As coaches we are constantly looking to challenge our players. Asking questions of them, working them to the edge of their ability, physically, skillful and with their decision-making. Often this occurs within the type of sessions we deliver, whether it is a possession or a defending or an attacking session. Forcing the players to work through problems, asking them questions that are relevant to the demands of the game, which can eventually be transferred across into their games.
One part of a player’s development that needs to be addressed is game management. The ability to manage the game during various phases of the competition. For example, when a team is 1 – 0 up, playing with only 10 men, with 10 minutes to go and they can’t afford to draw or lose. How do the players manage this situation? What is there approach, who becomes responsible, and how do they work together in order to achieve their desired outcome?
During these various phases of the game the emotions of the player play a big part in their decision-making, especially for example, when the opposition is chasing the game and putting on a lot of pressure on the team. Toward the latter part of the game energy levels can also influence how are team will play. Therefore, players need to learn how to manage these situations within the game. They need to learn how to assess a situation and make rational decisions during key stages and work together to ensure all the players are in the right mindset, all pulling in the same direction and not going off on their own agendas. These situations may occur as a whole team, as a unit or individually. Looking at individual players within the game, they might be up against a very good individual who is getting the better of them; the ball is purposely being played to this player because they are aware of the defenders problems. How does this individual or collection of players manage this part of the game?
These are questions that are continually asked and games can be won or lost in such situations, therefore we as coaches need to prepare our players for this. The game can change in the last 15 minutes and this is a critical part of the game. Therefore, do we prepare our players for these situations? Are we challenging our players for these phases of the game, giving them scenarios that will test their game management? A similar argument for practicing penalty shoot-outs is often topical and arises around this time of year prior to a big tournament, asking the question of do we and should we be practicing them? And more importantly, how can we really recreate the situation for what will be required in a pressured situation? We have to at least give ourselves the best opportunity for any eventuality. Give our players the chance to learn, develop and improve as players with the ever-demanding game of football. We could argue that it is impossible to replicate the exact situation, atmosphere etc, but we can still give our players the chance to practice the skill even if it is not under the same pressures.
Within games we have tried to create scenarios that will challenge players and ask questions of them, and encourage them to work as a team. For example, playing 2 x 6min games, the blue team are 2 – 1 up and all they are required to do is to either draw or win, just not lose, whilst the red team is required to win only. You may give one scenario to one team in the first half, then change for the second half. You are asking players to manage the game, the situation and work together to achieve their desired outcome. It will give them the responsibility to manage situations as a group of players, implementing a strategy or way of playing to achieve their objective. What you see within these kinds of sessions is a realism of emotions, which occur in the game itself on maybe a Saturday or Sunday when such results actually mean something. Being competitive, players will not enjoy losing or failing at their task, and as coaches we need to encourage this by the environment we create. Within these sessions you will see a lot about the character of each of your individual players, how they react to situations of success or adversity. Are they able to work as a team in all parts of the game, which players emerge as leaders and take responsibility? Which players make themselves accountable and can be trusted. After all these are the kind of players that you require when you encounter such situations and the question will be asked, which players can you trust and rely on?The most important part of this process is the stage of reflection, reviewing what we did, how we did it and why did it or did it not work? This process will enable us as players and coaches to learn and draw reference to and prepare us for these situations.
In our development programs we are working on developing independent players that on the pitch players are able to take responsibility. They cannot be relying on the manager or coach to make all the decisions. That is why it is essential that we design programs and sessions that are player centred where the player is challenged, required to make decisions, with the guidance from the coach. From a holistic developmental approach you can learn a lot about the character and psychological of your players placing them in situations with similar scenarios.
Players are required to manage all situations within the game, whether it is in a 1 v 1 situation or a phase in the game, trying to hold onto a 2 – 1 advantage playing with 10 men in the last 5 minutes of the game. These are features of the game and they need to be managed with emotion, decision-making and ability. Therefore, we as coaches need to ensure that we are preparing our players for these situations. Creating the right environment, in educating our players and transferring these skills into the game where problems for them to solve continually surround them.