If you watch Oregon SC Competitive or Academy teams at the beginning of a practice or before games, you will notice them participating in rondos. We've even started introducing them during our Under-7/8 Pre-Academy sessions.
These are small games where one group of players has the ball and a numerical advantage over another player or group of players. The goal for the team with the ball is to keep possession, while the other player or group tries to win the ball back.
Why do our teams use rondos so much?
"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 soccer, how to counteract the tight marking and how to win the ball back,” legendary Netherlands and FC Barcelona player Johan Cruyff said.
Todd Beane, Cruyff's son-in-law and the founder of TOVO Academy Barcelona, recently appeared on "The Coaching Academy” on SiriusXM and further discussed rondos with host and longtime coach Glenn Crooks.
"When it comes specifically to the rondo, what I like about it, it's a "3C" checklist drill. It demands cognition, it demands competence and it's competitive, so it demands character. We always check our drills on that "3C" checklist. Is it requiring the thinking skills cognition? Is it demanding the competence of execution? And is it demanding the character to be resilient and respectful and competitive in the process? The rondo for us is more than just, ‘Oh, it's a passing drill.' Or some people say it's a warm-up, or just to get the kids out of the car. For us at TOVO, it is the fundamental drill exercise that gets us thinking much more than that. Yes, of course, you are passing and receiving, but it is the first piece of a system of play.
"If you think of a 4v1, for example, and the person with the ball is the central defender, they have two wide players in that rondo structure and they have a deep player. So you're introducing concepts of width and depth against one defender, you're introducing decision-making based upon the position and the special relationship you have with your teammates and the opponent, in this case the one defender in the middle. And there are consequences, there's character involved. A poor decision or poor execution leads to the consequence of picking up that pinnie and going to the middle, so it builds character.
"The moment that that child is in a rondo, we are introducing concepts that we will layer over time, applying 14 principles of play that are directly related and directly correlated with a system of play, whether it's a diamond in the 4v4 system, whether it's a 3-2-1 attacking in the 7v7 system or 3-2-3 in the 9v9 system or a 4-3-3 in the 11v11 system. So it is the first step of training.
"With younger players, you could start with 8x8 meters, for example, just to get them a rhythm. I like to have a success ratio of anywhere between 10 to 12 passes, so you just adjust the size of the grid. You can make it more rectangular and make it 6x8 to start with if you prefer to do it that way - there's all sorts of variables. But what we're teaching is, you're having wide options which eventually will be your wide backs and you'll have high options or deep options. So you're teaching width and depth as a concept, and you can change the parameters and just move the cones just a little bit.
"For example at TOVO Academy, when kids come typically from United States - we did this as recently in March and the parents don't believe it and some of the coaches that came along don't believe it - but we started with an 8x8 meter grid. By the end of seven sessions training, really specifically the mental demands, the physical demands and the technical demands of this exercise, the kids were getting 15 to 20 passes together in a 4x4 meter grid after one week. Now that's they'll say "OK, what difference does it make?” It means that they are processing quicker, that's cognitive, that means that they are executing with precision and it means that they're understanding special relationships relative to the opponent, and that's something that we need to train. My greatest criticism of U.S. typical, traditional soccer, is that we do not train the cognitive processing that is needed to execute that precisely and effectively.
"I never say something's written in stone, but if you just let's say when they show up, for example, they're knocking the ball around and it's like two or three passes. But that's an easy fix, because kids that have come from the U.S. system don't take the rondo seriously and so they're flicking the ball with the outside of the foot - what they're playing is what I call 1s. They're just worried about getting rid of the ball so they're not in the middle. Within two days, if not by the end of the first day, I've got to get them thinking in 2s - themselves and the blessing that they're giving to a player through a pass, not the burden that they're giving to the player just to get rid of the ball.
"Why do I like 10 to 12 passes around there? It's because two or three and the changes are too much, you're wasting time, you don't get the rhythm. If it's more than say 15, then it's just too easy. So I use space relative to success ratios to keep players engaged and to give them a challenge. … If they're getting 10, I reduce the space or I can put restrictions on them. For example, if you receive the ball with two passes, two touches from a player, you have to play with one, so you get this 2-1 rhythm. There's all sorts of variance. We can play with space, with timing, with touch that you can do it in a rondo. … Most coaches just say while setting up the cones for the real practice to begin, ‘Hey kids, go get a rondo.' And that's not the way we look at it. It is a fundamental piece of their future success in executing the game.”