by: Dominic Casciato
While clubs in the South and on the West Coast enjoy training in the sunshine year round, most of us are forced inside at this time of year. Whether it’s two bubbles with small turf fields, or school gyms with hardwood floors, many coaches are filled with dread at the mere mention of training inside. This shouldn’t be the case.
Training indoors or playing futsal is a great development opportunity that can really improve players individually and collectively. It is certainly a challenge for us coaches to prepare sessions that are appropriate for players, given the surface and space available, but one we should fully embrace.
One of the biggest opportunities of training indoors is the potential to increase players’ ability to operate in tight spaces. With the limited space that often comes with indoor facilities, control of the ball has to be better. Limited space inevitably leads to limited time, so players must think quicker and make better decisions. After playing in this confined space, your teams and the players within them should be better equipped to deal with opposing teams that play a high pressing game[i].
Now, it’s easy for me to sit here and say, “players have to think quicker and have better control”, but how do we implement that as coaches?
Well, for a start, you have a choice with regards to the type of ball you choose to practice with. If you use a futsal, which is smaller and heavier than a regular ball, it will be easier for players to control and there will be fewer mistakes. This can be crucial to building the players’ confidence in their first touch, and something I’d highly recommend with younger players. However, with older players, it may create a false sense of competency in their first touch that doesn’t translate to the outdoor game.
If you decide to use a regular ball, it will move quicker, and bounce higher, faster, and more unpredictably than a futsal, especially when on a hard floor. This has benefits too – it can lead to improved reaction time and a better first touch when you do eventually go back outside. There will, however, be more individual mistakes and play will be frantic at times. Coaches have to expect these mistakes, and be willing to accept them as part of the learning process [ii],[iii]. Delayed gratification is something we must willingly endure as youth coaches.
Next, we need to consider ways to be creative with the space we have. Many of us are sharing small facilities with other teams, so it’s important that we figure out how much space we have available ahead of time and plan accordingly. The biggest thing I want to avoid at any session is a player sitting or standing around, getting bored while waiting to be involved. There are 168 hours in a week, and it’s likely that you only get the chance to positively impact your players for between 2 and 8 hours each week. Don’t waste any of that time.
One really good way of utilizing a small space is to break the players up into small groups and have them work at different stations for a few minutes, before rotating. Each station can have a different topic, or it can be a different variation of the same skill or theme[iv]. For example, if you have a squad of twenty players, you could break them up into four groups of five. If you want each station to be different, you could have separate stations for passing, heading, keep ball (rondo), and dribbling, similar to the illustration below (one group of five players would work at each of the different colored stations)
We often hear the phrase “let the game be the teacher”. Players love to play. When it comes to playing small-sided games in your limited space, however, it becomes even more difficult to keep everyone involved. Consider using some of your space for the game, and using the rest of it to have players working on a particular skill while they wait to play. Looking at the example below, if we follow the scenario of twenty players in four groups of five, we simply turn each group into teams. Two teams are playing, while the other two teams are working on juggling and passing in the designated areas.
Here is a 3v3 variation, where 6 players are working on a technical skill in the white area:
One alternative way to keep everyone involved during small-sided games in a limited space is to use some players as “sideline players” or “wall passers” (black dots below) around the outside of the playing area. These players play with whoever is in possession and act as a free pass – they cannot be tackled, cannot score and cannot step into the field of play; they can only pass to the team who plays them the ball[v].
The black dots are the wall passers. They work around the perimeter of the blue playing area, offering support to whoever is in possession of the ball while the reds play against the whites on the field.
Players like playing indoors; it’s a different environment, and these new surroundings often lead to increased intensity in practices. It’s an opportunity to freshen things up for the coach and the players, presenting new challenges for both. It can also allow coaches to reflect on the fall season, identify what needs to be improved individually and collectively, and focus on those aspects of their player or team’s performance for a few months [vi]. I really enjoy practicing indoors or playing futsal on hard floors in particular; if done well, it can replicate “street soccer” [vii], a game which is hugely popular in South America, a continent renowned for producing some of the world’s most creative players, but is largely absent from US soccer culture.
Hopefully this article can help you produce better indoor training sessions that your players enjoy and learn from. I have touched on some of the things that can be achieved indoors, but there is so much more that can be done, such as secondary task work or ball related strength and conditioning. Perhaps we will save that for next winter…:)
[i] Coaches should also consider the affect it will have when playing against opponents who operate with a deep lying defensive block.
[ii] You can also experiment with different sized balls – the smaller the ball, the more difficult it is to control. I was delighted to see our U8 coaches having their players manipulating a tennis ball around the gym last week.
[iii] Coaches have a huge responsibility to help players understand that mistakes are a vital part of improvement and happen at every level of the game. Understanding the reason for a mistake and instructing the player on how to improve is key; merely commenting on it and criticizing is something anyone could do.
[iv] If choosing to use stations centered on the same theme, just designate each station to a different activity based on that theme. For example, if you wanted to work on passing with four groups of five, have 4 different passing stations set up. This helps avoid boredom and the players relish moving quickly from one activity to the next.
[v] You can progress this greatly to work on positional rotation – have the player who passes to the wall player switch positions with him/her. Then progress so that someone other than the player who passes to the wall player must switch positions with him/her. Finally, progress so that the wall passers can come into play even when they haven’t been passed the ball, but they must have someone replace their space on the outside as they come in.
[vi] Last year with my U16 team, my main focus was on improving understanding of positional rotation during our indoor practices. This led to a dramatic improvement in this aspect of our game by the time we started playing outside again in late February.
[vii] I often like to allow my players to play off of the walls when practicing in gyms. I believe that this helps develop creativity and makes a player think a little more – they can use the walls to pass, score or beat an opponent.
Dominic Casciato is the current Director of Coaching for the Brooklyn Italians Soccer Club based in Brooklyn, New York. Prior to beginning his current role in September 2014, Casciato was the assistant coach of the Jersey Express PDL team, helping them to a record breaking year that culminated in a National final four spot, as well as being the Head Coach of the Dix Hills Elite U16 team, where he achieved notable success with consecutive US Youth Soccer National Championship appearances in 2013 (runner up) and 2014 (semi-finalist), as well as winning the US Youth National League without conceding a single goal against.
For more information feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org