Below is an excerpt from my book, ‘Modern Soccer Coach: Position Specific Training’, which takes each position in the game today and look at how we can develop effective players inside the team structure. Filled with practical no-nonsense explanations, focused player drills, and more than 40 illustrated soccer templates, the book aims at creating a coaching environment that will take players to the next level.
“To avoid over-thinking things in front of goal, you work on your finishing, so that it all becomes automatic, so you don’t have to think anymore. I wasn’t born with a gift for goals. The aim is to be the best you can be.” Thierry Henry
Although some players may have a ‘knack’ for scoring goals, not all coaches believe that putting the ball in the back of the net is a trainable skill. Personally, I side with the group of coaches who do. Of course, you need a base level of ability, athleticism, and intelligence, as well as a team that can provide quality service. However, the reality is that scoring goals is more of a science than an art and there is no better case study than Thierry Henry. In the last chapter we discussed his transformation from a right-winger to a more central forward. It was not as smooth as the record books may show however. When Arsene Wenger announced to Henry for the first time that he would play him through the middle, the Frenchman responded with: “Coach, I don’t know how to score goals.” That certainly does not sound like the super confident Thierry Henry that we all know.
So how did someone with such a lack of self-belief in front of goal go on to score 227 goals in 377 games? Two words: obsessive preparation. Initially, Henry took a video of Arsenal legend Ian Wright’s 145 goals for the club and studied the runs, the finishing, the patterns, and implemented it into his training. His work habits have become legendary. If you watch a compilation of his goals, which I recommend both every coach and attacker should do, you see such an appreciation for space. His speed of thought is just as quick as his feet. He also prepared mentally for opponents with the same diligence that he prepared himself physically; fully aware of tendencies that opposing defenders have which is why it looked as though he was always a step ahead.
“Stepovers, tricks, that’s not the game. The game is what Thomas Muller is doing. What Ronaldo does, and Messi, they’re just freaks. Don’t try to copy those guys. You can copy Muller. He plays the game the right way: he defends, he attacks, he controls the ball when he has to control it, he reverses when he has to reverse it. When he has to finish, he’ll finish.” Thierry Henry
While Henry’s excellence in front of goal may be self-taught, it could be argued that he is the exception to the rule. Not all players today possess an almost academic-like thirst for knowledge and detail. However, that is not to say they are not open to help or willing to work hard. Can the role of the coach help elite players with scoring goals? Current evidence in the Premier League would suggest that they could. West Ham United’s coach Sam Allardyce has seen the benefits of this by bringing in former England and Manchester United forward Teddy Sheringham as an attacking coach in the summer of 2014. Sheringham, a proven goalscorer at both club and international level, works with the Hammers forwards two days a week. With elite players, you may not be refining technique but if you can teach them to buy them a yard of space or an extra second on the ball, it could make a huge difference to their game.
“Teddy Sheringham has come in and he has us working on our movement around the box. That’s clearly had an impact on our runs to get on the end of crosses, and so on. He’s just sharpening everyone up. That’s what we were doing, quick movement around the box and working on finishing. Obviously it’s got us moving a lot more and offering a lot more options, and it’s making a big difference.” Andy Carroll
How Do We Coach Scoring Goals?
Modern coaches are demanding more and more from their centre forwards, but only the best understand that they must provide help and support alongside rising expectations. Dick Bate, a coach educator who has worked with the Youth Academy at Cardiff City and the English FA, believes we can give our players more direction and has taken a more scientific approach to the art of scoring goals. Bate does not subscribe to the ‘right place at the right time’ school of thought, but instead believes that forwards are rewarded for getting into optimal positions whenever there is a chance of the ball being delivered there – a result of movement and decision making. Below is his study from the 2009-2010 Premier League, where you can see a phenomenal pattern of goals scored in central ‘danger’ areas. In the same period, the top teams scored 33% more goals from one touch play than any other team. Bate’s work has challenged coaches to think and work in a more effective way. With those statistics in mind, if most goals are scored in this area with one touch, surely we should be designing our practices accordingly.
With so much information for centre forwards to process today, Bate also believes coaches can help them with little reminders of their responsibilities. These reminders can act as effective teaching tools, take the place of coaching points, and become helpful triggers for the elite player. Below are Bates ‘9 S’s’ for the position.
We are all familiar with the shooting exercise with twenty players in a line, where players pass to the coach, who lays the ball off for them to shoot on goal. Unfortunately, it is just as ineffective as it is old fashioned. Forwards today do not get a straight ten-yard run up before the shot on goal, and the shots will rarely be from central areas. More goals at the professional level are scored from quick reactions, dynamic movements, and as a result of high intensity sprints. As an attacking player progresses through the ranks to the elite level, they will find that time and space in front of goal becomes a premium. This exercise challenges players to combine physical actions with technical skills in key areas of the field.
The exercise takes place in the final third of the field. Two goals are used, one in the fixed position and the other in a wide area, with two mannequins, and three poles. Players work individually and there are two parts to the exercise. On the coach’s signal, the first player (Player 1 below) must sprint up and touch poles A, B, and C, in order. After touching pole C, the forward then spins off towards goal and will receive a pass from Server 1 right in front of the mannequin. The oncoming forward takes one touch to go past the mannequin, before shooting on goal.
The second part of the exercise is the most physically demanding. As soon as the forward shoots on goal, he/she has five seconds to sprint towards the next goal before Server 2 serves a ball across the six-yard box. If the forward makes it in time, he/she should have a routine finish from close range. They then jog back to the starting point for their recovery as the next player goes.
On the speed agility section at the start, focus on sharp turns and quick movement
The first touch after the pass from Server 1 should be big enough to get past the mannequin, but small enough to remain in control of the ball. The touch should allow the forward to open up their stride and get power on the shot.
Challenge the forward’s reaction after the shot. They should not stand and admire it but instead work hard to get in front of the mannequin and finish the cross from Server 2.
Replace the first mannequin with a defender and now the forward has to create a shot from a 1v1 situation
Change the service from Server 2. You challenge the forward to shoot from range or add a goalkeeper and create a 1v1 towards goal.
Place a time restriction on the whole exercise. Now the forward has to get two attempts on goal, along with the sprinting, inside 20 seconds or less.
Modern Soccer Coach: Position-Specific Training is available on Amazon – Click Here for Further Details.