Re: Pace of play. Sometimes you need to slow things down

When coaches contact me about doing sessions on Pace of Play they usually want help teaching their team to play faster, but sometimes a team attempts to play too fast. When this happens their speed can actually be counter productive. The key to effectively playing fast is to being able to do so calmly and with poise.

Think of it as if you are driving a car on the interstate. The speed limit is 70 mph. Some older drivers and some young inexperienced drivers may opt to drive at 60 mph. Others may decide to drive at 80+ mph. Each driver finds a pace they are comfortable driving at, a speed that matches their driving skill level. There exists a greater risk of mistakes that could lead to an accident when drivers exceed a speed at which they are comfortable making decisions at.

This is what Johan Cruyff was getting at when he said, "soccer is a game that's played with the brain."

Pace of play is controlled by the rate a player can make quality decisions at. The speedy aggressive player whose pattern of play is "See ball. Win the ball. Whack the ball"  will actually slow the pace of play for his team because his rate for making quality decision lags behind the physical pace of play he establishes. He might look great racing all over the field and "winning" 50 / 50 balls, but what does he really have to show for his effort?  Winning the ball loses its importance when you lose it right away due to poor touch or a bad pass made because your physical pace of play did not allow for a quality decision to be made.

In fact, what we are describing is not "winning" the ball at all. No, we are describing being first to the ball and there is a huge difference. Does it matter more who is first to the ball or who wins possession of the ball? The smarter play is, of course, to win possession of the ball.

I have heard coaches urge a calm and poised player to "Play faster!" because it doesn't look as if he is exerting a lot of physical energy, but what about that players thought process?  We cannot mistake calm and poised for being lazy. If the player is making good decisions it is probably because of the pace of play he is able to establish in his mind. Exuding an air of confidence and poise can be far more beneficial than running about the field chasing the ball in a chaotic fashion.  Frantic chaotic play might serve to disrupt opponents play but it also highly probable that it disrupts the rhythm of your own teams play.

Have a plan to play the ball before your first touch on the ball.

This is what pace of play is all about.

Be first to the ball.  Win possession of the ball. Make a safe pass to establish possession of the ball with your team.  Allow the recipient of the safe pass to determine the rhythm of your teams attack.

If your focus is simply on winning the ball and then trying to figure out what to do with it next... well, all  the physical speed, hustle and aggressiveness in the world is not going to make you effective at playing with pace. All you are really accomplishing is wearing yourself out, very likely causing your team to lose its shape and actually slowing your teams pace of play by increasing its workload to gain and retain possession of the ball.

It's not about playing faster or giving more effort. 

It's all about thinking faster and playing smarter.

The players that strike a proper balance between physical effort and a high rate of good decision making are the ones who excel at the game.  This begs the question of how much decision making training a team does in relation to the physical training a team does. If the game is truly played with the brain - and it is - then shouldn't teams spend at least as much time training proper decision making techniques as they do on physical training?

Johan Cruyff:  "... coaches talk too much about running a lot. I say it’s not necessary to run so much. Soccer is a game that's played with the brain."

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