12 Zones of Attacking Organization
The below diagram is intended to be used directly on the training field. The concept is to turn the field into a grid that serves both as a spatial and tactical reference point for players. Trainings generally start with movement patterns inside the grid with no opposition, progressing to the addition of opposition, and finally ending with the removal of the grid lines. There are many ways to train using the grid, just keep in mind that the grid serves to organize the field for the players in terms of spatial and tactical references. If we look at the grid horizontally or cross-field, the top four zones include two wide areas and two central areas. The central areas represent defensive balance and cover, along with the role of switching the field in the attack, the wide areas serve to create width in the attack. The next four horizontal cross-field zones represent the space in-between the opponents back line and midfield line, the two central zones are very important because these are high priority areas when attacking. Possession in the two central zones in-between the lines allows for shooting, playing penetrating balls inside or playing balls wide, it also presents a problem for the opponent to solve defensively, pulling them out of position in order to mark. The wide areas always offer width in the attack. By breaking the field into 12 zones, it becomes easier to teach the concepts of attacking overloads, inter-changing of positions and movement, playing between the lines, creating width and maintaining defensive balance.
The science behind spatial awareness and the concept of gridding
In order to play at a high level, a player must first know where they are on the field in relation to their teammates, opponents, the ball, the goals and the general field boundaries. This information will be critical in the decision making process. Studies have shown that deficiencies in spatial awareness can diminish an athlete’s chances of maximizing their true potential. From a coaching perspective it is very important to grasp an understanding of the science behind spatial awareness, this will help in the development of trainings and football methodologies in regards to player development, especially with the use of grids in training. Jeffrey Taube helps explain spatial awareness and location in a pair of papers he wrote in the “Journal of Neuroscience” in 1990. Taube suggested that humans are biologically programmed to know what direction we are facing; as this skill has been fundamental to our survival. He stated that there are cells called “head direction cells”, located in the thalamus, that serve to tell us what direction the head is facing. There are also cells in the hippocampus called “place cells” that track our location relative to landmarks in the environment. These two types of cells work together to guide our movement; in what you may consider a cognitive map of sorts. The last cell that helps us with location and spatial awareness is called a grid cell. Neil Burgess a neuroscientist at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of College London, says, “grid cells provide a map of the whole environment, similar to the longitude and latitude of real maps, only in triangular patterns.” It is realistic to assume that frequently training on the same field or a similar field would establish a set of grid cells for that situation, combine that with the direction we’re facing (head directional cells), and then our location on the field (place cells), that will provide the player a very specific idea of location or spatial awareness when playing. The use of grids in training splits up the field in way that assists the brain with spatial awareness, and in return the decision-making process benefits from this information, leading to a higher level of performance and tactical understanding.
Below is a diagram with 10 v 10 training inside the 12 zone grid. The grid makes teaching movement, attacking overloads, defensive balance, spacing and overall team shape easier to view and understand.
Isolating areas of movement
In this diagram of the 3-5-2 we see the left center back pushing the ball and running into space, as the #6 DCM drops into the space vacated by the LCB, the #8 CM takes over for the #6. The LW, CF and LCB are currently in a 3v2 situation, the #8 could also push forward if needed, but if the #8 left the #6 would need to fill a central location sitting deeper to offer a chance to switch the field. If you understand all that great! My intention is to illustrate the point that players need to become problem-solvers, learning to recognize how to create overloads, how to create space, understand coordinated movement, realize if one side is closed the far side is open but only with a player in position to switch the play and understand the importance of maintaining balance within the team at all times and in all phases of play.
Using constraints to increase creativity and raise performance levels
I have written a lot about the use of constraints and how using constraints increases creativity and raises performance levels. One idea of using constraints in a gridding training is to pick one zone that the team can pass through but a player can’t receive the ball in that zone. This simple rule/restriction will force the team to find alternative solutions to be successful. A variation is to have the attacking team know the zone that is restricted, as the defending team will need to figure it out. Other restrictions can be touch restrictions in certain zones and even a time limit to produce a scoring opportunity, time limits force different decisions to be made. Ultimately, constraints training builds the Soccer IQ.