Switches of Play: Technical and Tactical Detail
Firstly, how can we define a switch of play? A switch of play is where the ball is moved horizontally across the pitch. For example, if the right-back has the ball and they move the ball across from one side to the other, the team have switched play. A Switch of play can be made most by passing the ball from one side to the other side. This can be in one pass or in multiple passes. To switch play, you must have some of the in-possession principles in effect. Firstly you must have the width to allow the ball to be switched from side to side. Secondly, you must have depth. Without depth switching the ball through teammates and out the other side will become very difficult.
The idea of ‘Switching play’ is a simple idea designed to try and find a way to progress the ball towards the opponent's goal. A team will often try to switch play because they are overloaded by the opponent, and they can’t find a forward pass in the area of the pitch they are playing in. Some coaches will refer to this as moving possession from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure. The type of pass when switching play is very important, if the pass is switched directly, the passer should strike the ball so it arrives at the opposite wide player on the full. This way, the ball can’t be intercepted, and the risk of transition is much lower. The pass should be driven low and hard if there is no opposition players in between or should be lofted to arrive at the feet of a team-mate if the ball needs to go over the opposition.
Teams will have many different triggers to switch play, some will be very simple as previously discussed and some will be more tactical triggers to switch play. Some sides will look to switch play to physically challenge the opponent. Knowing that if they move them from side-to-side constantly, they will eventually tire and leave space for them to attack. Others will switch play when their tactical shape has collapsed. This allows them to try and recreate the shape they wanted to create. For example, if a team looks to build through a wide-diamond, They might choose to switch play when the diamond becomes compact or overloaded. By switching play, they are now able to try and create the diamond on the opposite side. The outside diamond Is only possible when the middle of the diamond is left empty, so the diamond becoming full might be a trigger to switch play.
Whenever you are coaching the side to switch play, it is important to remember the why? The best area to attack is always through the middle of an opponent, as it will create the best goal-scoring opportunities. So, if a player is trying to switch play and can see an opportunity to play through the opponent, they should play this pass. Because it is important to remember why we are trying to switch play, we are switching to try and create the best goal-scoring opportunity we can.
Within session design, we must coach the principles that allow for switches of play, but then reward and constrain players to play the best pass possible. Within our session design, we must challenge the in-possession side to play around the opponent because they’ve overloaded the ball side and the middle of the pitch. We must then create practices that reward players who are able to play through the opponent, and around the opponent if needed.
Switching practices can exist within constrained Small-sided games or within component practices that look to train a specific principle of the game.
Coaches must have absolute clarity in how and why their teams switch play and what the in-possession principles are within their system that allow for possession to be switched. Within your practice your players must have the ability to successfully and unsuccessfully deliver those principles. For example if your principle is width and your practice always has fixed wide players, your players might not learn to create width, if you don't progress your practice to allow players to make decisions themselves. If depth is an important component of your practice, you might need to include more than one unit within the practice. However, you don't need to start with multiple units. This might be how you progress your practice, but your practice should finish with players who have the opportunity to succeed and fail in creating the key principles.
As the image below shows, the same principles of play can be trained in many different ways, with the principles being trained in more realistic training situations as the session progresses. Here we can see the first practice that is a simple 4v4v4. This is where the side in possession just look to play through or around the opponent. The space will need to be wide and narrow to allow the topic to be trained. If the space is wide, the side in possession will be rewarded by switching around them when they move the ball quickly. The second part is a 4v4 with two outside players, the outside players are neutral and naturally create width, which is one of the key principles to switching play. We then progress into the third practice which is now a constrained 5v5. This is forcing players to recreate the positions that existed within the previous practice to stretch the opponent and play around them to attack the final third.