How to Execute: Who on Earth are You Learning From?

Coaching Soccer Venn Diagram

Philosophy + Activities + Execution = Coaching

The figure breaks coaching down into 3 fundamental elements – all of which contain huge challenges.

For instance, we’ve got over 4 years of philosophy-based content here, and we’ve barely scratched the surface.

But now I think there’s enough of a base to start efforts in the other two elements – Activities & Execution.

The first we’ve told you a little about. Namely, the challenge of mining the millions of possible activities and converging on a core micro-set that is properly aligned to not only the vision of how you want your team to play, but is also proper in the sub-optimal American environment.

If that weren’t enough of an issue, now you’ve got Execution to deal with.


This element has a ton of parts. But I’m going to zoom in on just one:

Delivery of the message: pre, post, and during an activity.

You’ve got to be able to deeply connect with your players. This requires charisma and mastery.

You see, assuming you now magically have the right activities – with relevant coaching points on paper – you’ve got to be able to flow.

We can all look up the exact lyrics to an Eminem track, download the beats, even get world class sound equipment, operators, and unlimited resources … but can YOU flow? Can you deliver?

Because that will determine whether your audience tunes in, or out.

That’s execution!

And aspiring rappers – like so many other artists and professionals – have numerous guys on tape to emulate and learn from.

Soccer coaches? Not so much.

That’s a critical component to our coaching membership.

Our audio is captured. And while executing activities, you get to not only see, but hear Brian’s flow.

You get to hear the engagement. You get to hear the execution.

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  1. STL A-B says

    Bad that I was giddy as a little kid when a 3four3 email arrived? For starters, I’ve never been the ‘silent’ coach b/c I’ve never thought kids learn magically. 3four3 is refreshing to confirm the same approach. My method and tactics have improved (thinking) therefore my players have as well. Always trying to coach constructively though at times it means riding a kid not thinking.
    Question: What is your response to coaches or clubs you shift into (Barca then Chivas) that believe ‘let the kids play (silent)’ vs ‘structured competition’…which means you are a verbal coach? You may be at the point of just pointing to the scoreboard or development of kids, so maybe in the beginning?

    • says

      Good, and tough, question.

      First off, it seems to me the majority of clubs aren’t really enforcing a certain coaching style. They may talk about it in their lame board meetings, send a memo or something … but I don’t see DOCs or whoever out in force regulating their coaches on the sidelines.

      The possible regulation may come from parents, but then it’s a matter of managing them. That’s another acquired coaching skill.

      Yes, now it’s not really an issue for us – no one’s going to dictate the coaching style.
      10 years ago, it was a parent management thing. Now, there might be a little of that here and there, but the line is clearly drawn; and heads will roll if they cross it.

      p.s. Winning is usually the best cure. So win!

      • Ryan says

        Well said Gary. Talking about it at our lame board meetings is about as far as we have gone in our rural soccer club. We do not have a director of coaching, so that could potentially be the first problem. Other than that, it’s just a rec club with parent coaches. With me being involved in the high school program we are now trying to help out the youth club more as that was never done in the past. At the last board meeting I brought my tablet with the 4 minute development vs no development video and showed it to the board members. They liked what they saw. Now it’s just a matter of getting all the coaches on board and creating a style and philosophy we can adhere to. It is going to be a long process, but 3four3 has been a BIG help!

        • Crollaa says

          As another rural coach, I understand your issues of complete lack of support and framework in the club. All it takes is the commitment of even a single individual with knowledge and passion to change everything. In my club there just happened to be a complete turnover in the board as I became a coach (and now DOC) where the board essentially recognized my coaching ability and gave me the keys to develop the curriculum. I’m sure if you want to put in the time and effort, they will be ecstatic for you to help them understand how to play and teach the game. I’ve found parent coaches without much soccer experience to be enthusiastic to absorb whatever knowledge about style of play that I can give them. It’s obviously a suboptimal situation, but steps in the right direction can easily be made. Good luck!

          • Ryan says

            Croalla that is my plan for the winter. One thing brought up at the last meeting was coaches wanted some help with practices as a lot of them just don’t know what to do. As I said we have a lot of parent coaches with no soccer background. I told them I was going to work on a curriculum over the winter and then hold some coaching sessions in the spring. It’s a small step, but I think we will see better results going forward.

      • Kana says

        “First off, it seems to me the majority of clubs aren’t really enforcing a certain coaching style. They may talk about it in their lame board meetings, send a memo or something … but I don’t see DOCs or whoever out in force regulating their coaches on the sidelines.”

        Right now this is literally the bane of my son’s club. The Boy’s DoC is stone cold possession, but huge variability in coaching ranks. Players see this and are frustrated. I don’t want my head to roll, so keep out. Difficult to have patience when you have no insight to coaching assignments and what the DoC is going to do for non-conforming coaches. Gotta bit my lip until it bleeds :-)

  2. Ruben Paz says

    Good post, as you said “coaching is an art”, and connecting with the players its a crucial aspect.
    Guardiola talks how he learned from Julio Velasco about the individuality of a roster, that some players need to be left alone while others be taken out for dinner to talk about life/family. This falls in the “pre” and “after” of your quote “Delivery of the message: pre, post, and during an activity”.
    A great example of the “during” is Pochettino, his english is limited but Southampton has an identity and defined style, so my assumption is that his activities are very clear and precise.

  3. Nancee says

    I do not have much to post at this time regarding this post. I just wanted to say hello and that I feel very blessed to have stumbled upon this conversation about 6 months ago. I check in daily and read and reread many of the blogs. I am new to coaching- fresh and malleable and the ideas I keep reading over and over are really thoughtful and insightful. I feel like I have an inside track to the mind of how the game is supposed to be played. I watched the Timbers/RSL replay the other night and find it so hard to believe how different the style of play is from something like what I see on the Youtube videos in this sight of U12 kids playing keep away. I am sure the facts are many and varied for this but it still gives me pause. I read in a post in one of the months about somebody getting a bit tired of the same things being discussed over and over but, just like the kids we are trying to teach through repetition, so to do we need the repetition in the ideas, the repetition in the process of truly understanding how to take a bunch of 8 year olds just beginning to understand space and teach them the right way to play the game. Due to the things I have read I am developing my own philosophy of coaching and I look forward to implementing it over time. Be well.

  4. John Pranjic says

    A few weeks ago I tweeted something like ‘you either have it or don’t’ and this is exactly what I was referring to. Some people just don’t have it. They’re awkward, maybe shy. They don’t know how to be themselves or get a message across a certain way. Some people just aren’t meant to be in the spotlight or under a microscope. Which is fine. There are roles for those people to play.

    But some people have the ability to flow naturally. I don’t have scientific proof to back that up. I just believe that it’s true. That certain type of demeanor or swag can’t be taught and definitely can’t be faked. If a person has that naturally… the next thing they need to have is the desire to be the absolute best.

    ability to flow + desire to become an expert

    That’s the golden ticket in my opinion. That’s the perfect candidate for a coach.

    • dr loco says

      John, so what do you do if you can’t connect deeply with some players?

      Connecting deeply with people is asking for a shitload.

      There are some players that kill your flow. That execution is difficult to achieve on a consistent basis among different groups of player/parents.

      • says

        Some players are self-motivated, usually the better ones, but not always. Others are externally-motivated, these are the those that require coaches to especially “connect” with. Trust between the player and coach is almost always the reason you can’t connect. I had coaches that I like as people, but I didn’t trust them to teach me anything about the game (not soccer smart). Others did know a lot about the game, but I didn’t listen to or trust them because I knew I was a disposable means in their hands – everything was really about them in the end and they played mind games to motivate players.
        I hope to be a coach that really knows his stuff, truly understand the details of the game, while also putting the kids before myself and seeking their good and development over my ego boost.

      • Vic says

        Look up Tito VIlanova. He looks like he’s a shy guy, but he still looks like he’s a decent coach. I think charisma or the ability to connect with players is what separates good coaches from legendary coaches…

  5. CoachAF says

    Love the site you have running. I have learned a lot. I have a question for you. What should you do when your DOC is mostly absent half of the year. He is a college head coach, and that takes up most of his time. The coaches that he “employs” are college level, so he begins to force others out as the team gets older. He wants to push his college philosophy to the teams, but doesn’t have the correct talent I. The teams to do so. Sorry, so many questions, so little answers.

    • Kana says

      Yeah, hear ya CoachAF. Sounds like you”re talking about my son’s team.

      We definitely got a situtaion where the equation: Philosophy + Activities + Execution = Coaching, is so out of whack it’s like (Philosophy – Activities – Execution)2 = Crap.

  6. El Sapo says

    I have followed this site for a couple months and it has helped me in many ways, so I appreciate it. Would like some feed back from you Gary and the crew, I am trying to change the soccer scene in my area but I know it will be hard, I accept the challenge though. My area has a lot of want to be coaches that don’t know crap but are looking for money, or brainwashed by the clubs and are just puppets. Very few that I can say they have a philosophy to help a child develop in my area.

    So I am starting my program, two low competitive teams with pure possession style of play in mind. I will give upfront information to the players and parents with my philosophy, style of play, and what I am looking for. My priority is pure development, with in mind to help these kids learn and grow the right way in this beautiful game.
    What should I watch out for? Is it ok on a development level to have coed teams? Please let me know any input please.

    • Crollaa says

      My club’s rec program does coed for all age groups, U7-U19. To answer your question, the age is really important for this answer. I find that up to about U12 boys and girls are pretty close in terms of their raw physical abilities. Shortly after that, the boys start to go through puberty and are just so much faster, stronger, and more aggressive that the girls just can’t keep up and lose interest in the game.

      I was in charge of making our rec U15-U19 teams and during the process I rated the top U15 girl player as about even with the 5th best male player and was way off. The top female players for that age were closer to the 15th best male player in the same age group. We had about 60 boys and 40 girls at U15 for reference.

  7. Carey Baird says

    I too have come to the conclusion that the ability to deliver information is THE number one ability of a coach. I’ve seen first-hand great games and activities delivered by ‘coaches’ who would do the world of football a giant favour by staying at work. They just don’t got ‘it’, and no matter how hard they try, they ain’t EVER gonna get it!! They just don’t have, as you say, the ‘charisma’. Oh but they are highly-qualified…

    And don’t get me started on the lame board meetings…

  8. ASO says

    Great post. My son and I had the pleasure of watching Brian’s Chivas team at Surf Cup last summer. What struck me (besides the phenomenal play) was how at half-time Brian took aside boys singly or in groups of 2-3 to apparently give individualized instruction. Very different from the rah rah speech to the whole team given by other coaches.

    I would also note that charisma and ability to communicate with youth players does not always correlate with ability to communicate with parents and vice versa.

    • Maradona says

      ASO you are right , they donot correlate. The relationship is with the player and they have to mature in the process !!!

  9. Kana says

    Since the last two articles were partly about tactics, recommend the following read:

    If we compare movement and passing of DeMarcus Beasley to Geoff Cameron, it’s interesting to see how they penetrate opponent half and attacking third and differences in movement into the attacking thrid and towardds middle of hte pitch. I especially LOVE the Michael Bradley graphic on ball distribution!

    It may be asking too much of youth soccer, but this is the sort of tactical knowledge coaches should try to impart on players. Few teams have film coverage and about as many have assistant coaches to start observing these details.

      • Crollaa says

        Curious now what you think about sites like ZonalMarking. I feel like I’ve learned a lot by reading analysis like that. It helps me get out of looking at things on just the micro level and gears my mind toward bigger picture about where space can be exploited.

        • STL A-B says

          Book — Tika Taka by Jed Davies. Just published. Interesting enough — a chapter on Gary and Brian Kleiban (Congrats!).

  10. Kana says

    Sorry, the above link is to the Shin Guardian main page. The first article is Quick Hits: USA 0 – Austria 1. That’s the article I was referring to.

  11. RG says

    Greg, tried to ask this through twitter (through Blue_Hawthorne account):

    Will you have a new a forum for coaches in the new subscriptions services? Would love a place where folks could share videos of their teams, post practice plans, and get feedback from other coaches. Just a thought.

  12. RG says

    I’ve got some folks locally that are reasonable mentors, but right now feels better to get folks that live far away for peer review . . . that split may not be intuitive, but I can talk hypothetically with mentors, but the details of coaching issues harder if I stay independent.
    Keep up the work with this site, great stuff. Exactly what I was looking for when I got back into coaching.

  13. pg 19 says

    Lately, I’ve been reading about every article I can find interviewing Caleb Porter and his approach to managing/coaching a new team, in a new level of play and players. Much of what he states is leadership. About being fluid and adjusting to the players you have and learning how to push the right buttons which vary dependent upon the player. That it is expected that the coach understand tactics/strategy as much as its expected that players have good technical form. The difference in good coaches and great ones often is their ability to lead, connection with players, getting the most out of someone by getting them to want to perform for you versus you wanting them to perform. I have proven myself over and over again as being adaptable in terms of learning new methods and demonstrating my capabilities within them. One thing missing from any courses/licenses I have taken is the art of how to connect with the players being coached. How to make the player want to perform for you. I could see that being a course entirely of itself. Right now, the theory is you either have that ability to connect or you don’t. Just like soccer skills training, possession tactics training, etc, I think the skill to connect as a coach can be learned and improved. Like the sounds of this.

    • Riggy says

      Good point about leadership and connecting with players. I think much of it boils down to making the players take ownership of the system and style of play. They must understand not only what and why they are doing a certain activity, pattern, etc., but also why it will help them get the results that they want. Even the best laid coaching plans will fail if players don’t see how it is relevant to them AND that it will produce for them and the team.

  14. says

    Have a vision (philosophy), have a plan (activities) and game day objective (execution).

    My formula is to empower my players by teaching the philosophy (have fun, develop as soccer players, develop a winning mentality, and play a beautiful game using skill, power, strength, courage and finesse), share the planning (what are we working on, why are we working on it, where are we working on the field, who is doing what and when do we do it) and work our game objectives together. Each player has specific responsibilities, first to the task (usually win the game), then to the team (do what you need to to make the team successful) and then to themselves (maybe go for the hatrick if the game is safe :-).

    I keep instructions simple, often giving one specific instruction to each player to concentrate on during the game. I make units responsible for each other, the captain responsible for everyone. I try and say little or nothing as the game progresses, and if I need to speak I use guided discovery as my first option. This is hard to do at U8, it gets easier at U11 and by U13 your life will be magical if you can guide your players in this way.

    I learnt this from great teachers that I had at school and university, mentors in the work place and friends during crisis. It took years to refine, but empowering your kids is very powerful. Just don’t try and fix everything at once, it takes time.

    • pg 19 says

      My initial reaction is “what a fantasy world you must live in”.

      Then I realize its my kind of thinking (stubborn, brash, controlling, directing, done yesterday) that keeps me from seeing what you’ve just contributed. What you’re suggesting, I’ve heard before but never really listened. Thinking its time for me to listen a bit more, become more flexible in my style and personality and not let me get in the way of my what I want to achieve.

      The discussion of mentoring and peer evaluation, if done well, will be of tremendous value.

  15. Luke Symons says

    I think Brian Clough and Peter Taylor’s partnership can be instructive for coaches to see what their best role is. Both knew the game obviously but Clough was the more charismatic one, while some people’s best coaching role might be a supporting role like Taylor’s. Obviously every coach should develop their full potential in all 3 spheres, but it’s also best that we know in which area we are most exceptional in what we bring to the team.

    • STL A-B says

      One must remember how possession is defined by tracking companies vs actual possession. The old two stopwatch system is no longer used. Rather a less time consuming approach by one guy counting passes by team A and another counting Team B. The total passes are totalled and divided to get an answer. For many – it’s misleading and generic to make Opta and TV companies life easier.

  16. Paul says

    “Never in the field of human endeavour has so much been done, so badly, by so many.”

    A famous quote that applies perfectly to so many youth soccer coaches. One of the good things about this site is I realize I’m not alone with frustration. Poor coaching seems to be an endemic of gargantuan proportions. But while there is much darnkess in youth soccer, 3Four3 is a bring light.

  17. Paul says

    Children and those who take on learning something without proper guidance do so out of instinct. As they learn through trial and error, habits begin to form. Over time and success (circumstantial success) becomes practice, then dogma. This has been the USA model. As a young player and then coach from 1977 – 1994, I witnessed this first hand but didn’t at the time understand. Tactics were rudimentary “attack and go to goal quickly” was the mantra. Practice was drill after drill with no purpose or intent. Most coaches were volunteer and had little to no footballing experience. Possession and purposeful movement and thinking and awareness weren’t part of the lexicon. This process repeated itself from generation to generation. Now there are large numbers of coaches who are influenced by this sub-optimal process. Since about 2007 (advent of USSDA is my watermark), things have started to shift. All coaches recognize possession based soccer, tiki-taka, movement, awareness, total futbol. They may not practice it (too late for many to change their stripes), but they do acknowledge it. It’s up to the younger generation of players and coaches to continue the change. It is inevitable that the change will continue and will take on a pace of its own in increasing speed in coming years.

    Professionals and those in a professional environment learn through principle. Unlike that described above, players won’t fall back on natural reaction in pressure situations. They are trained with a principle, a philosophy of play. Their natural instinct is that. Coaches look for players based on a principle. Alignment of player personnel to a playing philosophy. That is a wonderful thing!

    We are fortunate to look out and see countries like Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and learn from them. Those who learn from instinct will never see it. Those who learn from principle will adapt and learn from a working, functioning, proven system. For example, Spain and Germany of today didn’t create out of thin air. They looked external and learned. USA is doing that now with Klinsmann and the great things people like the Kleibans are doing and many more we don’t’ know about. Like the effect Barcelona has on world football, those with principle and vision will see the goodness of what 3Four3 advocates and change. Its inevitable!

  18. Wolfgang says

    @ Gary,

    Saw the new eBook content posted as part of your learning program. Wish there was a blog post to go with it for discussion purposes. I have adopted the 4v1 rondo as part of my practices the last two years. It has definitely become my go to exercise. We do it every single practice. I do it with all age groups starting with U8 (4v0 for them based on skill level of players). Glad to see I am on the right track with my training plans. Can’t wait for the membership launch.

    • pg 19 says

      A rhetorical question was asked about the go to activity of the coaches in the release of the 4v1 rondo drill. One of the issues I have had with possession games is the functionality of the activity for games. Players don’t learn how to play their position relative to basically every possession activity I’ve seen and the result is that they are not game realistic. The closest I’ve come to solving the problem of functionality has been playing 10v10 within a quarter of the field where players had to be in their relative positions, the team that won was the first team to 40 successful passes that didn’t need to be consecutive. This allowed me to address pressing issues in defending and support angles in possession relative to space on the field that was game realistic for the positions. The problem I had with this was it was too large of an activity, not enough repetition. It needed to be scaled down and by doing so you lose some of the functionality of the activity.

      Then a couple of months ago I listened to the Caleb Porter interview I believe someone posted.

      What caught my ear was the placement of the players outside the grid modeling what he had seen in Spain regarding positional training during possession activities. This addressed the positional elements of possession which makes the activity functional and applicable for a game. The only players that would make creative runs would be the three center mids.

      The 4v1 rondo game simplifies the possession activity even further. It carries the theme I originally heard in Caleb’s interview, but now it is scaled down to its most elemental form. You still have the ability to address positional responsibilities, just pick any diamond of players that exist within your formation. It addresses support lines that have to exist to get the ball away from the defender versus towards them. I especially like the insistence of two touches and receiving the ball across the body. Especially important when teaching very young players.

      Ultimately the solution is so ridiculously simple but I was stuck in a paradigm thinking players in possession needed to be within the grid.

      • STL A-B says

        Depends on what you are teaching and what age. If the goal of drill is to find passing lanes/space, 2 touch, and receiving technique then 4v1 is very good. Remember there are a lot of different Rondos not always performed in perimeter of square. Focus on technique and basics (go to). If you have guys flash or check into center the small space becomes a cluster. Other ideas for Rondo type activities in a general area (not just perimeter) are 3v2, 4v2, 5v2, 5v3, etc. Idea of more players on one side is to build confidence in 4 to 8 pass combos (skill/age considered) And can play positionally. The next activity can be equal numbers, but starting with uneven numbers woos build your message, number of combos, and better soccer. If start 3v3/4v4 you general get crap – 2 or 3 pass combos, lots of turnovers, and out of bounds.
        Just some ideas from my humble experience.

        • Paul says

          Rondo is great at identifying players who have great touch, awareness, movement in tight spaces, and composure. What I find fascinating (often perplexing) is coaches often ignore these abilities for size and strength. Many coaches utilize rondo train with SSGs daily and the team looks superb playing passing and moving and quick one-two touch. But in games they play a direct game and a shadow of how they play on the training pitch. The handful of skillful players who do amazing well in rondo, SSG, one-two touch, passing, moving are overlooked for players who are more direct in games. This is a trend I’ve noticed on numerous teams over the years.

          Why is this? Am I the only one who sees this? I’m asking this question from a coaching, technical perspective. Thanks.

          • Vitale says

            My sons coach never had more than 1 ball out before practice starts, so as the kids arrive they go right into a very loose rondo and coaches are part of it. This version is fun and includes a lot of variations and banter. The Coaches do moves and tricks which the kids (U12B) try and copy. When practice starts, the Rondo evolves into a tighter version, then various drills are run based on it. Outdoor and futsal – it’s always the same routine to start practice. Loose, lighthearted rondo to warm up, then step it up to different more focused rondo based drills.

          • AMR says


            I have a coach in my club exactly like you mentioned. The team he recruited is big and powerful. They train very well, have fantastic touch and sharp controlled passing but not much soccer IQ or composure on the ball. They power their way to wins. You see them train and if you didn’t know what to look for you would think you are watching a possession based team in training BUT he does not have a possession based philosophy so the end product on the field is very direct. The coach has the typical US coach credentials, played college, etc… crap piled onto more crap really.

            He sees possession as important but more than that he wants to win and the way he knows how to win is to play very direct with size. For him to change is complicated. He has to unlearn most of what he’s been taught and accept a new reality. It aint gonna happen! It’s too risky for him.

            Coaches like that don’t really understand set tactical work or even how they want the ball to move around the pitch (other than straight up to the forwards). They don’t force players to play from the back or understand the importance of it. They don’t put philosphy first. They run “possession drills” but don’t go absolutely fucking nuts when their defenders boom the ball up the field to nobody. They sure as hell don’t demand that their players keep the ball on the ground most of the game.

            This issue has little to do with technical and everything to do with risk aversion, philosophy (or lack of), commitment to philosophy (or lack of) and training to philosophy alignment.

          • VDub says

            Paul – It’s interesting that you bring this up because one of my daughters is in the same boat. She is small, technical, good vision, composed, precise passer, and smart. Practice consists of keep away games, pass and move, where the ball is played on the ground.
            Then game day comes and it’s all thrown out the door for unorganised, chaotic, kickball. My daughter was pulled out recently in both halves because she “passed the ball back too much” and the coach needed to “put girls in that can kick the ball way up the field”.
            So, to answer your question it is ingorant coaching. Most coaches do not understand how to tactically implement a possession/tiki-taka style of play to give their teams the greatest opportunity to win. It’s pretty much that simple.

          • Kana says

            Rondo is a great thing as everyone knows, however, I don’t know why many coaches do it. My son’s team is a classic example of what Paul describes. My son says the players see rondo and SSG with max 2-touch passing as a waste because they never play that way and the outside backs have limited ability to push forward in supposed 4-2-3-1. He (my son) says they should practice like they play and stop the “fake” possession stuff. He doesn’t want that, but it is where they are and patiently waiting on change of coaching.

          • Kana says

            I think what I and others are trying to say to active coaches is the players get it and can see through pretense and should show their real colors in training and avoid players getting onto teams and being stuck with wrong coach / player relationship for a year.

      • pg 19 says

        Going to clarify my statement a bit. Many possession activities are based on a numbers up, within a box, pass and move philosophy. The problem I have with them is how does it apply in a game (function)? The issue is although we’re teaching the tactics of possession, most possession activities are teaching just the technique of passing and receiving. When players are making runs randomly to keep possession, how does that ability transfer to a game? When does a center back combine with a forward and if that happens, how frequently does it in a game compared to how frequent said players would combine together within a possession activity?

        Rondo games, the versions I’ve used generally have no one moving but the two defenders in the middle. Again, to me its more of an excercise in building technique of the pass, typically first time; sometimes half touches and no touches. This version of a possession game in my opinion has more tactical implications than the non-rondo versions, but again, it still lacks function relative to positional placement of players.

        The 4v1 rondo and the version of possession described by Caleb nail down the positional requirements of players. I’ve heard this said before, sometimes we run too much (aka pass and move) when in reality all that is required is a change of our angle of support and maintain at least a triangle around the ball. Slight adjustments, not big ones.

        The 4v1 activity addresses a couple of items which I like. The first is the insistance of 2 touches. A touch to draw the defender, allow time for support to get where it needs to be, and for a cleaner more accurate pass. What many coaches accept as one touch I cringe at. The other element is getting the lines of support towards the near cones. Technically you’re flattening out the triangle. In reality, you’re creating space in front of the next player to cleanly receive the ball, putting them in front of the pressuring defender. It allows them to open up to the pass and the team can attack space while setting up a higher probability successfully completing passes.

        Maybe I live under a rock but I haven’t seen a small possession activity like the 4v1 rondo where the players move along, receive and pass the ball along the lines. Most games similar in size place the players on the corners. Again a slight variation but this little detail changes the game significantly and in my opinion it replicates a tactic and makes it functionally relevant to the big game.

        • Wolfgang says

          @ pg 19
          Love the added nuance you noticed and pulled out. 4v1 and 4v0 rondos are very simple tools. As you point out it is how yo use the tool that matters. There are a myriad of tactical and technical elements that can be taught by the skilled craftsman using this tool. A simple decision like which 5 players to put in a group together is a nuance many coaches overlook. Are you grouping players based upon positions they play on the field so that you are replicating in game connections that need to occur? Now you are starting to build to what happens on game day..

          This tool does not replace set tactical training. It is a building block toward set tactical training. As other people above have identified there are coaches everywhere who use the rondo tool but get very little to nothing out of it. They fail to align their training with their game philosophy. Really the kick ball coach is wasting his and his teams time by doing rondos in practice. If you are going to play long ball direct soccer spend your time on headers, volleys and hitting accurate long balls.

          I listened to the Caleb Porter interview you reference. Some good stuff. Thanks for sharing.

    • ElMemo says

      My go to Activity is Two Grid 5v2 Maintain Possession / Regain Possession.
      It is probably too complex for younger team compared to a 4v1 Rondo. But, I like it. It pushes for Regaining Possession, which is huge at the early ages – as opposed to kicking it away.

      I saw a Mexico Futsal Team (made up from previous decent players) prior to an exhibition match. I later saw a version on Performance 4-4-2. However, without the “Regaining Possession” portion – which is critical to me.

      10 Players with 5 on each grid. The 5 try to “Maintain Possession,” while 2 (from the “other” adjacent grid) try to “Regain Posession.” 1 Point for 5 Consecutive Passes and 3 Points for Regaining Possession. Coach plays a new ball to opposing team after 5 Consecutive Passes.

      Again, probably too complex but it shows a tough mentality to regain possession given that it provides three points vs 1 point for possession.

      • pg 19 says

        First, I want to say I love this particular possession game and I use it quite a bit. I call it a possession transition game. Some changes I’ve made for more skillful teams are the score is after the successful completion of 5 consecutive one touch passes in a row. The passes have to be clean so if a defender nicks the ball, the count starts over, and it is continuous so there are teams that will score all 5 points stringing 25 passes in a row.

        However, I do not restrict the teams to one touch passing. Priority is on keeping the ball and if that means taking multiple touches on the ball to do so, then so be it. What I want out of the activity is for the players to make the right decisions and not force a play with a ridiculous or poorly executed pass that costs us possession all for the sake of “scoring”.

        The team of 2 if they win the ball they will be under significant pressure and they need to immediately find an outlet relieving pass to their teammate in the adjacent grid. Often the ball is flighted, but it has to be well executed and playable, something difficult to do when under pressure.

        I like this game because you create numbers up by grids, not just set up. You don’t have neutral players which can be confusing, especially if the neutral player is the one losing the ball. Just a cleaner possession game. But, the limitation of it comes down to function to the big game. Again I use it a lot, but there is very little transfer from this activity into the big game other than the technique of cleaner passing. What is lacking is the proper positioning of players relative to one another and it is difficult to “stage” this game in a way where you have positional constraints.

        To clean this activity up, maybe you put the players on the outside of the grid, instead of within it. The only players within the grid are the center mids and defenders. Note doing this would change this from a 5v2 activity and 5 per grid to a 7v2 activity with 7 per grid. As I write this, I’m thinking that will be an adjustment I make in the future.

        I’m going to post another possession activity I use below. Feedback requested.

        • Ryan says

          pg 19, I also use this game quite a bit in our summer practices before high school season starts. We can’t have mandatory practices over the summer, so I get a mixed bag of kids (freshman to seniors) and the numbers vary practice to practice, so we do a lot of sessions like this where I can vary the numbers per side if needed. I do agree with all of you that this doesn’t always transfer over to the game. I think it does two things, helps them with their receiving and passing and helps that comfortable playing under pressure. But I really like the idea of adjusting it to make it more positional. So for example, would you stage possibly 2 centerbacks along the base and then 2 fullbacks or wingers along the sides with the center mids in the middle? And then just replicate that on the other side as well if you have a back up in each position?

          • pg 19 says


            Here is what I see. 5 players per grid, I would assign one grid with the defensive unit (4 backs, pivot) and the other the attacking unit (3 fwds, 2 CM’s). One restriction that applies to the options below is the 2 players that enter the opponent grid as defenders have to be linkable. Example would be LOB-LCB; not LOB-ROB. If a team loses the ball inside their respective grid, they are all allowed to leave their perimeter to compress and win the ball. When won, they must expand and get into their respective perimeters quickly.

            Option 1, theme of winning and cycling the ball for build up.

            For the attacking unit, it would be the 9 in combination with one of the wingers that press for the ball in the defending unit grid. The two CM’s of the attacking team become the outlet players. Doing the same for the defensive unit you have the two CB’s as the outlet players and the pivot+one OB as the defenders entering the attacking unit grid.

            Option 2, theme of playing to a target and holding the ball.

            If you invert the positions on each grid, then for the attacking unit you have 4 potential players that can enter the opponent grid to press as defenders (2 wingers & 2 CM’s). The 9 now becomes a target player when the ball is won. Looking at the defensive unit side, same restrictions apply and the pivot becomes their target player.

            You don’t have to call these themes, but I think the orientation of the positions of both grids have to match up correctly. You’re not going to have your CM’s pressing for the ball against the opponent CB’s then play the ball negative to their 9 when it is won, at least not frequently.

            I see other possibilities as well such as 5 defensive midfield unit (pivot, 2CM’s, 2OB’s) against a 5 attacking midfield unit (pivot, 2CM’s, 2 wingers). There is also the potential of pitting sides of a formation against each other versus the layers of positions in the options noted above. There’s a lot of versatility to this activity but I feel I’m complicating it way too much.

  19. Paul says

    4 v 1 rondo is a MUST for every training session and something players will train with up to and including pro-level. As they get older, a smaller circle increases awareness, movement, and touch. I’ve seen Barca do this in person prior to a match I was lucky enough to see (versus Sevilla in 2011). They were in very confined diameter and it was an amazing thing to watch. During the game, I could see Messi and Iniesta with same quick movements, awareness, touch in tight spaces. I’m sure mastered in part through years of rondo. Even now when I watch Barca on TV, I can still see the linkage between rondo and how they play.

  20. Some Coach says

    What is your input on the ID2 camp in Arizona?
    Chivas (Brian’s team) seemed to be interested in highlighting 2 players that participated last week: Alex Mendez and Miguel Ibarra.

  21. pg 19 says

    A simple possession game I use, with basically all teams is a grid that is narrow/long, 10×25 yards. I will divide the team up into groups of 4 or 5, numbered sequentially. 1 passes to 2 and so on, last player passes back to 1. The different groups must run around and mix with the other teams so they ahve to be aware of available space, communicate etc. I insist on two touches as even my best teams, there will be players that struggle with one touch. Two touch passing in my opinion is often the best option. This game allows me to introduce technical concepts such as opening up for the pass, receiving across the body and creating new passing angles becasue of body shape. It also allows me to teach players how to view their teammate that is about to recieve the ball and get them into that teammate’s line of sight before the teammate receives so we’re constantly a step ahead of play. This is basic.

    Same grid, we’ll play 2 defenders against the entire remaining team, what ever that is. The defenders cycle out every 45-60 seconds. With a narrow grid, there will be times the ball is pinched into a corner or end. Because of this, the team in possession can be taught how to use shorter pass to draw the defender and the longer pass to relieve pressure. If the ball is lost, the team compresses to rewin the ball. When rewon, the team learn that to “get big” all that is needed is some back peddling, no long runs up field for the big pass.

    Some adjustements are the player receiving the ball must combine with a teammate to get the ball back before the ball is released to another teammate that does the same. Teaches how to combine in a more realisitic manner relative to a defender. Again, the activity is good in teaching technical concepts and maybe some basic tactics, but the functionality of it is lost and not transferable into a game. I use it because it is basic. I want to improve upon it relative to the style of game we play being total football.

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