A football coach abroad: Emotional control and avoiding knee-jerk reaction

In the third edition, Luke looks at how his temperament is portrayed in his side..

By Luke Venn

Last I left this, my team had just come through a 2-0 win in our quarter final and were due to play a semi-final a few days later, but I thought I would recap some of the points and explain how we decided to move forward as a team.

During my below average non-descript playing career I was a relatively vocal player, normally in the referees ear during the game and trying to psych out opposition by telling them I liked their boots or something to that effect. As a coach it is significantly more important to control your emotions. If you are losing your shit on the side-lines, it gives your team an excuse to lose their shit on the pitch.

One of my major character flaws both within football and away from the pitch, is my trademark over emotional knee jerk reactions to a situation that hasn’t quite gone how I expected, I can become petulant, nasty, childish and lose the ability to reason, these are all traits that need to be worked on and are traits that are not conducive to succeeding as a youth football coach.

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We went into the Semi-final as underdogs, we were playing at the opponent’s home ground and it seemed they had brought the majority of the school to cheer them on. During the game we had a game plan, and within 5-10 minutes the game plan had gone out the window, I had lost emotional control and was shouting at every single player, trying to control them like PlayStation players. I think this was probably a mixture of the cauldron like atmosphere and the emotion got the better of me early on, luckily, I caught myself and calmed down for the duration of the half.

However, as the old adage goes, you need to play to the whistle, and right on the stroke of half time we conceded, which was a real sickener, we had recovered well from our poor start in the first half and to switch off moments before the break is real school boy stuff. Players came into the break devastated, and I was devastated too. My role within the group dictates that I cannot let the boys see how the goal had affected me and I had to G them up for the second period, I think I handled this quite well.

I made one large tactical shift in the second half, we abandoned the 4-2-3-1 formation the team has used throughout the season and on a whim, we change to 4-3-1-2, the idea behind this being to control possession centrally higher up the pitch as neither teams were really making full use of the pitch. This is a change I thought of on the fly, and one we hadn’t trained, it made me slightly apprehensive to ask the players to change to a completely new system on such short notice. The players took to the changes quickly and we dominated the second half. Again I was impressed by how quickly and independently the players took on board my messages, which is a good sign moving forward.

With a few minutes to go there was an interesting refereeing decision where he sent off the opposition goalkeeper (fast forward to 1:17:00 to see the madness.)

The opposition coach truly lost his shit at this point, pulling all of the players off the pitch and staging a seated protest, for some unbeknownst reason to me, I maintained a calm demeanour and kept the boys out on the pitch focused. We went on to lose 1-0 and were dumped out of the competition, obviously I was again heartbroken.

The temptation in this situation was for me to overreact and ring wholesale changes before our I-league season kicks off in little over a weeks time, instead I gave myself the day to be negative about the defeat. In reality, we switched off for a minute before half time, and we were duly punished, we dominated the second half and were unlucky to not get anything from the game in the end, the positives must be focused on, and certain tangible trainable element must also be identified. I told the players before we travelled back to the academy to each thing about one thing we did well, and one thing we could improve on to bring to the following days training session. I made the following notes off the back of the tournament;

  • Our 4-2-3-1 formation wasn’t working, we were not effective enough in transitions to get our front 4 playing 4v4 against the defence. Often we found our front man isolated.
  • Our better ball players were playing too deep which meant we often had to attack from deep, leading to us not ever really controlling possession in the attacking half.
  • Defensively we looked solid throughout, our back 4 were hardly ever penetrated and we kept the opposition playing in front of us, they rarely threatened to get in behind.

Coaching, in simple terms is trying to get ideas from your head into the heads of the players, but what would be better than this, would be if the coaches ideas could be “inceptioned,” into the heads of the players. This way the players can think that the ideas were actually theirs and then are more likely to take ownership and commit to the messages. I did this by subtly suggesting positional changes to players and even gave them a few trial shapes to discuss.

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The following day, I made the decision to cancel training and host a team meeting, which would serve as a debrief from the previous days game and how we got on in Kochi as a whole. I made a PowerPoint presentation that suggested to the players we should change team shape. Then players were split into groups and were asked to come up with their own ideas, once players had their own ideas we would discuss them as a group, and then as a team come up with a new shape we would train and try out in our two friendlies prior to the game.

The focus is now on getting our heads down and preparing properly for our I-league campaign that starts next week, we have 4 league games, with only a days rest in between so recovery and training need to managed effectively to avoid players sustaining injuries, my next post will hopefully outline what we have changed the shape and system to and how we are training specifically for these changes!

 

A football coach abroad: Cyclones, tropical Bugs and my dugout debut

As portrayed in his second feature, it turned out to be a tough week for Luke, as mother nature threw everything at him..

By Luke Venn

My last entry outlined the process I undertook when planning my coaching cycles and how I saw each week running, this week’s will be almost the polar opposite and how I have found the coaching, and in particular the different coaching styles needed to thrive in this sort of setting.

This week in theory was my first full week with the players, and the aim was to coach one session, each group for each day (1 x U13 and 1 x U15) and as it was week one of the first cycle we would be working mostly in possession of the ball, with the overarching theme of the week being to improve our ability to play out from the back. After a few meetings behind closed doors with a few of the senior players, I gathered that they do play a possession based game, and from most set pieces and goal kicks they play short, in order to build up from the back. The original plan for this week ran something along these lines;

Monday; Passing and Support (BP)

Tuesday; Playing out from the back (BP)

Wednesday; Conditioning session, small sized games (BP)

Thursday; Individual defending (BPO)

Friday; Game training, getting a defender into the middle third

However, as with the best plans, it all fell through on Sunday night, there were a few lads missing from both age groups. Both age groups had 10 players now instead of 12, this didn’t seem like an issue to me at all, modifying all the planned sessions from 12 to 10 players didn’t really phase me. However, the other bit of news, that the other coach wouldn’t be available all week, was a bit of a blow. Being in Kerala we are quite equatorial, and when the sun goes down at 6pm each night it gets dark incredibly quickly, and with the boys finishing each day at school at 4:30, this would only give an hour and a half before darkness to run two sessions.

I bit the bullet and decided on training all 20 together for the full hour and a half, being my second week, this wasn’t a bad idea as it gave me a chance to survey the whole group and work out whose who within it, my plans had to go out the window and a lot of thinking on my feet was needed which I think is going to be a key skill if I am to succeed out here. The draw backs were that it was hard to do any individual coaching, and at the end of each session having to play three team rotations instead of a straight two team game is never ideal.

The next challenge we faced this week was the weather, normally a balmy thirty degrees, a tropical cyclone hit the coast on the Wednesday and we were battered with rains and high winds from Wednesday through Friday, the pitch we normally train on was completely flooded so we attempted to train on the space that will become a 7’s pitch at the academy against my better judgement. After a few slips and half an hour of incessant rain I pulled the plug on the session. The rains didn’t stop and we had to cancel Thursday and Fridays sessions.

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Our training ground pre-cyclone

This wasn’t ideal preparation for the regions quarter final that we were due to play on Monday, we decided to travel as a group to Kochi (where the quarter final would be played) on the Friday night and have a Game Training session on the Saturday morning, and a light session on the Sunday, just to get a bit more movement into the legs.

One thing that had become apparent during the sessions on Monday and Tuesday was the quality of touch and passing of each of the players, they play on such poor-quality pitches but this must really improve their touch, every ball fired into them was controlled instantaneously and all players were comfortable receiving the ball in tiny pockets of space. However, I did notice one real footballing problem, because all of the players were so comfortable in congestion, space was never properly managed and the game was mostly played in front of the opposition. I decided to tear up the original game training plan for Saturday and try and coach the players on the importance of stretching defences and occupying space.

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The session ran really well, and the key points were brought out, however in hindsight, I shouldn’t have deviated from my cycle. The cycle is there for a reason and as a coach if I constantly try to put out fires instead of coaching the syllabus I fear I will breed a lot of reactive footballers, as opposed to the proactive players I wish to breed. Instead I have decided to designate week 6 in each cycle as a “troubleshooting week,” where problems that have been identified during the cycle can be worked on in isolation.

With the quarter final scheduled for Monday morning, we had a light session on Sunday where set pieces were practiced and the game plan established. Monday morning came around very quickly, our kick off was scheduled for 9:30am, and I instructed players to arrive at 8:30. When I arrived at 8:25, we were missing a few players, one of the older boys, and starting right back was standing in the car park, he had been waiting under a tree and had been biting by an insect and he was quickly coming out in a terrible rash. Not the best preparation considering we had two subs, someone scooted off to find some antihistamines and luckily he had recovered by kick off.

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Prior to me coming into the fold the team have always played a 4-2-3-1, it’s not a shape I am a huge fan of, as I feel the striker can be left isolated, and relies on effective transitions, normally in this shape goals are scored quickly after the ball is turned over, where the front four find themselves 4v4 against a back four, and without a designated “6,” the double pivot needs to stay disciplined and well connected to each other. I’ve never had to give a team talk to a group of younger players on my own before and I was surprisingly nervous before hand, I decided to keep my message short, two attacking points, one defensive point and a point to help them manage the first half.

Attacking Points:

  1. When we have the ball the number 9 needs to stretch the defence and affect their positioning even if he doesn’t receive the ball.
  2. If we have controlled possession we are going to try to focus more attacking build up down our right side.

Defensive Points:

  1. I do not want the front four to press the ball, we are defensively sound and our midfield double pivot is where we initiate the press.

Game management points:

  1. In the first five minutes play an intense press, get in the oppositions faces, the same for the last five minutes of the half.

Due to the head (a minimum of 30 degrees), we have to carefully pick our moments to press, but I wanted to start the game on the front foot and also go into half time with our tails up.

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The boys did exactly what was asked and we started the game very strongly, culminating with a goal from a set piece after being camped in the oppositions half for the first ten minutes. We then took our foot off the gas and cruised into half time, which annoyed me a little as 1-0 isn’t an overly safe score. From my FFA B licence I remember being coached that during half time, only have two or three main messages as the time will get away from you very quickly, with five minutes left of the half when the boys were starting to press more intensely I allowed myself time to note three key points to deliver at half time.

Half time key points:

  1. Although we have been playing down our right, their right back is the weak link, can we see if we can create space for our left winger to beat him 1v1.
  2. The only time they have threatened us is when the space between our double pivot is too large and they have gone straight through the middle, we need to reduce this space.
  3. 1-0 is a dangerous score, we need to make sure we get the first goal this half, we need to start how we started the first half.

One of my key learnings from today, is that 10 minutes for half time is longer than you think, I had rattled through and explained my key points within 4 minutes and didn’t really know how to use the rest of my time. In the future, I will explain my points slower and then use the rest of my time to give more targeted individual feedback, but I think first game nerves got the better of me.

The second half started and again we were on the front foot, and what was nice to see was the messages I had given at half time had been absorbed and replicated on the pitch. We scored after 4 minutes of the second half, where our right back overlapped our right winger, delivered a ball to our left winger who beat his opponent 1v1 to score. We controlled the rest of the game and relaxed into some nice possession football until full time.

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This week has been a difficult one, with cyclones, tropical insects and my own doubts creating trouble with preparation but it was brilliant to get the result that we were after in the end. I know that youth football isn’t about results, but to win, play the football that the coach has instructed and take on messages whilst playing to adapt your style and to keep a clean sheet are all big wins in my book. We have a day off tomorrow where players will see their families before the semi-final on Wednesday, hopefully I can iron out the creases in our preparation and we can be successful again on Wednesday!

Until next time..

A football coach abroad: The planning process

Follow Luke Venn’s first update from India, as he comes to realise he has quite the job on his hands..

By Luke Venn

I have been living in India for about two weeks now, and thought I should write a little update about the footballing experience so far.

It turns out the owner of the academy I am working for knows people in high places and wangled me free tickets for the Indian Super League opener between Kolkata and Kerala. Prior to this I had a few days wandering the city and what hit me the most was how hot it was (an average of 30 degrees), and I couldn’t help thinking that football here would be a tough nut to crack.

The game itself, matched my predictions, the pace was incredibly slow and both teams tried to counter attack, making it quite a dull spectacle. What did hit me though was the support, 40,000 Indians were crammed into the stadium and the noise was sensational, a match to any Premier League atmosphere, and clearly much of the population is behind the sport.

But first of all, here’s a little background of how I came to coach in India.. I studied sport science at Durham university, whilst at uni I started coaching my college girls team and undertook my FA level 2, whilst at uni I also spent 6 weeks working with a division 1 side in Ghana’s Volta region called Dynamo F.C.

I then went on to do a sport science masters with most of my study based around football, following graduating from here I worked for nine months as a player scout for the London based Football Radar. During this time I became quite disillusioned with London life and decided I needed a change, so I moved to Chengdu, China and worked as a primary school football coach for 16 months.

At the end of this time I decided I wanted to continue up the coaching pathway and saw my immediate future in Asia. I found it nigh on impossible to get onto a UEFA B course in England, so decided to get my level 2 transferred to the Australian FA and do my AFC B instead. Which brings me to India! I started last week and will be coaching an academy side in the I-league, which I believe is India’s premier competition for juniors.

Originally I signed up for a 6 month coaching contract with the academy U13’s and U15’s, however, as with many foreign coaching jobs, all was not what it seemed. My first meeting with the academy owner was relaxed in nature, but in reality, there was an awful lot to do. He outlined my three main goals;

  1. Create a coaching syllabus for the residential academy and non-residential academies.
    1. 5 sessions a week x 6 cycles = 180 sessions.
    2. 180 sessions x 2 (U13 and U15) = 360 sessions.
  2. Create a schools coaching syllabus,
  3. Design a coaching the coaches workshop.

These are all clearly quite large tasks and I decided to start with the first.

The residential academy is made up of 12 U13 players and 12 U15 players, I was told they train five days a week, which to me, seems too much for players of this age and have voiced my opinion, only to be told that it’s better to plan for five anyway. I was to plan 6 cycles of 6 weeks, and hopefully make it progressive and measurable. I was told the previous Technical Director titled each cycle;

  1. Playing out of the back third
  2. Playing through the middle third
  3. Playing in the attacking third
  4. Attacking Transitions
  5. Defending Transitions
  6. Defending

My first thought, on the back of my FFA B licence was that this is a nonsensical way to structure the cycles. Football is a game where all four main moments can happen within a minute, and to focus 18 weeks purely on BP seemed unrealistic with the modern game. As well as this when you are coaching transition, surely you can coach attacking and defending at the same time, as when one team loses the ball one team regains it.

I was also instructed to include football specific conditioning sessions once a week, as well as “game training,” with the remaining sessions being technical sessions. This more or less created the bones of my first cycle. I was told to prioritise attacking football, so more BP sessions would be needed during the early cycles with a more even split towards the end. I decided that instead of creating a second syllabus for the non-residential academies who only train twice a week, I could lift the most effective drills from the technical sessions in each week to create a mixed session that would relate to a game training session.

  • Cycle 1 and 2 = 9BP sessions, 6BPO sessions, 3 transition sessions.
  • Cycle 3 and 4 = 8BP sessions, 5BPO sessions, 5 transition sessions.
  • Cycle 5 and 6 = 6BP sessions, 6BPO sessions, 6 transition sessions.

Cycle 1+2

Week Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Week 1 BP BP Conditioning BPO Game Training
Week 2 BP BP Conditioning BPO Game Training
Week 3 BP BPO Conditioning BP Game Training
Week 4 Transition Session BP Conditioning BPO Game Training
Week 5 Transition Session BP Conditioning BPO Game Training
Week 6 Transition Session BP Conditioning BPO Fun Session

Cycle 3+4

Week Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Week 1 BP BP Conditioning BPO Game Training
Week 2 BP BP Conditioning BPO Game Training
Week 3 Transition Session BPO Conditioning BP Game Training
Week 4 Transition Session BP Conditioning BP Game Training
Week 5 Transition Session BP Conditioning BPO Game Training
Week 6 Transition Session BPO Conditioning Transition Session Fun Session

Cycle 5+6

Week Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Week 1 Transition Session BP Conditioning BPO Game Training
Week 2 Transition Session BP Conditioning BPO Game Training
Week 3 Transition Session BPO Conditioning BP Game Training
Week 4 Transition Session BPO Conditioning BP Game Training
Week 5 Transition Session BP Conditioning BPO Game Training
Week 6 Transition Session BPO Conditioning BP Fun Session

Now that I had planned which main moments would be trained during each session it was a question of filling in each session title. I had decided that ideally in each week the game training would directly relate to the sessions trained during the week to give added context to each session. Having used the FFA approach to plan the cycles I turned to my FA level 2 teachings to look for some topics and themes for each individual coaching session.

Cycle 1:

Week Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Week 1 BP; Passing and Support BP; Playing out from the back Conditioning; Small sized games BPO; Individual defending Game Training; getting a defender into the middle 1/3
Week 2 BP; Running with the ball BP; Passing and Support Conditioning; Medium sized games BPO; Defending 2v1 (attacking overload) Game Training; playing out to the full backs
Week 3 BP; Receiving techniques BPO; Forcing play Conditioning; small sized games BP; Passing and Support Game Training; Controlled possession in the middle 1/3
Week 4 Transition Session; Quick forward passing BP; Long range passing Conditioning; medium sized games BPO; Tracking runners Game Training; BPO>BP, attacking transitions
Week 5 Transition Session; Press the ball carrier immediately BPO; Defending 2V2 (even numbers) Conditioning; small sized games BP; Attacking heading Game Training; winning the ball back as soon as possible
Week 6 Transition Session; Quick forward movements   BP; Dribbling and exploiting 1v1s Conditioning; medium sized games BPO; Defensive heading Fun Session

So the above is a sample cycle of cycle one, which is effectively a mish-mash of the FA’s coaching and also the FFA’s coaching. If the boys are genuinely training every day, having a mixture of sessions is important in order to avoid inertia, I imagine that if every session started with a passing pattern, although the pattern would get drilled, it would also become stale and less enjoyable as opposed to seeing how topics like Support relate directly to a session with the objective “getting a defender into the middle third.”

Now that all the planning was done (or at least started) I started putting together coaching sessions for each topic, during Technical Sessions I would follow the Warm Up → Technical Practice → Skill Practice→ Small Sided Game approach that the FA preach and then during the Game Training Sessions I would follow the Passing Practice → Positioning Game → Game Training → Training Game which the FFA promote. Having told there were 12 kids in each group this is what I have planned for, although I am sure this is subject to change and most drills can easily be adapted to add a few extra players, and in the Game Training aspect sometimes players will need to be borrowed from other age groups as 12 is a little light for some Game Training.

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Having coached the support session, I can confirm it more less ran an absolute dream, the players picked up on everything pretty quickly, if anything it was slightly too easy for them, I clearly had underestimated how good these players are. They all have incredibly good technique, and are all excellent passers and receivers, I have noticed that they aren’t great under pressure or in transition, but the core skills are all there which makes my job as a coach, more enjoyable in my eyes, less time teaching how to pass a ball and more time implementing my style of football on them.

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One major drawback is the facilities, honestly, they are shocking, I wasn’t expecting much, but some grass, pitching markings and goals were the bare minimum for me. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of any of these, and ground share with a cricket pitch which is effectively a sand pit. I’ve been told we are looking elsewhere for places to train, and I hope something does turn up. In order to pass my AFC B licence, I need to submit a video session and I don’t think the FFA would be happy with my current situation!

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I have no experience as a technical director and this was all very new to me, and the most frustrating thing I have found, is not knowing if what I have been doing is even right! I had friends from the FFA course send me their coaching cycles and I do feel as if I am on the right track, but any extra feedback would be much appreciated.

Until next time..

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