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Football Coaching Essentials: Building Strong Teams

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5 v 3 rondo with transitions
5 v 3 rondo with transitions

“Everything that goes on in a match, except shooting, you can do in a rondo. The competitive aspect, fighting to make space, what to do when in possession and what to do when you haven’t got the ball, how to play ‘one touch’ football, how to counteract the tight marking and how to win the ball back.” – Johan Cruyff

Rondos are games where one group of players has the ball, with an overload advantage over another group of players. The basic objective of the group with the overload advantage is to keep possession of the ball, while the objective of the group with fewer players, is to win the ball back. Rondos differ from other possession games in that the rondo is a game where the players occupy a pre-set space as opposed to a more random space. Rondos are usually set up in a grid, which can be anything from 8x8 yards to a half-pitch depending on the skill level of the players or the aspect of play the coach is working on. It is a good way of starting sessions and then gradually progressing onto the tactical components and conditioned games. 

What makes the rondo so useful, is the proximity it is played in, which forces players to exhibit all the qualities required to succeed on a full-sized pitch. Players cannot hide by stretching the space to allow for more time on the ball. In rondo, players must continuously identify and make decisions with respect to the shifting environment. Initially instituted by Johan Cruyff at Barcelona, the rondo’s usefulness has sparked a belief, that this practice is the secret of possession-based football.

"Rondo, rondo, rondo. Every. Single. Day. It's the best exercise. You learn responsibility and not to lose the ball. If you lose the ball, you go in the middle. Pum-pum-pum-pum, always 1 touch. If you go in the middle, it's humiliating, the rest applaud and laugh at you" - Xavi Hernandez 

Rondos help develop following aspects of the game:

  • Cognitive – in rondos, the player is constantly perceiving and making decisions with respect to his teammates, opponents, and the position of the ball. For this reason, his capacity to make correct decisions and the speed of play are improved.

  • One and two touch passing - rondos help create the environment where 1 or 2 touches is all you can have.

  • Improved control - tight spaces force players to have a good first touch to give them the time and space to keep control of the ball.

  • Short passing - rondos are all about short passing in tight areas. Using rondos gives players a lot of practice playing passes at short distances under pressure.

  • Team building - with the type of work done in rondos, the understanding between teammates is improved, and the sense of “team” is built.

  • Basics of defending - pressing lanes, compactness, interceptions. 

  • Rhythm and tempo - rondos can help players understand when to play quickly, and when to put their foot on the ball to slow things down, depending on how close the opposition player is.

  • Creativity and expression - the nature of the rondo, with its limited time and space, forces the players to use various technical and tactical abilities to solve constantly changing problems within the game. This helps develop creativity.

  • Competitiveness - players must fight to make space, learn how to counteract marking and how to win the ball back. 

In essence, rondos embody the core aspects of soccer—possession, decision-making, teamwork, and creativity—within a compact, high-pressure setting. This method's widespread adoption across different levels of soccer highlights its effectiveness in preparing players for the complexities of the game, cementing its status as a key component of modern soccer training methodologies.

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