The Game Training Phase has two main objectives:
- Preparing players for senior football by teaching them to apply functional game skills in a team setting using 1-4-3-3 as the preferred formation
- Developing tactical awareness, perception and decision-making through a game-related approach to training.
Since Game Training Phase sessions should strive for game realistic scenarios, the practices must include game specific resistances such as opponents, team-mates, direction, rules and appropriate dimensions. As a consequence, in Game Training Phase sessions often all three Main Moments take place continuously, but the focus is on one of them.
Game Training Phase sessions consist of 4 components: Warm up, Positioning Game, Game Training, Training Game.
Starting points for the Warm Up are:
• Preferably with ball (e.g. passing practices);
• If possible ‘theme related’ including a level of decision-making;
Avoid warm-ups that are more like conditioning sessions!
The main conditions for quality positioning play are:
• Maximal use of space in order to create more time on the ball
(stretching the opponent)
• Triangles (no players in straight lines)
• Support play to create options for the player on the ball
• Anticipation and communication (verbal and non-verbal).
These basic principles form the foundation for proactive possession
based football and this explains the importance of the positioning games
in training practices.
Through positioning games young players:
Learn to always create at least 3 options for the player on the ball (through proper positioning)
Improve their decision-making (by learning to choose the right option)
Increase their handling speed (less space and time forces quicker thinking and acting)
Improve their technique (passing and first touch are essential technical skills)
Learn to communicate both verbally (e.g. calling for the ball) and non-verbally (e.g. through ball speed and ball direction).
This is the reason why positioning games are on the menu of every Game Training Phase and Performance Phase session.
THE GAME TRAINING COMPONENT:
This is the part of the session where conscious teaching and learning of the designated Team Task takes place. For a proper Game Training practice the coach must therefore:
Create the proper scenario (organize the practice in such a way that the focus is on the designated Team Task);
Organize the practice in the right area of the field (where this particular situation takes place during the real game) and with the appropriate dimensions
Create the proper level of resistance (too easy = no development; too difficult = no success)
Make effective interventions and provide quality (specific) feedback
Ask smart questions to develop player understanding and enhance learning
This is the traditional game at the end of a session. In our approach however it should not just be a ‘free’ game. The definition of a Training Game in the context of a Game Training Phase session is:
A game at the end of the session that contains all the elements of the real game but with rules and restraints that see to it that the designated Team Task is emphasised.
During a Training Game the players are playing and the coach is observing if learning has taken place (little or no stop-start coaching but preferably coaching ‘on the run’).
Clearly, quality coaching is not as easy as it may look!
The coach must also be mindful of the Growth Spurt. Players going through this stage of maturation will have varying energy levels and are injury-prone. Proper managing of training loads to avoid over-training is essential.
Therefore we consider 3 sessions of 75-90 minutes and one game a maximum safe weekly work load, with the following session planning guidelines:
Welcome/explanation: 5 minutes
Warm Up: 15-20 minutes
Positioning Games: 20 minutes
Game Training component: 25-30 minutes
Training Game: 20-25 minutes
Warm Down/wrap up 5-10 minutes
ABOUT THE GAME TRAINING PHASE
The most important aspect of this age bracket is the fact that these players are in (or entering into) the puberty phase which is a phase of radical mental and physical changes.
Huge changes in the hormonal system cause confusion while the physical changes can also unsettle the youngsters. Physically they may sometimes suddenly look like adults but mentally they often are still children, something that may also confuse coaches. Another aspect for coaches to consider is that in general, girls enter the puberty phase slightly earlier than boys.
The main mental characteristics of the puberty phase are:
- Sudden mood changes
- Resistance against authority
- Impulsiveness (first acting then thinking)
- Accelerated intellectual development
- Identity search which leads to a desire to be part of a group
The main physical characteristic of the puberty phase is a sudden acceleration in growth. One of the consequences of this growth spurt may be a temporary decrease of coordination and strength.
Because suddenly the bones start growing fast and the muscles and ligaments as well as the nervous system need time to adjust to the new proportions, players may look ‘clumsy’. Players are also prone to overuse injuries like Osgood-Schlatter disease during this phase.
It goes without saying that it’s of the ultimate importance that coaches working with players this age have knowledge and understanding of all these aspects to be able to guide youngsters through this critical development phase in a well-considered way.
While during the puberty phase players’ physical and technical development temporarily stagnates or loses ground, their intellectual development accelerates as does their understanding of and appreciation for teamwork. This makes the Game Training Phase exceptionally suited for developing tactical awareness and insight.
Whereas the purpose of the Skill Acquisition Phase is to acquire the core skills, the Game Training Phase is about learning how to apply them in a functional way. In the Game Training Phase the focus shifts towards learning to play as a team and developing an understanding of the team tasks during the main moments (attacking; defending; transitioning), as well as the specific tasks that go with the individual team positions.
To be able to properly develop the team tasks and the individual player tasks we need the context of a playing formation. After all, team tasks and player tasks may differ depending on the playing formation.
THE 1-4-3-3 FORMATION
It is important to realise that we did not just take 1-4-3-3 as a starting point! Unfortunately this has been and continues to be widely misunderstood and far too much attention has been devoted to discussions about playing formations.
Of course there are many successful styles and formations in football but FFA considers 1-4-3-3 the most appropriate formation to develop an understanding of team play in young players.
Our opinion is supported by another very interesting quote from the Chris Sulley research on Europe’s most successful academies:
“THERE WAS A CLEAR EMPHASIS ON A POSSESSION BASED PHILOSOPHY AND MOST EMPLOYED A 4-3-3 MODEL WITH AN EXPLICIT ATTEMPT TO PASS THE BALL THROUGH THE UNITS. THERE WAS A TANGIBLE DIFFERENCE IN THE TYPE OF WORK DELIVERED TO THE PLAYERS FROM WHAT IS TYPICALLY DELIVERED AT EPL ACADEMIES. EARLY AGE PLAYERS TYPICALLY PARTICIPATED IN RANDOM AND VARIABLE PRACTICES THAT INVOLVED DECISION-MAKING TACTICALLY. THE CONSISTENT TALENT ID CRITERIA WAS CENTRED AROUND THE PLAYER’S ABILITY TO HANDLE THE BALL, MAKE GOOD DECISIONS AND SPEED, AS OPPOSED TO THE NOTIONS OF POWER, SIZE AND STRENGTH THAT STILL DOMINATE THE ENGLISH YOUTH SYSTEM”.
Similar to the sessions of the Skill Acquisition Phase, the sessions of the Game Training Phase are also ‘themes based’. During the Skill Acquisition Phase the ‘theme’ of a session focuses on one of the four ‘Core Skills’ (first touch; running with the ball; 1 v 1; striking the ball)
In the Game Training Phase the ‘theme’ of a session focuses on one of the ‘Main Moments’ and the Team Tasks (as well as the individual player tasks) within that ‘Main Moment’.