Masterclass Focus: Dean Smith

In this new blog series, we will be looking at the Masterclass sessions individually and providing you with a little more detail about the coach behind it all, the session itself, and some of the feedback we have received off the back of these must-see Masterclasses provided in partnership with the League Managers Association.

Jan 28th 2021

Written by The Coaching Manual

First up, we delve a little deeper into the fantastic playing out from the back Masterclass led by the current Aston Villa manager Dean Smith, which was filmed back in April 2019.

The Coach…

Dean Smith started his journey in professional football at Walsall in the late ‘80s as a ‘no-nonsense’ centre back, but it wasn’t until he moved to Hereford where his interest in coaching began. Here, he became intrigued by the different styles and approaches of the coaching staff. In 1997 he moved to Leyton Orient, where he started to earn his coaching badges whilst still playing. Smith then had short stints playing for Sheffield Wednesday and Port Vale before retiring. He was eventually handed his first role in coaching in 2005 by Martin Ling at former club Leyton Orient.

His first job as First team manager came at Walsall in January 2011, who were nine points adrift at the bottom of League One when Smith took over - by the end of the season he had saved them from relegation. During his four years at the Midlands club, he led them to their first appearance at Wembley, in the EFL Trophy final, where they narrowly missed out on glory to Bristol City.

Smith’s next role as manager came with Brentford where he spent three years finishing around mid-table in the Championship. He gained attention for his team's attractive style of passing football during those campaigns, which helped him to be appointed manager of the team he supported as a boy, Aston Villa.

He took the club from 14th in the Championship to the Premier League via the play-offs in the 2018–19 season, and then to the 2020 EFL Cup final.

Villa are now in their second season in the Premier League since their return and currently sit comfortably in the top half of the table after a fantastic start to the season which has included a 7-2 thrashing of current champions Liverpool. This excellent start saw Dean awarded the Premier League Manager of the Month award for December.


The Session…

Dean Smith's LMA Masterclass is unique in that Smith had to deliver each practice via a translator as the players he was coaching were from the Indonesian U17s National Team. The way in which Smith was able to put on technical practices with multiple progressions throughout each practice, when not being able to speak the same language as the players with which he was communicating, is a testament to his presence and ability as a coach.

The Masterclass starts with a layered unopposed to opposed practice where the players were asked to play out from the back against no defending team, in order to practice quick and sharp combinations to work their way up the pitch and score, before adding in opposing players to press the attacking team and make these combinations harder to execute.

As Smith moved through the three practices to reach the Conditioned game at the end, what is clear to see is the way he first implements the basics, then challenges the players in various ways - either through limiting touches, adding more opposing players, or switching the points of attack, all with the aim of playing out from the back effectively in a game-like situation.


View the full Masterclass here.

The Feedback…

Not only did the players in the session respond to the practices really well despite the language barrier, but we have had some excellent feedback from coaches on the technical detail and ease of application of Dean Smith’s Masterclass.

"The layering of the practices from Dean Smith is top-notch. The beauty of this session is that you can go back to it and deliver it over and over again and build a full playing structure for a season around this one session." 

Lee Fletcher - Head of Content Development at The Coaching Manual.


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