To assist with developing our young player’s technique and “game knowledge” it is important that we first of all understand what principles of the game we are expecting them to use and by doing so define our playing philosophy. Of course, us understanding our game principles is only the start of the process, the major task is then designing the development programme to give the players the opportunity to practise them.

Our chosen principles of play are:

  1. We want to dominate possession of the ball and we will do this by using a playing system that gets players near to (supporting) the ball.
  2. We want all players to be comfortable receiving the ball regardless of pitch position or the location of opposition players.
  3. We want all players to play with freedom in all areas of the pitch and to be confident enough to enter any area of the pitch when appropriate to the state of the game at that moment
  4. When we are in possession we want to keep the ball moving and be always looking for (and taking) opportunities to play forward.
  5. We want to play in the opposition half as much as possible so when we are not in possession we use a high (pitch position) pressing strategy which denies (closes) space to the opposition.
  6. We want to force the opposition towards the touchlines as much as possible when they have possession and then use a compact pressing strategy to close off the centre of the pitch in order to regain the ball.
  7. When it is appropriate to the state of the game we will be able to switch to a “dropping off” defensive strategy that is stable and compact reducing the opportunities for the opposition to enter our defensive third.

To help deliver our principles of play we have adopted a “game mantra” which is:

  • Secure It
  • Keep It
  • Use It
  • Regain It

The adoption of this “game mantra”, particularly the “secure it” step has led to huge improvements in the players understanding of how to dominate possession and in their decision making in the instant that they receive the ball.

Our work with the players is based on these principles of play, the aim of our coaching across all of the four corners is to help the players to gain and maintain the capabilities required to use what they are learning, and the expectation is that, eventually, the players will have the game craft to select and apply the principles required by the current state of the game to achieve the desired outcome.

Finally it’s worth noting that our principles of play are chosen to help us to control the outcome of our games as often as possible and that means using our possession of the ball to score more goals than our opponents. We know that we have more chance of scoring if our attacking play is unscripted, after all if we coach specific movements and plays to create chances we, or our opponents, can also coach ways to stop the creation of or taking of those chances. To achieve this we have, as coaches, agreed to give the freedom to the players to be inventive, to take ownership of the game, and to make their own decisions.

After all, it is their game, let them play it….