Private Lessons

I'm a big believer in players working with the ball outside of the training environment.  Specific needs are never met in team training so make sure you are attending to those development needs.  It may be that you ask your coach to watch a soccer game with your child. At Skill Skool Soccer we aim to provide all that need based skill training in small groups. Contact me for all your individual and small group needs. 



Teary For Thierry

With Zidane and Bergkamp  probably the most influential players of my playing generation.  What a talent.  What I would give to watch the invincibles  play the Barcelona of 5 years ago and the Real Madrid of present.  Wow!!!!!!  Take a bow Thierry and thank you for the memories.




What do you have? Ashton has started a trend. #getitdone. Show your creativity hashtag #tekkers to @skillskoolsocr




New buzz word in soccer Automatism.  Nice blog from the Author Christopher Cramer Explains.


It is said that FC Barcelona does not directly teach tactics to young players at La Masia, and instead they focus on automatism.  Check out this article for further background on the concept and the context.

Here is a dictionary definition of automatism:

“The performance of actions without conscious thought or intention.”

The take away for many youth soccer “experts” is that FC Barcelona does not teach tactics to young players.  Full stop.  They use this to justify their belief that technique alone should be the primary focus at the young ages.  However, to say that FC Barcelona does not teach tactics does not do the academy, it’s teams, or it’s players justice.

The idea is to design training sessions and exercises that train tactical concepts and patterns so that players are receiving tactical instruction without realizing it.

This is where rondos and positional possession games come into play.  They are used to train players what do when they have the ball, what to do when they don’t have the ball, and how to transition between those two moments.

For those that do not know, a positional possession game places players in specific spaces within the playing area to best replicate the responsibilities and situations they will face in a game.  One of my favorite positional possession games is this 3v3+3 game:


I decided to use this mentality to develop my own drills to help better initiate the movement and teach the responsibilities to my U11 and 12 teams.  Let me know what you think. 




SET UP :   11 players in grid 40 by 40 (field and numbers can be adjusted ).  3 v 3 + 5.  4 of the 5 players are positioned on the outside and all 5 players are all time offense.  We are using defenders as all time offensive players to simulate movement/switching  of the ball and working the ball into outside midfield players feet. 


Possessional objective is to move the ball from target to target.  This initiates wide players involvement that can receive a free pass into the channel. Opponent can only enter the channel when ball is played in to it. Defensive players should be encouraged to move the ball across the back line and then choose to play to feet or look beyond the defender if the defender is too square or too close to receiving  player (in channel).  


The drill initiates great lateral movement and allows the play to build without the midfield player being put under immediate pressure.  Restrictions and stipulation of passes/touches can be created within exercise.






Move it Move it

"Keep moving the ball but what are you moving." This season the theme for my teams is to build on an objective around possession style soccer. We have talked before about the art of keeping a ball, but what we do with it is key. My 11 and 12 year olds have the hardest time tactically transitioning to the bigger fields. In the girls game extra effort has to be made to paint the picture of where/how/why we move it.

I saw this quote today and I think it sums up what we are all trying to achieve. It's not just how you move the ball but how we move the other team.





Fantastic story and a must watch for any youth soccer coach or player. Especially those that have ever lost 31-0 or a game that may have seemed like a lot to a little. #againstallodds 



Possession : What you doing with it?

Stats don't lie but they do sometimes paint a picture that doesn't always reflect the effectiveness of soccer teams.  It has been the vogue of late to maximize the possession stat and was very much the way of clubs like Barcelona and Arsenal that would typically have the ball 65%+.  But you can argue that unless you have a purpose or can execute in the final third than possession is simply a statistic.  Many clubs have now adapted their play to compensate for  their lack of possession and concentrate more on the pressure they exert and where on the pitch, complimenting it with quick counter attacking soccer that think less of possession and really more of what you do with it. 

Many club teams coaches are guilty of playing possession for the sake of just learning to keep a ball.  There is much value in this,  as I have sometimes played non directional possession with better teams for the simple task of playing quicker and more controlled in tighter space.  But the possession drill can be manipulated 1 million and 1 ways.  Their has to be objectives to your possession.  Areas of concern that I   preach to teams, especially young teams,  is support and communication (yes 10 year olds can talk on the field) and utilizing a thrown-in  to restart possession which most teams struggle in keeping the ball when having to start from their hands.  

Here is two drills that work on both of these objectives. 


SET UP :   6 players in grid 20 x 20.  3 players in the middle with 1 defender.  2 players on the outside of square.  

Possession starts by players moving the ball in the area.  Defenders get out by winning ball or loss of possession. Players on the outside look for opportunities to step on to the field but have to 

1. Recognize an area of the field that they can move in to and 

2. Communicating to a player on the inside to drop out.  

Players will learn to be creative in their transition from out to inside and should look to not just replace players position but replace into a mother area of the field that the ball can be played to. 


Set Up

6 players in grid 20 x 20.  3 players in the middle with 1 defender.  2 players on the outside of square one has a ball in their hands.  

Possession starts by players moving the ball in the area.  Defenders get out by winning ball or loss of possession. After 3, 4, 5.... passes ball is played out to player who does not have a ball.  Player that passes ball to the outside steps out of square.  Restart with player with ball throwing in and possession resumes. 

1. Work on speed of transition of one ball to the other.  

2. Supporting players creating space in the square to receive quick throw-in. 

3. Work on the quality of the throw and the technical ability of players receiving and playing quickly out of the air. 






league is uindy and the code to get in is : 1209271-266858.





For many they are a key part of the World Cup build up, but it has been claimed pupils have been banned from swapping Panini football stickers in their school playground because 'it's annoying for teachers'.

The collectables, featuring stars such as Christiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Neymar, have reportedly been blamed for a number of playground bustups between young football fans.

It has been claimed that teachers at Battyeford Primary School in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, became so fed up as their pupils' desire for the stickers reached fever pitch that they have banned them from the playground.


Craze: Pupils have been banned from swapping Panini football stickers in their school playground because 'it's annoying for teachers', it is claimed

'Pupils were getting into fights and teachers were getting annoyed,' childminder Lisa Davies-Unger, 47, who looks after children at the school, told The Sun.

'It's a distraction so I suppose that led to the ban.'

However, a spokesman at the school said children had not been banned from bringing the stickers to school, and were even encouraged to swap the stickers as part of a school club.

'There is no ban on children bringing stickers into school,' he said. 

'Children are welcome to bring in their stickers and they are doing so with the blessing of staff. We even have a special club where children can get together and swap them in their free time.'

Panini, which has the exclusive rights from FIFA to produce and sell the tournament's official sticker album expects this year's edition to be the most popular yet, with billions sold before and during this year's competition.


Rules: Teachers at Battyeford Primary School in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, deny children have been banned from bringing stickers to school



Collection: Panini, which has the exclusive rights from FIFA to produce and sell World Cup official sticker albums expects this year's edition to be the most popular yet


Already 40million of the packets, which sell for around 50p, have been bought - and no doubt swapped - worldwide. 

And last week it was reported that a teacher in the Columbian city of Bucaramanga had been accused of confiscating stickers from pupils, and using them to complete his own Panini album.

According to local media a 13-year-old boy reported seeing the teacher in the staff room filling his album with the stickers taken from children. 

Last month Panini had to reassure fans in Brazil that there would not be a shortage of stickers after thieves hijacked a van containing 300,000 of them.

Football stickers are popular around the globe Collectible football cards and stickers have been swapped by young football fans since the late 1880s when they were frequently found inside cigarette packets. Italian company Panini started selling packets of football stickers in the 1960s and in 1970 produced its first World Cup album to tie in with that year's tournament in Mexico - selling the stickers outside of Italy for the first time. Football stickers took off in the UK in 1978, when the World Cup was being held in Argentina. A 1980s market research survey revealed that more than 90 percent of boys aged between nine and 11 had bought at least one packet of football stickers. And by the 1990s collecting stickers was a full blown phenomenon, with girls and boys alike eagerly trading 'shinys' as they tried to complete the set. In 1994 multiple re-prints were needed for sticker company Merlin's first official Premier League collection, such was the demand. Last November, 29-year-old Portsmouth fan and comedy writer Adam Carroll-Smith made headlines when he tracked down the six players whose faces were missing from his 1996 Merlin Premier League Album. It took him six months to trace Keith Curle, Stuart Ripley, Scott Minto, Gary Penrice, Philippe Albert and Lars Bohinen, visit them and take their pictures to fill in the gaps in his album, documenting his efforts in his book Six Stickers: A Journey To Complete An Old Sticker Album. Every year Panini prints more than a billion stickers, and as well as football stickers also print ranges featuring cartoon characters such as Peppa Pig and bands including One Direction. In the 2013/14 season Topps, which has owned the rights to Merlin since 1995, celebrated the 20th anniversary of the official Premier League Sticker collection. Topps also produces Match Attax, a trading card game which also features Premier League stars.




I encourage you to log on to and have your soccer playing child start building their live sticker album.  I remember as a child myself purchasing soccer cards to put in to my album and this is a pastime that was passed on from my older brothers.  An addictive hobby that now I share with my son.  Each day you get to open up new packets of virtual cards and place them in the book.  Ensuring the child learns about all the countries participating and the players that play for them.  Duplicate cards are traded with other members.  What fun we had.  Get them involved. 



The Ride Home

Author unknown.

One of the saddest things I had to do as a Director of Coaching for numerous soccer clubs was conduct exit interviews, meetings with players whom had decided to leave the club. Children quit sports for a litany of reasons, and my job was always to see what we could learn, so we could improve the experience for other children. When I got these players alone, and asked them “what was your least favorite moment in sports?” I often got a very similar and sad answer: the ride home after the game. It has always amazed me how a moment off the field can have such a detrimental effect on it, yet when we think about it, the toxicity of the ride home makes perfect sense. Emotions are high, disappointment, frustration, and exhaustion are heightened for both player and parent, yet many parents choose this moment to confront their child about a play, criticize them for having a poor game, and chastise their child, their teammates, their coach, and their opponents. There could not be a less teachable moment in your child’s sporting life then the ride home, yet it is often the moment that well intentioned parents decide to do all of their teaching. One of the biggest problems on the ride home is that a simple question from you, often meant to encourage your own child, can be construed as an attack on a teammate or coach by your child. As Bruce Brown states in his book Teaching Character Through Sport, “athletes do not need adults to question their actions, the actions of other players, or the coach’s decisions concerning strategy or playing time.” A simple comment such as “Why does Jenny get all the shots?” may be meant to construe to your child that you think she is a good shooter who should also take shots, but is interpreted by your daughter that “Jenny is a ball hog!” Questions such as “Why does Billy always play goalie” or “Why does your team always play zone?” can just as easily undermine the coach’s authority, and again cause confusion and uncertainty for your child. Many children indicated to me that parental actions and conversations after games made them feel as though their value and worth in their parents’ eyes was tied to their athletic performance, and the wins and losses of their team. Ask yourself whether you are quieter after a hard loss, or happier and more buoyant after a big win. Do you tend to criticize and dissect your child’s performance after a loss, but overlook many of the same mistakes because he or she won? If you see that you are doing this, even though your intentions may be well meaning, your child’s perceptions of your words and actions can be quite detrimental to their performance, and to your relationship. One of the things that Coach Brown urges parents to be a source of confidence and comfort in situations such as when your child has played well in a loss, when your child has played poorly, and especially when your child has played very little or not at all. Even then, it is critically important that you do not bring the game up for them, as uninvited conversations may cause resentment in children. Give them the time and space to digest the game and recover physically and emotionally from a match. When your child is ready to bring the game up and talk about it, be a quiet and reflective listener, and make sure she can see the big picture and not just the outcome of a single event. Help her work through the game, and facilitate her growth and education by guiding her toward her own answers. Kids learn a lot when they realize things such as “we had a bad week of practice and coach told us this was coming” Most importantly says Brown, remember that your child always loves hearing you sincerely tell them “I love watching you play.” The only exception to the above ‘Ride Home’ rule is when your child engages in behavior that you would not accept at home, such as spitting, cursing, assaulting an opponent, or disrespecting a coach or authority figure. In these cases you should initiate the conversation, not as a parent to an athlete, but as a parent to a child. Even then you must be careful and considerate of the emotions of the match, and choose your words wisely. Deal with the issue, and then put it to bed; do not use it as a segue to a discussion of the entire game. Not every child is the same, and some children may want to discuss the game on the way home. My advice is let them bring it up, and let them end the conversation. if you are unsure, ask your kids whether they want to talk about the game, and honor their feelings and their position on this issue. There is nothing, aside from the unacceptable behavior mentioned above, that cannot be discussed at a later time. The best part is, you will likely have a far better conversation about it hours after a game, instead of minutes. As many youth sports are entering the season of playoffs and state championships, emotions are higher than ever, stress and pressure are more prevalent, and it is crucial that you let the Ride Home belong to your son or daughter. They will thank you for it one day, that I promise.



Just EAT this bloody DONUT

Confessions of a dad getting his son ready for an 8am game.

Twenty years I've been doing this.  Twenty bloody years.  I apologize to all the parents that I've ever coached.  To the ones who drop their kids off at 7.37am and their kids sprint to the fields to let me know they got lost or were following the family that never have directions but always show up to the fields late with a sodding Starbucks.  I'm sorry.

I 've been out and about late nights, looked at my watch and thought it's late but my only responsibility is to get to the game 30 minutes before.  I've never had any trouble although I could mention a few times my head has been spinning for the wrong reasons and have only figured out tactically what to do after the coffee kicked in or the stomach settled. 

So this past Sunday my son stayed with me and my only responsibility was to get him to the fields on time.  8am game.  Be there at 7.45.  Early night for the two of us.  Alarm set.  7:17    SSSSSHHHHHIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

sharing bathwater, Trying to wake him up in the bath (at one point slapping his face lightly), drying him (still not awake), putting uniform on, forgetting shin pads inner sleeves.   Having to dry Under Armor in dryer at 7.23, Spike Hair (important), unlacing cleats that mother triple knotted, forcing chocolate milk down him (I know, I know, I know) and a donut (I know).  Out the door, in the car, back in the house,  forgot his ball.  

Fortunately the fields are close.  We showed up 3 minutes late after I stopped off for a tall quadruple shot Starbucks Latte : ) .  We lost. : ( . 

Never again!



From Russia With Love


HEADLINE READS  'play like Mertens '  However my Russian is bad.

Always great to hear from our #skillskoolers and none more than Soof Mertens who left America in the new year to start a new life in Moscow Russia.  Sofia originally is from Holland and had the opportunity to work with the Ajax coaches in an academy set up in Moscow.  Pictured (to the left) you can see Soof kitted out in full Ajax gear.  It sure looks cold Soof.  We miss you and look forward to future updates from the other side of the world. 



Radical non-possession in world football.

Courtesy of the Guardian.

The Question: is this the end for tiki-taka?

The success of defensive rigidity and rapid counter-attacks against possession football hints at another tactical evolution.

Pep Guardiola has tried to implement tiki-taka at Bayern this season but found his system ineffective againt Real's counter-attacking.

People are unhappy. They're unhappy at teams like Bayern Munich who keep the ball, preserving possession and looking to pass opponents into submission, and they're unhappy at teams like Chelsea who defend deep, allow opponents to have the ball and try to pick them off on the break. People, over the past fortnight, have declared themselves bored by – and opposed to – both proactive and reactive football.

That's not actually as contradictory as it sounds. We live in an age of extremes. When Barcelona first started to play tiki-taka under Pep Guardiola, they began to achieve unprecedented levels of possession. For the first time probably since Arrigo Sacchi's Milan almost two decades previously, there was a new philosophy about. This wasn't just a minor tweak of positioning, a tendency for one centre-forward to drop slightly deeper, or for the full-backs to push a bit higher. It wasn't a slight change of shape: it was a whole new style.

It took the basic tenets of total football to previously unimagined extremes – in part because of an exceptional generation of players many of whom had been schooled in a particularly idiosyncratic style at La Masia, in part because of a visionary coach in Guardiola, and in part because of the changes in the offside law that increased the size of the effective playing area and so permitted smaller, more technical players to flourish.

When totaalvoetbal emerged as a term in the Netherlands in the early 70s, the totaal aspect of it was part of a wider movement in Dutch culture, particularly architecture. JB Bakema, one of the theory's prime exponents, argued that all buildings should have individual characteristics but should be designed with their place in the overall environment in mind. The application of the term to football made sense in terms of Bakema – the whole point of it was that players were aware of their positions within the system and were constantly renegotiating it for themselves; but there was also, at least outside of the Netherlands, a more popular resonance. This was total football because everybody, it seems, could do everything: defenders could attack and attackers could defend.

Although tiki-taka shared with total football the high defensive line, the interchanging of positions and the sense that the game could be controlled through possession, its characteristics were far from total: everything became sublimated to the pass. The centre-forward became a false nine because that enhanced fluidity of movement and created additional angles to keep the ball moving; the full-backs played higher up the pitch than ever before; midfielders were selected in defence for their passing ability from deep; even the goalkeeper had to be able to play the ball out from the back.

For a time, football seemed not to know how to react. When Chelsea came so close to eliminating Barça in the Champions League semi-final in 2009, the assumption was that the great physicality of Premier League teams could brush them aside, yet Manchester United never got anywhere near them in the final. The semi-final the following year, and the defeat to José Mourinho's Internazionale, came as a watershed. Yes, Inter were fortunate in some respects, but at the same time there were spells in the second leg of that tie – spells the significance of which perhaps wasn't fully recognised at the time – in which Barça were reduced to endless sideways passing, bereft of imagination and verticality. Yes, Barça missed chances they would usually have taken and, yes, Bojan Krkic's late strike should have counted, but the lesson was there: radical possession football could be defeated by radical non-possession football.

In his controversial biography, Diego Torres explained the code Mourinho came up with at Real Madrid for handling games against high-class teams, particularly away from home:

"1) The game is won by the team who commits fewer errors. 2) Football favours whoever provokes more errors in the opposition. 3) Away from home, instead of trying to be superior to the opposition, it's better to encourage their mistakes. 4) Whoever has the ball is more likely to make a mistake. 5) Whoever renounces possession reduces the possibility of making a mistake. 6) Whoever has the ball has fear. 7) Whoever does not have it is thereby stronger."

That's the theory Mourinho used in the first leg against Atlético and last Sunday against Liverpool. Others, in a more diluted form, have followed: Real Madrid were quite happy to sit deep and absorb pressure against Bayern, both at home and away, capitalising on Bayern's inability to counter the counter (Uefa's technical reports show the number of goals scored from counter-attacks has fallen from 40% in 2005-06 to 27% last season; the increased efficiency of the attack-to-defence transition is one of the great developments of the last decade, something discussed in detail in the quarter-finals issue of Champions magazine) and their haplessness at set-pieces (a persistent flaw in Guardiola sides, perhaps rooted in his insistence on picking defenders who can pass rather than those who can mark and win headers).

Mourinho was quite open about his switch to a defensive approach in this spell at Chelsea. "We may have to take a step back in order to be more consistent at the back," he said in December after his side's Capital One Cup quarter-final exit to Sunderland. "It's something I don't want to do, to play more counter-attacking, but I'm giving it serious thought. If I want to win 1-0, I think I can, as I think it's one of the easiest things in football. It's not so difficult, as you don't give players the chance to express themselves."

Their next game, nine days later, was the 0-0 draw at Arsenal and a new tone had been set. Against teams prepared to attack Chelsea, the change of approach was hugely effective, but against other counter-attacking sides or teams who prefer to sit deep, it left Chelsea vulnerable to mistakes, misfortune and moments of brilliance from the opposition. As Mourinho himself noted on Sunday after the win at Liverpool, it's one thing to set out defensively, quite another to have the discipline to complete the job. "I am a bit confused what the media thinks about defensive displays," he said. "When a team defends well you call it a defensive display. When a team defends badly and concedes two or three goals you don't consider it a defensive display."

Wednesday demonstrated the problem. Eden Hazard's lapse in allowing Juanfran to run beyond him led to Atlético's equaliser and Chelsea were chasing the game. Mourinho brought on a second striker in Samuel Eto'o and, even leaving aside the fact it was his foul that conceded the penalty, the addition of a second striker surrendered midfield. "That made it possible to bring in five midfielders," said Diego Simeone, who brought on Raúl García for Adrián López 12 minutes after Eto'o's arrival. "We benefited from that: it left a lot more space for us to control the game."

In itself, the notion that possession is dangerous is nothing new. Egil Olsen discovered in the 80s that in the Norwegian league a side was more likely to score before the ball went out of play if the opposing goalkeeper had the ball than its own. What is different is the degree, while the dynamic when, for want of better terms, a Guardiola-ist team meets a Mourinho-ist team, is wholly new. One team is voracious in its appetite for the ball, the other has no interest in it, and the result is that one side can have 75-80% of possession – and this is the crucial part – without ever really being in control of the game.

That's a natural part of evolution. A thesis (radical possession) arises, an antithesis (radical non-possession) arises to combat it and at some point a synthesis is achieved that will govern the consensus of how the vast majority of clubs will play for the next few years. That the two extremes are so seemingly unpopular is revealing, less in the preference it suggests on the part of the majority of fans for football with a more traditional narrative of cut and thrust, than in the depth of the hostility. That suggests a potential new influence on the tactics of the future: while most fans quite logically prioritise winning, could it be that the growth in the global, less partisan, audience and the commercial need to appeal to it, leads teams to favour football with a more overt aesthetic appeal?

The other oddity in the reaction to Bayern's defeat has been the number of attacks on Guardiola and the assertion that tiki-taka is dead. In five seasons as a manager, Guardiola has won four league titles, two domestics cups (and is in another final), two Champions Leagues and three Club World Cups. Even given the dominance of the present era of superclubs, that is a phenomenal record. But the idea that tiki-taka is over, that Barcelona's defeat to Bayern last season and Bayern's defeat to Real Madrid somehow invalidate an entire philosophy, is to misunderstand the whole nature of tactics.

In tactics there are no absolute rights and there aren't many absolute wrongs: there is certainly no magic formula. Tactical theorists aren't like alchemists searching for the quintessence that will explain everything. There is evolution and development in tactical thinking, but everything is contingent on other factors; the same structuralist theory that underpinned Bakema teaches that nothing is not relative. Tiki-taka worked so well at Barcelona in part because of the technical ability of the players, in part because opponents were still adjusting to changes in the offside law and in part because of the intensity of their play. You can get away with a high line and passers rather than defenders in the back line only if there is ferocious pressure on the ball.

One of the reasons for Barcelona's slide from the very peak is that they have lost that intensity: stats from show that Lionel Messi, for instance, has gone from retrieving possession through tackles or interceptions 2.1 times per league game in 2010-11 to 0.6 this season. Bayern were noticeably lacking in zip and zest in both legs against Real Madrid, perhaps because after such a glut of success over the past two seasons their hunger has been dulled, perhaps because they have won the league so easily this season that a certain edge has been lost and perhaps because Guardiola made tactical errors.

There are those who have argued that Bayern destroyed tiki-taka in the semi-final last season and that it was therefore an enormous error to try to implement it at Bayern this season. That, though, is to ignore the fact that Bayern last season were a highly proactive, possession-oriented side in pretty much every game other than those against Barcelona: domestically, only Barcelona had more possession in the top five leagues in Europe last season; only Barcelona had more possession in the Champions League group stages last season. In those semi-finals, Jupp Heynckes recognised that Barcelona were better at retaining possession and so set his side up to play reactively, with great success.

None of that means tiki-taka is finished as a system. None of that means teams will not continue to try to control games through possession. What does seem to be the case, though, is that the examples of Inter in 2010 and Chelsea, against both Barça and Bayern in 2012, has radicalised the approach of reactive teams when encountering tiki-taka, and that will probably prevent it ever again enjoying the pre-eminence it enjoyed at Barcelona between 2009 and 2011 – just as total football, or at least the version with an aggressively high defensive line, never quite dominated the club game again after the break-up of Ajax after the 1973 European Cup final. It was a specific way of playing for a specific set of players in a specific set of circumstances at a specific time. Its influence was profound, as that of Guardiola's Barcelona was and assuredly will continue to be. Whether that style will ever dominate in the same way again is another issue. Once the evolutionary wheel has turned, it rarely goes back.