The answer to 3four3’s success is not in their session plans

Like many coaches, professional and grassroots alike,  I admire the play of teams coached by Brian and Gary Kleiban of 3four3.com. Ever since they started sharing videos like the one below coaches from around the world have been keen to find their secret – to get hold of their coaching plans and make their teams play the same way.

Stop looking for the answers and start listening and understanding what they say, because I believe that is where the answers you’re looking for are. They are not in a set of coaching plans that you can pick up and take to your sessions, that suddenly make you a top ranked team in your area. In the same way the supposed bible of Jose Mourinhos drills didn’t suddenly produce amazing football players or world-class coaches.

I have spent some time reading their blog, following the twitter feed, browsing some of the posts on their coaching forum that are available to read and I keep getting a consistent theme and a consistent message to those who are looking for their secret. I cant guarantee that you can reproduce their success, but I have certainly gained more clarity in my coaching by using the ideas that they reveal in their material. They often suggest  that the secret isn’t in the session plans.

The first thing I have done is to establish a consistent philosophy, one that underpins every training session I write and is basis for formation we play on match day. Their philosophy is Playing possession-based, attacking, attractive and winning football. Watch the video again or any of those on their youtube channel with this philosophy in mind, you can see it embedded in the players actions. What is your philosophy? Write it done get it on paper, make it specific, mine is the front page in my coaching folder, whenever I open up the folder I’m reminded of the philosophy.

Preparation comes next, writing training sessions that match the desired outcome and that cover both the technical and tactical aspects of what I am aiming to achieve. I now have a set of technical and tactical elements that I have been using that still make the sessions stimulating for the young players I coach, but all fulfil the long-term objective. If your philosophy is to use long balls to bypass the midfield in order to get the ball to the strikers quickly, would they benefit from be a training session on playing through the thirds. Especially if they players haven’t mastered the long ball game.

Which brings me nicely onto the third point, repetition! Sessions need to give players the opportunity to continually experience the decisions they need to take in a game to reproduce the end product – both technical and tactical. To me that doesn’t necessarily mean running the same session monotonously week after week, but it does mean running sessions where the themes fit with your philosophy and long-term objective.

The final part is the interaction,  the one thing you can’t copy. It will be different for each set of players, but none the less something you have to get right if your approach is to be a success.  You need to communicate your philosophy clearly to the team your working with and your coaching skills to get them to buy into the philosophy. No point having a philosophy to play possession football from the back if every time you right back gets the ball  their preferred choice is to smash it into the opposition half.

A Grassroots Coaches Review of “Inspire the Game”

Given the speakers at this event I wasn’t sure if the target audience was going to be more geared those coaches working at the Elite or Professional level and wondered what knowledge I might gain that would help me in my role as a grassroots coach. Nothing is worse than travelling across the country to attend an event for your own learning and development and coming away with nothing from it. I needn’t have worried, because despite the number of coaches in their club attire there was just as many grassroots coaches in attendance.

The morning sessions were focussed around developing the talent of the future. Cardiff City academy manager Dick Bate was the first presenter to take to the stage with a talk on what football may look like in a few years’ time, Backed up with a lot of statistical analysis on the speed at which the game will be played both from a technical and a decision-making perspective. Players at the top-level will need to be making decisions lightning fast and the analysis showed a clear link between an increased number of passes giving a team a greater chance of winning games.

Dick also talked from a coaching perspective about the need to keep players attention and stimulate their curiosity. He used the following acronym to sum up how coaches can prepare themselves for the future:

Knowledge
Attributes
Skills
Experiences

Ask yourself what knowledge, what attributes, what skills, what experiences do you need to gain as a coach to improve for the future game?

Next up was Nick Levett an experienced presenter responsible for the development of youth football at the FA as well as part-time Academy coach at Fulham FC. His experience showed in both his style and PowerPoint presentation. Nick talked about developing the next generation of football players. My notes summed up Nicks presentation quite nicely:

“The game gives you memories. The game gives you clues not answers”

Ask yourself are you creating memories or concentrating on winning trophies?

Matt Whitehouse, author of The Way Forward, spoke about the need to develop players with skill, creativity and intelligence, Following Matts presentation I wrote in my notes – Spend more time developing players in 1v1 opposed situations rather than unopposed.

Leadership under Pressure was the title of Crewe Alexandra youth coach Micheal Jolley. He spoke about coaches needing to have clarity in their objective and an understanding of the steps they need to take on their journey. Luck plays a massive part in football, but as coach you still need to know what you need to learn and what you need to do to achieve your objectives. His presentation also seemed to reinforce Matts talk with the need to make players training as close to match day experience as possible,

Renowned Sports Psychologist Dan Abrahams talk on Mindset and coaching was interesting to hear, especially his adaptation of the FA four corner model and how the physiological corner influences the other three corners. It got me thinking how each of the other corners has influenced grassroots coaches’ direction in recent years:

Physical – for many years seen as the trait of English football and the player of choice for Academy’s
Technical – Coerver, Brazilian Soccer Schools, to name just two styles that have influenced grassroots coaches
Tactical – Small sided games, 4v4 and 3v3 etc a more recent example of a grassroots training trend

But it’s not surprising as the psychological side is the least understood by grassroots coaches. Do we insist on the right Mindset from our players? For example encouraging them to experience confidence and focus during our sessions. Do we know our players story? Do we shape their story?

Co-organiser Jed Davies, author of the Tika Taka handbook talked about player development philosophy. Again one thought-provoking line from my notes summed up Jeds presentation

“Steal ideas don’t copy them”

By all means steal other coaches’ ideas, but don’t expect to use them to the letter and expect them to work for you. Adjust them to match your philosophy. Does your playing philosophy match your training methodology? Does your training methodology reflect the match day implementation?

The next two presenters spoke about the tactical side of the game. Wigan Academy manager Tim Lees spoke about his philosophy and shared insights into the coaching of young players at the academy. What was interesting about Tims talk from a grassroots perspective was that they do very little unopposed work in their sessions. In the last session Louis Lancaster, Watford Academy coach, presented his work on the tactical methods Bayern Munich have used during their recent successful campaigns, a presentation that I would suggest anyone with an interest in football to watch.

After each presentation there was time to ask questions of the presenters and there were also plenty of breaks to allow you to network with other coaches. It was also nice to see all the presenters stay and listen to their peers.

The main message I took away from the event was that no one has the golden solution to our problems, but everyone at the event was happy to share ideas presenters and attendees alike.

After each presentation there was time to ask questions of the presenters and there where also plenty of breaks to allow you to network with other coaches. It was also nice to see all the presenters stay and listen to their peers.
The main message I took away from the event was that no one has the golden solution to our problems, but everyone at the event was happy to share ideas presenters and attendees alike.