‘It’s all about rondos. Rondo, rondo, rondo. Every single day. It’s the best exercise there is.’ Those words were said by the great Spain and Barcelona midfielder, Xavi. As is often the case with technical terminology, a Rondo has become a loose term to describe a drill in which one side has a numerical advantage over another. Rondos were born as highly regulated drills, with players placed in pre-specified positions; that has eased as the system has expanded and developed. But the number imbalance must remain; it is that which makes a rondo drill such a valuable tool in the coach’s arsenal.
So, let us consider ten ways in which using rondos will impact on our team’s performance.
Number One: Rondos improve the first touch of all players
It is generally accepted that the key technical skill a player must possess if they are to progress in the game is touch. It is the first touch that maximises time, creates most opportunities for a player to retain possession, to pass, dribble or shoot. Rondo drills are by their nature fast paced. Therefore, in a short period of time, players have more touches than they would get in the entire 90 minutes of a full team, 11 v 11 match. The touches also occur under some pressure, but not so much as to cause error. Therefore, technique is practised and perfected.
A team where all players have a good first touch will retain possession more often, and thus create more opportunities to score.
Number Two: Rondos improve decision making
Rondo drills typically involve limited space, maximum touches and fast pace. More often than not, they still require the players in possession to have a fixed area in which they operate. Retaining possession therefore requires rapid decision making; where to make the pass, how to eliminate the opposition from the game and so forth. There are many video clips of drills that help with this online, for example:
The fluid nature of soccer requires all players to constantly make decisions; the more of these they get right, the more successful a team will be. Rondos fine tune players’ decision-making abilities.
Number Three: Rondos develop team awareness
You cannot practise a rondo on your own, or even in a pair. Therefore, working as a team becomes an integral part of any rondo-based session. This is clearly true for the players seeking to retain possession, but also for the limited opposition a rondo requires. Even here, players must work together to win back the ball.
Rondos require players to work together for a common aim; this fosters a team collective.
Number Four: Rondos require problem solving
Why doesn’t the stronger team always win in a soccer match? There are a number of answers to that. Perhaps the most significant one is tactics. Coaches can set up their sides to negate an opponents’ strengths and exploit their own. In order to counteract this on the pitch, players need to find their own solutions, individually and, more importantly, as a unit. Rondos enhance this. The cost of failure is low in a rondo drill, so players are more willing to take risks, to challenge themselves and discover what works and what doesn’t.
A team where players problem solve successfully will win more matches than one where the players are rigid in their strategy.
Number Five: Rondos are fun.
And if players enjoy their training, they get more out of it. This is of course true of youth football, and we should really question our motivation as a coach if we are working with children and do not have fun as our number one priority. However, adults too play soccer because they enjoy it. Where players are having fun, they are learning more, taking more risks, practicing more complex skills. It is the fast-paced nature of a rondo that makes it entertaining, along with the natural wish to be a part of a group. Players enjoy being in the ‘possession’ team, and fight hard to retain their place, while their temporary opponents do all they can to re-join the main group. Such competition is healthy, because it is light and short-lived.
A team which enjoys their soccer will work better together, be more supportive of each other and feel more confident about taking risks – the fear of failure is reduced.
Number Six: Rondos lead to high intensity training.
We have seen that Rondos are fun, fast and competitive. This leads to higher intensity in training, thus improving physical fitness.
A physically fit team will play at a higher level for longer.
Number Seven: Rondos lead to high intensity training, part two.
The fast pace mentioned above also results in increased mental acuity. Players simply evaluate situations more quickly. Thus, they make decisions not only more accurately, but more quickly, giving them longer to enact that decision.
A side that are mentally alert make better team decisions and are therefore more successful.
Number Eight: Rondos help to avoid stress and impact related injuries
Improved touch, speed of thought and physical fitness all helps to reduce the risk of injury. Further, because the competition in a rondo is active but light, heavy tackles are avoided.
A team which can avoid injuries is likely to be more successful.
Number Nine: Rondos improve communication
During a high intensity rondo session, players are communicating constantly. This is through verbal means and gestures. Such communication then translates into match day interaction.
A team which communicates effectively is more efficient than one which does not.
Number Ten: Rondos replicate real match scenarios
This might seem a strange claim to make. Rondos feature weighted sides, matches do not. Rondos usually involve set positioning, at least for those in possession, and limited areas of play. Real life matches do not.
But if we consider what really happens in a game, we can see that a rondo drill replicates this in many ways. Like a rondo, a soccer match features short periods of intense activity for players as they get on the ball or attempt to win it back. It requires good first touch, and effective decision making, as does a rondo. Although, referees permitting, a soccer match is usually 11 v 11, the individual elements of the game are rarely even. Perhaps the best example is when a side has an overload following transition; the rondo is the perfect way to train players to exploit such a situation. Offensively, definitely, but defensively as well.
A team which has practiced match-type situations will reproduce best tactics in the real-life situation.
In future blogs we will look at specific rondo drills which will help a coach or player improve performance individually and collectively. Hopefully, though, this article has demonstrated that the rondo still has a very important role to play in any team’s training schedule.
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