In this blog, the FA’s regional physical education officer, James Riches talks about receiving the ball in a game and what coaches can do to ensure they get the most out of practice sessions.
When I think back to the receiving sessions, in fact a lot of my sessions, that I used to deliver I realised that many of my activities did not look like how they were going to be performed in the game. My activities were often highly structured, very predictable, and often only allowed the players to receive the ball in a very specific way. They didn’t consider the actions that could happen after receiving the ball or what information the player needed to receive in the first place.
I can remember a specific session when I was asking players to "scan" or "check their shoulder" before they received the ball and it was at that point when another coach quietly whispered in my ear "what are they checking for, there is nothing there". It was at that point I started thinking in a bit more detail about the various ways players received the ball in a game, what they did before, what they did after and how my activities could be shaped to replicate this wide variety.
Before receiving the ball, players are constantly looking for spaces to receive in. They are looking for where their teammates and the opposition are. When they receive, they will try and use the space they have, it might be quite tight as they are surrounded so they must keep the ball close. They might have space in front of them to move into or they might have to adjust their body to take a touch and move into a threatening space. The pass itself might be delivered with too much or too little pace and it may come through the air. They may then want to dribble with the ball, they may want to pass it or shoot, they may not get a choice. All of this is based on what the player sees, hears, feels and a lot of my sessions didn't consider this.
This brings me to the title of this blog, let's make receiving sessions messy. Let's begin to include the information in our sessions that players use to guide their actions in a match. For example, try and use defenders or at least interference from other players to encourage attacking players to look for space and decide how they will receive. Ask players to send the ball in different ways so they can explore different receiving techniques. Use a range of directional and multidirectional games to encourage them to search for information and receive in a variety of ways. A good example of a multidirectional game could be 'through the gate' but rather than asking players to try and pass through the gate ask them to receive and travel through the gate instead, you can keep the area small to have high interference or add in defenders to try and block the gates. Give them challenges to drive and travel with the ball, make a pass or have a shot at goal. These sessions will look messy or chaotic and players may struggle at first.
If they are struggling or perhaps striving ahead, consider using the STEP framework to manage the differences. Try modifying the space they play in to encourage them to explore different types of touches or changing the number of defenders may help increase or decrease the challenge. The one thing I would say is “don’t panic”. The chaotic nature of the session may mean it takes longer for the players to grasp but I do believe it will help us develop more skilful players in the long run.
What do you think of James’ blog? How do you work on receiving with your players? Let us know below.