Half time – tips and advice 

The half time communication is a vital aspect of your role as a coach / manager.

In this 15 minute period, you must communicate effectively with individual players, the complete team and your staff. You must also provide clarity of plan for the second half and create the right mindset within the group.

See below for some advice and tips.

“Don’t commentate on what just happened, speak about what is to come in the 2nd half and what is needed to be successful”

1. Manage your time effectively 

You have 15 minutes, but that is not a test of seeing if you can talk constantly for 15 minutes, it’s just the break between the two periods of the game.

You lose 90 seconds returning to the changing room and need roughly the same to return to the pitch for the second half. So your time is already reduced to around 12 minutes.

“Planning of this time and planning of your communication (and who is going to communicate) is essential to getting your messages across effectively”

2. Cut your time into three. 

A – Speak to your assistants and gather your thoughts and emotions

What was the game plan?

What is the state of the game?

What is coming in the second half?

What messages do you need to send to individuals / the whole team?

Is it a technical, tactical or psychological message (or combination)?

Has the team been in this situation before?

Does that provide you with prior experience or knowledge for success?

“The coach of your opponents will also react to the first half of the game.

If you are familiar with the opposing coach, or you understand their mentality, you can often make a good judgement on the changes they will make in tactics or personnel for the second half (or during the 2nd half).

This is something for you and your staff to consider “

During this initial period, the players will be speaking amongst each other, the physios will be checking on the players for any issues and the players will also be gathering their personal thoughts and taking on drinks etc.

Now you have gathered your own thoughts and the opinions of your close staff. You are ready to communicate to the players. 

B – Speak to individuals.

Offer clarity to individuals in your team. Be clear on what is required and what you would like them to do. Involve other players that are (1) positionally attached to this player (2) who are in a position to support them in the field or (3) will be the direct player to benefit from the player doing their tasks in the game well.

“Link the messages back to training or something that gives the player confidence”

C – Speak to the group.

What is the message you want to send to your players ?

“Be clear – if we do this……… Then this will happen……..”

Try to stick to 2-3 key aspects that are essential to the teams play or mentality. Don’t get caught up discussing small and minor things.

Examples might be 

  • Referencing back to your initial game plan 
  • The current state of the game
  • Changes in emotion, game state, weather or environment. 


  • Who are your match winners? 
  • How can they influence the match? 
  • How do you get them on the ball? 
  • How might your team score? (Paint this picture in the players minds)


  • Who are their danger players? 
  • How do you deny them space and touches? 
  • How might they score? 
  • Who is the pressing victim? 

Interact with the players and ask questions if you think this will aid the process and create buy in.

“Be mindful of your tone and your body language. This is very important, along with understanding different cultures and the make up of your team. If you speak the native language of your players – use it when communicating to them personally to ensure they understand the message 100%”

Parts 2b & 2c can be done as one communication that everyone is able to hear and take onboard – or by – separating and speaking to individuals 1:1 – it can also be a mixture of both. The key is to understand your players and to understand what is required in that precise moment

“Always speak with optimism”

3. Use of staff 

Don’t be a super human.

Use your staff and work as team.

Do you delegate individual feedback to a member(s) of your staff?

Example – manager (team communication) assistants (pick off individuals 1:1) GK coach (anything related to set plays)

Each coach taking on a different role in this process is also a good idea and stops players switching off to the ‘same’ voice.

“Try to create a way of communicating that the players are familiar with and continues throughout the season / period of time working together”

Below is a fantastic insight into Real Madrid’s half time communication during the Champions League Final in 2017.

Zidane – Half time team talk – Champions League Final 2017


Good luck


SPFC video interview with Jon Cotterill

Thanks to Jon Cotterill for sending across this interview from march 2017. Its great to look back at the early part of my time in Sao Paulo FC

Its a fantastic football club and i met some incredible players, staff and fans along the journey in Brazil.

Now – as a fan of the team, I wish the club big successes in the future.

Planning for the future (2018)

As 2017 comes to a close, I now have time to sit down and gather my thoughts on the experiences of the past 12 months and then to plan for the New Year ahead.

Firstly, It was a year of huge decisions.

It was a year in which I grew hugely as a person and experienced things both professionally and personally that I will never forget.


“It was also another year in football that I feel extremely fortunate to have lived”


My highlights of the year include

  • Working for Sao Paulo FC
  • Experiencing the passion for football in Brazil (Thank you SPFC Fans for this)
  • Living in Brazil and learning about the beautiful culture
  • Learning a new language (the most fulfilling journey I have experienced)
  • Playing against River Plate, Santos, Corinthians, Palmeiras
  • Making lifelong friendships
  • Returning to Liverpool FC academy (A special feeling to be back at my home in football)
  • Working with really young players again has been hugely rewarding
  • Staring the Pro Licence course
  • Coaching in Argentina, Brazil, Qatar, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, USA, Scotland.



I have always been a person that likes to make plans and have aims to achieve. This process enables me to concentrate on what is important to me in life and then ensuring that I focus on making sure those things are being ticked off or completed.

In short – It’s a list of things that get me out of bed in the morning!!

I use 6 categories to plan for the year

  1. Development – Personal development
  2. Work – Working aims and targets
  3. Family – Activities with my wife and two boys
  4. Health – So important, but always the one I’m most disappointed with
  5. Finance – Planning for my families future
  6. Fun – To ensure life doesn’t become too serious

Under each one, I write down what I would like to achieve or experience in the New Year. I don’t mind sharing that the second language has been on the list for many years and only this year did I make a significant development in that area. This will still be on the list again this year as a reminder to continue reading and studying.

“Like most people that work in football, I have two periods of “New year resolutions” with the second coming in June on my summer holidays. This works perfectly as a review point or mini half time assessment of how I am doing”

Of course, there are things that you cannot always plan for,

For me, having 8 weeks out of work allowed me to be a “full time” dad at the same time that my children were on the summer holidays from school. This was something that I didn’t plan for (and that I wouldn’t have wanted to plan for either), but it was fantastic to have that quality time with my boys. This period showed me the things I miss at home when working in a sport that I am obsessed with.

Life is short, and having lost one or two friends this year and also observing from a distance as one or two others have a tough time in their own careers, It’s a clear reminder that you have to constantly move forward and believe in yourself.

It is also important that you give this confidence to children or young people on their way up in the world.

Teaching them that YOU vs YOURSELF is a fantastic way to attack life and that they should be constantly trying to improve and impress themselves.

We all have our own unique journey in life. As coaches, we must educate children to only look sideways for inspiration and never to compare. Its my opinion that becoming a better person and improving each day is the ultimate definition of winning!!

And…… Winning is a word that we must promote more. We just need to give this clarity to the term winning in order to transform it from being seen as an ugly word in sports/schools to a beautiful word.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your families

Get planning for the best year ever in 2018!

“Who stole the defenders?”

Top defenders are crucial to any successful team.

But – are we doing enough to develop the next generation of elite defenders? and do we value the skills that defenders possess?

Tackling, shielding, intercepting, pressing, blocking, heading, clearing, tracking etc……. are skills that can be developed via coaching.

Are they seen as skills? and how often do we expose our players to them in order to develop and improve?



In modern day football, we often hear an assessment of a central defender on their ability to pass or bring the ball out of defence to instigate the teams attack.

Its a fact – that these qualities are important to developing a possession based style.

But, its my opinion that these qualities are an added bonus to a “top” defender and not an excuse of  – “he can play” – to give to a mediocre defender.

The balance is important and ideally we would want a outstanding defender, who in possession is able to play as a midfielder. But – the balance must always lean towards being a top defender first.

Therefore, as coaches, its important that we don’t neglect to develop defensive techniques.

“Often, we see defending as a boring subject to coach.

This is maybe a reason for coaches not investing adequate time to develop these techniques in there players.

However, being creative in your coaching of defending can change your players mentality towards defending. This is key to improvement”

Assess your players

When beginning with a new team or group of players, I always look and ask myself the following questions.

  • How many of the players are good defenders?
  • How many of the players like to defend?
  • How competitive is the group? (what do the training games look like)

The reason for this assessment is simple – to play elite football – all players must take part in the process of attacking and defending.

But defending, like attacking, is different for each player and for each position on the field.

For example, defending for a winger is different to defending for a central defender. The skills required for each position are different. This is similar to when the team is in possession, players need to develop the skills required for the situations they will experience in the game.

Improve each players defending

From analysing the group and answering the questions above, I can then begin to  improve each players defensive qualities.

To do this, you need to improve the awareness/understanding of each player and begin to make defending specific to the individual roles in the team.

Improving each player by 10 to 20% in the defensive side of the game will have have a big impact on the team as a whole.

Defending is a skill

10 or 20% for some players might seem like a high percentage to increase, but in practice, its actually quite easy to improve a players defensive skills and understanding.

The following areas can have a huge impact on a player

  • Specific defending for your role in the team
  • Awareness of how to block space
  • Awareness of how and when to press
  • Make each 1 v 1 personal (in training and games)
  • Ability to use your arms and body to protect your “personal” space
  • A commitment to never leaving a team mate isolated or 1v1 (the rule of 2v1).

The areas above can be developed by the environment you create in your training sessions.

“Step 1 – Improve your players awareness and mentality to defending”

Link to each players role in the team

Below is one of my favourite quotes for defending – It has references for other areas of player development – but i specifically try to use it for the development of attacking players and there application to defensive responsibilities.

“Defend from the front and attack from the back” – Arsene Wenger

Creating a link to each players specific role in the team will help to break down defending and give clarity to each player.

Examples of this include

Teaching a number 9 how to force play to one side of the pitch – or how to drop back and compact the team when under pressure.

Teaching a wide player how to block the passing line to the opponents wide player – or how to press the opponents full back and lock play to the line or force play inside.

Teaching a number 10 how to work with the number 9 to press central defenders or how to block the opponents deep lying midfielder.

Teaching central midfielders when and how to press or how to block space and then pressure the opponents as the ball is travelling.

Teaching full backs how to block crosses, to play against different types of wide player or how to positioning themselves when the ball is on the opposite side of the pitch.

Teaching central defenders how to intercept, stop attackers turning or how to cover their defensive partner.

Teaching goalkeepers how to adjust position with the movement of the ball and how to command their penalty area.

The different aspects of defending are vast – but – giving each player 1 or 2 things to remember is a good starting point.

Link to team work

A key to improving defending, is to link everything back to team work and helping your “friends“.

“Previously, I have spoken about developing players who can outplay 1v1 (in all aspects of the game) but, who are always thinking in 2v1. This is very important when developing defensive qualities”

“Emphasising team work is key”

Try to get your players thinking about helping each other on the pitch and never allowing a team mate to be isolated 1v1 without someone arriving to help.

As individuals (example of wide player helping their full back).

In units (midfielders blocking passes into the opponents attacking players).

As a team (learning how to compact space or force play to certain areas of the pitch).

Defending is about the work you put it………. – Pep Guardiola

Link to controlling space on the pitch

Defending is about space.

A team that understands how to control space on the pitch will be successful in limiting the opponents attacking threats.

Space can be controlled in a number of ways. You can defend as a low, medium or high block in terms of your starting “defensive” organisation.

You can also apply certain “pressing” triggers in relation to the position of the ball or the player in possession of the ball.


Make 1v1s personal

Improving your players mentality to defend and creating a strong winning mentality can be developed over time.

Make 1v1s personal in training and games

Each group of players includes people with different physical shapes and sizes. It also includes players with different “natural” skill sets (playing personalities). Therefore, in each group you can expose players to different types of opponent in 1v1 situations.

“Making 1v1 duels more personal – both in games and training – is to light a fuse to a players competitive edge”

Creating this mentality of making 1v1s personal and not wanting to lose to your opponent (in any area of the game) is something that you can build on over time.

In training – the practice does not need to be 1v1 – you can “fire” competition in small game scenarios by challenging two players to compete in the game for superiority (can be in any aspect of the game you wish).

This challenge will get the players looking into each others eyes and immediately the competition will rise in all areas of the games (technically, tactically, physically) but especially in the mental aspect of wanting to win…….

Creating this “grit” and winning mentality is essential to improving defensive attributes.

Create the “training environment”

So creating a training environment is very important.

  • How much competition do you use in training?
  • Do you make the competition specific?
  • Do you keep the score?
  • Do you pitch players up against each other?

To improve defending, its important that you speak about organisation and work ethic.  “The way a player moves and reacts when the team is defending, represents the amount that the players wants to win” is a quote that you can use to inspire greater focus in your players.

No player likes to lose. This is important to remember and to use to your advantage.

Having some clear “buzz” words or behaviours in your group can also make a big impact on the group without actually coaching defending as a topic.

An example of this is to simply talk about “light switch” transitions when losing the ball and making sure that the nearest player(s) counter press immediately when possession is lost.

These types of rules will create a training environment based on winning and competition. This in turn will lead to greater focus and mentality to defending.

Praise and encourage

Defending does not come natural to all players – especially if they haven’t been coached or exposed to defensive techniques.

But – if you see your players reacting and trying harder to defend, its important that you recognise this effort and improved mentality. Giving encouragement and praise for a players work ethic or focus is to reward this behaviour and give emphasis for the player to continue more often.

Making work ethic a daily habit – has huge benefits for the player and is often contagious through the group – as other players also want the positive praise.

Make defending fun

So making defending fun or hiding the defending within competition, team work or the focus on 1v1 duels is a clever way to improve each players level.

Whats important is that you have an awareness of how much time or how little time you spend on each area of the game in your training.

“Hide defending – if you need too – but don’t neglect it”

Try to look back over some old training sessions and write down the messages or themes for each session. Did you coach enough on defending??

Link to ball mastery and “personal space”


Improving each players ability to  – use their arms and body to protect the ball or to challenge for the ball – are important skills to develop.

This protection of your “personal” space on the pitch can be taught in line with ball mastery exercises and is something that is essential to developing a players “grit” and determination to retain possession.


Defensive skills are as important to develop as attacking skills – accepting this and being creative in your coaching is very important to developing top defenders.

  1. Assess your group
  2. Improve each players defending
  3. Make it position specific
  4. Link to team work – think in 2v1.
  5. Link to controlling space
  6. Make 1v1s personal
  7. Develop the training environment
  8. Praise and encourage
  9. Make it fun
  10. Improve use of arms and body – “personal space”

“Strong at the back, Strong as a team” – Sir Alex Ferguson

TIP – A simple understanding (1) How to control space and (2) a mentality of not being outplayed in 1v1 situations will have a huge impact on the players defensive qualities.

Catch up soon


GOAL MAP – Specific training.

This post continues on the theme of Individual development.

Now, we are going to look in-depth at how you can work with your players in order to build a training programme that is “specific” to them and their needs.

The term “needs” =  (1) what the game demands from them (2) what strengths they must continue to improve, (3) what action areas/points they need to improve on.

As an example – I am going to use a striker for this process and I’m going to show that with a simple analysis, you can identify the exact type of goals they score (and miss) in games. This information can then be used to build a “specific” training programme.

This type of work can be done for all positions in the team. Once up and running, the players can also take OWNERSHIP of the analysis (The forward making his/her personal “goal map” as the season progresses etc…)”

Harry Kane

Harry Kane is everything that is good about English football and is a role model to young players dreaming of making the Premier League. He is the current PL top goalscorer and during the 2016/17, he scored 35 goals in all competitions for Tottenham Hotspurs FC. He ended the season as England’s captain.

Personally it must have been a fantastic season for him.


Below is a breakdown of Harry Kane’s goals in the form of a “GOAL MAP“.

Each football represents a goal scored and the exact position of the ball before Kane shoots.

The white balls = The 24 goals scored with his right foot

The blue balls = The 8 goals scored with his left foot

The red balls = The 3 goals scored with his head.

Harry Kane’s 35 goals in the 2016/17 season

Now, we have this “GOAL MAP” we can go into each of the goals and see exactly how they were scored.

We can do this by looking at three keys things

  1. Type of finish (right, head, left)
  2. Distance from goal when finishing
  3. Touches on the ball (including the shot).

I have deliberately kept this analysis simple, and in a basic form that all coaches can use for there players.

(You can be more detailed if you wish – on the exact type of finish – position the ball enters the goal – covering defenders – or situation in the game etc).

See below for a breakdown of each goal.

Goals 3, 5, 6, 7, 16, 27 were penalties and goal 22 was a direct free kick.

Breaking down Harry Kane’s GOAL MAP we can see that he has scored 6 penalties and 1 free kick. We can also see that he has scored 25 goals with a 1 touch finish and a further 7 goals with a 2 touch finish. This will have implications for his further training and his awareness of the type of goal he scores.

The distance from goal when scoring is also important, especially for young strikers that are not always arriving into the box and are maybe – not on the move enough or finishing there movement in the correct areas.

Kane’s goals can be broken down as follows

0-6yd = 8 goals

6-12yd = 15 goals

12-18yd = 7 goals

18yd+ = 5 goals

From the information gathered, The feedback is clear and based on the facts of previous performances. Looking at the exact positions that goals are scored on the players “GOAL MAP” you can see which areas of the box they are most likely (and most unlikely) to score.

Harry Kane is clearly a focused and determined young man and therefore, I am sure that he is getting this type of information and working specific on the areas he wants to develop in his game. He recently spoke about his aims and goals for the future and it is clear the he will strive to improve.

“When top players make an interview about training or development, Listen closely to the words used (This type of obsession with improvement is often clear) and grab as many examples as you can, to show your developing players”.

Developing your player

Ok – so with a simple analysis and some video footage, you can develop your strikers awareness of number of goals scored, types of goals scored and identify some trends in there individual play.

You can also watch any chances missed and then identify any trends that might come from this informaton too.

From this – you can build a very specific training programme that can be developed on a daily basis. The training will now become extremely focused and personal to this players development.

This type of “project” will also get buy in from the player and also inspire them to “own” the training and take ownership to develop these areas when possible.

Your player will also have the awareness that you are thinking of them personally. This will have a big impact on your relationship with the player and also help to structure your communication with them.

This is so important to maintaining a players focus on improving there IDENTITY as a player.

“For some positions, you may want to add physical statistics that coincide with the players strongest performances in the season etc..  You can make it as specific as you need or want too. My only advice would be – the simpler the better – in terms of using the information to build a training programme that is aimed to improve the players ability, awareness and focus”.

Role Models

For any young player, using a role model and analysing this elite players GOAL MAP or specific actions in a game, can also be a strong influence on a young player.

This can also help to “guide” a young players training and improvement.

TIP – Getting into the box

Encourage your forwards to take the extra touch and go into the penalty box. By going into the box, you create more options to use a variety of finishing techniques.

  • Placed
  • Curled
  • Power
  • Chip or “Dink”
  • Going around the goalkeeper

Also when the ball is in the penalty area, defenders will naturally panic more!!.

This will often lead to the defenders lunging in (to block/tackle) and therefore, giving you the opportunity to fake and bring the ball in another direction or possibly lead to a foul/penalty.

When looking at different finishing techniques,

Ask your player – What techniques do they already have at an elite standard? and which ones do they need to develop more?

Add to the list above with:

Headers, Volleys, Half-volleys etc.. and go specific into each one (headers from the left, from the right etc).

Team Development

You can also use the above for team development – both in regards to goals scored and goals conceded. The process is the same and by giving yourself a detailed “simple” analysis you can add greater focus to your training and communication.

Catch up soon.

New BOOK – 60 Training Games for elite player development – Available now 


“Position and a 1/2”

Continuing from a previous blog on “Player identity”.

The ideas in this post will take the “player identity” model to a higher level and give you some ideas to work on with your players.

It is very important to stay one step ahead of your talents and to make sure you are pushing them to stay with a “growth” mindset and improving each day.

From time to time, players can think they have cracked it……..

So you will require a stream of ideas and also to provide a greater awareness of the “bigger picture”.

“As a defender, you must not only do your job in a game, you must also do 1/2 of the job for the defenders either side of you”

The above insight on coaching was something that I picked up while working at Liverpool FC. I was listening to a story about the famous boot room coaches of years gone by. The above was something that was used in those famous times of success – I believe by Ronnie Moran.

It is a great insight into defending and is 100% correct and something that I regularly use to open the players minds.

However, I have also changed the idea of this concept into both a defending and attacking aspect to challenge players to develop.

So the term “Position & a 1/2” was born from this idea.

“The game is always evolving and so are the demands on players to be multi skilled. Players are regularly rotating their position to disrupt compact defences and therefore, need a wide variety of attributes in order to be successful”

As an example, I am going to use the role of a full back and select three players of a very high level, with different physical attributes and from different cultures/nationalities.

– Phillip Lahm

– Dani Alves

– Branislav Ivanovic

All three of these guys are right defenders (full backs) and have played for the biggest clubs in Europe, won a high number of trophies and played in the biggest games.

However, they are all completely different and have different playing personalities.

FC Bayern Muenchen v 1. FC Koeln - Bundesliga

Lahm is a right defender that has a second position as a central midfielder. He can switch position via rotation or game to game within a manager’s team selection. He can change his mindset for each role and is equally skilled as a footballing full back or a controlling midfielder who begins the team’s build up play.


Alves is a right defender that has the qualities to attack like a winger – both in rotation of position and elite techniques to outplay 1v1 to create or score goals. He demonstrates excellent athletic ability to cover high distances in a game and often at high intensity.


Ivanovic is a right defender that is outstanding in 1v1 defensive situations. He doesn’t have the same quality of passing as Lahm or attacking qualities as Alves. He is bigger and stronger than both and therefore, his second position is naturally as a central defender. In this position, he uses his strength, excellent heading ability and reading of the game to dominate his opponents.

Therefore – I like to ask players the following key questions in regards to their personal development.

What is your best position? — The position that you believe that you play in the best.

What is your position and a 1/2? — The position that you find yourself in as a second choice or within games via the teams rotation.

What does your second position demand from you?

What do you need to add to your game?

What are you obsessive about developing each day in order to improve?

So – if you have a budding Ivanovic, Lahm or Alves,

Firstly, they need to have the qualities to become a top right defender. But, they also need an option of playing in a second position as a starter, as this will give them more opportunities to play and a greater influence on the coaches team selection

The player will also need to understand that via rotation in the game, they need qualities to arrive in a second position and have the attributes to succeed.

In his time at Barcelona, Dani Alves provided forward (overlapping) runs in order to create space for Lionel Messi. In doing this, he become an extra “attacker” for the team.

So Alves needs to defend like a top full back – then have the physical capabilities to constantly run up and down the pitch (at medium to high speed) to join the teams attack – and finally once in the final 3rd , he must have the quality to outplay 1v1 or combine with his team mates to cross or shoot at goal. He cannot be a defender in attack!, In these moments, he must be able to move and play like an attacker.

That is an exhausting list and something that is assessed by millions of people each time he plays.

At all levels of the game – people are constantly looking and making judgments on players. So to be a top player, your daily training “diet” must prepare and develop you for the demands of the game………

And these demands are very specific and personal to each player!.

There is a fantastic insight on player confidence and self belief from the Dutch coach, Martin Jol.

“A players confidence and self belief does not come from the coaches or managers, it comes from the knowledge that during a game, you are comfortable in any situation or position that you find yourself in”

These are important words for player development and they elude to my thoughts on player identity and players understanding the situations they will find themselves in during a game (the half positions).

Moving minds

Moving the mind of your players and constantly pushing them to think about the “what ifs” is a key part of maintaining focus and motivation for improvement.

“For young players, fear on a football pitch = The moment you are put under pressure to execute a weakness”

So I like to ask the players questions in order to provoke self assessment and action.

What is your biggest fear on a football pitch?.

In the last five minutes of a game, the ball is crossed to the far post and you have a chance to head and score – do you score or not? (are your heading techniques elite?).

In the 1st minute of your debut, the ball is switched to Eden Hazard and he begins to run at you 1v1, will you be able to stop him? (are your 1v1 defending techniques elite?).

In the last minute of your debut, a ball arrives on your weak foot, 20 metres from goal,  do you score or miss? (how comfortable are you at striking the ball with both feet?).

This type of questioning is used to constantly probe and keep the players in a “growth” mindset of always needing to improve further.

On your debut – you do not want to be “HOPING” that things will be ok. Imagine yourself playing inside a stadium of 40,000 fans, with millions watching on tv and this being the moment you have waited for and dreamed about your whole life.

You have to PREPARE in the days, weeks, months and years before that moment.

Its my opinion, that a coach must be the person who raises constant awareness of these aspects and the level required. Not in a harsh way, but in a way that inspires development.

The questions change for each position and for each person. But, questioning, and making players think about improvement is very important.

For strikers – What type of goals do you score? Understand this and practice these techniques and situations each day – along with the types of chances you miss?

For wide players – What type of opponent do you have success playing against? What type of players do you not have success playing against? How is your crossing? What type of crossing is your strength? What types do you need to improve? Do you cross to a top level with both feet? How is your movement off the ball? What type of goals do you score?…….

Therefore, the skill of building relationships and communicating 1 to 1 is hugely important for youth coaches. It is something that must become a more prominent aspect  of coach education, if we are to develop more elite players.

“1 to 1 Conversations on identity and mindset are often more influential to the process of improving players than coaching inside the pitch”


Always praise the effort and application of a player that is showing a willingness to improve their game.

You must help to “remove the fluff” and adjust the training with careful advice – in order to stimulate the player to continue.

Improving anything in life is easier when following a process. A key is to break things down and take small steps each day to improve.

Catch up soon!

 “60 Training games for elite player development”  is now available. 


75% of 1v1’s in football.

Twisting and turning

In 2006, I was fortunate to be listening to Andre Merelle speak at a coaches training event. Merelle was the head of the French FA’s famous Clairefontaine academy.

“Clairefontaine has produced many top internationals for the French national team including Thierry Henry”

At this event, Merelle made a comment that has stuck with me to this day.

He commented “Watch the best players in the world, the ones you love to see play, and you will see how well they turn. The best players, all have this quality of turning better than the players who are just a level below them.”

That evening, I searched the internet and watched clips of all the players I admired – I looked for players of different shape and size. I also looked for players from different nationalities and leagues to confirm this comment.

He was right, its a quality that all the “top” talents have and separates the match winners from the players taking part in the game.

Then – from the very next session, I was busy dedicating more time to this aspect of the game than I ever had before.

Its become an obsession and something that I always look for in young players

– the agility and smoothness of turning when dribbling or receiving a pass – 

I like to coach this at every opportunity


“75% of 1v1s in the premier league are when an opponent is directly behind the player receiving the ball”

If the above statistic is correct – The ability to receive under high pressure and maintain possession is a hugely important skill to master.

So – two questions for development coaches are

(1) How often do we work on this situation in our training sessions?

(2) How can we break this skill/technique down for our players? (In a way that they learn, improve and have fun during the process).

If we look at videos of the best players in the Premier League at twisting and turning away from pressure (Hazard, Dembele, Silva, Coutinho etc…) we are given some clear hints on the key components needed to be successful in these moments of the game.


Creating space to receive – teaching players how to create space – using double movements, disguised movements or to “push and move” away from the opponent.

Body position on receiving – teaching players to constantly adjust their body position in order to “see both goals” on the pitch as much as possible.

Scanning – teaching players how to “scan” and grab a picture of what is around them before receiving a pass. This is directly linked to your body positioning in order to give yourself the biggest picture of what is around you.

Front foot and back foot receiving – teaching players the term “front” foot to receive the ball on the foot furthest from the opponent and the term “back” foot to receive the ball across your body and into a direction away from the opponent. This is again linked to your – movement, body position and scanning –  before receiving a pass.

Using arms and legs to protect – teaching players how to use their arms and legs to give themselves space on the pitch and hold off the direct opponents. The correct use of your body is not directly linked to strength – more the use of your body.

After all, the opponent cannot run through you to get the ball and any unfair contact will lead to a foul being awarded.

Using both feet – teaching the importance of turning with both feet and being able to receive a pass with both feet is essential.

Using different areas of the foot and disguised touches – teaching players how to cut and chop the ball with the inside and outside of both feet and also to drag the ball using the sole of the foot.

In addition, learning how to take a “delayed” or “late” touch with disguise or even learning how to let the ball run across your body without the need to touch the ball.

2nd touch “off the path” – teaching players to take their second touch in a different direction to their first touch will enable them to wrong foot the opponent.

Luis Suarez is a master of this technique –  he regularly uses a quick second touch in a new direction, against the movement of his direct opponent and therefore, creates the space he needs to beat the defender.


Now – we need to transfer these components into various types of training.

This will enable our players to build confidence and for each player to understand their own bodies and what is the “best” fit for them personally (this is very important!).

(1) Unopposed
Unopposed or semi unopposed work on cutting the ball with the inside and outside of the foot will give a player the confidence in their techniques.

Examples of David Silva twisting and turning with the inside and outside of his left foot.

(2) Opposed
Now develop this into 1v1 situations with “live” pressure against different types of opponents in order to fine tune.

The players will quickly learn what is needed to be successful against different opponents (size, speed, level of pressure) and to understand the value of space and scanning before receiving the ball.

“The secret of all teams or groups of players is the difference in playing personalities. Each group will have small or big players, fast or slow players, good dribblers, passers, defenders etc.

This is true for an u9 local team or a senior professional team.

Using Real Madrid as the elite example – Ronaldo is completely different to Kross, Modric, Ramos, Marcelo, Bale etc.

Giving your the players the experience of playing against different types of opponent is essential to their development.

As a coach – this is a beautiful advantage that every group of players gives you in the process of player development.

(3) Small sided games
Finally – take this work into small game scenarios where the players will need to “read” the moment of the game and make decisions at high speed.

Games are unpredictable and making this adjustment from unopposed – opposed – game scenario is the important last step.

Often, it’s not the skill/technique but – the application and decision making that needs adjusting for a player to use their attributes to good effect.

Lastly – Its important for young players to know – 

The best players are constantly working with the ball and fine turning their movements – both in isolation and during the group training sessions.

The best players are obsessive and want to grow their strengths each day.