One thing that is a common topic amongst coaches is the type of football teams play or their ‘style of play’. Having a clear ‘style of play’ from the beginning is an important foundation to have as a coach because you can build practices to help achieve your ‘vision’ of how you want the game to be played.
whether you prefer to play direct or a possession-based game you should have an idea of how you want to play. Especially in the UK, not enough consideration is given by grassroots coaches of how they want the kids to play, preferring a more ‘ad hoc’ approach that very rarely leads to anything productive for the players.
I more often see coaches place a large focus on just ‘getting the ball to their best player’ as quickly as possible or I often hear “just get rid of it” resulting in an aimless long ball when the player was under little pressure. This ‘mish-mash’ approach normally means the less able players suffer because very little responsibility is placed on them to get on the ball and play.
The English Way!
When you watch international football or other countries it is normally very clear how each nation like to set up and play their football.
We have England who favors a more physical, direct and fast-paced style of football that doesn’t really feature any pattern to the play and has many turnovers (when a player loses possession of the ball). The problem we find with this approach is that there is very little focus on ball retention and when a team eventually comes up against a side who is better on the ball they tend to find it difficult. This style of play is very reliant on the physicality and the speed of players. Very little focus is given to players who have high levels of skill and game intelligence as these types of players tend to get bypassed in the game as the long ball over the top is the choice of play missing out the architects of the game.
Currently, there has been a big push for sides in England to take a leaf out of our European counterparts and encourage a more possession-based style of football. This has resulted in an overhaul of the coach education system in England with courses that have a bigger focus on young players playing through the thirds.
Despite this being a step in the right direction for our national game we still find many youth coaches at the grassroots level opting for the more ‘traditional’ style of play that this country has been used to for many years now. The more physical and faster you are the better your chances are succeeding at this level because ‘fight ball’ is more favorable than our kids trying to play the game properly.
Instead of encouraging our kids to learn from their mistakes we make an ‘example’ of them for making a mistake. Parents shouting instructions from the sidelines encouraging simplistic football with chants such as “get rid of it” and “stop trying to be Messi and pass it” only add to the problem and place fear in our kid’s game.
I believe for our game to see any real benefit from the football association’s different approach we need to do more to change our footballing culture. England’s DNA’ has some good intentions such as having a nationally recognized way of playing, but the implementation of the methodology is yet to have a major effect on changing the footballing culture of the majority.
Different Styles of Play!
If you watch other top nations it’s clear that they have a style of play that is ingrained in their football culture. The Italians tend to be more cautious and play a slower tempo of football, but very intelligent on and off the ball making clever runs into gaps that cause problems for opponents.
Despite their recent misfortune, the Dutch style of play is the world-renowned ‘total football’ methodology which was first introduced by the innovative coach Rinus Michels in the 1970s. Every player including the goalkeeper must be comfortable on the ball, and it’s commonplace to see defenders bring the ball out from the back to create many overload situations. Players often interchange positions and attackers are expected to move the ball quickly once they are in the final third using sharp passes looking the right opportunity to penetrate either with a through pass or running with the ball. finally one of the most notable aspects of the method is the amount of pressure they put on the opposing team to win the ball back after losing it.
Another great footballing nation is Germany who has over the years made slight tweaks to their style play but always keeping that famous German resilience that has frustrated so many. What is most noticeable about the German style of play is how position-specific they are meaning they very rarely deviate from there roles and responsibilities. When in possession of the ball they are very composed and efficient, looking to wear down there opponents creating overloads in various attacking situations. The Germans don’t tend to develop many flair players who are very ‘eye-catching’ on the ball like the Dutch and Brazilians but they have excellent game management skills that more often than not takes them over the line.
Finally, I would like to end this section with Brazil whose style of play is recognized around the world. They have a free-flowing style of play that is very reliant on players who have high levels of skill in all areas. It is also very possession-based but they look to move the ball a lot quicker than some of the European sides. It is also not as position orientated as the European teams meaning players interchange frequently that often leads to defensive frailties and opportunities for opponents to counter-attack.
Now there are other nations I could have also mentioned here but that would have taken a lot of copy. Hopefully, just by reviewing some of the above, you have gained insight into how some of the top nations play the game.
Developing Your Style of Play!
“Whatever playing method preferred it must contain five important ingredients; it must be teachable – it must be playable – it must be variable – it must be watchable – it must be ‘winnable’.” John Cartwright
As mentioned in the quote above by John Cartwright when developing your style of play it must contain these five things; it must be teachable – it must be playable – it must be variable – it must be watchable – it must be winnable.
In the beginning, a coach should first focus all their efforts on producing players who are skillful enough to play their style of play. They should also have a focus on developing players who are comfortable in possession and have very good decision-making skills. A coach shouldn’t just focus on either playing a short or long passing style of play. As coaches, we should look to develop a good mixture of both because this allows our players the chance to play either short or long depending on the circumstances of the game. This is where the player’s decision making comes into practice. Player’s with good decision making and high levels of skill should be able to adopt either playing style and implement it in the game.
Having the right balance shouldn’t be ignored either, you want your team to rarely be exposed defensively and provide appropriate support when in attack. I am a big believer in players having the option to interchange positions during the game if the balance of the team can also be maintained. This is because it gives teammates more options when looking for players to pass to and it also gives the opposition a problem with tactical variations.
Whichever style of play you decide to adopt never forget that game understanding and skill should be at the core of the methodology. As shown with top nations in world football to play at the highest level and be successful, you need players who have these important attributes. Having physically strong and quick players who are inept with the ball will only take you so far. Focus on developing the foundations and your style of play will be a lot easier to achieve.
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Kurtis is the Director of Coaching at the coaching company ‘Let’s Play The Game Ltd’ and has over 12 years of coaching experience. He is also a head coach at a junior school and club level. Kurtis has experience in training and mentoring grassroots coaches in the West Midlands area. He holds a Diploma of Higher Education in Sports Coaching, FA Level 2 Badge Holder and is currently doing the FA youth module level 3. He has the Premier Skills Coach Education Award.