Sunday

 
Don't confuse your path with your destination.
 
Just because its stormy now
 
doesn't mean that your not headed for sunshine.
 
 

Analyzing an individual soccer player in the context of team play. Depth.

It has occurred to me that depth is the least understood of the 3 elements of the game of soccer. When I think of depth in an attacking sense I consider the on-field positioning of forwards, midfielders and backs not only in the context of formation but also within their own lines. The position and spacing within a teams formation that defines a teams shape, if you will.

I think it perhaps best to begin with a concept of depth familiar to most - supporting players behind the ball carrier. The picture that comes to mind is that of the ball carrier have options for play both in the forward passing lanes and also in the passing lanes towards his own goal. This brings to light a very basic but often overlooked principle of play which states the man on the ball should play the way he faces.

Thursday

 
"I play very simply.

That's what it's all about.

Playing simple football is the hardest thing."

Johan Cruyff

Have you ever wondered why geese fly in a "V" formation?

When next you see geese flying overhead in a "V" formation take a moment to appreciate what you are actually seeing. 

Teamwork.

Scientists have discovered that as each goose flaps its wings, it creates an updraft for the next bird behind it in the formation. By flying in a "V" formation the whole flock increases it flying range by more than 70% than if each goose flew on its own.

A soccer team sharing a common direction gets to where they are going quicker and easier, They lift one another along the way by understanding and believing in the trust present in each individual and in the collective whole.

Analyzing an individual soccer player in the context of team play.

I love to problem solve. I am sure this is why my two favorite sports are basketball and soccer. Both offer abundant problem solving opportunities on individual and group levels. Statistics kept in both sports seek to quantify individual and team performances. Sabremetrics has taken statistics to a whole new level. However, almost all statistics are ball related and that's where I feel analyzation of player performance through statistics leaves something to be desired.

Consider there are 22 players sharing 1 ball during a soccer match. It stands to reason the vast majority of time a player spends on the pitch is without the ball. What I have set about doing is to define the relationship between on-the-ball statistics and off -the-ball actions and  how this impacts the game. I believe the place to start this process is to define principles of play in the game. In order to do this I believe it essential to consider the three elements of play - penetration, depth and width.

Penetration without the ball can happen in a number of ways.

1) A target player in front of the opponents back line.
2) Off-the-ball runs at or through the opponents back line.
3) A player in an offside position

There also needs to be a means of gauging the effectiveness of each action. Did the action have a positive, negative or no discernible impact on possession of the ball?   For the lack of better terminology I consider this in the context of Attacking Unity.  In this regard the action must also be viewed in terms of uniqueness and duplicity. That is, was the action singular and performed as Intelligent Support or as an act of unaware individualism duplicating the actions of a teammate? Was there a positive impact on the teams spacing?

Penetration with the ball happens in two basic ways.

1) Running with the ball
2) Passing the ball

Maintaining possession of the ball is obviously the king consideration when penetrating with the ball However, there are variable acceptable levels of risk associated with these actions. What is accepted, even expected, in the attacking third of the field might be far different than what is considered prudent in the middle or defending thirds of the field.

There is quality of decision making to be considered as well. Was running with the ball the correct decision or should the player have chosen to pass to the feet of a target player or into space to a teammate making a run?

So much to consider and we have yet to even begin looking at width and depth in relation to attacking play.  Or the defensive side of play, at all.  Tomorrow I will take a look at the element of depth and associated principles of play. Remember, we are just beginning a process here. I'm not quite sure where it will end, but have in mind to analyze my son's play through video review. For comparison's sake I will likely analyze some of his teammates play as well. My intent is not so much to create a new realm of soccer statistics as it is to discover the quality my powers of observation.
The level of Intelligence a player demonstrates in the game
 
determines the Quality of his Performance.

I am a member of a team,
 
and I rely on the team,
 
I defer to it
 
and sacrifice for it,
 
Because the team,
 
not the individual,
 
is the ultimate Champion.
 
Mia Hamm

Wednesday

Record setting day here at CBA Soccer.

I am continually amazed at the far reach of the CBA Soccer blog.  While the majority of hits are from the United States we truly do have a global following.  And that following is growing on a daily basis. I feel so blessed that you take time from your day to read my writings. While our primary focus is team camps, clinics, goalkeeper instruction and coaching clinics the blog is in some ways our information hub or news feed , if you will.  We will continue daily articles throughout our "off season". We will also continue reporting on the local sports scene.  Tomorrow evening we will be checking up on the Lima Senior Spartans as they play the Findlay Trojans.  Thanks again for your continued support!

Coach Brown.

Amazing free kick!

 
One of the best free kick set pieces I have ever seen!
 
 

Your talent is God's gift to you.
What you do with it is your gift back to God.

Cristiano Ronaldo Freestyle Football Skills

 
Ronaldo
 
 

Tuesday

CBA Blog hits the big time!

The CBA Soccer Blog was evidently the topic of discussion in the women's restroom at a local high school match this evening. That's hitting the big time, right there!  Women discussing this blog in a public restroom!  LOL  I understand it wasn't all flattering, but that's fine with me. Controversy is good for generating hits on the site.  Thanks ladies!  Much appreciated.

Shot on goal

The official definition;

A shot on goal is a shot that is on net.  The results of a shot on goal must be either a save by the goalkeeper or defending team or a goal scored by the attacking team. A shot that hits the post or the crossbar without being deflected by a goalkeeper or defender and that does not cross the goal line is not a shot on goal.

 

Coaching Tree

Had the pleasure of watching Grant's U9 Worthington United Boys team play in tournament action this past weekend. later that evening we were able to take in his Thomas Worthington JVA team's match against Strongsville. 


 
 
Great job Coach Grant!      Great job TEAMs!
 


Sunday

When they break your press.

This is a companion article to Tactical Cues for Pressing

Zonal defenses by design are meant to get as many people behind the ball as possible. That is, a zonal defense wants to keep the ball in front of it and force opponents to attempt their attack through multiple layers of defenders.  It is very much a style of defense that seeks to intercept passes and win 50 / 50 balls to then counter from to goal. Pressing from a zonal defense can be an effective strategy when executed as a coordinated team effort. 

There are, however, some associated risks with pressing and those must be accounted and planned for as part of a teams overall strategy. I think it will help to think of pressing as the defense being numbers up around the ball and / or the ball carrier.  Logic then dictates that if both sides are playing with equal numbers the defense will then be numbers down elsewhere on the field.

Saturday

Accountability
 
No excuses.
 
100% Commitment
 
100% Effort
 
100% of the time.
 
You must be accountable for who YOU are.
 
 
You can't just beat a team
 
You must leave a lasting impression
 
in their minds
 
so that they never want to see you again.

Wednesday

Glossary of Soccer Terms

Several readers have requested a glossary of soccer terms be added to the website. Your request is my command. Access to the Glossary of Soccer Terms can be found on the tool bar above the articles.  If you have any additions, edits or changes, please advise by using the comments section at the end of this article. 

Tuesday

Sportsmanship

Opportunity

Competence

Challenging

Enjoyment

Resiliency

Sunday

Thank you for reading!

It has been a record setting day here at the Conceive Believe Achieve Soccer blog.  This after a record setting month of August.  Thanks so much for reading!   Although the majority of views come from the United States we really do have a world wide following and that continues to amaze me.

Let's keep the momentum going! 

Coach Brown.
 


Where the game is played.

You only have two choices.
 
Make excuses.
 
Make progress.
 
 

Move. Control. Pass. Move.

A couple weeks ago during a discussion analyzing a teams play I made the following statement, "I don't know that they have the technical excellence to play possession soccer."  That comment has haunted me for several days. I awoke this morning with a better understanding of why.

Possession soccer is actually quite simple to play from the standpoint of technical skill.

Technically all a player must have in his arsenal are two basic skills he has been working on since his very first practices.  1) The ability to control the ball and 2) the ability to pass the ball. 

The picture of possession soccer many of us have involves a series of short secure passes that move the ball about the pitch quickly in a variety of directions. This description infers possession soccer is a slow probing style of attacking soccer. That does not have to be the case at all. The pace of play sessions I conduct at camps are all about possessing the ball at pace after all. In fact, we have achieved some very good results in increasing the pace of play with teams whose technical skill level could be described as average at best.

Why?

Friday

This wasn't a Send Off / Red Card?

Maxi Rodriguez nutmegs this guy several times in a row. The player retaliates by sweeping Rodriguez's legs. I think it is a straight red. The referee gave a yellow.

What goes round comes round.

They say, what goes round comes round.

Some years ago during a conversation with Steve Burns, then head men's coach at the University of Michigan I asked, "In what one area of the game would you like to see club and high school coaches do a better job of preparing players to play in college?"   Coach Burns' immediate response was "First touch."

This morning I was asked, "Given all the high school soccer you watch, what do you believe is the weakest part of the high school game?"  My immediate reply was, "Lack of intelligent attacking play."

As I reconsider both the question and my response several hours later I find I remain comfortable with my answer. No doubt Coach Burns was spot on with his reply and the quality of first touch remains an area in need of improvement in high school soccer.  In some ways that contributes to the lack of intelligent attack in the high school game. There are also many other factors between first touch and the finished product of intelligent attacking play. Still, when I consider the general state of the high school game in our area I find the style of play to be the biggest impediment to improved attacking play.

If you go out to watch nearly any youth soccer game it's all about the biggest, fastest, strongest (bfs) kids. It does not take a lot of skill to whack the ball up the field for that bfs kid to run on to. The vast majority of freshmen entering high school soccer are sorely lacking in basic soccer skills in part because of the kick and run style they have played through the youth ranks.

The first high school staff I was on recognized the weak skill sets kids coming into the program had and would spend their contact days in the summer trying to address this issue. The high school staff would conduct a week long mini-camp consisting of two 2 hour sessions M - F.  A couple of weeks later we hosted a team camp conducted by Graham Ramsay. Graham would hold 3 sessions a day M-Th with anywhere from 1 - 3 more sessions on Friday dependent on his travel plans.  By the time actual practices began, the kids had a huge head start on almost every other squad in the area. The team played a possession style that was instrumental in establishing a winning tradition and took the team to its only State-semi appearance.

Now it is some years later and the program does some fundamental skill work during the summer months but has also been participating in a team camp at a local college. This team camp involves a session or two of technical work but is largely based around playing two games a day against other teams attending the camp.  The high school program has been able to maintain its success but now plays a very direct game reminiscent of youth league bsf kick and run games.

On the one hand, it's easier just to work with the skill sets kids come to the program with. They play kick and run coming up through the youth ranks so instead of expending a lot of time and energy to improve or simply teach them sound fundamentals, why not just go with what they already know how to do? Less work on the part of coaching staffs and probably a lot less stress too.

When a kid does enter high school with a good skill set, they are often promoted directly to the varsity level.  Certainly not always, but often enough to consider it the norm. One of the oddest aspects of high school soccer is watching coaches try to turn skilled athletes into kick and run players. More often than not these days the skilled player is found at a forward position waiting to run onto "through balls" or "dump and runs" regardless of if their individual style, physical build or mental make up is suited to a forward position or not.

Where do the rare skilled players come from these days?  Club soccer teams where coaches take time to teach techniques, tactics and develop soccer IQ. Our local club has long defined its purpose as preparing kids to play high school soccer. The path we have followed has had strong emphasis on teaching fundamental technique, tactics and developing soccer IQ.  As I listen to feedback from players and parents this fall I get the sense many of the local high school coaches do not appreciate our efforts.  In general the high school coaches wish to restrict, restrain and simplify the players individual games. Thoughtful and intuitive play is largely eschewed for simple "pass the ball here" and "whack it forward" play devoid of thought or the freedom to take advantage of what an opponent leaves open. It amounts to taking the on-field decision making process away from players which in turn stifles creativity.

On the surface this is a risk aversion approach to attacking play, but upon closer inspection it is not. If a team attacks in the same manner every time it has possession, the attack becomes very predictable and easily game planned for.  It actually becomes a higher risk proposition as the attack goes against a defense prepared to defend against it. Then the reliance really does become on having the bsf players or better athletes.  This weaves us back around to the lack of intelligent attacking play that I cited earlier. If a team can vary its attack, be unpredictable, they become much more efficient on the attack. 

So, Coach Burns was definitely spot on regarding quality of first touch and by extension other fundamental techniques of the game. My answer is also spot on for what I address is how the lack of foundational skills has served to perpetuate the dump and run freeway soccer reliant on big, strong fast kids found in the youth ranks.

I'm not sure of the answer to this situation.  I have a suspicion if the high schools do not address some of the issues raised in this article the truly good players of high school age will drift away from playing for their school and choose to play for their club or academy teams year round.  That will hurt the high school game even more. 


Thursday

Lima Senior 1 Van Wert 0

I stopped in at Lima Stadium tonight to check up on the Lima Senior Spartans Men's Soccer team. Early this summer, at the request of coach Mitch Monfort, I helped the Spartans implement a zonal defense.  On a rain soaked turf the Spartans pitched a shut out behind goalkeeper Aaron Reed and a stout back line of Nick Jolliff, Taylor Mericle, Will Jolliff and Levi Quintero.

Early in the first half forward Danny Grundisch got in behind the Cougar's defense off a great header from Will Jolliff to score the only goal of the match. The shot came from a near impossible angle beating the Goalkeeper at the back post side netting.

With the win the Spartans move to 4-3-0 on the season. Lima is 1-1-0 in the TRAC.

Shout out to Will Jolliff who played an outstanding game at center back. Eyon Berney, Hunter Vermillion, Alex Ehora and Taylor Mericle also turned in strong performances for Lima Senior tonight.

Good job Spartans!   And Good Luck against St Francis DeSales next Tuesday!

Agoge! 

This is my off season.

Since I do not coach during the fall, August - October is basically my off season from soccer. I actually like to refer to it as my learning time. I take in high school soccer matches at every opportunity with a primary focus on my son's team, those of players on our club team and the teams I conducted camp for this past summer. Each is a learning experience in its own way.

Beginning with the teams I have conducted camp for; I watch closely to see if the topics we addressed are showing up in their play on the field. If we worked on defending is a bounce step in evidence? Does the team work hard in the transition phase to regain defensive shape behind the ball? Is there intelligent support for the pressure defender? In short, I watch their matches and use what I see as an evaluation of my work for them in camp.  These are the beginning steps of planning for their team camp next summer.

In watching the matches of players from our club team I am looking to see how their high school coaches use them on the pitch. What formation they are playing in, where do they play within the formation, and what their role is from that position. As a club coach here in rural west central Ohio I believe it is important to prepare the athlete for his high school playing experience. With high school seniors it is important to prepare them for playing in college. I also use these matches to scout for players that might be a good fit for our club team. My observations will provide the beginning of individual and team seasonal plans for the club season.

With my son's high school team I have a lot running through my mind as I watch the matches. First and foremost is the joy of seeing my son play a sport he has a real passion for.  Then there are the 10 current and future club players on the team. It is though my sons eyes and those of his teammates that the most intense portion of my off season continuing education comes. I'll share a secret with you, these kids are smart. Their soccer IQ is pretty amazing. Listening to them talk about their team is an educational experience in and of itself. They see strengths and weaknesses in themselves, teammates, their team, the coaches... and they have opinions on how to accentuate strengths and address weaknesses. It's kind of like a players round table or perhaps a soccer think tank atmosphere. I just keep my mouth shut and listen as unobtrusively as possible fearing I might inhibit them were I to join in.

I also spend a lot of time during the fall watching professional soccer. Not the MLS so much but the foreign pro leagues, World Cup qualifying and such. I particularly like the USWNT and women's professional soccer for observing basic tactics.  The pace is slower and much less frantic.  One example is our USWNT utilizing the early retreat as part of their zonal defensive scheme. Sometime this can be difficult to pick out in the men's game even though the great preponderance of international and professional men's sides play zonal and utilize early retreats.

Comparing different levels of play is interesting to me as well.

I watch small schools with 15 total players in their program play and am amazed at how well roles and rotations are defined out of necessity. They have no choice.  Then I see a big high school with varsity, JVA, JVB and freshmen teams each with 18 players on them struggle with defining roles and setting rotations with players swinging between teams.  A coach might try to play 18+ kids in a varsity match.  It seems sometimes players get lost in the shuffle as coaches go with the "hot" player of the day.

My son's team has struggled with roles and rotations this season. They change game to game and sometimes within a match. They played their best game of the season Tuesday night and it seems in part to have been to a smaller rotation and better defined roles? It can be difficult for players to establish comfort zones and play confidently when players don't know what to expect from match to match or even minute to minute.

At the same time, versatility is something I value very highly in players. Our club system is not overly concerned about who mans what position (aside from GK, of course) as long as the position is manned. We have a defensive shape / formation but complete freedom of movement on the attack. The expectation is more for the position than for a specified player manning the position.

So I wonder why it is a player might struggle when coaches move him around but thrive when he is allowed to move around of his own accord?  It's an interesting question and one that I am searching for an answer to.

I find myself wondering about conducting team camp for a school my sons team competes against during the high school season.  That camp team recently defeated my son's team.  Did I play a part in that?  We worked on pace of play/soccer intelligence during camp and the things we worked on were certainly in evidence on the plays resulting in their goals. I know we changed the way they play and it is working for them. They are poised to have their best season in years.

It is rare to find a team so completely lacking in skill that they hold no realistic hope of competing on the field. They do exist and when called in to help those teams it is just a steady diet of technique work and basic tactics.  Frequently it is simply a matter of a different voice teaching a team the same thing their coaches have been trying to get them to understand. Sometimes it is that I teach it in a different way and something clicks - not because of it being a different method, per se, but perhaps because of a combination of their coaches teaching methods and my own?

More often than not, the difference between a good program and a struggling program, a good team and a struggling team, is a matter of belief .  "If all you ever do, is all you've ever done all you will ever have is what you've always had." A fancy way of saying programs and teams can get in a rut.  Perhaps the greatest coaching challenge is figuring a way out of a rut.  This was a focus of the past few off seasons for me.

One of the tactics I have brought to camps to change how a team thinks is introducing a team cheer. I have borrowed liberally from University of Michigan Football Head Coach Brady Hoke for this cheer.

An example: Lead and response.

Team? ............ 12!
Train like........ Champions!
Play like.......... Champions!
Become .......... Champions!
Stanton.............Tigers!

It is a process. I have discovered a continuum of sorts that I place teams on.  Some need to learn how to work, intelligently.  Some need to learn how to or believe that they can compete. Others need to learn how to win.  Still others need reminded of their tradition, that they play for everyone who has worn that jersey before them and will leave a legacy for those players yet to come into the program.  For each team, I try to address where they are at and provide them ideas of how to move forward.

All this and much, much more I am observing and contemplating during my "off season" so that I might come back improved myself  when the next season comes around.

Wednesday

What goes into increasing pace of play?

Anyone following this blog has likely realized I have been studying ways to improve pace of play for high school players. In order to do so I have watched countless professional matches paying particular attention to individual players and teams who play with great pace in an attempt to identify and define what it is that allows them to do so. I think I finally have ideas sorted well enough to put them down in writing. At least I hope so for that is what I am going to attempt to do in this article.

I begin with a vision of what optimal pace of play might look like. This is not a realistic vision for the game for it fails to account for many things, defenders and changing the pace of play as examples. What if an entire team were to be successful using one touch play? That is, the team could maintain possession of the ball until it is scored with players only requiring one touch to move the ball about the pitch and into the goal.  

I think the pattern or sequence of play should look like this.

Vision
Communication
Preparation
Technique
Execution
Mobility

Vision is assessing all options before your first touch on the ball. Being a game watcher instead of being a ball watcher. Seeing the big picture of the game instead of the smaller picture around the ball. The player must know where the opponents are, where his teammates are and where available space is before he receives the ball.

Communication between teammates is essential. The player passing the ball, the player receiving the ball and all supporting players must vocalize what they see, their vision of the game about them. Non-verbal communication in the form of body positioning, eye-to-eye contact between players and hand signals are not only appropriate but required as well.

Preparation to make a play with the before actually receiving it is essential. This involves having active feet, establishing proper angles to receive the ball while keeping hips open to as much of the field as possible, checking to the ball, making a run into space ahead of the pass.

Technique refers to the action of the player receiving the ball. It can include one touch or multiple touches, shooting, passing, volleying, heading or dribbling. In this case, a one touch play where the technique is the first and only touch on the ball.

Execution refers to the decision-making process used to determine the appropriate technique to use and the success or lack thereof in applying that technique to the situation at hand. Together the Technical and Execution elements of play are referred to as skill, the ability to select and implement an appropriate and effective response from a range of possibilities.

Mobility is off-the-ball player movement. Once the ball is played away to a teammate, the passer must re-engage with the remaining nine teammates to provide intelligent support to the new receiver. It is important to be in the receiver’s vision before the receivers head goes down to play the ball. In most instances, the passer will need to anticipate where the receiver will next play the ball and move to support that action or perhaps one even further advanced. It is important to recognize that ball movement is predicated on player movement - players must move if they wish the ball to be passed to them. Check to the ball, make runs and so forth.

If we add an element of control to the process, we then have two-touch play.

Vision
Communication
Preparation
Control
Technique
Execution
Mobility

Control is simply a term I use to identify taking more than one touch on the ball. This does not necessarily mean the quality of first touch was poor only that more than one touch was required for the Technique and Execution to be fulfilled. The “extra” touches naturally slow the pace of play. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is a possibility for play that exists – nothing more, nothing less.

Two touch play comes in four basic varieties. Right foot / Right foot combination. Right foot / left foot combination. Left foot / left foot combination or left foot / right foot combinations. These are actions of the receiver (first touch) transitioning to ball carrier / shooter / passer (second and succeeding touches).

These first two descriptions of play describe a fast paced brand of possession soccer that can be difficult to attain with great consistency in youth or high school soccer. Let’s be honest, it can be difficult to attain and sustain at any level of play, but that should not preclude us from striving to do so. 

What set me on this journey was the process of play I found existing in most youth soccer and high school matches. The sequence is out of order and because it is the pace of play is considerably slower. This is what I have found to be the norm:

Poor Preparation
Efforts to Control
Technique
Vision
Communication
Execution
Mobility.

Instead of being the first priority, Vision is found in the middle of the process after possession has been secured. Equally remiss is finding Communication in the latter part of the process. A fourth order of play leaving communication out entirely is about as slow as soccer can be played..

In identifying these four progressions of play, it is easy to discern great players play at levels 1 and 2 while lesser players are at levels 3 and 4. Think of it in terms of video games. One must complete the levels in order to progress through and ultimately win the game. It is my goal to put together a development curriculum that will by-pass or at least minimize the time spent on levels 4 and 3 and progress young players to the second and ultimately the first level in quicker fashion. Cheats for Proper Play if we wish to look at it in video game terms.

Part of my thought process involves reduction and minimization of the transition phase of the game and the number of times a team must regained possession of the ball in a match. In my mind, those are negative aspects of play. It is similar to the idea a team does not have to be great at playing balls out of the air, if they keep the ball on the ground. If we minimize the number of turnovers and resultant need to regain possession of the ball our quality of play should rise dramatically, yes?

 
 
Good players practice
 
 
until they get it right.
 
 
 
Great players practice
 
 
until they don't get it wrong.
 
“The key is not the will to win.
 
Everybody has that.
 
It is the will to PREPARE  to win
 
that is important.”

Statistics: Quality of 1st touch

Unlike traditional American sports soccer does not keep many standard statistics for evaluating player performance. Sabremetrics has yet to find its way to grass roots soccer. Over a decade ago I began tracking what I refer to as "Quality of First Touch" statistics as a means to measure a players readiness to participate at a given level.  I utilize a simple +/- system for tracking Quality of First Touch.  What I am looking for is the players ability to gain and maintain possession with his first touch on the ball. I do not extend the evaluation to what he does beyond his first touch (shoot / pass / dribble). The focus is solely on a players first touch on the ball.

What I discovered was a varsity level player generally requires a Quality of First Touch of 80% or higher.  In a really good program that number might approach 90% +  to be a starter.   I do "spot checks" of this statistic when scouting or watching soccer matches and this has held true throughout the years.  I conducted such a survey again last night and the results remained startlingly consistent.  The best players are the ones with the best Quality of First Touch.

As a coach, if I have a limited positions being contested by multiple players, I will often utilize Quality of First Touch statistics from tryouts and training to decide who wins those spots and who will be cut or relegated to a lower level team.

Players who are first to the ball, who win a lot of 50 / 50 balls but do so with a poor Quality of First Touch are not really winning the ball at all. They are creators of more 50 / 50 balls.  Some coaches place a priority on players winning 50 / 50 balls and there is certainly value to winning 50 / 50 balls created by the opposing team.  If it is your player or team that is creating a lot of 50 / 50 balls, chances are the lack of Quality of First Touch is a major contributing factor.

This all relates back to the recent posting on Pace of Play. If a team wishes to increase their pace of play it must be accomplished by increasing the Quality of their First Touch.  This can be done by teaching them to play smarter through preparing to play properly so as to provide the best possible chance to have a high Quality of First Touch.  Sometimes this involves slowing down a players physical pace of play so it is aligned with the players capabilities in mental pace of play. 

The key to Quality of First Touch is found in a players ability to prepare properly before executing his first touch on the ball. Players whose primary focus is on being first to the ball often fail to have a plan for what they want to do with the ball once it is won. This can lead to frantic, if not panicked, play often resulting in poor Quality of First Touch and creation of yet another 50 / 50 ball to be won. It's a vicious cycle that must be avoided at all costs.



Monday

Give your players your confidence.

It is important that a player knows his coach believes in him. The ability of a coach to give his confidence to his players is one of the most important skills a coach needs. Giving your confidence to players helps to build their own confidence in themselves. It is a foundational block to building a positive team culture.

To be successful in building the confidence of your players you must demonstrate you are interested in and willing to invest in their long term success. The work you put in towards helping them develop will help motivate the players to work hard for the team.

When I observe training sessions, watch matches and speak with coaching colleagues I am sometimes struck by the negativity present in assessing player performance. It seems to me there can be too much emphasis on a players current limitations and far too little focus on a players potential abilities.

Mistakes are learning opportunities for the players and by extension teaching opportunities for coaches. When a coach over reacts to a player mistake he is in effect eroding that players confidence. Isn't the wiser course of action to look for signs of progress, to praise successes no matter how small and to encourage the player to build upon these?

If you can encourage, enable and instill enthusiasm in a player over the course of a season you will witness that player grow, improve and develop at a steady pace. By the end of the season a markedly improved player should emerge. Such is the power of letting someone else know you believe in them.

It has been my observation that the coach who first starts criticizing players and substituting players for mistakes made is far more likely to see his team lose than is the coach who is first to compliment and encourage good play. It's just that criticism is rarely positive and when done in front of peers (and spectators) it is degrading and potentially harmful. I believe most times players recognize when they have made a mistake and certainly do not need to be immediately reminded of it.  If the player does not recognize his mistake, it is your training of the athlete that is to blame.

Good coaches make note of player mistakes during games so they can address them during the next training session as part of the individuals and team's long term seasonal plan.  Coaches often use film review sessions in an effort to "help" their team. What if that film review session consists of nothing more than critical review of player performance?  Do you think that player will leave the session feeling good about himself and eager to return to playing?

What if the film session is presented with patience and poise as a teaching session to learn from mistakes? What if good plays are celebrated and held up as examples? That same philosophy holds true when coaching on game day. If you want positive results, accentuate positive play. When mistakes occur, encourage the player to move on.  "Next Play!"  Address the mistakes through technical and tactical training during the next training session.

Confidence can be a fragile thing.  One negative remark can negate a lot of praise. Young players seek validation of their worth and a steady diet of negativity can leave them feeling beat down and devalued.  When a player makes a mistake shouldn't the idea be to help him overcome it and not further beat him down for having made it?

Think about it coach.

If the majority of the communication you have with a player is negative can you hold a realistic expectation for that player to play confidently and towards his full potential? 

Give the players your confidence in them and you will be rewarded with confident play from them.



 
 
TRAIN  like a CHAMPION!
 
 
PLAY like a CHAMPION!
 
 
BECOME a CHAMPION!

Analyzing Team Play / Problem Solving in Soccer

 If you go to any Internet soccer forum or message board you will find a frequent topic of discussion is conversion rates on shots taken at goal. This is one of the areas I am most often asked to address in the team camps I conduct. There seems to a general consensus in thought that a magical drill or practice exercise exists that can improve a teams ability to score goals. Of course, this just isn't true.  In fact, the reasons a team struggles to finish can often times be a lot more complicated than one might suspect. Before coming up with appropriate exercises to address a teams struggles to score I have to figure out why they are struggling to score.

A friend contacted me after the 2012 high school season lamenting his team generated 22 shots on goal for the entire season. On the other hand, they had converted on 21 of those chances!

For our purposes here we will use the official FIFA definition for shots on goal:  A shot on goal sees the struck ball travel within the frame of the goal and results either in a goal being scored or a save being made.  So, if the shot strikes post or bar and bounces out, this is not considered a shot on goal. And, of course, any shot high or wide of the goal is not considered a shot on goal.

The  coach referenced above is a former college goalkeeper and knows the correct definition of a shot on goal. So I was really curious as to how a team could convert on 21 of 22 chances. That is one of the most confounding statistics I have ever heard of. No wonder he was interested in getting his team to take more shots on goal!

The question I had to answer was, why only 22 shots on goal over the course of 17 games?

The first hint I got was the coach telling me his team refused to shoot from distance. They insisted on being at nearly point blank range before attempting a shot.  Aha! That explains the tremendous conversion rate. It also provided a vital clue in terms of questioning why they only took 22 shots on goal. My suspicion was a lack of striking skill and this was confirmed during my first session with the team. They didn't take more shots or shots from greater range because they could not execute the required skill to do so. Now, I knew where to begin addressing the issue of generating more shots.

As I said earlier, it's not always so simple to diagnose why a team struggles in a certain facet of play. The team my son plays on this fall is struggling to score goals. They generate enough shots on goal but struggle to finish. They strike the ball well and can shoot from distance. So, why do they struggle to finish?

I believe there are a number of reasons all inter-related.

1) Play in the final third is too slow. The team is fast enough in the initial stages of attack, but are slow in moving the ball once in the attacking third. Especially slow in moving the ball to the feet of an open shooter in front of the face of the goal.

2) There is a reluctance to take an isolated defender to goal in 1 v 1 situations. Wingers carrying the ball into the attacking third only to stop their advance instead of cutting in on the defender, getting their shoulder ahead of the defender to eliminate him from play and going strong at goal.
.
3) This is directly related to #2 above: The team plays too much on the flanks. It is good to break through on the flanks but the ball must be carried inside or passed inside at the earliest possible moment. The team in question is slow to do this resulting in many of their shots being taken from the wedge (Corner, corner, post) or wider. These are poor angles to shoot from as the opposing goalkeeper need only defend 4 yards of goal or less leaving little room for error on the placement of the shot.

4) Poor utilization of space in the attacking third.  This is one of the most common problems I encounter when working with teams. Teams either fill the space they want to play in far too soon or do so far too late. Both are occurring with this team. 

For instance, when a wing does take on a defender 1 v 1 and a cross is forthcoming I often see teammates running abreast of the wing and at the same pace as the wing carrying the ball.  It is a flat line of 3-5 attackers. What we should see are the three elements of the game represented -  Penetration, Depth and Width.  A lone attacker pushing defenders back upon their goal to free up space in front of them to be played in.  Other attackers trailing the play centrally waiting for the cross to be played and  timing their runs onto it. With a late trailer hanging back to play rebounds or a poorly crossed ball. And an attacker making the Corner, Corner Post run from the weak side. In this manner the goal is properly framed to play the cross from a variety of angles.

In other instances the timing of crosses is off. They come far too soon as central attackers have yet to arrive in position to play the ball. Sometimes the CF and AM's are pulled wide and other times they are either slow getting to the face of the goal or the crosses come much too soon. This team has crossed the ball fairly well, but all too often the timing is off with central attackers being slow to arrive or worse yet no one present to finish.

5) Taking too long to get a shot off.  There seems to be a need on the part of some players to set up the perfect shot.There is an absence of toe pokes and volleys.  A lack of understanding that it matters not how the ball goes in, just so that it goes in... legally, of course.

Okay, now that the problem and the reasons for it have been identified how can it be solved?

In my opinion, the main point to be addressed is how the attacking players link together in the attacking third. The team plays a standard 4-3-3 with a DM and 2 AM's in the midfield triangle. In theory, this should present as a wing player with the ball supported by an outside back leaving a CF and 2 AM's centrally and the weak side wing on the back side of the play. 

Again, in my opinion, this years team does not have the right personnel to play this version of the 4-3-3. There does not appear to be a defensive mid capable of distributing the ball to all four channels. There are passes to space in the outside channels but far too few passes to feet in the inside channels.  The CF and AM's are bunching up and actually helping the defense by cluttering the very space the attack should be looking to open up and use to score goals from.

I would suggest tweaking the standard 4-3-3 to be played as a 4 - 2- 3- 1. This is simply inverting the midfield triangle to having two DM's and one attacking mid.

The reason for doing this is quite simple. The team has an abundance of wing players but is short on inside players. The team also has two terrific passers to man those DM mid positions, provide support for the attack and make forward runs. Neither is a true defensive mid, however.  Another option might be to pair them as AM's. That hasn't been tried yet either. Both are dynamic, creative players that could play make with and off of one another.

With two DM's one supports wide behind the ball and the other remains central. Weak side width support is then the responsibility of the weak side outside back. The CF and AM must work in conjunction with one another in the attacking third, somewhat like forwards in a 2 forward set.

Still attacking with 7 players, but now linking them differently and playing more to their strengths.

The overriding consideration in instances like this is "If all you ever do, is all you've ever done, all you'll ever get is what you have always had."  

Change.

In the team camp this summer the focus changed from generating more chances to the technical skills required to execute on the chances they were generating. In the second case here the idea is to maintain the quantity of chances, but change the quality of chances being generated.

Friday

“Don't tell people how to do things,
tell them what to do
and let them surprise you with their results.” 


George S. Patton Jr.


A coach isn’t someone who uses others to make him stronger;

a coach is someone who willing shares his strengths with others

that they may have the strength to stand on their own

thereby strengthening the team as a whole.

Thursday

Positive Energy

One of the buzz phrases in prevalent use in board rooms and locker rooms across the country is,

Positive Energy
Positive Energy is hardly a new concept.  Norman Vincent Peale published The Power of Positive Thinking over a half century ago and there are countless other examples throughout history. The concept is rather simplistically based on the principle that positive people, positive interactions amongst people and positive work or play environments produce positive or winning results. If your team is burdened by a losing culture, low morale or negative leadership the cure is Positive Energy.

Of course, the answer is a bit more detailed for the problems road blocking Positive Energy are often more complicated. If this were not true, everyone, every team, every business would have Positive Energy and it is quite obvious many do not. The fact is negativity can creep into a team and begin costing it wins before leadership recognizes the problem and takes action to generate Positive Energy to root out negativity.

Win before you play.

“Victorious warriors win first
and then go to war,
while defeated warriors go to war first
and then seek to win”
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Why Soccer Struggles as a Spectator Sport in the U.S.

It is amazing the amount of stuff I have accumulated over the years. In search through files, computer and conventional, I often come across notes, articles, outlines of practices / drills / small sided games from many years ago. Sometimes I wonder out loud why I ever saved something.  Other times it's a bit like Christmas morning when opening up old files.  This morning I found this article from 8 years ago in note form about why high school soccer is not a bigger draw than it is.  I briefly considered updating it, but then decided to publish as is. I may edited / rewrite or update it sometime in the next few days, but I think it interesting to look at where soccer was nearly a decade ago compared to today and consider what, if anything has changed.

Wednesday


 
"I play very simply.
 
That's what it's all about.
 
Playing simple football is the hardest thing."
 
Johan Cruyff
 

Sunday


Coaches have little actual impact on a players skill level
 
It is the love affair between the player and a soccer ball
 
that has the greatest impact on a players skill level.