Tuesday, November 14, 2017




How to develop football game intelligence through the learning and teaching process?

To ensure frequent victories today, it is absolutely necessary to develop complete players. They must have an excellent technical ability, physical fitness and tactical knowledge; they must also be mentally prepared. But, there is one more aspect of the development of a complete football player that have not been considered or stimulated sufficiently in training to bring the game to a superior level. That is the development of game intelligence in football.

Game intelligence is the quality that allows a player to recognize and adapt to situations on the football pitch quickly in the high pressure atmosphere of the match. However, the development of the intellectual capacities of the players is still in its very beginning, because of the authoritarian teaching style preferred by the vast majority of coaches. For instance, the frequent instructions that the players receive from the coaches before the game, during the game and during the training sessions.
The way to improve your players and the play itself is to begin a systematic development of tactical awareness and thinking from a very early age with an emphasis on a progressive stimulation of perceptive and intellectual capacities.

How to teach the players to think on their own when playing the game?

The children gain a variety of experiences through observing, practicing and experimenting. Then, they interpret these experiences when encountered with different and challengeable situations during the game. Here, the role of the coach is to guide the child and help him to interpret experiences properly, otherwise the child will never reach his full potential. So, the coaches need to offer advice, to give examples and to question almost everything.
Every coach should ask himself, what is the best way for the children to acquire tactical habits? The answer is very simple. All young players should be exposed as soon as possible during training to simplified games in order to acquire football knowledge and specific experience.
However, subjective experiences alone are insufficient. The acquisition of knowledge is much better when it is the result of a well-proven pedagogical process where the coach uses questions and demonstrations to develop the specific knowledge. An explanation or demonstration, stimulation, advice and encouragement by the coach will form a solid foundation in the youngster’s mind for the development of game intelligence. How to further build on this foundation is through appropriate number of repetitions of the same game situation and then transfer of the solution to similar situations that happen in the game.

Training methodology to develop game intelligence

Coaches must use the global rather than analytic method. The players should be exposed to a series of technical-tactical simplified games like 2v1, 3v2 or 3v1. Practising simplified games over and over again every player will face  and resolve a series of problems that should be shaped perfectly to his physical, technical and mental abilities. Bellow will be outlined a couple of games and progressive exercises that will aid the development of player’s tactical thinking and awareness step by step until he, with the coach’s guidance, has discovered a number of solutions for every situation confronted in a football game. The solution can be figured out through spontaneity, imagination, creativity or through frequent repetition of a similar situation in training.

The ability for flexibility in a previously learned skill is only possible when the player has been exposed to a systematic development of his intellectual capacity from a very early age right through to a top performance level. Good perception, an understanding of game situations and good decision making, culminates in a good technical execution of the mentally prepared move. All these phases of the playing action must be coached over a period of years in order to be able to raise the performance level of any player.
The game intelligence is a very important aspect in football. If you want to stimulate game intelligence you as a coach must stop giving instructions and commands before, during and after the match. Coaches must understand that instructing all the time would prevent the players in developing their intelligence. Furthermore, instead of providing solutions to the problems to the players, coaches should confront the players in training with a variety of problems to be sort out by themselves.
In order to get more intelligent players with awareness and responsibility, coaches must stop with the rigid and authoritarian coaching style as well as to start to stimulate the players more and instruct less.

Developing game intelligence means teaching the players to:
  •      Execute a previously devised solution quickly and with an appropriate skill level;
  •         Read the game and understand what is happening on the pitch;
  •         Draw on past experiences when confronting any given situation to come to a correct decision.

Intelligent players are capable of reading situations within the game as well as anticipating how the play is likely to develop thanks to previous information. The quality to anticipate, as a result of good decision making and perception, is a significant tool for intelligent players. Nobody has an inborn high level of game intelligence. In order to develop the innate potential, you have to expose your players every day to a progressive training program with simplified games. Not only can simplified games develop game intelligence in player, but also improve the tactical and technical skills.

In part 2 will be explained what game intelligence looks like and how to use effective questioning in order to improve your players and enhance their performance.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017



Guardiola is considered by many as the best football tactician in the world currently. His teams are famous for the offensive and attractive football as well as for the low number of goals they concede during the season. The following presentation will reveal the secrets behind his success.

One of his main tactical aims: to have his defenders playing close to the centre circle line and, if possible, moving into the opposition's half for as long as they can. He wants his players to close the opposition down in their own area. The aim is to be tightly packed, except the wingers who provide the team with width in the attacking phase, and able to press the opposition, thus cutting off counter attacks.


The position of the ball determines where the defensive line is. The defender who is closest to the ball is the one who sets the line, irrespective of whether it's the full-back or the centre-half. If it's the full-back, the nearest central defender needs to watch his back, the second centre-back needs to cover his partner and he, in turn will be covered by the furthest away full-back. Guardiola explains: 'The four need to move constantly like links in a chain to prevent the channels becoming too wide or long. They must prevent it being easy for an attacker or the ball to get through those channels. When one centre-half attacks he ball, that's the precise moment the other centre-back must slot into that vacated space and the pivote must drop in to cover him. The movements must be automatic, instant and always linked.'


Possession is only a means to an end. It's a tool, not an objective or an end goal. Or, as Pep puts it: 'If there isn't a sequence of 15 passes first, it's impossible to carry out the transition between attack and defence. Impossible. But it's not possession or one-touch passing that matters, but the intention behind it. The percentage of possession a team has or the number of passes that the group or an individual makes is irrelevant in itself. What's crucial is the reason they are doing these things, what they're aiming to achieve and what the team plans to do when they have the ball. That's what matters!'
       'Having the ball is important if you are going for 15 consecutive passes in the middle of the field in order to maintain your shape, whilst at the same time upsetting the opposition's organisation. How do you disorganise them? With fast, tight, focused passing as part of this 15-move sequence. You need most of your men working as a unit, although some of them will need to maintain a bit of distance from each other in order to stretch out the rival team. And whilst you make those 15 moves and organise yourselves, your opponents are chasing you all over the park, trying to get the ball from you. In the process, without realising it, they'll have lost all organisation.'
       'If you lose the ball, if they get it off you, then the player who takes it will probably be alone and surrounded by your players, who will then get it back easily or, at the very least, ensure that rival team can't manoeuvre quickly. It's these 15 passes that prevent your rival from making any kind of co-ordinated transition.'


In football there are basically two propositions: one based on ball possession and the other on managing space on the pitch. 'If you want to win by dominating the ball you have to cover each other and look for free men. The guy who hangs around by your hoop waiting to take a pass and score easily,' says Pep.
       He sees four specific ways to defend against such a threat: don't lose the ball in key midfield areas where it's easiest for the opposition to mount a dangerous counter; use 15 passes to make sure that your team is well positioned and close together at the point where a move might break down, so that it's easier to press and win the ball back swiftly; put high, effective pressure on the first opponent (the free man) who receives the ball after your possession breaks down - anticipate who the free man will be and react more quickly than him. In all of this the central defender, and his vigilance, is vital.
       Guardiola: 'For a team which wants to dominate the ball and be the game's protagonist, managing the free or open opponent is the principal defensive objective.'

Friday, June 16, 2017



This Positional Play has been the underlying philosophy behind one of the most successful coaches, Pep Guardiola. At the beginning, just to familiarize the readers with this game model, a couple of teams and coaches that used the Positional Play will be outlined.The most successful team in terms of trophies won through using the Positional Play has been FC Barcelona during Pep Guardiola's time.Of course the same style continued in the following years including the latest coach, Luis Enrique. Also, Guardiola's Bayern team played with this concept and now he is using the Positional Play in his current team Manchester City. Furthermore, Tomas Tuchel's Borussia Dortmund played the Positional Play in a modified way in comparison to Pep's teams. Other coaches that use the Positional Play in their teams are Jorge Sampaoli as well as Luis Van Gaal and Marcelo Bielsa. In all of their teams the interpretation of the Positional Play is in many different ways mainly because of the quality of the players and the way the coach prefers his team to play. However, the basic concepts and principles remain the same.

This is an example of FC Barcelona's Positional Play.
The well-organized positioning provides the players to express their individual potential and the collective creativity. Basically, Barcelona plays 4-3-3 with a single pivot (defensive midfielder). This shape gives the team the ability to create triangles of support with short distances between the players, which helps the circulation of the ball and as a result Barcelona always has higher percentage of possession of the ball than the opponents.

The Positional Play is about giving the offense a set of guidelines to play within a structured scheme. The playing field is divided into specific zones with four vertical lines and some horizontal lines.

Example from Pep Guardiola's training pitch.

So, the Positional Play is a model of constructed play and it is found in the attacking phase, when we are in possession of the ball. It is basically trying to play the ball towards the opponent's goal by passing through free players. 
You can create those free players through your better positioning than the opponent. Positioning Play is positioning yourself better to get closer to the opposition goal through finding free man. The basic idea is to progress towards the objective of scoring a goal. We occupy the opponent's half, expanding ourselves into their half of the pitch using width and diagonal balls in order to penetrate through their defensive block. It is an organized play that involves combined passing movements using a large number of passes and very well positioning. Some players are directly involved in the play, whereas others are on the break, creating spaces to ensure that possession is kept and progression is made with the final objective of scoring a goal. The Positional Play needs structure and continuous geometrical formations; triangles, rhombus etc.


A good positional play consists of invading and conquering the space on the pitch by making the pitch as big as possible when in possession. To have the ball in possession for the most of the time the players must put immediate pressure after losing the ball in order to retrieve it as soon as possible, which is making the pitch as small as possible for the opposition when out of possession.
When it comes to this negative transition (transition from attack to defense) a perfect example is Pep Guardiola's 6 second rule.Guardiola employed "The 6 second rule" at Barcelona, which is pressing the opponent in the final third. The notion was that in the scenario that the ball is lost in the opponent's half, the team is most likely to win the ball back within the immediate 6 seconds that followed. The great positional structure allows the players to retrieve the ball very quickly. Not only that the successful pressing relies on the positional system and the possession based ball circulation attitudes, but it also relies on the high line of defence to compact the play and reduce the space. It also relies on the goalkeeper controlling the space in behind the highline of defence.

Training grid

The training grid is an organizational tool. You are teaching your players what lanes you want them to occupy. To keep the team organized.
The players will have specific tasks and responsibilities within these zones depending on the phase of the game. In this concept, the options are predetermined by the position of the ball. If the ball is on the left wing at midfield, then the zones that must be occupied are entirely different then when the ball is on the right half of your own 16m. box. Triangles should be formed in order to maintain short passing combinations. The ball carrier should always have two or three passing options . No more than three players may be in a line horizontally and no more than two players in a line vertically. If a player moves onto the same line as another player in order to offer himself for a pass, the other must switch to another line.The ball possession should be seen as a tool. It is not an end in itself but is designed to move the opponent so that you can get through them with your attacks.Only if that doesn't work you are allowed to circulate the ball for a moment without attempting to attack. You regroup, take shape around the opposition and try again.
On this training grid, the players are trained to make rational occupation on the field. It is different in the first phase of the build up and different in the final third. Moreover, the players are trained to make certain runs, overlaps and occupy certain space on the pitch in reaction to where the ball is at the moment and what the situation is. It is clearly noticeable that the training field for rehearsing the Positional Play is divided into separate zones and all the players have specific duties to carry out within these zones depending on the nature of the play. It could mean to make runs, stay in position, look for a free space between the opposition lines, make over/underlaps all with one objective to maintain superiority over the opponent.


The main principle behind the Positional Play is to always look for superiority on the field. This superiority can be achieved by being positionally, numerically or qualitatively superior.

"The principal idea of positional play is that players pass the ball to each other in close spaces to be able to pass to a wide open man."  - Juan Manuel Lillo
Josep Guardiola and Juan Manuel Lillo

You can see that the Positional Play is a way of playing that takes the movement of the players into account more than the system. You can play 4-3-3, 4-4-2, 3-4-3 but what actually matters is the movement of the players. This method is guided by concepts, not by set positions on the pitch nor formations, as you can develop the same concepts that fit any system. The objective is always to be able to control the game through application of the principles of the game model.

"Formations are just telephon numbers."  - Argentinian coach

In the Positional Play everyone is spread out but the idea of the Positional Play is to keep everyone in their zones across the field. The Positional Play is a very spread out type of shape. And within their zones everyone has little movements where the players are moving within their zones, where they become available for the player who have the ball. So, it is about keeping distances from your teammates and making yourself available to receive the ball. Another crucial concept is to stay between the opponent's shape, receive the ball and progress towards the opposition goal.


The positional system should aim to meet particular playing objectives. The system should offer:
  • Width and depth to enhance ball circulation
  • Both a mobile and fixed structures within the system
  • A maximization of angled passing options (triangles)
  • Maximum coverage of the field's spaces by making the pitch as big as possible when in possession
  • The ability to retain possession with a forward thinking approach
  • The opportunity to outnumber the opposition in defence, attack and during the build up
  • The ability to maximize potential of rehearsed play
  • The ability to switch quickly from an attacking or build up phase towards a defensive one
  • OVERLOADS in as many areas as possible through player movement and the system

These are the three essential questions that the famous coach Marcelo Bielsa asks himself when creating the Positional Play for his teams:
  1. How can I outnumber the opponents whilst building up the play from the back?
  2. How can I outnumber the opposition in key central areas further forward?
  3. How can I look to isolate their defenders to create 1v1 situations in the final third?
I highly recommend his approach and way of thinking to every coach.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017



For players under 14 years old 

1. Declare war against the 11v11 game. The 11v11 game, should be replaced by another type of competition tailor-made for younger players. Games like mini-football (3v3 on four goals), 7v7 football, and 8v8 football (played between the regular pitch's penalty areas) offer the adequate frame (in terms of space, number of players, ball size and weight) for children to express their creativity and inspiration in a more healthy environment: an environment that does not contain the stress of the 11v11 game with its adult-oriented rules.

2. Use more games and fewer analytical exercises. Practicing should happen in a game context. Statements such as 'The game itself is the best teacher' must be rediscovered and considered in the planning of all training sessions where drills predominate. Children should be exposed to more game plays (global method) and less practice with the analytical method.

3. Let the kids play without correcting them permanently. When playing, it is not always necessary for young football players to know the specific learning objectives of a practice. The learning objectives are always important for the coach but not for the players. Players should frequently have the opportunity to just play, or play just for fun, without having any specific learning as a main objective. We should not forget that one essential part of the game is its unpredictability. This explains why the game is so fascinating for kids.

4. Children should have the chance to play in all positions and in reduced space. Young football players should have the opportunity to play in various positions in order to discover the roles and functions that these positions characterise. Experimenting with play in different positions stimulates creativity. For instance, 7- to 9-year old players could perform the many variations of the mini-football game (3v3 on four goals) instead of playing 7v7 football or 11v11; 10- and 11-year olds may participate in a 7v7 game instead of competing in the 11v11 match; and 12- to 14-years olds could play tournaments of 8v8 football instead of championships in 11v11. The problem of positional experimentation would be solved since a competition with fewer players, in a reduced space, stimulates creativity, while the full game, on a regular football pitch, only tires the young players physically and intellectually, limiting their creative play.

5. Only those who enjoy the game can be creative individuals. Each training session should include a great variety of games, not only football-specific ones. When children play, they should have fun and be excited by the game. If young players do not identify themselves with the game proposed by the coach, the  creative capacity will remain dormant. The more the players enjoy the game and the ball, the more that playing stimulates the development of a creative way of interpreting football.

6. The football environment is an enemy of a young player's creativity. Most of our young talent grows in an atmosphere that is noticeably hostile toward creativity. On most football fields young players are dominated by instructors, who allow relatively little freedom of movement and decision making: The opinions of young players are not taken into account. For the coach it is important to have everything under control, and, in the case of a player departing from the norms, the player is punished and called on to respect the coach's orders. Many coaches think for their players instead of stimulating them to think by themselves. Over the years, young football players are left in no doubt about the coach's instructions and play according to the information received but without putting in their proper thoughts and personal flair.When these young players reach the age of 15 or so, it is obvious that they will face serious problems if they are requested to make their own decisions, since, for many years, they have been trained to execute only what adults have told them.

7. More freedom during the play. When practicing or competing, coaches should not always punish the mistakes of their players, since this will restrict the players from taking risks and prevent their creativity, fantasy and imagination from flowing. 
In the training sessions more space or time should be allowed for players to experiment with new moves that occur to them spontaneously. A more informal environment - as seen when football is played on the street, the beach or in a park - helps to develop more creative players.

8. Dare to risk and improvise without fearing the consequences. Young players should not be pressured by their coach to quickly pass the ball in order to allow better team play and winning. Young players who treat the ball as their best friend and often do their own thing are frequently more creative than those who accept what the coach demands. They should be allowed to improvise their play and take risks without fearing the possible consequences of having committed a mistake or to have lost possession of the ball. That is why young players should practice and play as often as possible without the presence of coaches (in the street or in the park). A coach's absence allows the players to feel more comfortable, to explore their innate potential without the fear of getting criticised when committing mistakes.


Saturday, March 18, 2017



Coaching philosophy for development of young football players

Young players are the cornerstone of football. They are, and always will be, the future of the sport. Much more important than winning games is the acquisition of those values inherent in football: fair play, the urge to do better and the sportive spirit. Education, therefore, runs parallel to the technical instruction.
Whether young players choose football as a lifelong sport is determined to a high degree by the content of the training programme, the expertise and experience of the coaches, the social life in the club or school and the structure of the formative competitions.The art of developing effective training and competitive programmes for children lies in knowing which kind of practice and competition the player is ready for at any given stage of his or her physical and mental development. Children will learn quickly, effectively and thoroughly only when the demands of the training sessions or competitions they participate in match their intellectual, psychological and motor skills.

The concept of readiness (the disposition of a certain degree of maturity) is a prerequisite for any activity and one that should be applied in all aspects of teaching and learning. It must also be applied to children's sports activities. Coaches should ask, 'At what age is a child ready to successfully face the demands of an adult competition?' If officials were aware of the concept of readiness, children under 14 would never have been subjected to testing themselves in competitions for which they were not yet prepared. Children must be exposed to a gradual stimulation in training and to a series of progressive competitions that, over the years, allow them to advance step by step into the adult game.The art of coaching lies largely in knowing for what activity ( a technical move, a tactical behaviour or a complex competition) the player is prepared for at a particular stage of physical and mental development.
All to often, children are introduced to complex sport activities for which they are not yet physically and mentally ready. Expecting a child to comprehend and respond to the complex situations in the full 11v11 football game format will only beget frustration and feelings of failure.Therefore, in order to develop efficient training programme for young players, the coaches should take into account each young player's current physical and mental development. The programme should promote gradual development of correct technical, tactical, cognitive and physical capacities of the players.


The acquired bad habits from the early ages are the reason number one for a lack of progress in youth football.The perfect solution would be that the complicated adult game, that the children are exposed to, has to be simplified; a logical progression of competitions must be created, designed with increasing demands that adapt perfectly to the mental and physical abilities of individual children.Youngsters should be presented  with only those exercises, games and challenges that suit their current capacities, interests and expectations.Training models and competitions for children should be like their shoes: They should fit perfectly and feel comfortable. Instead of obliging the children to adapt to the game of football, we as coaches have to adapt the game to the children, thus resulting in better and more enjoyable learning of the complicated game.


In conclusion, the children should encounter training that is enjoyable, effective  and appropriate for their age as soon as they set foot on the pitch.This is the only way to develop healthy, happy, talented football players. Any attempt to rush the natural development of young football players or have them confront the demands of the full game too early has to be considered detrimental to their development and future performance.