Coaching in Context: Teaching Tactics and Technique

I loathe all that passing – that tiquitaca. It’s so much rubbish and has no purpose. You have to pass the ball with a clear intention, with the aim of making it into the opposition’s goal. It’s not about passing for the sake of it.

Which well respected manager said this? Mourinho? Simeone? Bielsa? Surely, it must have been a manager that enjoys direct football. Maybe it was someone who is a proponent of defensive football.  What if I were to tell you that it’s quite the opposite?

In fact, Pep Guardiola, the man who famously created a football empire based solely on the tiquitaca style, is the author of this quote. But how could this be? His entire playing style is based around long possessions using short passes. How could he have possibly said that he hates tiquitaca?

The term tiquitaca goes back to the 2006 World Cup, when Andres Montes, a Spanish commentator, described Spain's short passing play against Tunisia in this fashion: "We are playing around them like tiquitaca." The word's origins are believed to be onomatopoeic as it refers to the quick passes, 'tiqui'-'taca', between two players.

It had been used for many years by old Spanish men gathered around the bar television trying to describe how Cruyff's Barcelona was playing. They had no idea that years later this term would be used by every national broadcaster to describe a quick, short passing style and would go on to be accepted as general football vernacular.

Unfortunately, tiquitaca is used so frequently and whimsically, that few people truly understand what it means. Its definition has been simplified and in some instances even vilified.

When examining the tiquitaca playing style at a superficial level, it appears that it is just short, pointless passing. But in fact, there is so much more to it. This is why Pep loathes that term. It’s a simplification of an art form which he has been studying and practicing since his playing days under his mentor Johan Cruyff. Tiquitaca fails to respect the science behind his success.

Read: Coaching the 'Uncoachable' Creativity

He says, “You have to pass the ball with a clear intention…” Intention. Tactical intention is the purpose of performing a technical skill. Without a purpose it is useless. Many coaches fail to see this when they are training, which leads them to train technical skills separately from tactical concepts. You cannot separate the technical from the tactical. Without each other they serve no purpose, therefore you must train them conjointly.

Let me further explain. Let's take the technical skill of a pass. This action is defined as one player directing the ball to a teammate. Within a pass there are different variables that will change the appearance of a pass, for example the distance, the trajectory or the speed.

What is the tactical purpose of a pass? Keeping in mind that a pass is used to connect with a teammate, we can specify which principle of football the pass is trying to achieve. Football is divided into three main basic principles or objectives which are always being satisfied when in possession of the ball. Maintaining possession, progressing up the field (with possession), and finishing, which ultimately is the main goal of the sport and how a match is won.

As we have seen the tactics, or the principles of football, dictate in what phase of the build up we are working with.

For example, a pass from a central back to an outside back with no pressure is much different than a pass from a central back to a central forward checking into a space in the midfield. The pass from the CB to the OB with no pressure is a fulfilling the first principle of maintaining possession whereas the pass from the CB to the CF is satisfying the second principle of progressing because this pass is vertical and towards the goal.

Read: Intentionality in Sport: LA Galaxy case study

There is nothing wrong with teaching the correct mechanics of a pass but it should always be done within context of a match. When preparing a session, you should always take into consideration which type of pass you want your players to improve and the necessary tactical information you will be providing your players so they can visualize the situation in a match. These elements which you must provide the player are commonly known as variables of intervention.

The following are variables which should be considered when preparing a session to improve a technical action.

Antonio Ángel Barea Villegas, 2013, CEDIFA Nivel 1, Granada

Antonio Ángel Barea Villegas, 2013, CEDIFA Nivel 1, Granada

Without a purpose any action could be considered unnecessary. If I asked you to write some words on a piece of paper, you would most likely ask me some questions about the task so you would know what kind of words to write. If I was specific and asked you to write all the colors you knew on a piece of paper, then you would just do it.

The same goes for when you are training technical actions, you must give your players context in order for them to execute them correctly. Like I’ve previously mentioned, coaches should never separate technique from tactics, this extracts the context from the session. Without context, technical training is useless.  Like Guardiola said before, “You have to pass the ball with a clear intention.” The same goes for training, you have train with a clear intention.

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