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  • Writer's pictureBFCN

PSV: Coaching Context is Key

This will be one of the first of several pieces about the PSV Interest Days at the PSV Eindhoven Coaching Academy. A great experience that I highly recommend to all coaches. Keep your eyes peeled, as we'll go into more detail about various aspects.

The experience at PSV, as you will have seen on social media, was so open and candid. They hid nothing. They treated us as equals and really made us feel part of the club. One of the reasons why they could be so candid is because of their belief in what they are doing, and their firm belief that it can't be replicated in other places. You could build an exact replica of De Herdgang in your part of the world. You can copy their methodology and philosophy. You can use their recruitment policy. But what you can't do is copy their people. They believe that their strength is in their people. That's what makes the club, not the facilities or methodology. They've laid down the gauntlet. Try your best to copy them. Take their ideas. You'll never be them, because you're not them.


For the vast majority of people reading this, the education pathways will be predominantly the FA in England, and the USSF in America. Within these coaching education spheres, there are certain dos and don'ts. Whether it is a directive from the top, or just a preference of certain coach educators, these ideas can permeate the coaching zeitgeist and become mainstays that underpin how those operating under the respective governing body umbrellas conduct themselves as coaches. One example is an older one from the FA, that a coach must have their socks pulled up while coaching, or they will fail their assessment. This kind of idea is now roundly ridiculed, and rightly so.


Another that appears within the discourse on Twitter on the occasional slow news day is an account looking for engagement, baiting such engagement by asking questions about coaches wearing hats or sunglasses. Quite plainly, players don't care. It does not matter. Players are interested in you as a coach from the perspective of how you can make them better. If it's sunny, and sunglasses may protect my eyes, or a hat offer protection from sun or rain, or just keep my head warm, of course I'm going to wear them. If the coach is telling the player what run to make during a specific part of the game, whether that information is internalised and put into action by the player depends entirely upon how the coach delivers it, and the quality of that information. "Coach told me to delay my approach, and arrive later at the back post, but he was wearing sunglasses when he said it, so I'm not going to do it." This just doesn't happen.


We've all heard no laps, no lines, no lectures. We are likely in unanimous agreement with it. This is likely because we understand the context in which the sentiment is delivered, and understand the intention behind the message, which is largely about getting grassroots kids playing and being active. I have preached this message myself on several occasions, and will continue to do so. Yet, Argentina, men's World Cup champions in 2022, have been seen to jog a lap or two at the start of their training sessions. In the mind of some, who I feel detract from our sport, there is no room for nuance. Everything is binary. They see the world in black and white. But football is a sliding scale of grey. "If it's good enough for Messi and Argentina, why can't I do it with my U10s?" Similar to why you don't teach quantum physics to a seven-year-old, despite them wanting to be an astronaut; it probably isn't useful or relevant to them at this stage in their development. What are the physical benefits of jogging a couple laps around the pitch? It raises the heart rate a little and activates some relevant muscles. We all know there are better warm-ups, or better ways to start one. So why do pro teams do it? It's social. It gives them a couple minutes to talk, to integrate, to clear their minds.


There were several things I saw at PSV this week that would have been instant failures on many of the coaching courses I've been on. But these are top coaches, highly qualified, highly experienced, and employed by one of the best academies in the world. So what's going on? Context is key. Let's dive in.


Lines

Kids waiting their turn. Stood in line. Not active. Fail. This happened a few times. Several drills where there were one or two players deep, waiting their turn. So what's going on? Let's put it in context. These PSV kids are training three or four times a week. Most grassroots teams are training for an hour a week, meaning coaches have to be as effective with their time as possible. Those kids are playing largely for social motivations. It's about involvement, engagement, and repetition. Ball rolling time is huge. Nowadays, with electronic devices and other societal issues, kids spend less time outside, less time unsupervised, and less time engaging in unstructured, child-lead play. It therefore becomes a necessity to make grassroots training as engaging and involved as possible.


Small lines are something we do a lot of in futsal. Like in the picture above, the number of reps is still a priority, but the quality of reps is of a higher priority. The work to rest ratio becomes important, with players working one and resting for two or three. It means the player is fresh, recovered, and able to perform with game realistic intensity. Much like being at the gym. The quality of reps is more important than the number of reps, because you will develop bad habits and bad form.


To add more context, not only are the boys above training three or four times a week, but there are several other factors shown in the picture that make it a completely different environment, and mean that line drills can be more effectively utilised;

  • There were three or four coaches per group. More eyes, more brains, more voices. This leads to more observation and more feedback that can be provided to the players.

  • Higher qualified coaches. Rather than a volunteer coach shouting "unlucky" after each mistake, these highly qualified coaches are able to work with the player and provide genuine, useful, effective feedback.

  • Lots of balls and fences all around the pitch. This means little to no time is wasted retrieving and chasing balls, and reorganising the drill.

  • Whole pitch available. Do you get an entire football pitch for your team? Most of us feel privileged when we get half an astro. Most only get a third or a quarter. These boys have got the whole pitch, lots of balls, and lots of coaches.

  • Equipment. They have everything they need, and everything they could need. All types of cones, balls, plenty of goals of different sizes, and lots of mannequins too. Realistic pictures can be presented to the players, on the relevant parts of the pitch.

It is important to remember that the players on display here are highly skilled and highly motivated. When the players were waiting their turn, they were focused, concentrating, and staying engaged. They knew if they disengaged, their intensity would drop, they'd get less from the drill, and the coach would be very disappointed. With grassroots kids, they take any opportunity to disengage, and this severely impacts the quality of their experience. Even within a drill or game in which the player is highly involved, if you turn your back for one second, many grassroots players can completely switch off. The PSV players don't do that. You can't do that if you want to be at one of the top academies in the world.


The type of player, the demands placed upon them, the environment, facilities, equipment, and potential rewards down the line, make this a completely different context to the environments where no lines is applicable and reasonable.


Lectures

In the above video, the head coach talks to the group for a full ninety seconds. That's ninety seconds where the players are stood still, not playing. He did this several times during the session. Instant fail. Many FA and USSF assessors would have put a big red X on the assessment sheet, and then stopped paying attention for the remainder of the session.


The coach in the video above is Joop Oosterveld. He's an A license coach. Last season as assistant, his U18s were national champions. He's the U11-U18 Head of Coaching/Coordinator, and has worked for the KNVB as a coach educator. I'd say that's quite the pedigree. So what's the context here? Why is this coach praised, when grassroots coaches are accused of waffling?


  • Joop is an excellent coach. One of the best around. Although he spoke in Dutch, I'm guessing everything he had to say was useful, relevant, helpful, valuable, and engaging. It would be high quality information, delivered in a way most appropriate for the players on the pitch.

  • The players train several times a week. And I believe this was the day before a game. With that in mind, it's okay to slow it down and talk for a while. Four intense sessions a week would be knackering.

  • The players are highly motivated, so they will be listening.

  • The players are highly intelligent, so they can take on board a lot of detailed information.

The FA frequently tell us to get in and out within thirty seconds. They say that players stop listening if we go on longer than that. And I believe that to be true... mostly. It certainly wasn't true in the example above. Higher level players have the ability to absorb, retain, and internalise detailed information, in higher quantity and quality. Maybe it can be considered an insult to some players to think they are too stupid, or lack the attention span to process and retain more detailed information. Does it set a low bar? Does it then become a self-fulfilling prophecy if we don't expect and demand more of our players, even those who participate for social motivations?


Notes

We got to see the PSV coaches in action. Almost like looking at animals in a zoo. The coaches for an age group have regular meetings, spend hours planning individual sessions, working from a macro-cycle, have analysts film every session, and clip and tag those sessions. For team or unit work, they even bring a large tactics board onto the pitch with them. Yet many of them will still have notes. Maybe in their hand, in their pocket, or on the sidelines. Why? If they are such great coaches, why do they need notes? This flippant question echoes much of the sentiment expressed by those tasked with our coach education from the governing bodies. The truth is, top coaches have their notes with them.

Guardiola can often be seen leading a session with notes in his hand. Is Pep a bad coach? The joke on many coaching courses is that Pep would fail his assessment because he uses notes. Real coaching isn't an exam. We are allowed to take our notes with us. I make my sessions on Sport Session Planner, then export the PDF. I used to print it off, but then I remembered the trees, and began downloading the PDF on my phone or tablet. At futsal, my tablet is on the bench next to the court. I check it between exercises to remind me of the drill or the coaching points for what is next. Or it might be that we're going into a training game, with pre-planned teams, and clear playing objectives. In a two hour session, at a high level, there's a lot to remember. It's ignorant, and downright arrogant, to think you may not need notes. Subjectively, I feel my sessions are 15% better in terms of intensity and information delivered if I have the ability to read my notes and consult the session plan.


Physical Punishment

Why are they wasting valuable playing time doing press-ups?

How is this useful for their football development?

Aren't we teaching kids that exercise is a negative thing if we are framing it as a punishment?


So why has one of the best academies in the world been using press-ups and sit-ups as punishment for losing teams or players during games and exercises? Again, we must consider the context.. They're training several times a week, so thirty seconds of this kind of punishment is not wasting much time in the grand scheme of things. They're also exceptionally fit players, so it's very unlikely any of them will be conditioned by "drop and give me twenty!" to perceiving exercise in a negative light. They live for exercise. It's more about the humiliation and inconvenience of it. You lost, and now we're going to laugh at you.


Is that harsh? Maybe for kids who are new to the game. When working with grassroots players, we need to appeal almost exclusively to their intrinsic motivation. These PSV players have a high probability of becoming professional players. The PSV stats for first team graduation, and pro football contracts are incredible. And with professional football comes a lot of extrinsic factors regarding motivation, whether it is the positive reward of financial incentives, or more avoiding a negative such as losing on TV, or playing badly in front of thousands of fans. The pressure that comes with that, not wanting to let others down, and being humiliated for loss or under performance, is something these players need to get used to. Ten press-ups isn't going to make them cry or hate football, but it does provide an extra incentive to not lose the training game.


Rondos

We love a good rondo. It appears they do at PSV too. But the USSF frowns upon them. And so do Twitter accounts that need to rage farm for relevance. They're not directional, they are too imbalanced, they don't create realistic pictures. Well hold on... if you want those things from an exercise, why are you creating one where those factors are absent?


We must first define a rondo. There's no point having this discussion if our definitions are not aligned. Personally, I think a rondo can be a lot of things. The line from rondo to possession game is blurred. I think a rondo can include goals, typically for the defending team, but maybe for the attacking team if a certain objective is achieved first, or there are three teams or neutrals. For others, a rondo takes place in a small square, and is 4v1 or 5v2. Yes, I see how those specific variation have their limits, but they are not without purpose. I also think that in order to criticise rondos, your definition of a rondo needs to be strict and limited. Like choosing a stance, and then working backwards to develop a meaningful justification.


My advice is not to do a rondo for the sake of doing a rondo. Know what you want from a session, and if it comes out looking like a rondo, that's a by-product. Objectives first, session type second.


Are rondos really not directional? I think the direction is contextual. An attacking player on the outside is always facing inwards, and the direction of forward is from their perspective.


The universal definition of a forward pass is one that breaks a line of the opposition. With only one defender, there are no lines to break. This makes a 4v1 rondo more about technical skill, passing and receiving, control, disguise, feints, protecting the ball, baiting the opponent, passing choice. If you know your stuff, there's a lot that can be coached in a 4v1 rondo, which always makes me wonder if rondo critics have a high level of technical detail.

In this 4v2 rondo, we'd all agree the perspective of forward from the G14 is a pass from G14 to G8. It breaks the line between R9 and R5. The passes to G2 and G4 are sideways passes that are safer choices, more about retention or moving the opposition than they are about penetration.

Now the ball has gone to G8, the perspective of forward changes. Forward is now G8 to G14. But in the picture above, R9 and R5 have closed the gap between them, so a penetrating pass can't happen. Can we still play forward? It's generally accepted that there are three ways to penetrate via a pass; through, over, around. In some parts of America I'd hear; beyond, between, beside. Whatever your choice of terminology, we understand the ideas. The forward pass we want here is still G8 to G14, but we can't play that directly, so we play via G4. We go around. We've still gone forward.


Is this real to football? Surely the perspective of forward doesn't change in the real game, because the location of the goals is a constant. Instead of forward, see it more in terms of exit routes. Can we find a way to escape pressure? Escaping pressure, finding space becomes our forward instead.

Watch some of the goals in the video above from Barcelona at their peak. It's beautiful. But also notice that for most goals, there are often two or three crucial passes that went backwards in each sequence. If football is viewed strictly in terms of gaining territory and advancing yards, anything other than forward is an admission of defeat. But in reality, at least for me, football is about creation and exploitation of space. We love an up-back-through. I think many in football neglect the idea of playing a pass simply to bait the opponent. We pass the ball to move the opposition. Bait the opponent, disrupt their shape, play to the free man, exploit the space.

This pass into Messi attracts two Real Madrid players. This creates space for Xavi and Iniesta. It's about creating superiority; in numbers, quality, and space. And what we want is a player in possession, with the ball at their feet, in space, facing forward. That's how we create situations where we can play the killer pass.

The pass to Messi is popped off to Xavi to slot in Iniesta, making a third man run. Messi then peels off too, creating a 2v1. Free man found, superiority created.

Xavi is so powerful in this situation, because he has space+time, is oriented forward, and has several options available to him. Out of frame are the options he has ahead of the ball. We can't see what's available to him with longer passes in the Real Madrid half.


After the prior rondo video just above, the PSV boys progressed into a setup like this:

Where is forward in this exercise? It's 2v2 (3) in one half of the rectangle. The team in possession must keep the ball, and then, when it's on, play the ball to the open player on the other side and quickly move over to support.


To you, is this still a rondo? To me it is. Maybe it's a possession game. Does it matter? Maybe not. What's more important is what the players get from the exercise. Let's see;


  • Passing choices.

  • Playing in tight spaces.

  • Protecting the ball.

  • Identifying when to play away from pressure into the space.

  • Disguised passing.

  • Receiving skills.

  • Communication.

  • Quick decisions.

  • Movement.

  • Support angles.

  • Protective dribbling.

  • Turns.

  • Deceptive movement.

This is not an exhaustive list. And we've not even covered what the defending entails.


Layering onto this is that there are multiple coaches, providing lots of observation and feedback. Plenty of balls, with the next ball being fired into play immediately. And probably, most importantly, high quality players to play with and against. The tight area is one constraint, the quality of the players is another. And that's what helps get more value from the rondo.


I'll be sharing some more about the wonderful experience at PSV. Several people have reached out, wanting to know more about it. I highly recommend it, and I'm happy to answer questions. There's also potential for a group of us to travel together, meaning you can go with myself and other BFCN members. This can be hugely advantageous for travelling and other logistics.


Feel free to reach out BFCN social channels or email at Admin@BritishFootballCoaches.com.


The next dates for the PSV Coaching Academy interest days are below.

We are in no way affiliated with PSV. We have no official links. BFCN does not get any commission for promoting this. It was so good, so open, so informative. A brilliant experience. As one coach to another, I cannot recommend the experience highly enough. I will definitely go back and experience it more. If you'd like to go too, or would want to know more, let's chat.


To book your place email: psvcoachingacademy@psv.nl


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