Training Sessions and Playing Styles


Melvin Boel is the International Development Coach for Feyenoord Rotterdam – responsible for all of their content worldwide. After an injury as a young player, he got into coaching relatively early, working with various amateur teams (U17-19) and for three years was the assistant coach to the Dutch Deaf National Team. At the same time he started working for Feyenoord with their U18 academy team. Melvin has the UEFA A-Youth Elite license. You can follow him on twitter at @melvinboel.

Certain styles of play have become a trademark of different clubs and countries. Does it make sense to have a specific style for your club, or should you teach players more than one?

Firstly it is important to consider the mentality and the vision of the club. That then dictates the style of play that the teams should follow. Everything starts with a plan. If you want to build a house you start with architectural drawings – you choose the shape and you draw the walls. Not until after that is done do you think about where the television and furniture go. I think that when you talk about youth players you need to develop creativity within players, and enhance their ability to solve problems that arise from situations within then game. That means for a training session the starting point is the game (11v11). Important ingredients are:- specific area; having two competing teams; creating the opportunity to attack, defend, and transition; allowing the ball to be free (unstructured); setting rules that make sense; and the possibility to win or lose. If you consider all of these ingredients in a training exercise or session, you create the framework for soccer development.

Should the style of the youth teams match whatever the coach of the adult first team is currently using?

Normally your goal is to develop and teach youth players to one day become members of the first team, so I should say yes. But I would not limit them to only learning in that one formation. Focus on developing creativity and having players make their own choices within the game, but do it while playing different formations to further challenge them and increase their knowledge of the game. In order to score, the team and individuals within it will face a large number of problems, and the more comfortable they become dealing with these, the better they will become. For example, different formations might create 2v1 moments in the center, or 4v3 in the midfield, etc.. These small-sided moments within the game can occur in most formations, so in that case it really doesn’t matter what kind of formation you play. We talk about the moment when I have the ball, the opponent is pressing me, who gets free and how do they help me?

If you had a particularly special player on a team, would you adapt the style of play to fit what works for them?

First I think that you prioritize player development individually and then you look at how they fit within a team. In my opinion your team style will come from the players that comprise it, so in that case you are adapting the style to fit its components.

For a relatively new youth club looking to develop a culture and style, how should they decide where to start? What should the overall teaching priorities be?

The game should always act as the starting point. Coaches should develop players with the priorities and goals of the game – teaching the players as much as they can about the position that the play in the game. Create game situations and help players to find solutions to them from the skills and understanding that they have. Soccer for me is about technique, tactic, conditioning and the efficiency of those three things. Sure, it is fine if you can control and pass the ball without pressure but if you can’t do it in possession or at game speed with pressure, how useful is it? The technique needs to progress to be functional in those situations.

How should a team coach plan their season to teach certain style(s) of play to the players?
I’ll give you an example for a coach who trains the team three times each week with games on Saturday: –

  • Monday is the first training after one day off, so use it as a start-up – training more technique, passing-combinations and easy small-sided games.
  • Tuesday would be the third day after the game so the players are recovered from the Saturday. I suggest doing you soccer conditioning training and fitness. Play by a periodization model small side games 3v3/4v4/6v6/7v7/9v9. Small blocks of 4-12 minutes with 1-6 min rest in between. Let the players play in match related situations. 7v7 (1-4-2 vs 1-3-3).
  • Thursday training needs to be a tactical training session. Simplify the 11v11 to 7v7,8v8,9v9 and finish the training with 11v11. For example you can use two teams. The first squad, the second squad and the substitutes. Than you have three teams and you play matches of 10-12 minutes. In these games you can train real match situations – distance, couples, etc. everything is in.

What should they do within a specific 90 minute training session? How important is competition and keeping score within activities?

If you want to organize a training session for 90 minutes, an example might be: –

  • Rondo (7v2) (1 or 2 boxes)
  • Game warming
  • Passing combination / Finishing
  • Possession exercise (in formation)
  • Game exercise

I will always keep score in our activities. You need to develop players in how to win a game. In adult soccer it’s more important to win the game than to play combination soccer (see how Chelsea have been successful). But the small sided games need to be realistic as well. Sometimes when there is just two minutes to play in the training and the score is 3-1 to the red team, the coach says first team that score a goal wins. To me that’s unrealistic to the game situation, because if the green team scores the real game will end in 3-2, a win for the red team.

In my training sessions when I have two minutes to go and we are in that 3-1 situation I say if the red team keep the ball (possession or score) they win (3-1) if the green team scores a goal (3-2) they win – this situation is game-related and realistic. You teach the players from the red team to close a game and defend the score.

How important is winning to player development? Do you have competition for players in practice sessions? Do you focus on winning at all if they play in tournaments or leagues?

In youth soccer you try to teach the children to win, because winning games is the goal for first team players, and to some degree players at all levels should understand that. But in some youth games there is the belief that teams should try to win at all costs. Sometimes losing a match is better for their development as you are forced to find ways to improve. So you win three points as a result or you win, or you get three learning points from a loss.

Players seem to play soccer less in their free time now in the developed world. How much does that affect their technical ability?

It’s something that I have noticed that has changed the player behavior in our training sessions. In my youth after school I was always playing soccer on the streets.  This was great to improve your technique and communication skills. Communication skills improved by not wearing bibs, using different color jerseys, different ages etc. This forced me to communicate by eye or name communication. That’s also the reason that I prefer to train with the younger youth in small side games like 3v3 and 4v4 without bibs. Force the children to play with their heads up and to coach each other.

Nowadays the children play video games instead of being outside at play. By playing video games you can learn how to play tactical football, how to react without the ball and switch sides to free spaces. So I think children develop themselves also by playing at the PlayStation but in other ways.

Do you see the style of play changing at youth academies in the next 5-10 years?

I think training sessions will be more organized. There will be more focus on individual players but not in individual training sessions but in formation and possession exercises. In the training sessions there will be more specialists on the pitch. Defender-Midfielder- Attacker coaches. Training in lines, and 11v11.  Also the way of playing will change into more full movement play. The idea of formations will change, players take over each other’s positions especially in attacking patterns. Football of the full movement will be the future.