Where should the focus lie?

I’ve just had an interesting conversation about the skills of former Juventus star Andrea Pirlo and what he could and couldn’t do during games. One thing he has been able to do is set up lots of attacking situations with his fabulous array of passes from midfield into the attacking third of the pitch.

Imagine, however, what his coaching report must have said: can’t run, can’t tackle, poor in the air. Enough to have pushed him away from a career at the top of our sport. So when the talk is about creating all-round players who can play every position in the game, are we ignoring the huge number of players who are outstanding at one or two things but not so good at others?

Pirlo was one of the reasons that Juventus was so successful during his time with them. Check out the free-kick he played into the box for Leonardo Bonucci to score when Juventus beat second-placed Roma 3-0 early in January 2014 and it underlined the importance of players like Pirlo.

Success in games

However, I do feel we give players more chance to be successful in the games they play if we can coach them in every position. It helps them to be more aware of what is going on around the pitch and I’m sure Pirlo played in many positions, giving him the insight to play such clever passes and free-kicks.

I have players who practise their favourite skills all the time and get better and better despite me telling them they should be practising all of the different parts of their game. But when you are really good at one thing you want to do it more and more so on match day it works a treat.

It doesn’t stop me getting them to do other things in training though, and I will often play them in positions they find much harder in order to add to their all-round soccer skills in practice matches.

Give lots of praise

As a coach you need to know what your players are good at and what they can do, because it helps if you praise the good things in their game, but you should also praise them when they try to do the other things that they like less, such as heading the ball maybe.

Focused praise can help you to create the all-round players you hope for. I find that praising all aspects of play, even when players make mistakes, is the best way to encourage them to better all of their skills, not just the ones they think they are good at.

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