The mental side of the beautiful game is at least as important as the physical side, but is often neglected by coaches in training sessions. In this series, Travis Norsen, author of Play With Your Brain, will discuss small tweaks to standard training exercises and the large positive effects they can have on players’ decision-making and soccer intelligence. This week, Travis explores why you should incorporate double goals into your training.
Small-sided games (e.g., 4v4 or 5v5 to small goals) are a staple of every coach’s training sessions. Breaking a full squad into four teams and playing two parallel games means every player is, on average, twice as involved as they would be in a single bigger intra-squad scrimmage. And small-sided games can provide a valuable opportunity for players to try out some skill or concept (that is, say, the theme of the session previously introduced with a more structured/scripted drill), in a realistic, but miniature, game context.
But small-sided games to single, small (e.g., “Pugg”) goals frequently produce rather ugly soccer. The narrowness of the target tends to funnel play toward the center in the offensive end. And protecting a small goal doesn’t require a bus; parking a much smaller vehicle will do. That is, just one or two defenders collapsing in around the goal can make it almost impossible to score. Offensive players, recognizing the difficulty of scoring on a well-defended small target, but seeing no real alternative, thus often resort to desperate dribbling runs which rarely succeed but always reinforce exactly what I, at least, do not want my players doing — namely, dribbling themselves into high-pressure, low-success-probability situations.
So one of my favorite small tweaks to improve the quality and learning-potential of small-sided games is to use double goals. Instead of one centrally-located small goal on each end (as shown on the left here) have two separated goals on each end (as shown on the right):
The main benefit of playing with double goals is that it introduces a universal need for field-awareness and decision-making.
For example, with two possible places to score, an offensive player receiving the ball with space to carry the ball forward has to decide which goal to dribble toward. It goes without saying that it is better to attack the goal that is less well defended, but already this implies a massive cognitive improvement over the single goal game: instead of encouraging players to dribble into pressure, the double goal game inherently encourages players to look up, identify where the defensive pressure is concentrated, and move the ball away from that pressure.
The double goal game also encourages and rewards genuine team play on offense. When one player with the ball attacks one of the goals (even the one that is less well defended in that moment) the defense naturally shifts to protect that goal. This tends to reduce defensive protection around the other goal, which incentivizes the dribbler’s teammates to make aggressive supporting runs to receive a pass in front of the now less-well-protected goal. The double goal game, in short, automatically teaches one of the most important principles of soccer: dribbling to force defenders to commit to the dribbler, which creates more-open passes to players in now-superior positions.
And the double goal game requires and encourages more thoughtful, coordinated play on the defensive side of the ball as well. Instead of just reflexively collapsing into the area in front of the goal when the other team has the ball (the way defenders naturally and not unreasonably do when there is only a single small goal for the other team to score in), defenders in the double goal game have to actively perceive the situation and decide how, when and where to move. If an opponent is dribbling toward the goal that their defensive teammate is already protecting, should they go provide defensive cover to that teammate, or stay put and protect the other goal? It depends! For example, it depends on the exact positioning, spacing and relative skill of those other two players. It depends on whether another offensive player will be left wide open in front of the second goal if it’s left alone. It depends on the availability of other defensive players who could potentially help out in various ways. None of these things are easy to decide, especially on the fly and in the heat of the moment — which is precisely why it is such a rich learning opportunity for players.
There are other advantages to the double goal game as well, but you get the point. Having two goals on each end, instead of just one, does not merely give players two places to do the same things they would have been doing with just one goal. Instead, it radically opens up the game, forces all players on both sides of the ball to be more cognitively engaged more of the time, and allows players to really develop greater situational awareness and decision-making that are the irreplaceable heart of quality team play in the full-size game.
So give it a try at your next training session, and I think you and your players will also come to love it.
So there it is! What a start by Travis in his new Train of Thought series on TheMastermindSite.com. I also believe that double goals are an extraordinary tool for coaches to use as it is encourages one of my favourite facets of the game – switching play. Remember that there are so many ways to adapt small-sided games to achieve your learning outcomes, and reap the rewards – creating smarter, better players in the process. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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