by Fergus Connolly
All Team Sports Tactical Principles are based on 4 basic foundations.
In my upcoming book "Game Changer" I explore tactical concepts—and they all start here.
These are the most important tactical understandings for team sports coaches.
Next time you watch any children’s playground, NFL, Soccer or NBA game, you will see these universal principles in action at all age groups.
Every time there is an engagement in team sport or combat these are the 4 key principles at play in unison. These also form the basis for all improvement and player development. They are the basis of what we refer to colloquially as ‘game sense.’
1. Location and Positioning
Before and during any interaction in any team game there is the foundation principle of location - where are you? Where are you in relation to the field sidelines? Team mates, opposition? In CQB Close Quarter Combat, the same principle applies, where are the walls? Point man? Enemy combatants? Of course in some sports, such as football, this is predetermined or a lined-out in rugby, but the player must still have the understanding of where they relationally are in space.
Why? Once the ball is snapped, passed, thrown—and play resumes, it’s too late - all movement by the player is now being processed cognitively in relation to this last understood location. They can’t look at the opponent and the side line at the same time, they can’t check for depth and width as they track the player and ball.
Players who don’t have good sense of this are the ones who (under or over estimate field width), get caught on the outside by the winger or receiver or underestmate how far away the side line was. The actual position of course depends on the context—defending? attacking? or transitioning?
As a coach, as you help players develop, this is the first area they need to critique - positioning before the engagement even begins.
2. Man Circulation and Movement
As play begins, a player moves—with an assigned goal and task to complete—in respect of the other players and their identity.
All player development and game correction needs to be based with this in mind. ‘Were you too close or too far away from your team mate?’ ‘How close should you be on defense?’ Where are you in relation to your cover?
This relational movement is seen easier in small sided games, in children games or in short basketball plays, where you can see the movement as a totality.
Defensively the movement will tend to be reactionary, closer so to be able to provide close support, whereas offensively the distances are greater and proactive, (generally speaking).
Again, should players be accused of tactical naivety, is it poor positioning awareness? Or an inability to move properly in relation to team mates? Perhaps it’s ball circulation?
3. Ball Circulation and Movement
How the ball in any game is moved or allowed move, determines the movement of the opponent.
Offensively, you move your opponent around the court or field by moving the ball, you can move them a lot or a little, compress them or stretch them. Defensively you direct the opponent to areas you want to by how you position and move your players.
There is nothing worse than seeing teams who hand initiative to the opposition when not in possession. In fact you probably have more control over the game without the ball as you have one more man free.
Developing a players tactical ability with the ball in hand is important so that they can exercise proper control over the game, but also know their limits of influence.
4. Relationship, Timing and Sequencing
Finally there is the timing of these. How they move, and in what order is as how it is done. Again, watch any short period of play in basketball. The sequence of movement is critical. This is the most complex to develop, because you have to play the game and it is dependent on the game sense of the player.
Why are these concepts so important?
Any and all practice must replicate the game scenarios you face and want to improve (otherwise why even practice?).
These four foundations form the basis for identifying the areas of focus and improvement of game sense in your players. Is the player making tactical errors, are they not aware of their positioning? Which we can address and fix by using more frequent breaks to allow them practice self-locating.
Perhaps they are not moving properly in relation to team mates on defense or not close enough as they move to offense? Which we can develop by changing numbers or making uneven numbers for the small sided games in practice or 7v7?
Or is it simply a timing issue, where the player hasn’t played the game enough? Perhaps the team preparation is still in the dark ages trying to periodize according to archaic methods used in Olympic sports? Perhaps the teams have been simply lifting and running with no game play to develop among other things, game timing sense.
Either way, we can use these 4 foundations to begin to teach tactical ability and intelligence in players and build our model on this.
Game Changer is available for preorder here on Amazon.com.