Watching a group of players play can cause coaches a headache, particularly when they’re bunching together. But should it? In one of my previous blogs I explored how to stop players bunching: and in this piece I am going to go into some more detail of how you may link into training and games.

As I explored previously: channels, lanes and thirds are all a great way or providing players a framework to find space. Often when we have a restart these areas can provide a great visual guide for players to move into, however, when in play though young children can get drawn to the ball like a fly to a light bulb. Small numbers in your training sessions as well as creating multi-directional and chaotic sessions shouldn’t be ignored and are in fact a great way of developing scanning and decision making skills.

A constraints based approach is a terrific tool for coaches to help players to stop bunching; with three key elements which can be used to support your players learning and understanding. Restrict, Relate and Reward is a simple but effective approach you can use for most topics or themes in your coaching sessions, but when it comes to stopping players from bunching there is no better approach.

Restrict – Is limiting the movement, decision making or way in which individuals or the game can play. In the context of stopping players from bunching a way or doing this may be by limiting players from moving into certain areas of the pitch. For example, it may be that your centre forward is only able to play in the final third throughout the game or practice. Restrictions with an explanation of ‘why’ will help players to understand why staying in a particular area may benefit them in either that session or the game. Restrictions can also be used for when your team is out of possession as well, for example it may be when the other team are playing out from the back your whole team has to be in their half. This type of restriction can help provide a framework for how you wish to get your team and individuals to defend.

Relate – Is there to support players understanding of the task and links to an action or movement that will help them in that given situation. When it comes to bunching, this can be used to help players find space when they have the ball but also when they don’t have it too. “Can you find the overload?” is a simple challenge for players which will help support their decision making when they have the ball or a team mate has it by getting them to find an overload. When it comes to stopping players bunching, encouraging them to find an overload and ‘trusting’ their team mate is vitally important. Children will get frustrated when they’re in a space and they don’t get the ball, but discussing with them why they haven’t got it or where the best space is to move into will begin to make them think that their team mates aren’t against passing to them. Likewise, when your team hasn’t got the ball a simple challenge for your team could be “identity when you need to mark space and when you need to mark the man” which will get players to think about what is the best way of defending in that situation.

Reward – Is the acknowledgement or scoring system that can be put in place for the individual or team based on them achieving the task or challenge. For example, if your team has the ball if you have players in all three thirds you will get an extra goal. Rewarding players for creating space and ultimately, stop bunching is a pretty effective method. Therefore, for any coaches looking to tackle bunching look at different ways you can reward your players for creating space. A consideration to help the team with the ball too may also be rewarding the defending team for making the pitch compact as well which will ultimately challenge the team with the ball to create width and depth to find ways of beating the block.

Remember, when working with children particularly at the youngest age groups there is no short term fix. You need to be patient and consistent with your messages to help players to find space and create practices and games that are going to challenge their movement, decision making and scanning to help them to identify where the best space is when they are with and without the ball.