Defending is football too.

In this information age, a football player that wants to improve gets on YouTube and watches clips showing what he can practice. It’s usually fancy tricks with the ball.

Sometimes, the player will capture a video of themselves practicing to show off what they can do with the ball but that’s not competitive football, perhaps freestyle football.

Football has two main principles; defending and attacking.

These principles show that; if a player/team has possession of the ball then they are attacking, if the player/team doesn’t have the ball then they are defending.

That statement shows that if you don’t have the ball then you defend to avoid conceding a goal.

It also shows that if you defend well then you can get the ball and attack.

People will tell you how they played or watched a football match but apparently, the team that had the most possession is the one that played but defending is football too. The team without or less possession is playing too.

The recently concluded 2018-19 English Premier League (EPL) season showed that defenders or defending can be recognized.

A good defending performance can be as good as an attacking performance.

Virgil Van Dijk was named Player’s Player of the season after fellow players voted him.

He’s not the first defender to win that award but it’s good to see a shift in mindset to show that defending is football too.

Manchester City won the league title with a consistently 9/10 performance from Benardo Silva.

The attacking midfielder from Portugal is known for dribbling but had one of the most successful tackles and ball recoveries throughout the season.

He also recorded the longest distance covered, a staggering 13.9 km in a match against Liverpool.

A clear indication that his defensive abilities are very good something that helped him compete for a position ahead of more established players in the Man City squad.

It’s good to see that in the recently concluded 2018-19 Uganda Premier League (UPL), goalkeepers and defenders were able to take home the man of the match award even better, Mike Mutebi the head coach of UPL champions KCCA FC says that Timothy Awany was the club’s best player during the 2018-19 season.

Football coaches in Uganda have a habit of separating football. They restrict defensive players to practice only defensive work, attacking players to practice only attacking work. This habit has reached, underage football, players as young as 10 years old have already been classified as either defenders or attackers.

Coaches have made players believe that as a defender you shouldn’t have any business using the ball, attacking players have been made to believe they have no business working to defend.

With this upbringing, Uganda is now filled with the majority of players not having the ability to function on the field when the demand is to defend and attack. Most of the players can only do one football function.

Perhaps it also explains why most goalkeepers are still struggling with being comfortable with the ball at their feet.

Worryingly though it explains why in Ugandan football when a team is defending, the pitch will be usually split into one part of the team defending while the other part of the team waits for the ball (seems like we are stuck in the past).

Players that are very good at attacking the aerial ball with the head will rarely fall back to defend set-pieces.

Defenders that are good at defending aerial balls with the head will rarely be a threat when attacking set-pieces.

The current trend in football is that every player on the pitch should be useful when their team is either attacking or defending.

Wide defenders have many assists after arriving in the attacking third of the pitch while many wide attackers will be in the defensive third when out of possession.

Lionel Messi is a wonderful tackler, Christiano Ronaldo has many defensive headed clearances from set-pieces and of course, Vincent Kompany came up with a wonderful goal, shooting from distance to keep Mancity in control of the EPL title hunt.

The best two goals at the 2018 FIFA world cup came from two central defenders (Pavard and Nacho) playing as wide defenders.

This ability in those players shows they were taught all football skills at a young age something that needs to be done by football coaches in Uganda or else the margin to professional football will keep getting bigger.

For all young players that intend to impress as footballers, defending is football too.

Learning how to do both defending and attacking is one of the things football scouts observe in a player.

Disclaimer: The writer has nothing against freestyle football.

The 10,000 hours’ myth in football.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outlier: The story of success, he states that, “it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill.” Gladwell’s statement is based on research done by Professor Anders Ericsson.

Football coaches and players that have read about this theory have gone on to practice for as many hours as possible in the hope of perfecting football skills.

Unfortunately for most of them, that practice never gets to be seen on the pitch while playing football, the next thing is to quit practice.

What the quitters don’t know, the 10,000 hours’ rule research was performed on a violinist.

I am not disputing the research, I agree 100% that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice would help to master any skill but Violin and football are totally different activities.

I am one of those football coaches that encourages players to practice and believe that it’s the best way to master a skill.

Football has fundamental skills that are categorized into; releasing the ball, travelling with the ball and, gathering the ball.

Mastering all football skills is extremely important for all football players but mastering a football skill is just the beginning of how to play football.

Football has factors that affect performance, mastering a football skill is a good foundation but just a fraction of football performance.

There’s a saying in football coaching that, “the game is the best teacher”. This’ because the game of football presents the player with real problems they must solve on their own.

A player in a football match faces challenges of the ball, space, team mates, opponents, state of play and area of the pitch. This process usually comes with a lot of mistakes especially in the development stage.

Challenges keep increasing with the quality of opponents and teammates.

Quality opponents will not give you a lot of space and time to use the ball while quality teammates will need you to use the ball in the shortest possible time whatever space is available for you.

A player that has practiced and mastered how to receive the ball will find different conditions in a football match.

Its in the match that a player gets to experience how to correctly apply the skill of receiving the ball in relation to the ball, space, team mate and opponent.

All football skills have to be executed with speed rarely compromising on accuracy.

“practice makes permanent but proper practice makes perfect”.

10,000 hours of practice will not help if the practice isn’t executed properly neither will it help if the practice lacks quality to be deliberate.

A lot of times players practice how to pass and receive the ball without being on toes, not making eye contact, without looking over both sides of the shoulders, and standing foot not planted properly to have toes pointing in the direction of the target.

Yet in a football match, being on toes helps to react faster, making eye contact helps to know how the recipient prefers the pass, looking over both sides of the shoulders before receiving the ball helps the recipient to be aware of the ball, space, team mate and opponent then planting the standing foot to have toes pointing in the direction of the pass helps to achieve accuracy.

Let’s go back to the part of a football coach and player that commit to practicing.

Do they place measures in place to know the current ability of the player?

Do they measure progress?

When do they know a skill has been mastered?

Do they apply the element challenging space and time during practice?

Does football practice place players in unfavorable challenges like poor officiating?

Playing less than opponents, chasing the desired score?

Having to use the weak foot?

There are many ways a creative coach would work with a player to make football practice have challenges of the ball, space, team mate, opponent, state of play and area of the pitch so that practice can easily be transferred to a real match.

Depending on the level of players a coach is working with, it’s important to make the challenges harder than what the player will face during the match, this will greatly help them arrive in the match with confidence.

In the 2015-16 FUFA Juniors’ League (FJL), I was coaching Maroons Junior Team. In the build-up to the league, we worked on the players being able to build the ball from the back.

Three matches into the league, players were struggling and lacked the confidence to play out from the back.

After that observation, we worked on them having to build up from the back by playing 6 against 8 in an area half the size of a pitch.

This increased challenge of having to play against 8 opponents was extremely helpful to the goalkeepers because every back pass had three opponents rushing in from different angles.

The idea was in a real match, only two opponents will most likely be rushing towards the goalkeepers.

By the end of the season, the team had greatly improved their ability to play out from the back.

The goalkeepers were starting to find one opponent rushing to them as normal.

Now we know that proper practicing for 10,000 hours helps to master a football skill.

We know that practice has to be deliberate and with quality.

We know that it’s a myth to expect the practice to get a player instant results on the pitch.

We know that learning and mastering a football skill is the beginning of playing football because football performance has other factors.

We know that the game is the best teacher because it presents the players with real problems they have to solve on their own.

We know that doing the wrong practice will keep a player and coach at the same level without progress.

We know that coaches need to have an excellent ability to observe and identify the challenges players face during matches so that they can set up a practice that will help the players.

We also know that you have arrived at the end of this blog, thank you for reading.

Football: Roles in attack.

When a team is in possession of the ball, it’s the attacking team. All players involved in the attack have roles to play.

The roles in attack are; Player on the ball (first attacker), supporting player (second attacker) and unbalancing player (third attacker).

Its important for football players to be taught the roles in attack after understanding principles in attack.

The player on the ball (first attacker): this the player in possession of the ball also known as the first attacker.

The role of the first attacker is to maintain possession of the ball then determine if penetration is possible by playing the ball forward.

This might be throwing, passing the ball forward, shooting or traveling with the ball to commit space.

In some cases, its possible for the first attacker to improvise by using creativity to beat a defender if faced with a 1 vs 1 situation.

Supporting player (second attacker): these are the players within one pass from the player on the ball.

They offer support by making sure they create the appropriate distance and angle to receive the ball.

The basic way of offering support to the player on the ball is being positioned forward, sideways and backward depending on the position of the player on the ball.

The more support offered to the player on the ball, the more threatening the attack will be.

Unbalancing player (third attacker): this’ the player that is usually more than one pass away from the player on the ball. The unbalancing player has to keep getting in positions that unsettle the opposition defense by moving off the ball to occupy dangerous space or moving the defenders with you to create space for other attackers.

Roles in attack are performed in relation to the principles of attack.

The player on the ball will use penetration or improvisation, the supporting players offer support while the unbalancing player offers width and mobility.

It’s important for all players to learn football attacking skills like shooting, traveling with the ball, attacking headers, passing and having excellent ball trapping skills because at any point they could be the first attacker, second attacker or third attacker.

“In Ugandan football, we have a challenge of players in the attacking team all getting attracted to the ball, all of them verbally asking for the ball and all of them wanting to be on the ball at the same time.”

Ben Mwesigwa

Its important for coaches to teach players how to understand that during an attack, all players have a role to play either on the ball or off the ball.

The players off the ball greatly help the player on the ball when they make the right actions in relation to the roles in attack.

Example: Belgium Vs Japan at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Please observe the following; What does the Belgian goalkeeper do when he gains possession of the ball?

How does Kevin De Bruyne react to get the ball?

What does De Bruyne do when he is on the ball?

What did Hazard, Meunier, Chadli and Lukaku do as De Bruyne travels with the ball?

What did Lukaku do for Chadli to score?

Football players that have been coached to understand the roles in attack will construct attacks with efficiency.

They will mostly take advantage of situations in which they you have more attackers against defenders.

Principles of attack in football.

A principle is a known way of behavior.

It should be DELIBERATELY taught so that an individual knows and understands what, when, where, why and how to behave.

Attacking in football is best understood and efficient when player(s) as an individual or group understand how to apply the principles of attack.

These are; penetration, mobility, width, depth (support) and improvisation.

Penetration is moving the ball forward. The moment a player gets the ball, the first choice should be to determine if penetration can be achieved by passing forward, shooting, dribbling and running with the ball forward.

Mobility is when players move to create space.

A player on the ball can apply mobility by dribbling or running with the ball to commit available space.

Players off the ball should move to destabilize the opposition defense, to avoid being marked and to create space for themselves or team mates.

Width is using the whole pitch from left to right.

Players in the attacking team should ensure to spread out to make it hard for opposition players to mark them out of the game.

Width helps the attacking team to stretch the opposition defense which creates space for the attacking players to penetrate.

Support/Depth: players in the attacking team need to support the player on the ball.

The most important aspect in supporting a player on the ball is angle, speed and distance of support.

Distance has to be appropriate, not too short to be closed down by one player, not too far to make it easy to intercept.

The correct angle of support is making it easier and possible for the ball to get to you within one pass.

Speed of support is taking up supporting positions to the player on the ball in the shortest time possible.

Depth means offering supporting using the length of the pitch.

“Supporting is one of the most misunderstood principles as most players think that it’s coming closer to the player on the ball.”

Improvisation is where a player on the ball needs to come up with a way to mount a successful attack and get out of trouble.

It includes dribbling in 1v1 situations, buying a foul (comes with experience), it’s mainly players being creative and applying ‘tricks’.

It can also be applied by teammates in the attacking team using combinations like 1-2 passing, wall pass or the third man running off the ball.

Football players that have been taught and understand the principles of attack will find it easy to perform the roles of attack during a football match.

It’s important for all players to be taught the attacking skills in football.

These include; Shooting, passing, receiving the ball in all ways, attacking headers and traveling with the ball because without learning those skills it is almost impossible to execute the principles of attack.

It’s important for players to be coached how to understand and be able to interpret when in the game a particular principle of attack can be applied.

Football: Roles in defense.

When a team is not in possession of the ball, it’s the defending team.

All players in the defending team should be able to help out with defensive duties.

The roles in defense are; pressuring defender (first defender), covering defender (second defender) and the balancing defender (third defender).

Its important that football players are taught the roles of defending after understanding principles of defending.

Pressuring defender (first defender); this’ the player closest to the ball, the role of the first defender is to apply pressure on the ball.

Pressing the ball helps to delay the attackers by denying penetration, forces them into mistakes and if possible then wins the ball to regain possession.

The pressuring defender’s other roles include selecting the proper angle and speed of challenging for the ball.

Covering defender (second defender); this’ the player closest to the pressuring defender.

The second defender’s role is to offer cover to the pressuring defender.

The covering defender should always be positioned between the pressuring defender and the goal they are defending.

The distance has to be appropriate enough to enable the covering defender to react fastest to the ball in case the pressuring defender is beaten.

The covering defender should be able to communicate verbally with the pressing defender.

“A good defender is verbally loud.”

Balancing defender (third defender); The role of the third defender is to balance the defense by maintaining compactness or tracking attackers running off the ball.

The balancing defender should be able to maintain sight of the ball, have a clear vision of the whole pitch and to communicate verbally with the covering defender.

The roles performed by defending players are within the principles of defending. The pressuring defender performs immediate chase or delays the attacker. The covering defender offers depth while the balancing defender creates compactness.

It’s very important for all players to be capable of executing football defensive skills because at one point they will find themselves defending as a first, second or third defender.