A Christmas joker is very creative

Season’s Greetings to you – thank you for keeping in touch through my newsletter especially at this time of year when family matters become most important. Hopefully you have managed to come through a very trying year.

In a couple of weeks once the decorations have come down it is back to (hopefully) full time training again. One training position I think about at this time of year is the Christmas joker. It’s a very important position a bit like the star of the school play and it needs a player who is a big personality on the pitch..

You need a player who is switched on so they can catch the opposition out during transition or can be the player who creates goal scoring chances because he/she is less likely to be marked when the ball is transferred.

What this gives the joker is time to see a pass or make a late run into the box creating overloads in front of goal. For the coach it is important the joker understands his responsibility because they can carry this into matches and be the creative spark that is sometimes missing from youth teams.

It also gives them an insight into the importance of speed at the moment of transition. It is a key role and one that you should think about using at every training session.

Now I know some of you will be saying you only ever have even numbers – no problem, you can play for example 6v5 plus a joker where one team will have a two player overload in possession but equal players out of possession. It’s a great way to get your coaching sessions producing creative players.

Here’s how you go about it:

Start with explaining how players go about being creative – where they play, movement of team mates and how creative passing can split defences open. Use Play between the lines from my Soccer Tactics manual, which explains how players can make decisions that benefit the team.

Next, give the players a framework where they can practice being creative without being penalised for making mistakes. With the technical practice Try something different in the final third creativity stems from players being confident to try something even if they fail at it. It is a simple session that uses all of your squad and, best of all, requires no cones or equipment so can be set up by the kids and used as a pre-game warm up.

For the younger age groups, the best way to encourage creativity is to give them a fun game that stretches their skills. Tomb Raiders is perfect for this as it gets players using short passes, making interceptions and keeping possession with good decision making.

One of my favourite ways of giving players the chance to be creative is Creative in the final third (U14 activity). It uses overloads to put players in situations where doing something different will result in a goal.

Small-sided games are excellent vehicles for getting players to be creative – 6v6 to improve midfield creativity is a great way to round off a technical session and allows the coach to see if players are using creativity in the final third to make and take scoring chances.

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