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The 'Net'. How 11 soccer players learn to move as a team.

How many times have we seen a player reach the end line of the field, make a great cross and no one from his team was there, ready to score?

How many times have we seen a team lose the ball in attacking and a couple of defenders have to face a counter attack from 3 or 4 opponent players because nobody else comes back to help?

How many times have we seen a team who's shape was 3 or 4 defenders in front of their own keeper, 3 or 4 players at half field and a couple of forwards lost on the field somewhere?

Honestly, too many times!

You can repeat these forever: "Stay together back and forth", "Follow the action", "Come back and help the defenders", "All the players behind the ball". It's just a waste of time and voice. Teams have to learn to do this as a team, and can learn it only at practice.
To solve this 'nightmare' forever, that almost all the teams I coach have had (any age, boys or girls, men or women), I introduce to them the concept of the 'Net'. All the players are ideally tied together like the knots of a net. If the 'Net' moves, obviously, all the knots move with the net.

The exercise (please don't say the drill) is very simple. I place a 4-4-4-4 formation on the field with 6/7 yards between the players in all directions (a grid). I use the whole field. I put myself in the middle and begin to walk back and forth and all the players walk in the same direction keeping the right distance. After a few 'back and forths', I begin to walk side to side. Then I mix back/forth and side/side.

In the beginning the players tend to come closer to me or among themselves, but after 10 minutes they get the concept. If they don't get it, I sometimes say "freeze" and everyone can check their position and if necessary, go back to the right place. When this works, I begin to jog slowly in every direction and the players do the same, keeping the right distance and running BACKWARD when I go in their direction so, they don't turn their shoulder to the ideal ball (me!).

Is it clear that we do this without the ball? Good!

It's time to add speed and, because I like for them to do it by themselves, and because I'm 57 and can't run and talk, I go out of the 'Net'. At this point, I put 4 tall cones at the far corners of the field (let's say 10 yards away from each corner flag). The 4 players in the corners of the formation 4-4-4-4 have to go to the 4 cones which I have previously numbered 1,2,3,4, so they will cross the field in diagonal, or straight, keeping the right shape and following my commands about which number to go to. Very often, freeze and control the right positions. After 30 minutes (from the beginning of the exercise) it's time to rest, drink and review the concept of the 'Net'.

When you start again, it's time to introduce THE BALL. In the formation, the player who has the ball, is free to go in any direction and the team must keep the right shape. After 2/3 seconds he or she passes the ball 3 or 4 positions away. The receiving player now decides the direction and so on. Receive the ball, choose a direction, pass and move together as the knots of a net that are tied together.

When the group of 16 players (I say 16 but it could be 9, 12 or 500, wow what a team!) have this concept REALLY CLEAR, that they are tied together, it's time to go to a real soccer formation, which could be 4-4-2, 4-5-1 or 4-3-3. What's important is that the team moves as a 'Net'. Make substitutions every 5 minutes so all the players get confident with the right shape in moving as a net.

Here are a few exercises with a sequence of fixed passes:

-only horizontal between the 4 defenders, moving the team back and forth.

-only horizontal between the 4 (or 3/5) middle fielders, moving the team side to side.

-only vertical through the keeper, center defender, center middle field and center forward.

-only diagonal from left defender, middle field and right wing (and the opposite).

-from the center play-maker to every player and back as if he or she, were the center of a giant wheel.

-zig-zag between the defenders and middle-fielders.

Use your imagination.

What's fundamental is that in doing this the team moves back and forth or side to side CONSTANTLY. In a few practices, you'll see your team move as a 'perfect soccer machine'.

I've had problems only with one team in making them understand. What was the solution? I tied them together with caution tape. The only rule was: "Every time the tape touches the ground because you come together, or breaks because some one doesn't follow, the whole team does 20 push-ups. After 5 minutes and 100 push-ups, the team moved like a Roman Legion ready to attack! History always repeats itself. In soccer too!

Try. You'll be surprised by the results.

Coach Gianni
Posted on 11 Nov 2005 by coachgianni
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