July Hot Topics

Systems of Play 4-3-3

In recent years we have seen Barcelona and Spain dominate the European and World game using variations of the 4-3-3. It is also the preferred system for youth development in nations such as the Netherlands, Spain and now the U.S.A. Whether the 4-3-3 is implemented as a 4-5-1 or 4-2-3-1 is open for discussion, but as more and more teams at youth level decide to try the system it is important that we as coaches understand the basic variations and strengths and weaknesses of the system.

The 4-3-3 is generally played with a Zonal back 4, a triangle midfield composed of either two defensive mids and one attacking, or one defensive and two attacking, and three forwards. The system enables team to dominate the center of the field, press high up the field and also provide a lot of width in the final 3rd. Attached is an in depth explanation of the 4-3-3 with advantages, disadvantages and how to attack and defend with the system.

Attached is also an article from Louis Van Gaal (the ex-Ajax and Barcelona coach) on his methodologies surrounding the 4-3-3. Louis Van Gaal had huge success with Ajax in the 1990's using the system and his methods are covered in depth in the book: "The Coaching Philosophies of Louis Van Gaal and the Ajax Coaches".

In the coming months we will also cover other systems such as 4-4-2; 3-5-2 and 3-4-3. It will be interesting to see which system will come to the forefront in the coming years, especially after Spain's recent success in implementing a strikerless system during Euro-Cup 2012!

Practice the 10,000 hour rule!

This hot topic is on practice, and the importance of practice to develop talent - and in turn, encouraging our players to practice more every day. Recent literature and research has indicated that talent is a product of nurture rather than nature, with researchers suggesting it takes approximately 10,000 hours , or roughly 10 - 15 years of deliberate practice to become 'elite' or an 'expert' in a given field. Easier said than done!! Especially when these hours need to be quality, deliberate practice.

Attached is a research article from K. Anders Ericsson - performance psychologist - outlining the '10,000 hour' theory ("The Making of an Expert") and gives hope to us all that anything is possible provided we're willing to put in the long hours of hard work and practice. One aspect particularly interesting is the aspect of deliberate practice. This type of practice pushes a person out of their comfort zone and continually challenges them, which highlights the importance of coaches developing challenging practice sessions and not getting frustrated when our players can't initially perform an activity or skill.

As coaches we can help facilitate this practice and inspire our players to put in the extra hours at home. Here is Homework Practice Skills Log that you can hand out to your players for them to complete during the summer months. This log was put together by Jeremy Eisenman - Cascade FC GU15 coach (thank you Jeremy!!), and he has used variations of this with his team over the past few years. It is a great tool for your players to use so that they can keep track of the hours they practice and also for you as a coach to create some healthy competition within the team, especially if you have them bring their logs to each team practice. Here's an Excel version of the Practice Log in case you wanted modify it for your own teams/change the wording etc. The whole skills routine should take approx. 30 to 45 mins and will provide the player with approx. 1000 touches of the ball if not more.

If we have aspirations of developing elite players, then we need to inspire and encourage our young players to begin racking up the hours and practicing outside their regular practice times. If you're interested in reading more into the development of talent and deliberate practice then I recommend the following books:

  • "Talent Is Overrated" - Geoff Colvin
  • "The Talent Code" - Daniel Coyle
  • "Bounce" - Matthew Syed