Looking for Change in all the Wrong Places.

No, this is not a takeoff on an old country song. Nor is it an expose' on how to find loose change with a metal director or in the nether regions of your car seat or sofa.  In watching soccer matches this week I have noticed teams making changes to formations and personnel.  With the season now more than half over I found myself wondering about the motivation to make changes now.

Injuries could certainly be a reason to prompt personnel changes and perhaps to a lesser degree be a reason to contemplate a formational change. Other than that, I can only think of dissatisfaction with how the season has progressed thus far as the reason to be changing personnel and formations this late in the season.

Have shortcomings just now revealed themselves?  Or have issues plagued your team from the onset of the season?  Has the coached recognized, but stubbornly refused to address personnel and formational issues to this point?  Perhaps the coach only recognizes that something isn't quite right and is attempting personnel moves or changing formations to spark better play?

In the end, I think one running theme is the coaches level of ability to correctly analyze play. If there is a second running theme it is personalities - sometimes a coach will have a "pet" player (s)he plays over someone who is obviously better in the minds of teammates and casual observers alike. Or a coach simply does not like a player and either doesn't play him or doesn't play him in a preferred position. Maybe we are touching on a darker side of coaching, but no one can deny that these things do happen.

One of the hidden gems of coaching wisdom I learned at a very early age from an old pointy football coach was the need for the head coach to be a stable rudder throughout the process of a season. Set your course and only minimally adjust your tack to stay that course. Starting over in mid season is not a prescribed coaching methodology.

Analyzing play is an art form and one that must be worked at to be developed and maintained. The coach has to analyse the scientific data and convert it into coaching and training programs to help develop the athlete. This analysis process relies heavily on the coach's experience and knowledge of soccer and the athlete concerned.

One particular team really stood out to me this week. I have seen them 3 times this fall and each time they have employed a different formation with personnel in different positions.  Yes, they are struggling, but it's not due to personnel or formational issues. No, the problems are much more basic than those. I almost immediately recognized this particular team could benefit from one of our Pace of Play camps next summer.  I have presented the coach with my business card.  This team's problem is not related to deployment of personnel or team shape as defined by a formation. They have trouble with preparing to play the ball, proper touch, sequence of touches, recognizing their next play before their first touch and properly executing a pass.  That can be fixed. I can help fix that for them. Attempting to address these issue by changing personnel and formation is not going to yield the desired results.

So, let's take a brief introductory look at how to analyze a soccer match.

How to analyze a match is one of the most frequently asked questions in coaching clinics I conduct. One might think there is a standard response, but it isn't that simple. To begin with, does the questioner wish to know how to analyze the match in its entirety or is he asking how to analyze specific parts of play? Does he want to look at his own team or the opposing team? Does he wish to analyze individual play, positional unit play, how players or units link together?

Why the coach wishes to analyze play is as important to ascertain as is what portion of play he is interested in analyzing.

Does the coach wish to analyze play in-game so he can make adjustments to the game plan?

Does the coach wish to analyze play so he can address issues in training sessions in the days after the match?

Perhaps the coach wants to attempt to do analysis for both in-game purposes and post game purposes.

More often than not, the coach will not have thought this out as thoroughly as he should have before asking about analyzing the game.  This is a topic that invariably dominates discussion once it has been broached. Today, I am going to walk you through some basic ideas on how to analyze a match.  As with any undertaking we need to establish a solid foundation for our efforts and so this is where we will begin.  This is also where I lose many of the coaches who initially show great interest in learning to analyze a match.

Know the game.

This may seem like an obvious statement to make, but it is the cornerstone for being able to analyze a match properly. Knowledge of the technical aspects of play is a must. From a tactical standpoint a coach needs a vision for how he expects his team to play. Determine what your team is, then set the course for where you want to take them.

Know your own team.

If you are going to analyze your own team, either individual players, positional units or in its entirety, you must first know your team.

What is your base formational alignment?

What are the variations to the base alignment or alternative alignments you employ?

What is your system of play?

Does your system of play and formation(s) compliment one another or are they at odds with one another?

Does your formational alignment and system of play fit the strengths of a majority of your players?

Do the skill sets of your players fit the system of play and formation you wish to employ?

Have you defined specific roles for each position and positional unit within the formational alignment and in tune with the system of play you desire to utilize?

Have you aligned personnel within the formation in such a way as to play to the strengths of the individuals?

Does your system of play factor in how to link the positional units and within that context how to link your best players within each unit - you do want your best players getting the most touches on the ball, don't you?

Do your players know, understand and appreciate their roles within the formational alignment and system of play?

You may or may not be surprised to learn that many, perhaps even a majority of, youth coaches never consider these questions with specific intent. I find that many wish to begin the process of analyzing their teams play by beginning in the middle of the analyzation process. This, of course, will not work.

I suggest coaches begin learning to analyze play by learning to analyze their players technical play first and how this is impacting the teams ability to execute tactically.  Fix the technique necessary to perform the tactic. Then you can move on to adjusting tactics be that through formation, shape or system of play.  Look to first make change where your team can most beneficially do so and then take a look at the larger picture. 

With our spring team I will use our indoor practice sessions to focus almost entirely on technique.  Over the course of the first few sessions I will identify specific techniques to be focused on. Then I will use our first college showcase event to analyze our formation and tactics. By the second college showcase event I have set the teams seasonal course. Adjustments after the fact are minimal. I want to provide a stable environment in training and in play.

This is who we are.

This is what we do.

I feel drifting of course with personnel and or formation changes can send the wrong message to the team unless the reasons for doing so are made crystal clear.  The last things you want is to have players questioning the coaches judgment or even worse, the coaches confidence in the players. Choose your course wisely. Select the provisions you will need - a season long training plan to achieve your vision. Provide a confident, stable rudder for your team as they navigate towards fulfilling your vision for them.  There are going to be rough seas. The key is to not allow rough seas to blow you off course. Stay true to the seasons course and come out of those rough season having made progress in the process. Come out stronger, wiser and with the experience of having done so. This is how you grow a team. 

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