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Preparing players for the jump to 11-a-side

As we head into a new season in the UK, many grassroots teams will be making the leap from 9-a-side to 11-a-side.

Typically for boys, this will be at under- 13s and for girls at under-14s. For coaches leading that transition, it can be quite a daunting prospect – but it needn’t be.

My girls are heading into their second season of 11-a-side football, having had their final year of 9-a-side and first year of 11-a-side both heavily disrupted due to Covid.

It was certainly not the ideal preparation we would have wanted for them. But despite the uncertainty, and lack of match and training time, the girls got on with it and flourished – as kids tend to do.

As coaches, however, we can put a lot more pressure on certain situations than is necessary and I think moving to full-sized football can be one of those occasions.

Realistically, for the players, it’s still just football. There’s just a bit more space to run around in and more of their mates to play with.

But I am sure many of us will still want an element of structure and preparation, particularly when it comes to the bigger aspects of the transition, such as the more physically demanding nature of the pitch size and tactical elements around new formations and roles and responsibilities.

Hannah hands out some instructions to her Crawley Wasps youngsters

There are also things like the psychological aspect to consider, if you have a small goalkeeper now having to protect a bigger goal, and the social implications of likely having new members of a larger squad.

On that latter point, group activities like bowling or laser tag are a great way to introduce new players without the pressure of performing on the pitch.

Fortunately, there are no major changes such as offside to contend with when stepping up to the full-size game. But if you’re moving to 11-a-side for the 2022-23 season, it might be a good idea to start gradually introducing a few ideas midway through this season.

And if you’re about to embark on 11-a-side this season, it is likely you will already have been training with this in mind, or have organised some friendlies. It might also be a good idea to give the players things to think about away from the training pitch.

As my team’s transition to 11-a-side came during a Covid lockdown, I set the girls some ‘homework’ based around formations, roles and responsibilities. I asked them to come up with a couple of 11-a-side formations and what their primary and secondary position in each would be.

 

“When it comes to it, coaches will always stress about it more than the players…”

 

The following week, I asked them to outline the main units and partnerships, and then followed that with getting them to explain the responsibilities they would have in their primary and secondary roles in each formation.

It didn’t necessarily matter if they chose formations we would likely use or not, it was more to get them thinking – and, from my point of view, to get a better idea of the level of their understanding, so I knew what I was working with when we got back onto the training pitch.

Try not to make the transition too daunting for players. It can be easily broken down into units, 1v1 or 2v2 battles, or areas of the pitch where you can work on getting overloads in each section.

And when it comes to formations, again try not to overcomplicate. You have two extra players to fit in – where can they slot in that will cause minimal confusion and disruption?

If you previously played 3-3-2, this can easily be turned into a back four and midfield four, or a back four and front three. More formations can be added as the season progresses and players get to grips with 11-a-side.

And when it comes down to it, the coaches will always stress about it more than the players will!

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