Spend time on skills but see if you can develop them through games and competitive activities. MORE
When to put REAL defenders into a drill
The other week I was running some 4v2s. Initially, the attack was always successful. I suppose that is what you would expect but they were not succeeding as I wanted. Sloppy passing and drifting angles meant that although they were scoring, it was not improving their skill levels. It was time to make the defenders work harder.
I started each “GO” by standing next to the defenders. I also kept the same two defenders for at least four goes. This meant I coached the defenders to pressurise the ball carrier and close down his space. After the attackers’ first attempt, the defence knew how to perform better.
Not unsurprisingly, attackers started to drop the ball, run into contact or pass so poorly that the last defender could touch the ball carrier as he received the ball. It was a simple transformation. When I reflected on how to improve my session afterwards, I decided to have another coach with the defence.
“There is nothing better than success when there is a real challenge.”
The coach could condition the defence to modify the pressure on the attackers. In this case it was to up the ante.
However, one has to be careful not to go the other way and let the attack have it too easy. If the skills are good enough, they should succeed. Here you have to make a judgement call. If you think that they might achieve a certain skill level, keep the defence pressure as it is. I would err on the side of more pressure. There is nothing better than success when there is a real challenge.
But some might say that if players think the task is impossible, they become demotivated. Again, here is where you earn your corn as a coach. Encourage them when they are performing the right techniques but perhaps not all together in the same movement (for instance, two good passes and one poor pass). But if there is little sign of good practice, you reduce the pressure.
Your challenge is to create exercises that have enough flexibility to adjust for what the players can do. They may be on form and nail two or three passes, or they might be out of sorts, or lack crucial skills. You can adjust accordingly.
Sometimes, the pressure in the exercise is right first time – but that should not be expected.