In the second session of the pre-season my focus was on the transition from attack to defense. More specifically, on pressing. It’s an interesting session because it’s one of the most important aspects of the playing style I want them to have. Before the actual execution of the tasks comes the understanding of the idea and the philosophy.
The idea is pretty simple. We are DESPERATE to get the ball back. It should be ours. It belongs to us. If we lose it, we go get it back, actively. My teams need to be obsessed with that. And I think they embraced the idea. How wouldn’t kids do? They wanna have the ball and score goals.
Pressing is particularly important in this age group, not only because it fixes the idea in their minds forever, but also because it’s very demanding physically, making it easier for them to recognize the importance of being fit. And even more, because it’s effective. At this age, when pressed, players will make a lot of mistakes playing out from the back. So teams who press adequately will win more games. Plain and simple.
So, to start the session, all I did was tell them to press, with not much information on how to do it. Then I gave them specific tasks. I want my teams to press really high, all the way up to the center backs. I don’t want them free to receive the ball from the goal keeper. Let’s force them to play the full backs and #6 and they’ll make a lot of mistakes. It is a style that will expose the defence in case I play against teams that are good on the ball, but I’ll work on my withdrawal strategies and on the balance of the team later on.
This session is fantastic because it also allows my defenders to play from the back. I was particularly happy with the performance of my #6. This time I had a longer pitch (I used my half pitch space with the goals on the sidelines instead of half-line\goal-line), which provided width. So he started much higher and dropped to help playing out when it was needed.
The problems with pressing arose as expected. First one, the reaction. It will take a few sessions to recognize the importance of reacting quickly when losing the ball or when the goal keeper gets it. The next problem is the second line of pressing, which is even more important than the first, because that’s the one that will get the ball most of the times. I won’t have problems with my #9. He’s big, fast, strong and hungry. So He’ll easily engage two defenders when pressing. The problem will be my wingers. One of them is not really fit at the moment and the other two are starting their growth spurt right now, which might be a problem if they’re pressing post-puberty player.
The outcome of the session was really impressive. It’s motivating, it’s high intensity, it’s cognitively demanding on both attackers and defenders. In a first moment my players would press when the goalkeeper had the ball, and then I manufactured some situations where I’d kick the ball behind or towards the back line and make the attacking line press them.
Part I: Warm-up
Part II: Rondo (3 squares and players had to move to another square after 5 passes). Highly demanding cognitively. Players didn’t quite get it, but I’ll do it again, this time with 4 squares.
Part III: Pressing Session
Part IV: Free Game (after demanding session I just let them play for fun)
Part V: Cool down