Mark Yates Masterclass Report


The report of the LFCA Masterclass  on 29/3/17.

After finishing his playing career at Burnley, Mark Yates spent two years coaching the senior players at that club. Most of his coaching has been at the senior end of the game. His most recent position was that of Manager/Coach at Crawley Town where he worked under severe financial constraints which resulted in him losing his job eleven months ago. He is now attempting to get back into the professional game as soon as the opportunity arises.

Mark introduced his session by saying that in order to become a good player today you must be able to play in tight areas. The higher in playing standard you go then the less space you have and therefore the less time on the ball.

Mark introduced a few warm up exercises to begin with because he wanted to assess the quality of the players, their awareness and their decision making. He especially wanted to see how good was there awareness of space. He put the players in pairs, standing about 2 – 3 yards apart with one of them with the ball in his hands. He served it at waist height to his partner who had to return it with a side foot volley using alternate feet. After 10 serves the players switched round. Then the receiver had to control the ball on his chest before returning with a side foot volley. Finally, the player receiving the serve had to control the ball and then dribble around all the servers, keeping tight control, before returning to their server and the procedure was repeated with the other player controlling the ball and dribbling.

Mark then split the players into two pairs of files facing each other, with about 10 yards between the two files. The first player in one line had to pass to the first player in the opposite line and then immediately run to the back of that line. The receiver must take the ball with one touch and pass with the second touch and then run to the end of the opposite line. Mark put down cones to mark tram lines and the ball had to keep within these tram lines. The emphasis was on accuracy, correct weighting of passes and touching the ball out of the feet when receiving a pass in order to set up the next pass.

Mark then introduced a setting up pass followed up by a one-two between the two lines. The first pass went from the first player in one line to the first player in the opposite line. After this first pass this player came forward at an angle to the receiver, received his setting up pass and then played a return pass to this player who moved away on the opposite angle to receive the ball and then played it long to the first player in the opposite line for the sequence to start again. The players ran to the back of the opposite line after each play. This practice really tested the players in playing controlled and accurate passes in a tight area, whilst at the same time getting their angles and distances correct.

Mark then split the players into two groups and they played a keep ball practice of 6 v 1 with a maximum of two touches. The six players had 20 seconds to make sure that each player had a touch of the ball without the defender intercepting. Mark wanted to see pass and move play but not chaotic running around. He said that there need only be a little movement to one side after passing, just changing the angle slightly which makes all the difference. He wanted to see side foot passes rather than the flicking which many young players indulge in these days  which often results in possession being lost. He also said that he wanted to see the players using their bodies to shield the ball from an opponent.

Mark then put two defenders in the middle of a circle of six players with one attacker also in the middle. The players around the circle had to pass the ball around between them, keeping the ball away from the two defenders. The forward in the middle occupied one of the defenders whilst the other defender tried to make an interception as the ball was passed around.  The forward in the middle tried to make himself available for a pass by using his body to receive the ball whilst screening it from the defender.  Basically, he was protecting his space and occupying a defender. Again Mark stressed to the players around the circle that they must pass and move but movement of just a yard makes all the difference.

Mark then went on to set up a keep ball practice of 7 v 2 in an L-shaped area. So this made greater demands on the players' ability to work out their angles and movement off the ball, with a chunk of what would have been a normal rectangular area missing. But Mark was pleased with the players' response and commented that they had started to slow down when necessary, without the  hurry scurry of before. He was particularly looking for composure and quality on the ball.

For his final practice, Mark set up a larger area split into thirds. In one end third there were five players in blue bibs and in the opposite  end third  there were five players in red bibs. In the middle third, confined to a small coned off square, were four players in green bibs. The five blue players started the exercise off, playing keep ball against one of the green defenders who had run from the middle third. On completion of the 5th pass, the ball had to be played across to the opposite third  for the 5 red players to attempt to complete five passes against another green defender who ran from the middle third to pressurise them.  The passes that travelled from one end third to the other could either be lofted passes over the heads of the defenders or played into spaces between the square and the touchline, as if it were a ball played into channels in match play. The green players could not leave their box to cut out these passes but, in turn, they ran immediately to pressurise the ball as it entered the end third.

As the practise progressed, Mark sent out two defenders at a time to pressurise. This created greater problems at first for the attackers and so, to compensate, Mark increased the size of the area.

Even during a  session of one hour, the players had shown improvement with a greater awareness of space, more confidence to relax on the ball and an understanding of when and where to change angles after passing the ball.

It had been an excellent session which gave everyone present new ideas to take away to their clubs, and which were invaluable to all levels of coaching.


Report by Steve Haslam
Picture by David Cumberbatch