Many training sessions comprise a warm up, a series of drills or activities, often unrelated and not progressive, followed by a regular game. Even when the earlier drills have been linked and related to an ongoing theme there has often been little transference of those skills to the game itself. For example, the session might have started with some shooting drills to improve technique, progressed to shooting with opposition involved, then finished with a game that had no real relevance to the theme - shooting. Very often technique work and drills can sometimes be seen by the players as something to endure before playing a 'proper' game. When this tends to happen the players can often revert to old habits and very little improvement and learning, in relation to the theme, would be witnessed in the game. The conditioned game as a 'bridging activity' provides this vital missing link, between the theme of the session and ensuring this is followed through into the game at the end of the session.
Selecting the Condition
There are a variety of conditions that can be placed on any game or drill depending on the aim or theme of the practice. For example if the main theme of the session is:
Passing and movement
Conditioned game that limits the number of touches the players have. This prevents players easily running with the ball and dribbling and ensures the players have to pass, move and support to gain success. Condition the game to a team needing to make 5 or more passes before attempting an attempt on goal. This ensures the team must pass, move and support each other to score.
Improving awareness and support
Play with 2 or 3 balls, this ensures the players have to play with their head up and makes the players have to be aware of where the other balls are, where the other players are and to concentrate on what is happening all around them, rather than just on the ball.
Make the pitch narrower and shorter, this ensures there are lots of shooting and goal scoring opportunities. Condition to an overload in the shooting area, play 3 v 2 etc. Have lots of balls available to serve quickly when the ball goes out of play and to keep the drill dynamic.
Condition the game or drill so that there are free or floating players in wide areas, the ball must be played from central areas to wide areas and a goal can only be scored if the ball is delivered from a wide area.
Conditioning the game so that a goal will only count if all the players of the attacking team are over the halfway line when the goal is scored. If when the goal is scored one of the defending team isn't back in their own half, the attacking team gets two goals. This ensures that both teams attack and defend as a unit, squeezing up and make the game compact. It is also a very good fitness work out.
Consider how and why a coach might use the following conditions in a training session:
Limiting the number of touches
Player over loads - 4 v 2, 5 v 3
Man to man marking
A modified playing area - making the pitch bigger or smaller
The use of zones to encourage or restrict movement
Each condition is used to 'condition' the players to repeat certain skills/patterns of movement, within a game situation, over and over again. The skill of the coach is in selecting which conditions to apply and then to adapt and adjust them if they are not working. If done successfully the coach will create many perfect opportunities to coach the theme of the day within a game environment.
As well as being game related these conditioned games and drills are fun. The players are active, easily engaged and enthusiastic which means they are better able to learn and progress. In fact, a whole training session could be conducted through the use of several conditioned games and drills.
Finishing training with a free game
It is important that the concluding game of the session is a game with 'free' play so that the tactical (decision making) aspect is focused on. This is the part of the session that allows us, as coaches, to assess learning and to see if the players are now executing the skill/pattern correctly and at the right time. At this point some players will revert to old habits in contrast to their performance in the earlier activities of the session. Others will adhere rigidly to the recently enforced skill/pattern even when it is an inappropriate option. This is where effective coaching takes place. The interventions should be timely and considered, as stopping the game too often will prevent flow and is sometimes unnecessary. Some errors are of an individual nature and should be addressed with a quiet word.
A coaching session should have a "Theme". Progressive drills that can improve players techniques and skills are important. The use of conditioned games to "bridge" between drills for techniques and a free game at the end of the session, can be very effective in developing the theme. Finally, even in the free game, the coach can take the opportunity to coach the theme of the day. Just be careful about overly disrupting the game and spoiling it for the players.