Practice Structure and Sequencing: Impulse/Reaction Training

To be honest, as soon as I published my last post on my practice structure, I hated the word choice for this part of my training sessions. It doesn't quite convey the somewhat nebulous idea in my head of what I want to get out of this part of training. Still, I heard it most adequately expressed by Jurgen Klopp, in the below quote:

You can’t tell the players ‘you stand here and, if this happens, you run there’. Instead, you have to train the impulse. It has to be an impulse to move into a ball-winning position immediately after losing the ball.

You don’t teach a situation, you teach the impulse until it becomes a natural action.
— Jurgen Klopp

In this particular example, he's speaking about how he gets his teams to win the ball back as soon as they lose it, a trait I coach in to my teams as well. The principle of training certain reactions or impulses to happen automatically is one I use in just about every session I coach. That is not to say I don't explicitly take players through particular scenarios, but the sequence this occurs in during a single training session, and through out a season, generally places this impulse or reaction as the first priority.

Typically in the 2nd part of a 'traditional' training session, a warmup is followed by a 'technical' exercise, focusing on the technical aspect of whatever the focus of the session is that day. When I plan training, I think about what action or sequence of events in a game is the most common and/or important part of what I want to work on that day, and use that for my (poorly named) impulse/reaction training. By transplanting a part of the game into your training, hopefully the technical, tactical, and physical elements are brought together as holistically and realistically as possible. While I do frequently use rondos as this 2nd part of a training session, I also like to use unopposed passing exercises, team pattern play, small sided games, or even finishing exercises. 

As an example, I knew that I wanted to work with my team on defending. When we attack, we build from the back, so insuring that we didn't give up any goals while we do so was important to me. Using the idea of training the players' reactions during play, I thought about what I would want to happen when we defend in this particular scenario. First, I'd want instant pressure from which ever players were closest to the ball. I'd also want the rest of the team to shrink together to protect the goal, and insure that the other team couldn't march straight through us and score. Below is an exercise I used that I felt encouraged the 'impulses' I wanted to see from my team when defending:


Part of the sequencing and exercise selection process means choosing things that you are ignoring as well. In the above exercise for example, some variables I didn't incorporate are: positions, a goal and goalkeeper, defending 1v1, man marking, and a million other things. I chose to focus intensively on players collectively shrinking and pressuring the instant the ball is lost, and how to pressure as part of a unit (only 2 players in this case) to win it back. Some of these details will be covered in later parts of a session or a season, or might be things I'll choose to cover even further down the line.

What I'm looking to get out of this part of practice is a very repetitive, predictable sequence of events that will carry on through the rest of practice, allowing me to layer in nuance at a later time. There's no doubt in my mind that Klopp does work on specific defensive scenarios, roles, and responsibilities. But by automating certain aspects of decision making and technique, you can get players operating more efficiently as a single, cohesive unit. If one or two players press like maniacs when defending, and the rest sort of jog aimlessly towards the ball, it won't matter how individually great those 2 players press; somewhere there will be space for the other team to exploit. In properly trained teams, there is a clear framework the team is operating from: we attack like this, we defend like that; when I lose it I do this, when I win it I do that. Hammering home these reactions, these impulses, is a fundamental part of establishing a true style of play.

*A link to the full Klopp article can be found here: