessarily agree with these priorities at the youngest age groups but I do empathise with the job most coaches have to do in regard to these pressure. That is why it is imperative that we work efficiently and effectively in our sessions to make sure that not only does the team get that important “team” work but we also get every single player on the ball as much as possible during training.
Ball Mastery and 1v1 is ‘key’ to long term player development, not only in my opinion but also in the opinion of the Belgium FA and of Academies including AJAX and Sporting Lisbon along with many others. So the questions is, how do we include this important work in every session? Whilst ensuring we have the bulk of the session (if this is the priority of your club) based around team outcomes like possession for instance.
Ball Mastery & 1v1 Skills
I have always been a big advocate of working with a 1:1 ball to player ratio in my sessions, I believe that players of ALL AGES should start the session like this. I cannot believe my eyes or ears when I see or hear youth coaches starting a warm up for a session without a ball each. It is illogical…work efficiently…use your warm up as a way to not only warm up the body but to also develop ball mastery skills. This may be for only 5 minutes or so but it is a great way to get ball work into your session and with older players you can use intermittent dynamic stretches to complete the warm up. In my experience I have found doing 5-10 ball mastery exercises and then a 5-6 1v1 skill combination was the ideal way to start the session. This work also has additional physical outcomes supporting and developing dynamic movement patterns and improving balance, coordination, speed agility and quickness with the ball.
Here are the 5 most effective ball mastery individual techniques along with a 1v1 skill combo.
Team based sessions implementing technical work
When working with young players its essential we also give them the opportunity to practice their ball striking but also practice and then implement their 1v1 skills and strategies on a regular basis. Below is a great 1v1 practice that also includes passing with an element of transition.
With this practice we also get the added bonus of getting the vital ball striking as well as passing work within our session
Also and maybe most importantly, this practice finishes with an opposed 1v1 allowing the players to practice this element regularly thus being able to conquer this vital part of their game too!!!
- 60 minute session – spend 10-15 minutes on technical practice
- 90 minute session – spend 20-30 minutes on technical practice
This then leaves you free to go into themed SSG’s of differing sizes which is my recommendation for the rest of your sessions. Make it an environment where everybody is moving, everyone is having fun and most importantly everyone is developing. I am strong believer based on my experience that appropriate time should be dedicated to individual possession which is the base where all football comes.
I think much of the recent FA’s work on more game like practices and more importantly making sure PLAY and fun is the main part of your curriculum has been good for the game. I was shocked however that there was not one mention of ball mastery or 1v1 on my Level 3 or level 4 advance Youth Award modules. I was bitterly disappointed when I was told that it wasn’t relevant and that ‘there was no such thing as 1v1’ especially when countries such as Belgium build their philosophy around 1v1. Listen to their director of coach education Kris Van Der Haegen talk in depth on this subject. Doing kick ups at the beginning of your session does not qualify as ball mastery and I honestly believe that we are missing an opportunity with our young players. If you don’t support them in building a relationship with the ball, then you must ask yourself as a coach; – what are you doing for long term player development in this country if you don’t sufficiently cover ball mastery and 1v1? As marginal gains become more of recognised element in elite player development we have to ask ourselves if we are really fulfilling that criteria. I’ll leave you with that thought and would love to hear your views.
Finally, I’m proud to announce that our Coach’s Pass will now be regularly posting 1v1 team practices to help you work efficiently in your sessions, as well as the ball mastery and 1v1 skills library that is regularly updated. We will also be featuring regular contributions from coaches from the world of professional football. Coaches from pro clubs will be sharing their favourite sessions. My Personal Football Coach will continue to bring the successful development training methodologies of the best academies and federations in the world to players, parents and coaches all around the world…
Master the ball master the game!