First crack at using an iPad app for coaching: Direct free kick

Awhile back I asked, via Twitter, for people’s favourite iPhone coaching apps as I’d just got an iPhone and was excited about what I’d heard touchscreen technology could do.

I downloaded a couple and it didn’t take long to realize that (a) the screen is just too small to diagram drills or recreate game situations and (b) the apps that are out there are still all a bit limited in terms of functionality.

So I did what I said I wouldn’t do months ago: I bought an iPad. When they came out I didn’t get it. They seemed gimmicky and trendy. Within two weeks (I bought it as a Christmas present for the whole family…) I’ve changed my mind and my wife and kids are all over it.

The obvious advantage is that the iPad has a bigger screen. That coupled with app developers who seem very responsive to suggestions for future versions means that I’m a lot more optimistic about touchscreen tools like the iPad becoming a legitimate tool for soccer coaches.

My preferred app at the moment is TacticsBoard. It’s a multi-sport app that combines enough variety in terms of the types of lines you can draw, the way you can represent players and also the ability to drop cones on the field. You can also put small text boxes right on the screen as well and erasing is simple and consistent.

I also like that you can export to the iPad’s “camera roll” (where photos are stored) as a jpeg or email it out as a PDF or even a native file to other TacticBoard users.

At $4.99 it’s one of the more expensive apps in this category but so far it’s worth it.

I emailed the developer with the suggestion that they add a plain green screen with no soccer markings so that coaches can design drills and small sided games as if it were a training space and I got a quick enthusiastic response that it would be included in the next version. Shouldn’t be hard as for some reason they already did blue, beige and white backgrounds. I did also suggest they allow people to drop scalable rectangles on the plain backgrounds to make it easier to start defining areas to be used. This would also mean you don’t have to drop the overly large cone icons to both delineate the space being used and also for goals and anything else you need in the drill/game you’re illustrating. That change may not be as easy to incorporate but I’m hoping it is as it would make drill design much, much easier.

Here’s my first attempt at using it. As you can see, despite only wanting to show an attacking free kick, I’m forced to save it on a template that depicts the entire field.

Here’s what’s going on in the diagram…

The free kick (which I haven’t got a name for yet) is most suitable for U13 to U16 teams playing at lower levels of play. It’s designed to take advantage of two characteristics of play at these ages and levels. The first is that defenders ball watch too much and don’t track runners and the other is that goalkeepers are more likely to spill shots and create rebounds.

For starters the ball has to be within striking distance of the goal and relatively central.

Player 1’s job is simple. They are trying to score directly off the free kick and should take the kick in the way that gives them the best chance of doing so. Their only other responsibility is give Player 2 a cue to start his/her run. They do this by raising their arm and dropping it. They count to 2 and start their approach to the ball with their entire focus now being on the shot and trying to score.

Player 2 positions himself/herself halfway between the ball and the wall so that they are facing Player 1 and most obscure the keeper’s view of the ball. Generally a keeper should set his/her wall and then step to one side of the wall just enough to have a view of the ball without going so far as to leave an unreasonable amount of the goal showing.

Once Player 2 has done this they wait for the cue from Player 1. When it comes they turn 180 degrees and sprint around the edge of the wall and towards the middle of the goal. This serves two purposes. It distracts the keeper and, more importantly, allows them to get to rebounds first. If timed properly they should not be offside and should be passing the wall just after the ball is struck.

Since Player 2 cannot be marked tightly off the free kick (as they are only 5 yards from the ball and defenders must stay 10) and they look like they’re simply acting as an additional screen, they are unlikely to be marked and tracked as they make this run to the ball.

However, the player most likely to track Player 2 will be the end person on the wall. At the very least that player may try to impede Player 2’s run. If you feel that is likely to be the case, then you use Player 3.

Player 3’s job is simply to impede the end person on the wall from impeding Player 2’s run to the goal! They just box out slightly and destroy the moment that the wall person has to have an effect on Player 2’s run.

It’s a simple, practical free kick that is within the capabilities of most youth soccer teams. We used it last season (U15 girls gold) and it did its job. The girl taking the free kick hit a scorcher from close to 30 yards. The girl in the Player 2 role timed the run perfectly, staying onside and getting to the goal quickly. The ball though, hit the inside of the post with the goalie lunging in vain and bounced awkwardly away from her so we didn’t get a goal out of it. Still, in the sense that it increased our chances of scoring from a free kick in that part of the field, it worked.

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2 Responses to First crack at using an iPad app for coaching: Direct free kick

  1. Larry says:

    Soccertutor also has some excellent software (PC or Mac based), but not nearly as cool as the app on your new iPad. I suspect that even more sophisticated apps and software will be available in the near future. The introduction of these apps & tools will continue to enhance the teaching of the youth game. Easy access to graphics and animation using tablets will allow coaches to teach tactics to players and improve the learning curve.
    Old paradigm = the white board, new paradigm = touch screen tablets and tabletops.

    • Gregor says:

      Totally agree Larry. I think this is the first generation of these apps and bigger software companies will enter the market once they see if it’s worth their while. Either way these things will only get better and they’re already not too bad.

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