Although the exact type of training that should be implemented varies, Sir Alex Ferguson (SAF) likes to follow a basic training structure. Use this structure as the foundation for any practice but be sure to tailor the exercises to your team and to your players as no one team needs the same practice.
- Small square passing drill – keep away
- Possession and passing
- Strategic & Technical work
- Shooting & Finishing technique
- Practice game – 6v6, 7v7, 8v8, or 9v9
SAF is a great believer of building stamina throughout the entire practice. In all the exercises he orchestrates, he stresses that players always be moving. The entire training session should be carried out at a very high rate.
Every exercise/drill involves game-like scenarios. SAF stresses the creation of what he calls “thinking players.” Players are not only challenged physically, but mentally as well; problem solving and game-speed circumstances help create the thinking player.
SAF does not allow errors to occur twice. As a result, repetition of all the exercises is used to create performance habits. Players must be open to getting rid of bad habits. The required skill being practiced needs to be repeated until it is finally perfected. Repetition, repetition.
After completing the warm-up and a game of keep away, players are separated into their positions. Players need to practice their position. For example, midfielders need to be trained on how to use the pass to create flow and penetrate balls into the offensive zone. Similarly, defenders need to be trained on how to clog the defensive zone and minimize penetrating balls and players.
For the entire first half of the training, goaltenders train apart from the rest of the team. They practice the movement of quick feet, quick hand movements and reflex saves. This is shortly followed by the practice of long passes to forwards with the arm and then drop-kick passes.
As SAF moves into strategic and technical phase or practice, rhythm and comfort are stressed. SAF forces players to practice, perfect and become comfortable with 2 tricks that become second nature in beating a man and receiving a ball. Once again, this repetition of the 2 tricks will create a habit which will be materialized in game situations. He also endlessly has the player’s lineup in their starting formation and move the ball up and down to field to create a rhythm of movement the players are comfortable with. This rhythm, too, must become like second nature. When on the field, the movement of the ball will be flawless and on beat. Just as important as it is to keep a rhythm, SAF likes to practice a change in rhythm in which the players are comfortable with as well. This is created to catch the other team off guard. SAF has his players practice this so often that whether the rhythm needs to be maintained or changed, the players are aware of what needs to be done.
Shooting and finishing techniques are incorporated into the strategic phase of the practice. While moving the ball around and creating rhythm, SAF created a few scenario’s that are more than likely to occur where a forward will shoot, a midfielder will shoot and a defender might shoot. That shooting involves headers and volleys. Once again, SAF encourages the players to become comfortable with potential scenario’s that way they are aware of the type of shot that needs to be used. Do not be fooled, players do not guess where to shoot when they are in the game. Players practice where they will shoot when they are in a certain position – that is not just a lucky shot.
Finally, have the end game change every little bit. Start with a 6v6, and then add players to make it 7v7, then 8v8 and so on. The idea is to force players to adapt to different scenarios while maintaining their rhythm and comfort.
If you maintain the above structure as the foundation of every training, with the goal of creating “thinking players”, you will succeed as a coach and as a team.