When I’m designing a training session, the goal is not to have “good drills.” Of course, we want the drills and games we create to be engaging, but the goal is not the drill itself. The goal is preparing players in a multitude of circumstances that will help them be better soccer players for game day. Growing up playing professional soccer at a young age, there were so many players that were incredible “practice players.” They were unstoppable in a practice, but as soon as it was game time, they were not able to translate what they had learned in practice to the game. Ask any coach, when the game is on the line it doesn’t matter how well you perform a drill in practice, it’s about how well you perform for those 90 minutes of game play. Here are a few ways athletes can help use training sessions to excel their game during match play:
Understand the purpose of the drill:
Every training session at Excel will start with a 10-15 minute warm up that allows players to work on their footskills, footwork, speed of play and improve comfortability on the ball. Players will get around 1,000 touches on the ball in those 10-15 minutes alone. Does that mean in a game you should expect to touch the ball several thousand times? Absolutely not! In a study of 30 French League matches, professional players only touched the ball, on average, 90 times per game. That is one touch per minute. So, the goal of the warm up drills are not to get players to touch the ball more or dribble more in a game, but to have the confidence and ability to be effective when they do have the opportunity to touch the ball in a game.
Build a solid foundation:
When simulating offense vs. defense in a training session, the drill will have a much smaller space and fewer players on the field than in a match. The goal is to help players develop an understanding of the technical and tactical elements used in a game and break it down step by step. With this coaching and repetition, the technical and tactical elements will be second nature to the player so that when they are in a larger space, they will still be able to use the foundation they built to be successful in those scenarios. As a player, make sure you are tuned in to this instruction in trainings so that when you don’t have the coaches guiding you step by step, you can still independently perform.
Know how you can help your team succeed:
Every position will have a different role during the game. In a training session, each player will work on every skill set, no matter their position. For example, center defenders will still work on finishing technique in trainings sessions even though they will not usually be in a position to attack the goal. However, the skills and technique they learn will enhance their technical and tactical abilities for game play. Therefore, during a match the best way they can help their teammates is not to continually run forward towards goal to shoot like we would do in a training session. What they can do to help their team succeed is use their understanding to position the team to get opportunities on goal. This could be done by using their technical ability to open up space on the field to find a forward, by using their understanding of finishing to better defend in one v. one or two v. one scenarios, or many other ways. What’s important is to know how you can contribute to the whole team, not how you individually can take on eleven opponents.
Remember, training sessions are so important to gain a better understanding and increased ability in the technical and tactical elements of soccer. However, these skills are only useful if you can take them from practice to play. Talk to your coach if you have questions on how you can better translate your skills to the match.