Mark Stimson – Session Report

GETTING A BACK 4 TO WORK AS A TEAM

Mark Stimson is currently Manager/Coach of Thurrock FC in Rymans North, where his team are pushing hard for promotion to the Premier Division.  Mark has managed and coached clubs in the Football League, such as Barnet and Gillingham, and his playing career included lengthy spells at Tottenham and Newcastle United.

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Before starting the session, Mark  made it clear that he was aiming the work at everybody, regardless of the level of play in which they coached or the age of their players. A vital element  of defending is communication and Mark said that the present generation of young players makes it very difficult to get them to bring communication into their game. This is because young people are much less communicative than they  used to be.  This is due in no small measure to the widespread use, among even the youngest children, of mobile phones and the endless texting they indulge in among their friends. This undoubtedly has a detrimental effect in their football playing life when so many young players make no attempt at communication towards their team mates during the game.

In higher levels of the game, the constant importing of foreign players into our National League means that English is not the first language of so many of the players and so lack of confidence in conversing in the native tongue has led to many instances of uncertainty in defence at even Premier League level, that would previously have been sorted out by clear, concise instructions by ‘leader’ players in moments of crisis.

Mention was also made of Busquets of Barcelona, who is a most under-rated player. The way that he controls the game by getting the ball off the front and midfield players is superb. But he also fills in as a centre half when Pique has gone on a foray up field. We have Wilshire who can play the holding game well but he cannot fill in for other players as Busquets does.  Mention was made of the disappearance of street football by Chairman, John Cartwright, at this point, who explained that in street games the players would one minute be scoring goals as a  forward, the next playing as a defender and then even preventing a goal against by doubling as a ‘rush keeper’.

Once Mark got started on the practical work he showed everyone a few ideas of a warm up. At first he allowed the players to do their own warm up and do whatever they felt comfortable with. The players moved about in the area, performing a number of football related movements, such as kicking and heading actions, short sprints and various stretching movements. Mark introduced a few of his own ideas, placing cones on the floor so that they ran in turn with a slow jog, side to side movement and then high knees running action. Then he introduced alternative running actions, where they crossed their ankle in a sideways running action, bringing their heels high up behind their backs and zig zag running movements. Mark then introduced footballs into the warm up, with various ball manipulations being shown, from both a forward running and sideways running movement.

hub3When Mark introduced stretches, these were dynamic stretches, i.e. stretches performed on the move. Mark made a point of stressing that how you train dictates how you play. By this he meant that if the training was performed sloppily, such as the warm up, then the game would be played sloppily because the players would enter the game in the wrong mental state. So it was vitally important to get everything exactly right from the word go.

Mark then set up his first practice in the programme of work on coaching the back 4. His back 4 were set up across the training area  and the rest of the players were in two lines as attackers. Mark had a supply of footballs and passed a ball to two attackers in turn. They attacked the back 4 defenders and attempted to cross a line, marked by cones, a little way behind them. They had to try and get the ball over that line to score a point. Because the defenders were overloaded  the forwards had little success. The nearest defender to the attacker receiving the ball had to immediately close him down by sprinting forward and then slowing down in the last yard. The other defenders then took up covering positions as the closing down defender   forced the forward into a certain direction.

To give the defenders more problems the forwards then attacked with three players. At first the defenders were a little tentative in reacting to the attackers gaining possession. Mark had to stress that the nearest defender to the forward gaining possession must be the one to close down. That defender must go at pace and put the ball under pressure. But he must slow down just as he arrives in pressuring mode.

It was now that Mark really stressed the massive importance of communication when defending. The information has to come from the defenders behind the pressurising player. One player presses but the other three react. Mark pulled up one defender for ball watching and letting a runner go instead of following him because he had taken his eye off him. Mark said to this player that if his immediate opponent did not have the ball then you’ve got to be in control by communication  and telling the pressurising player to show his opponent either left or right.

Mark looked at the back 4 as a collective group and he said that they were tending to run around everywhere. It was vital that they should retain their shape and discipline and one player had to take responsibility to call “shape”   to get everyone in position and maintaining a good line. The idea was to be in a line and close together. Because he had not coached these players before and some were not even defenders, even if they did not yet really understand their roles they had to be positive and keep on the front foot. He explained to the players that if they forced the forwards to pass the ball back then they must use that as a trigger to move forward, forcing the attackers back and staying on the front foot. They were maintaining a positive mind-set.

Mark then structured the practice as a back 4 against 4 attackers with an additional attacker behind them in support. Mark picked up on a situation where the back 4 lost its shape when a forward got in behind the defence and the right back dropped back behind the defence to pick him up. But the defensive shape was lost and there had been no communication and the forward had been played onside. Mark stressed that the back 4 had to be a unit and they had to either all press or all drop. In this instance some had pressed but the right back had dropped and so chaos had resulted.  He made a point about when to play the offside game. He said only play offside when there is pressure on the ball, otherwise go with the runners.

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Mark’s explained that his last practice could easily have been done as the first because it was a basic 1 v 1 situation, with the defender defending his goal where there was a goalkeeper. Mark served the ball into a  forward and he had to take on the defender, try and go past him and score.  Mark explained the importance of observation when playing as a defender. In the first few minutes of a match, the defender must observe the favoured foot of his immediate opponent so that when confronted in this 1 v 1 situation he must try to force the forward onto his weaker foot. Mark also told the keeper to help his defender in the 1 v 1 duel by giving constant communication.

Mark had constantly referred back during the whole session to the massive importance of communication. It is clear that especially when coaching defenders this lack of positive and leadership-inclined players is having an enormously detrimental effect on our development of good, young players in these defensive positions. Mark echoed the present concern   that John Terry’s  leadership skills are being badly missed by our National Team.

It had been an excellent session and Mark had aimed it just right for coaches who are working at a whole cross section of levels as well as a whole variety of ages.

Words by Steve Haslam and pictures by David Cumberbatch

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