Stage Three – Positive Opposition
In order to increase player’s development of focus and skill, the opposition must increase. Positive opposition indicates how much the player who is in possession of the ball will have to think, how many decisions he will have to make, and the level of reaction that will be required of him. This helps to develop basic techniques into fine tuned skill.
This means putting players into situations that they are likely to encounter during game play. Time on the ball and space should be increasingly minimized throughout this phase as decision making must become quicker in order to maintain possession.
For example, a group of players might enjoy a decent technical mastery over possession, but during an actual match, these same players may require more time with the ball than the opposing team will allow them!
The key is to develop a sense of urgency and foster improvements in both the speed and quality of decision making. Start training sessions in a large area; 36 yards by 36 yards with nine zones should do (this provides players with 4 x 4 square yards to work within). Place two players in each zone, one from each team. The objective is to receive the ball, control it, and shield it from the opponent, and finally, to pass it into another zone.
As the players’ skill increases, reduce the size of the playing area. Start by bringing the number of zones down to six, and place more players in each zone. This decreases the space available for each player to maneuver within as well as the time each spends on the ball, and has the added challenge of opposition coming from more than just one angle. This will improve decision making and overall skill.
Stage Four – Small Sided Games
Small sided games are ideal for soccer development. This involves the presence of multiple opposition factors and includes support from other players. We started introducing this technique in the previous stage (positive opposition).
By implementing many free-playing zones along with conditions, players will further develop their soccer skills and ability to make decisions on the fly. Functional play bears strongly on player development in small sided games.
Stage Five – Full Game Practice (Team Play)
Stage five is really a larger version of the small sided game. It’s the real thing, in the true soccer match environment, with opponents set up in realistic game situations. Positional play, player responsibility, tactics and strategies, formations, movement and physicality, support, attack, and defense all merge once players truly start to work together as a team. While small sided games develop specific areas of skill, full game practice integrates an entire skill set.
Stage One: Unopposed Practice
Stage Two: Passive Opposition
Stage Three: Positive Opposition
Stage Four: Small Sided Games
Stage Five: Full Game Practice
Using this development matrix, a coach can form a training program by setting objectives for each practice session, building the players’ capabilities and moving from technical strength into full blown skill. The result? A very sound, skillful soccer team.