Many of our problems are because we act without thinking.
"I play very simply. That's what it's all about. Playing simple football is the hardest thing".
- Johan Cruyff -
I coach / watch a lot of soccer. Keeping track of how many matches I have seen this calendar year alone I am already at 273 matches - More than one a day at this point in time. Of course, the World Cup padded that total this year. I watch different age groups and varying levels of play. I am a student of the game. There is always something more to learn.
While watching a high school match last night I had a lot of thoughts bouncing around. The teams were of average ability and it was an entertaining match. The opportunity to contrast and compare to other recent matches I have seen couldn't be wasted and an idea slowly began to coalesce in my mind. Certainly not a new or revolutionary idea. More an old idea revisited and eventually expressed in a new way.
"Soccer is a game you play with your brain."
- Johan Cruyff -
The game of soccer presents a myriad of problems to be solved on both the individual and collective levels. High quality decision making ability is the single greatest skill for any player to possess. What came together in my mind last night was the merging of the two John Cruyff quotes referenced above.
In order to play simply a soccer player must be a good decision maker... and... limit the decisions he must make during competition. Players can create more problems for themselves to solve when they act (or react) without thinking. Perhaps a better way to phrase that idea is to say, players create additional problems when they do not play with a thoughtful purpose.
My soccer sermon in camps and clinics this summer was to "know your next play with the ball before your first touch on the ball." For a majority of young soccer players this is a radical way of thinking as they tend to gain possession of the ball and then attempt to figure out what to do with it - this usually involves going up the field toward goal defensive pressure be damned. Often a poor decision that self-inflicts pressure... or creates more problems to be solved than is necessary.
"Many of our problems are because we act without thinking."
- Coach Brown -
This is not entirely accurate, but it is a great attention getter at this point in the article. A more truthful statement might be to say, "Many of our problems stem from not thinking far enough ahead." In American youth and high school soccer there is a great premium placed on being first to the ball, but this is of little value if possession of the ball is not won and maintained.
Years ago I kept defensive statistics for a high school team. We tracked Interceptions and Takeovers (50 / 50 balls won). The team had to maintain possession before either an interception or takeover could be counted. This meant a lot of deflections went uncounted. One year a particular player was very adept at deflecting the ball but really poor in gaining possession of the ball. When the statistics were shared he was upset because he had so few. His parents were furious because they thought the lack of statistics would hurt their sons chances for post season awards. Lost in their thinking was the number of those deflections that resulted in lost possessions and 50 / 50 balls that had to be contested to secure possession. Being first to the ball simply isn't good enough if your play on the ball is not meant to gain and maintain possession.
Another coaching phrase used often in our camps and clinics is, "We want game watchers, not ball watchers." As I watched last night's match I was struck by how "active play" consisted of 2 or 3 players from each team in the area of the ball. The other 16 - 18 players were largely spectating. This is no way to play simple soccer! In fact, being a ball watcher increases the problems on both the individual and collective basis - it creates more, and more difficult, problems to solve than does being an actively involved game watcher.
Ball movement is predicated on player movement.
- Coach Brown -
Players who camp with us know this expression well. There are often light hearted chuckles from former players / campers when they hear me inform others of this truth of the game. It is a knowing and appreciative chuckle. They have been there, done that and now understand its significance. The appreciation is for the fact that when ball watching or spectating on the field the process can be described as thinking without acting.
Acting without thinking
Thinking without acting
produce the same results
In either case the athlete is self-inflicting pressure or creating more and unnecessary problems to be solved by himself and his teammates. Neither is an acceptable behavior or pattern of play if we want to play this simple game in a simple manner.
Failing to prepare properly is preparing to fail.
We think of this in terms of how we practice, how we train, how we warm up before a training session or a match. It also applies to every gained possession, every touch, every pass or shot. The player and his team must have a plan for play. Soccer is a beautiful game when played simply. Playing simply is all bout your approach to solving the problems presented to you in the game. If you are well prepared, have studied the game instead of focusing mainly on the ball, your chances for successfully solving those problems increases exponentially.