How do we transfer learning from training to the game?

April 25, 2018

There is a major shift in coaching methodology taking place in the soccer world in the United States right now. This shift started when researchers and coaches decided to take a close look at how players transfer what they learn in one context (practice) to another context (game). Ideally, they wanted to identify what creates positive transfer. In other words, they wanted to know how they could get players to apply what they had learned in practice to a game.

Why does positive transfer occur? Motor learning specialists have been investigating this question for many years. They have found that positive transfer occurs only when the practice environment looks like the game. This applies not only to the physical stress put on players in training, but also to the psychological stress.

So, how do we make sure our training environment looks like the game? What makes soccer soccer? First, soccer is a directional game. The goal is always to move the ball up the field or prevent the opponent from moving the ball up the field. Next, there is always an objective to score or to prevent the other team from scoring. We also always see a constant flow from attack to defense and back again. In addition, there are things like positions, laws of the game, and the limitation of only using your feet (unless you are the goalkeeper). However, one of the most important characteristics of soccer is the decision making component. Players must constantly assess and decide what they should be doing on and off the ball to help their team. Our club aims to create some of the best decision makers the game has ever seen.

In order to maximize positive transfer, Billing United has ensured that our curriculum only contains activities that have all of the elements of the game listed above. Here are a few examples of activities you might see at our training sessions: 4v1 Directional Rondo, Building from the back.

If we want our training to look like the game, why don’t we just play full field scrimmages all of the time? In order for positive transfer to occur, players must train at the edge of their capabilities. This means that coaches must constantly assess if the activities being run are too easy or too difficult. An 11v11 game may provide too little time for a player to look up and make decisions.There may be too many decisions for the player to accurately assess the best choice. Because of this, we simplify the game by reducing the number of players on the field or the space that players have to operate in. The building from the back session above does a great job to show how coaches at Billings United move from simple to complex.

The reason this is a hot topic in the soccer world right now is that this research calls for a significant restructuring of technical training. In the past, coaches have spent a large majority of training sessions having players dribble through cones, pass in partners, or pass around cones. However, those types of drills do not contain the elements of soccer (directional, an opponent, a way to score, decision making etc). Under this new model, technical training should be taught within the context of the game. For example, as players are scrimmaging, we ask them to open their body to the field or receive with their toe up and heal down. Afterall, some of the best players in the world didn’t have private technical training sessions growing up. They simply grew up playing on the street and watching soccer. I believe this structure is more enjoyable for players and enhances learning and development. What are your thoughts?

– Sara Campbell, Assistant Director of Coaching

Season Plans

Training sessions are the most critical part of any soccer program, without efficient sessions aligned to tactical goals then the games are just a mess. Training sessions are the most important aspect that our coaches must master. A coach has a very limited ability to influence the game of soccer. There are no timeouts, the field is huge, plays are not scripted, and the crowd is loud. This is why soccer is called a players game and why decision making must be taught. This means that training sessions represent the most impact that a coach may have tactically and technically on a player. One of the best ways to plan a quality session is by planning out the entire season.

A training session does not stand alone. Each session builds off of the previous one, and each builds towards becoming a more unified squad, and a more decisive and creative player. We ask all of our coaches to submit a season training plan to us at the start of the season. These plans indicate the tactical goals that the coach wishes to pursue, and the way in which each topic advances during the course of the season. If a coach is focused on building through the back with the back line and midfielders then his/her season plan will show how topics advance to achieve his/her objectives. Thus the entire topic for week 1 might be teaching outside backs how to move to be an option for central players when building out of the attack. The topic for week 2 will build off of this topic and may focus on a layer of nuance or adding in positions. So for week 2 the topic might be: Lateral support movement from Cb’s and weak side positioning of outside backs.

In creating a season plan ahead of the season the coach essentially creates benchmarks and ideas on how to achieve them. The next step is to plan sessions based on the topics for each week. These sessions will focus on different ways to approach the topic. So if we take our week 1 topic of width from outside backs when building out of the back then we might have a session on Day 1 that focuses on some of the technical skills needed to achieve this and the coach might run a set of small sided games. On Day 2 it will be important for the coach to continue to build off of the work done on the previous day, so he/she might run an expanded games session, where they use bigger numbers. On Day 3 it would be important for the coach to see how players put these concepts into play in a big game, and so scrimmaging for the majority of the session might be the plan. Sessions themselves may be similar or identical but the coaching points advance.

In creating a season plan a coach creates his/her own mini curriculum that is based off of the club curriculum. This provides them with a guide to refer to throughout the season and the opportunity to change and adapt the plan based on player understanding.

Coaches are teachers and it is important for each and every teacher to plan his lessons carefully and with an eye always toward the future.

Club Documents:  Example of Season Plans

Resources:, Tactical Periodization Video, Intro to Tactical Periodization

Kyle Bakas~Executive Director

Style of Play

April 12, 2018

Style of play is the manifestation of a set of principles used to guide attacking, defending and transition moments over the course of a game and season. Barcelona during the past 12 years has had an attacking style of play guided by these principles: create numerical superiority in every part of the field, and keep the ball. The teaching of these principles consistently in training resulted in some very recognizable and beautiful soccer from them.

Billings United is implementing a style of play this year. The primary attacking principles that will guide our possession based style of play are: creating numerical superiority in all parts of the field, patience in the build up, and frequently switching the point of attack. We have chosen to focus on developing a possession based style of play to ensure that our players have frequent opportunities to play with the ball and make decisions under pressure.

Creating numerical superiority in all parts of the field requires players to be aware of where their teammates and opponents are in relation to the ball. This means that players have to move closer to each other to create angles of support so that they may maintain possession of the ball. This means that an outside back may have to move up even with the forwards, or a winger may have to move inside to help the CM’s, there must fluidity in player movement.

Patience in the build up is one of the most critical pieces of this style of play. We will encourage our players to keep the ball even if it means not progressing forward. We will encourage players to analyze options in front and to evaluate if those options provide a good opportunity of keeping the ball. Patience will be stressed in every session.

Switching the point of attack frequently is something that we expect to see from our teams. To execute this tactic players will frequently have to play backward and then to the other side. Our coaches will encourage players to find the Goalkeeper and use him/her as a field player, not only will this open up space but it will also create a numerical superiority of 11v10.

Implementing a style of play takes time and there will be games when players try to make the right decision and fail in the execution of this decision. This will at times result in goals against, but that is part of the learning process. We will applaud actions that represent the proper decision, even if the execution of that decision was not great.

We expect to see our teams work together to solve problems and to not get scared and just bash the ball up the field.

Club Documents: Club Style of Play folder

Videos: u11 Galaxy Possession, Awareness through Checking Shoulder, Patience building from the back

Kyle Bakas ~ Executive Director

Switching the Point of Attack

October 6, 2017

What does a coach mean when he/she says to switch the point of attack? Switching the point of attack is a strategy that players use to play away from pressure, break pressure and advance the ball. The basic premise of switching the point of attack is to create space faster than the opponent can deny space. This is why you will hear coaches ask players to create width and depth in the attack.

There a number of ways to switch the point of attack but they all require the right moment and the right space. The point of attack can be switched at any point on the field and will likely utilize different players in each part of the field. The key players used when switching the point of attack in the defensive third will be the goalkeeper and back line.

The key moment in the defensive third is when the opposing team has committed more numbers on the strong side of the field (the side with the ball), and there is space to play backwards to the goalkeeper or a center back. Space is key in this moment because without the proper space a mistake could turn into a goal for the opponents.

The main idea is to pivot the attack from probing down one wing to quickly attacking the middle or opposite wing. We want our goalkeeper involved in this moment because he/she can see the whole field and make the appropriate determination. A quick switch in the defensive third can allow the weak side back a lot of space to advance the ball forward into the middle third.

There are two main options when switching the point of attack in the defensive third: through the midfield or through the back line. When switching the point of attack in the middle third there will be options to play backwards, forwards or sideways. A switch can be done through the back line, midfield line or even forward line.

There are two key moments that determine when a switch in the midfield should occur: attacking players are beginning to be outnumbered by defending players, there is space on the weak side behind the forward line, midfield line or back line. A switch through the middle through could lead to penetration into the final third or simply allow a team to keep the ball and continue probing for weaknesses.

Switching the point of attack in the final third is much different than in either the defensive or middle third. In the final third the goal is nearby and there is very little forward space. The final third is about exploiting the little space that is available, and finding ways to penetrate the defense. When switches do occur they usually happen on the edge of the middle and final third.

The final third is where defenses become the most compact and where it becomes the most difficult to keep possession of the ball. This is why it is important for coaches to work through the defensive and middle thirds prior to attempting to teach how to play in the final third. I have seen the coaches work through these points this season and expect that we will see better decision making as we near the end of the season versus what we saw at the beginning of the season.

It is important to keep in mind that a player might make the correct decision but fail in execution and to recognize that as part of the learning and development process. It is also important to recognize that players might make the incorrect decision and yet still make something happen.

-Kyle Bakas, Executive Director



September 15, 2017

Soccer is called an invasive game, which means that player’s space is constantly being encroached upon. Pressure is that encroachment of space by an opposing player to try and win the ball or force a bad decision. Pressure is very real in the game of soccer and is not just a mental issue, there is a real threat for a player when he/she is being pressured. Pressure is a constant threat in soccer and that is why it is critical to teach our players how to handle pressure.

Prior to a player receiving the ball it is essential that they understand where their teammates are and evaluate those options. They must take a snapshot of the field and try to remember where their teammates are positioned. To do this it is essential that they check their shoulder a couple of times prior to receiving the ball. This is a difficult skill and one that cannot be taught in isolation from the game, as the way a player needs to look depends on the specific moment in the game. A player must check his/her shoulder while simultaneously moving into a position that would allow them to receive the ball under minimal pressure.

Movement off the ball is key to getting away from pressure: it affords the receiving player a little more time to work through the decision making process and allows the passing player a clearer passing channel. We are encouraging our players to create passing angles by taking two steps backward and to the side of the person trying to pass the ball to them. This creates greater distance from the opponent and creates space to move into if the pass is misplaced. We will frequently call this movement checking away or opening up.

The next step for the player off the ball is to prepare to receive the ball across his/her body. This accomplishes a couple of critical goals: it places the player’s body between the ball and the opponent, it allows the player to see multiple options, and it continues to move the ball further out of pressure. A player who receives the ball across his body has 3 immediate options: play right, find a split pass, or play left. These options are simple and clear and minimize the impact that pressure may have on the decision making process.

Prior to the ball arriving the player needs to determine what the most effective actions will be to advance the play and keep the ball. When the player receives the ball it is time to act. Some of the cues that we are asking our players to evaluate prior to receiving the ball and then again after receiving are: Is there space to take a touch into? where is my right option? Where is my left option? Is there a split pass that can remove a line of defense? And most importantly from where is the pressure coming?

There is a lot that goes into handling pressure and because it is specific to the game it is best trained with activities that reflect the game. We advocate the use of small sided games and activities to teach players the technical side of handling pressure, the mental side, the physical side, and the tactical side. A great activity for teaching how to handle pressure is a 4v1 rondo. You will see many of your coaches using some variation of this and teaching their players right, left and split options, check their shoulder, know the field, and receive across their body.

-Kyle Bakas, Executive Director


Fall 2017 Season Start!

September 1, 2017

We are all very excited to get the fall 2017 season underway with our first competitive tournament this weekend in Bozeman. I will be out there all day Saturday, so if you see me please stop by, introduce yourself and say hi.

Prior to the season and the start of players competing I want to reiterate a few items: The Game is for the children. They get to play and the rest of us are to support and enjoy.

All soccer players make a lot of mistakes but especially developing ones. These mistakes happen and a critical part of the learning process.

Billings United coaches will increasingly be stressing the importance of keeping the ball, playing out of pressure, and switching the point of attack. One day the teams will be playing beautiful soccer, but probably not this weekend.

A great way to switch the point of attack is to play backwards as this relieves pressure and opens space. We want our goalkeepers involved in the attack.

Referees should only be spoken to by the coaches and they know that they should worry about your children and not the referee.

The focus of all youth club should be on Development and Billings United is no exception. We want to teach our players the game, we want to teach them the various skills and tactics that will make them more successful in specific moments of the game. We can control teaching how to play out of pressure and recognizing when to switch the point of attack. We cannot control how good, how organized, how lucky the opponent is, which means that we cannot control the result of the competition, and will therefore place very little emphasis on the result until our players are 16 years or older. Below are some things that you can look for which will display development and are easier for us to control.

Things to look for:

• Count how many times your team passes to the Goalkeeper.

• Count how many times your team switches the point of attack.

• How many in the defensive third?

• How many in the middle third?

• How many in the final third?

• How many 2v1’s were created?

• In what part of the field?

Things you will hear me talk about with your coach:

• Style of play: The principles which guide player decision making on the field. We are aiming for a possession based style of soccer. All decisions should be based on playing out pressure and into space while maximizing the chances of keeping the ball.

• Tactics: Specific tactics such as attack the wings with outside backs.

• Formation: Positions that players begin the game playing. There are a ton of formational variations. At this level formation is far less important than Style of Play and Tactics.

Things to say to your player:

• “I loved watching you play!”

• “It looked like you had a great time!”

• “What was your favorite part of the game!”

All of these questions place the power in the hands of the player. This type of questioning with youth players, indicates that you care about their enjoyment of the game and allow them to display their own knowledge of the intricacies of the game if so inclined. Sometimes after games, the last thing any athlete or coach wants to think about is the game.

I am looking forward to this weekend and seeing our kids out on the field competing, laughing and having fun. I am also looking forward to the opportunity to get to know all of you better.

-Kyle Bakas, Executive Director