Best Soccer Coaching Tool Ever.

I think it all started back in the early 1980's when I began to have interest in coaching. I would attend athletic contests and find myself watching the coaches as much as I was watching the games.  Legends like Bo Schembechler and Bobby Knight had huge impacts on me. In the heat of the game I learned what fiery passion looked like, but in their weekly radio and television shows I learned to appreciate how deeply knowledgeable and well spoken these men were on a variety of subjects. These were tough men doling out tough love during a tough time in this country.

When there came a need to hire a new basketball coach at the high school I had attended three of five school board members asked me about the then JV coach.  This both flattered and overwhelmed me. I remember thinking "why me" and also what an awesome responsibility had come my way. I knew the coach in question as a coach and just a bit away from the game. I believed him to be a good coach and loved the way he interacted with the team in the huddle and from the sideline. He received my endorsement and remains as a coach in the same school district to this day.

Of all the coaches from my youth it is probably Larry Lewis who had the greatest impact on me and he never actually coached me.  Larry was a football coach up until I entered high school and a successful one at that. However, it was as a youth baseball coach that I came to admire his coaching style the most.  I had seen the fiery side of Larry on the football field. He had been an assistant coach under Bo Schembechler assistantss Jim Young and Larry Smith before assuming the reigns as head coach,  Cut from the same mold on the football sidelines. 

As a youth baseball coach for my younger brothers team Larry was one of the calmest coaches I have ever been around. He spoke to the boys in a soft voice. When discipline was necessary he did it in private and often with an arm draped around the shoulders of the boy he was addressing. When mistakes were made he taught the game, again in a soft but firm voice.  I don't know that his teams were the most talented, but they rarely lost a game. The importance of coach / player relationships made a lasting impression on me.

To be perfectly honest, it took me a while to find my own coaching style. As I stated earlier, I spent a lot of time observing other people coach. I took what I liked from each and tried to incorporate those traits into my own style. Sometimes this worked and sometimes if did not. I learned through trial and error that in the end I had to be me, but all these observations and trying of different approaches did help mold me as a coach.

And then I began coaching soccer.

Almost everything I had learned about coaching became irrelevant only I did not recognize this for a number of years. Oh, the focus on FUNdamentals and basic tactics remained important, but nearly everything I knew about managing a game was no longer applicable only I did not recognize this.  I have written many times that soccer is a player driven game and my approach was still that of a coach driven game. This realization sank in over the course a couple seasons.  And I remember quite distinctly parents noticing the change in my in-game behavior. My own wife encouraged me to become more vocal from the sidelines during the game - to "coach like you used to coach" - and this was seconded by other parents.

And I did go back and forth over the course of a few seasons.  I'm not sure if it was a matter of old habits dying hard or it taking time for my belief in the new coaching style to fully take root in me.  Probably a little of both. Then came a day when I discovered the most important game day soccer coaching tool known to mankind. 

Yep, it's a chair. I made a conscious effort to take one to a tournament one weekend. I sit it up on the sidelines and sat in it throughout almost the entire contest.  The idea of soccer being a player driven game had finally taken lasting hold within me. I understood.  If one considers there are no timeouts and very few opportunities for a coach to actually influence the game from the touchlines this becomes elementary.  The in-game decision making process for soccer is the purview of the players, not coaches.  With the responsibility for in-game decision making lifted from me as a coach, I began analyzing our team play from the perspective of how we trained to play the game.  It is no coincidence that my teams suddenly began to improve from game to game at a hitherto unknown rate.
The players, at first taken aback by the absence of coaching from the sidelines, began to respond in a remarkable fashion.  Not having someone constantly shouting instructions to them allowed them to play more freely.  They began to take responsibility for the mistakes they made and adjust their play accordingly. Soccer for my teams began to resemble a player driven game and the success of our teams rose dramatically. I took the opportunity to note common mistakes and began planning our next training sessions while the present game was still being played. A result was in-season improvement took a giant leap and more importantly the new found display of trust in the players from me allowed for better coach / player relationships to develop.
The best in-game soccer coach tool ever - a chair.


Choosing a high school for education and athletics.

Four times in the last few days I have been asked about local school systems and in three of these instances there was an athletic angle to the questions being asked. This brought back memories from several years ago when the family of a young man was attempting to decide which of three schools he would attend.  The young man in question was a very skilled soccer player and representatives of each school put their best foot forward. When the young man's mother asked me my opinion I never spoke of athletics. I asked her which school would provide her son with the best education.  This is the same counsel I have given for years.  When a high school senior is contemplating which college to attend I urge them to make a 40 year decision instead of a four year decision.  The education is more important than the athletics.

As my youngest son prepares to graduate from high school I find myself questioning this train of thought. I still believe the primary consideration should be education, but athletics play a very important role in the lives of young people and their families. As I spoke with the families of eighth graders who must choose which high school they will attend I considered my own sons high school athletic experiences and found myself offering similar advice as to those families selecting a club team to play for  - it's all about the coach.

If I had it to do over again, I would likely place my own sons in a different school system.  They did receive quality educations and were/are well prepared for college.  Their head soccer coaches in high school left a lot to be desired.  The negatives in their player / coach relationships made high school soccer more struggle than fun, at least on the varsity level.  It's not supposed to be like that. 

Sure, lots of life lessons were learned through experiences both positive and negative in their high school soccer careers, but I think if they were asked each son would say their overall experiences with high school soccer were less than satisfactory due mainly to the poor quality of player / coach relationships.

So it was that when asked about high school athletics these last few days I encouraged the families to investigate the coaches at each school under consideration.  This is something I had never before done. I encouraged them to give almost equal consideration to the coach their children would play for as to the quality of education each school would provide.

This is difficult counsel for me to provide in light of my stressing academics over athletics. I have always considered that very few youth soccer players will eventually make a living playing soccer. My reasoning has been to prioritize education.  I find myself reconsidering this train of thought.  After all, if high school soccer is the last organized soccer playing experience shouldn't it be the best experience possible?  Even if a student athlete is fortunate enough to go on to college to play it will never be the same as their high school experience.

So it is, I have changed my mind based largely on the experiences of my sons. While education will always come before athletics whenever possible who your child will play for and the quality of the player / coach relationship should also be given strong consideration. Playing high school athletics should be a fun experience not a stressful event the athlete is glad to be done and over with.  Choose wisely if you have the opportunity to select which school to attend and the coach you will play for.

Tactical Cues for Pressing.

In recent years there has been a lot made of the value of pressing defense in soccer at the high school level. The basic idea is to decrease the space / time an opponent has to play in. The thought behind this is to increase the rate of decision making and force the opponent from his comfort zone. If successful, the opponents should make more mistakes including turning the ball over more. In a sense, it is a strategy of defending to attack. In can also serve to change the tempo of a game.

The pressing strategy does not come without risk though.  The backs in a zonal defense cannot step unless first in proper shape to support. A back stepping before shape is established is a recipe for disaster and will often result in opponents breaking through, a collapsed defense and lead to defenders running at their own goal.  So obviously effective communication is a necessity to pressure properly. Keeping with our examples of backs in a zonal stepping to pressure the ball it must be a collective decision for an individual back to step. That decision has to be made and called by support players responsible for protecting the pressure defender.

The MLS Discovers the Beautiful Game

Over the years I have been largely disappointed with the quality of play in Major League Soccer. My main complaint was the preponderance of direct attacking play that was pervasive throughout the early years of the league. It was much like watching a typical high school game on steroids. No imagination. No creativity. Brute force single mindedness,  U-G-L-Y soccer. Then along came the 2015 edition of the Columbus Crew Soccer Club.

I have no problem admitting my excitement over the Crew's play is based in large part in the fact Gregg Berhalter has them playing "my" system.  Of course, I do not actually claim ownership of the system of play the Crew are utilizing. I am merely acknowledging the fact I have been using the same system of play for the last five years. From a 1-4-2-3-1 alignment the Crew SC are combining disciplined defending with a free flowing varied attack. 

At the heart of the system is a conscious commitment to purposefully manipulate the opponents defense through both player movement and ball movement. Side to side. Forward and backward. A defense that must move with varied player and ball movement will lose its shape eventually.  This is when the Crew pounce on the seams created in the opponents defense.  Then, just as they lull you into defending their patient probing style the Crew changes pace of play and hits with a blitzkrieg direct attack.  I hate to constantly refer to Sun Tzu, but what the Crew SC is doing on the attack is utilizing fundamental principles from The Art of War.  

Gregg Berhalter has a deep understanding that the ball can and should be used to shape the game. In this system the ball is often used as bait to manipulate the defense before the defense is actually attacked. Possession is valued and viewed as a tool to be used to prepare the way to a goal scoring opportunity. The system being employed is a thinking players system and this is what sets it apart from the standard fare of direct play that has dominated soccer in the United States. 

It is no secret a steady diet of direct play is easily defended with organized defense.  Denying the negative space between backs and the goalkeeper is a relatively easy thing to do when that is all a defense is required to do. The typical response to being denying direct play is to play in the outside channels and cross the ball to the face of the goal.  Is it any wonder that scoring from crosses and corner kicks has been in steady decline?

Let's look at this from another angle.  The lack of creativity has long been lamented in this country's soccer play.  Is there really anything creative about playing direct soccer?  There simply are not many opportunities when play is direct and at a pace of as fast as you can go to goal. This is what happens when reliance on big, fast, strong persists. A king consideration to stimulating creativity is to provide opportunities to be creative. This is what Berhalter and "our" system is bringing to the crew.

I have taken to calling the system Space and Pace. 

When we think of direct soccer we visualize a ball being played through or chipped over the backs and into (negative) space.  This is the space the attack seeks to utilize. On those rare occasions when a breakaway to goal occurs everyone gets excited. Worse, everyone becomes convinced that if it worked once, it will surely work again.  And so a steady diet of through balls is the staple for the attack. 

Consider this; one of the designs of a good zonal defense is to bait the opponents into attempting to play through balls. This is a primary reason the zonal defense came into being in soccer - to combat direct play via through balls.  Why attack the strength of the defense?  The answer is in part because with the growing prevalence of zonal defenses many of them are not played properly.  I see this on the local high school and club scene all the time. A minimum of instruction is giving to the backs and usually early in the seasonal process. For the rest of the season, the backs are expected to know how to play in the defense.  The teams that play zonal defense well work on it every day. Not many high school or club teams devote the necessary time to honing their zonal defense.

Space and Pace is about using what the defense gives the attack. Zonal defenses are designed to keep the ball in front of the defenders. What's given to the attack is ... possession.  Watch the Crew move the ball side to side back and forth across the pitch before seemingly exploding towards goal.  They use target play to engage the backs and drop passes to create space behind the opponents backs.  Once again, the ball is the bait to draw attention away from the space that will be used and the player movement taking place to both open and utilize that space.  Their is an intentional engaging of defenders and the defense as a whole followed by intentional disengaging and switching of the point of attack. This places a zonal defense whose strength is in numbers supporting pressure on the ball under far more stress than a steady diet of direct play, It forces the entire defense to move as a collective. When the breakdown of a single defender within the team system occurs, this is where the attackers pounce.  It might well be a different defender each possession hence the varied and unpredictable attack generated by Space and Pace. 

My apologies for rambling on a bit in today's writing. As you can tell, I am both excited and passionate about what I have seen from the Crew SC thus far in the 2015 season.  I have seen first hand the effectiveness of Space and Pace from the high school and club teams I have coached. I knew it would work on the professional level and am ecstatic to see it happening with the Columbus Crew SC.  This is what our Pace of Play team camps are all about. Interested in learning more?  Contact us at or by calling 567-204-6083 to set up a camp for your team.

Timothy J Brown
Founder and Director
Conceive Believe Achieve Soccer


A Spelling Lesson:
Unity begins with you.

Freedom comes with Responsibility

We must not take our teammates freedom away by avoiding or abandoning our own responsibilities.

As a functioning member of a team each individual player has a role he must buy into and fulfill through his play. There are expectations for positions within a system and for the players that fill those positions.  While we encourage freedom of movement on the pitch we also stress the increased responsibilities that come with such movement. In essence, we seek free-thinking game watchers. Some players eagerly embrace this concept while others really struggle before "getting it", if they ever do.

Those who struggle with freedom of movement and the associated responsibilities are the players who seek to infringe upon their teammates freedom of movement. These players tend to be ball watchers instead of game watchers.  They follow the ball about the field with their eyes without seeing the game in its entirety. Their body also often follows the ball about the pitch without consideration or regard for their teammates. Essentially they steal their teammates rights to freedom of movement by avoiding or abandoning their own responsibilities.

The selfish, ball oriented player, takes their freedom of movement without accepting responsibility for the freedom they have been given. In doing so, they restrict their teammates freedom of movement.   Teammates are forced to "cover" for the wandering teammate. The selfish player also transfers a greater burden of responsibility onto their teammates by ignoring or eschewing their own responsibilities.

One ball watching, ball chasing player can disrupt an entire system of play. 

This cannot be allowed to happen.



The Anatomy of Success

A young soccer coach trying to make sense of a disappointing season sought a blueprint for success  What is it that successful teams have?  What is the "it" factor that separates the mediocre from the very good?  The result of our discussion is more of a checklist than it is a blueprint, but I think we got it pretty much right.  I am also sure we have not reinvented the wheel.  Nonetheless, it was a good mental exercise for us and in the end a productive one.

1)  Leadership

It all begins with energetic disciplined positive leadership. There needs to be driven determination with a humble attitude.  And vision.  The leadership needs a vision for what the team should look like on and off the pitch.

2) Truth and Trust

There must exist an honest assessment of where the program is before plans can be made to take it where the leadership vision believes it can ascend to. There also must be honesty in the relationships between all members of the team.  Without truth there will never be full trust and the team will never play to its full potential.

3) Buy-in

Get the right people on board, then figure out the rest of the logistics.  There needs to be a collective effort to address the smallest details of the process. This goes beyond simple accepting or filling of roles. It necessitates embracing roles and a willingness to fulfill them to the greatest extent possible. You have to get the right people before you can get the rest right.  Coach, assistant coaches, players - all facing in the same direction with the same destination in mind. 100% investment.  100% commitment, These are the ideals. The closer you come to achieving these the greater your chances for success.

4) Accentuate Strengths

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes the focus on weakness outweighs the focus on strengths.  Identify strengths and place people in positions and situations where they have a reasonable expectation for success based on those strengths. Can we match passion with strengths?  Is their a willingness to sacrifice for the good of the team?

5) A Culture of Dedicated Discipline

There are no shortcuts on the journey to success.  When we look at the consequences of not doing the little things we realize there are no little things. Cutting corners in practice will show up in your play in matches.  A dedicated commitment to each and every detail of the process is a must. Accountability to one another and to the shared vision for the team.

6) Innovativeness

How individual and collective strengths are utilized. Break the mold to gain the most from each player, each unit on the pitch.  Create a system unique to the present team.  Freedom to explore the game on both individual and collective levels emphasizing strengths, passion, and the pursuit of wins.

7) Freedom

Each individual brings something to the collective.  There must be room within the disciplined effort to allow for individual initiative and expression of freedom.  We play for one another and that includes assuming different roles and responsibilities in the run of play.  The expectation is for positional responsibilities more so than who mans the position. Each small initiative taken by a player impacts every other player and leads to further initiatives being taken.  Only when a role or positional responsibility goes unfulfilled is there real danger to the overall process.  Encourage freedom while emphasizing with freedom comes responsibility. The more freedom, the more responsibility.

Fear has two Meanings

FEAR has two meanings
1) Forget Everything And Run
2) Face Everything And Rise
The choice is yours!

Fundamentals of Team Attacking Play

There are 4 cornerstones needed in order to attain a consistently high level of team play - quality of first touch, purposeful passing,  intelligent support and communication. The four components are inter-related and as such the quality of your team's play is dependent on the ability to execute effectively in each area.

Quality first touch refers to a players ability to gain and maintain possession of the ball with his first touch of the ball. Although usually used in association with receiving a pass we also need to include the ability to gain possession of a loose ball or a contested ball in our definition. Therefore we can say a player executing a quality first touch will receive the ball under control and away from pressure utilizing his first touch to facilitate his next touch(es)on the ball.


Little Things Make a Big Difference

If you have been around sports for any length of time at all you have undoubtedly heard a coach state that it is the little things that make the difference between winning and losing, between being good and being great.  I mention The Details of the Process on a regular basis.  That coaches constantly speak about the "little things" is testimony to their importance, but how often do you find the "little things" identified?

Toes up / Heel down / Strike with the ankle bone ... these are little technical things that make a difference.

Here is a small tactical detail to remember that can make a significant difference in a teams ability to defend.

Great defensive teams move on the movement of the ball.
Poor defensive teams move on the completed pass.
Think of the times you have seen a team chasing the ball around the field as the opposing team strings pass after pass together. Perhaps you have even been on a team that has chased the ball around the field?  Not much fun is it?  And it is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. In a word, it can be demoralizing.  To prevent this from happening TEAMS must defend as if they have one heartbeat shared by 11 players.  Great defensive teams know everytime the ball moves they must collectively move with it.
What about great offensive teams?
Great offensive teams move before the ball moves.
Poor offensive teams move when or after the ball moves.
Small but subtle differences between defending and attacking.  "Little things"  that make profound differences in the quality of play. Good teams pay attention to the details of the process. Great teams never allow themselves to become bored with the details of the process.  It's a matter of choice.  Choose wisely for the quality of your game depends upon it.


The importance of the the little things.

When considering the consequences
of not doing the little things,
you realize there are no little things.
~ Brad Stevens ~

All-In happens when you have people who

buy-in and believe-in.

Coaching Youth Soccer

I received a phone call last night from a very frustrated young coach. He had heard someone make a comment about him while his back was turned. He was “pretty sure” he knew who it was.  As he was carrying equipment off the pitch and to his car he decided to continue on. He got in his car and drove home. It was a few hours later that I received his call.

Like most youth coaches, “Michael” is a volunteer coach. He had answered the call when the local association put out a notice about needing people to serve as coaches. He is the first to admit his inexperience as a coach and need to become more familiar with “the game,” but he is also not a novice to soccer. Michael has had to rearrange his work schedule a bit in order to make the league scheduled practices and games. He’s making it work, but at a bit of a financial loss to himself and his family.  This is typical of Michael – the kids needed a coach, so Michael found a way to serve the children.

As we talked, it was obvious Michael had not fully considered what coaching youth soccer would entail. I’m reminded a bit of Miranda Lambert singing Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town. Dependent somewhat on the sport and the community, youth coaches are on a public stage and are prone to being treated as other public figures in society are treated. If you win, you’re lauded and praised. If you lose, you are an incompetent idiot promoting your child and perhaps a few chosen friends interests and ignoring all else.

Yes, I have heard those comments directed at me as well.

I related to Michael two separate incidents to provide him food for thought.

The first situation occurred while I was a volunteer assistant coach at the local high school. My eldest son enjoyed soccer and the youth association needed coaches. I volunteered.  I had previous coaching experience, but not much experience with soccer. I recognized the need to become a student of the game. So, I asked the high school coach, whom I knew from church, if I could observe some of their practices. This I did off and on for a couple of years. One day I was asked to come to high school team camp where I met a wonderful man and soccer coach who became a good friend – Graham Ramsay.  I eventually decided to turn my notes from these experiences into “coaching manuals” for the youth soccer association because I knew others were following my path of volunteering and could undoubtedly benefit from my experiences – the good, the bad, the ugly.

In those early years of coaching soccer there was a young fella whose name was Patrick. After each of the first few seasons I coached Patrick I received the most glowing and complimentary thank you cards from Patrick and his parents. I still have those thank you cards.

I was eventually asked to join the high school coaching staff as a volunteer assistant coach and accepted that offer. My coaching of Patrick had dwindled to a role of volunteer club assistant at that point – a figurehead position with no actual coaching duties. At some point in time I apparently transformed into an incompetent ogre of a coach. At least, in the opinion of Mary and Joseph, Patrick’s parents. To this day, despite attempts to ascertain my transgression, I do not know what I did to so offend the family, but Mary and Joseph set about to make my life a living hell.

Both Mary and Joseph were school employees and the head coach brought it to my attention that they were “wearing out a path” to the athletic directors door.  I asked what about. The only response I got was that they were complaining about me being a volunteer assistant coach. No details other than that. I had no direct contact with their son at practices as I was the goalkeeper coach and Patrick was a JV field player. I asked the head coach if I needed to speak with the athletic director about this and he indicated he didn’t think that would be a good idea. So, I followed my “boss’” lead and stayed above it all.

Mary eventually took to verbally assaulting my son from the sidelines at games. It was nasty and it was brutal. Again, Mary and Joe were school employees. After enduring two years of this, my son had had enough. He quit soccer and played football instead.  I resigned from my position as a volunteer assistant with the high school soccer staff at the same time.  I made it a point to address the athletic director when I did so. She stated she knew Mary and Joseph were out of control, that they were poor representatives of the school and apologized on behalf of the school while expressing regret that it had come to this. Little solace for my son and I at that point in time.

My point to Michael was simply this, stand up for yourself. Do not depend on someone else to defend you or fight your battles for you.

The second story centers around a spring time youth soccer league I founded to promote soccer in our school district. I volunteered all my time. I had a small core group of volunteers that helped me. We numbered a half dozen tops. I handled all registrations, the assigning of teams, recruitment of coaches, ordering of t-shirts, equipment and field supplies. We laid out the fields and kept them freshly painted. I had a lady, whose son is now the head coach at the high school, help with awards and end of year pizza parties. We did all this on a shoestring budget with any profits being redirected to the high school soccer programs.

The league was a huge success. We grew from approximately 70 youth in grades K-8th that first year to over 300 participants and two locations in the final year. People from surrounding communities, some up to 45 miles away, wanted to be a part of this program. Despite the astounding growth of our product, our brand, some people were not content. This is to be expected. With a rapidly growing organization serving increasing numbers there will be a malcontent or two.

In what proved to be the last year of the spring league  a group came through who thought they were above the rules and protocols established for conducting the program. They added countless hours to my already tight schedule with their constant complaining and the complaints I fielded concerning them. Many of this groups stated concerns arose because they had not taken the time to read information provided to them. If they had read the printed materials, including a FAQ section, they would not have had to come to me in complaint. One particular parent came to my home to inform me to my face it was the most disorganized league she had ever seen. It wasn’t, she just wanted it to be something it was never intended to be. It wasn’t a good fit.

My point to Michael was simply this, sometimes your good intentions are not enough. This small vocal group of parents increased my volunteer work load to the point that it was no longer viable for me to continue.  I offered to turn the program over to others – there were no takers once they learned the work load I carried to make it happen for the kids.

Michael has a son on the team he coaches. So my final point to be driven home was that unless he planned on moving he would remain in the same community and likely the same soccer community as the people he is dealing with. Yes, I still see Mary and Joseph on occasion. The lady who told me I was so disorganized? Our sons ended up playing on the same high school team together.

Michael asked if I was bitter over these incidents.  I am not. I was most definitely upset and frustrated at the time.  I learned long ago to focus on what I can control. If I wrong someone and realize that I have, I will apologize and ask forgiveness.  In both situations I did what I could, in the one case what I was allowed to do.  My only other responsibility was to forgive myself for becoming upset and frustrated and to forgive those who tried my patience. I have done that.

I used an adapted version of a well known Mia Hamm quote to make what I hope was the lasting impression on Michael.

The vision of a coach is spending your lunch break planning a practice or making out a lineup, arriving at the pitch before everyone else to prepare for practice and to be available for the players being dropped off early, dealing caringly and respectfully with multiple players and families, being the last to leave the pitch and after putting equipment away and policing the area being the adult waiting for the last of players to be picked up.

Michael, although you probably did not realize it at the time, this is what you signed up for. There will be uninformed parents who do not know or appreciate that you do so much more than just put starters into positions and send substitutions into the game. There are parents who will look upon you as a baby sitter providing them a couple hours free time away from their own kids This type of person often fails to recognize you coach because you love being around kids and desire to make a positive difference not only in their games but in their lives.

The positives far outweigh the negatives.

The negatives disappoint and hurt you because you care. You give your best  (not perfect) effort on behalf of the players and it is difficult to hear someone denigrate your efforts and even your name. When you have been beaten down, remember the laughs … and tears… shared with team members. Sharing the heartbreak and doing your best to provide a comforting word when an own goal is scored or a game is lost. The huge smiles and genuine excitement when a player scores a great goal, makes a spectacular save or the team wins the game. Besides answering the call for volunteers, these are the reasons you coach and what makes it worth while for you to do so.

When you play with a purpose.

When you play with a purpose
you tend to collide with destiny.

When the team plays with a purpose

Championship become destiny.

If you can't pass, you can't play.

(originally published August 4, 2012)

I have at times referred to Graham Ramsay on this site. "If you can't pass, you can't play" is a phrase I have heard him utter often during the camps he has conducted for us. I have myself repeated it to players and teams I coach. It is a basic and simple truth of the game, but I have come to realize it is also much more and that players tend to receive different and varying messages from the phrase.

Technical excellence
Soccer IQ or Game Intelligence
The Will to Prepare
TEAM First attitude

The ability to pass begins with mastering proper technique and maintaining it at the highest level. "Toes up. Heels down. Strike with the ankle bone." is a mantra echoed during training sessions around the soccer world. Unfortunately for many coaches and players alike the process of passing begins and ends here when there are actually several other significant elements that go into being able to pass the soccer ball.

"Vision" is another word commonly associated with passing. Left to stand on its own "vision" implies "seeing the pass" within the context of the game about you. At first glance this seems like another basic and simple truth, but once again there are layers of complexity involved.  Every player has "vision" but what separates good passers from the rest is what they see and when they see it.

Soccer IQ or Game Intelligence are terms that apply to a players decision-making process.

When do I shoot?
When do I dribble?
When do I pass?
Which direction - diagonally, forward, backward, laterally - should I pass?
What do I do after having passed the ball?

The correct decision is the one that scores the ball or maintains possession of the ball for your team. In terms of passing the decision-making process is all about possession and creating scoring opportunities. What is the longest secure pass I can make?  How many defenders can I defeat with a single secure pass? What is the safest pass I can make to relieve pressure and maintain possession? What is my next movement after having passed the ball.

Timing is also a critical element in Soccer IQ. The timeliness of a players decision making often determines the success of failure of the action take. Too early or too late breaks the rhythm and flow of the game and can lead to lost possession.

Hall of Fame basketball coach Bobby Knight stated "Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win."   Preparation is the king consideration to successful passing. Before your first touch on the ball, you need to have a plan for how you will play the ball.  EVERY option for play must be explored before your first touch - Do I shoot, dribble, pass? Which technique should I use to execute my decision? In what direction should my play be made?

A willingness to pass, a willingness to share the ball with teammates must also be in evidence. If a player is unwilling to pass he will soon find others are unwilling to pass to him. However, is a player truly unwilling to pass or is his decision-making process leading to the pass short circuiting? Is the player selfish or merely struggling with proper individual pattern of play?  It is important to analyze and work with the player to establish good on-field decision-making skills for these are the basis on TEAM play.

When any of the above facets are missing a players ability to pass is impaired. Aside from technical excellence a player must get in the habit of collecting all the information available concerning what is happening in the game.  Scan the field constantly and consistently, but especially before receiving or winning the ball. Secure the ball in a manner that leads into the play you will make based on your scanning of the game. Then look to the play you have decided to make and execute the correct technique.

What happens if part of the process breaks down or is skipped altogether?  

For instance, what if the player fails to scan the game before securing the ball?  The focus is on "winning the ball" and figuring out what to do with it after that fact?  "Win and whack" is often the result. A player "wins" the ball only to turn it over by creating another 50/50 ball when his winning touch is nothing more than whack the ball in whatever direction he happens to be facing. 

Or what if the player does win and secure the ball but has no plan for how to play it?  If he has space and time he may look up and find a quality play to make. If he secures the ball under pressure without a plan for play excessive touches will ensue as he attempts to find space and time to get his head up and find a play. Often times the player will eventually find the correct play but his excessive touches have broken the rhythm and flow of the game.  The timing that would have made the pass easy is lost. A success rate of late or mistimed passes is significantly lower than well timed, accurate and properly weighted passes. It is often the lack of preparation / vision / game intelligence that dictates success of a pass more so than a lack of technique. 

Once again, success is found in the details of the process.  No single detail of the process can be ignore or overlooked without impacting the quality of the process. "If you can't pass, you can't play" runs much deeper than imploring players to pass.  Is the player selfish, inept or does his thought  and decision-making process need a tune up?  As coaches we must be able to discern the root cause of a players struggles and do our best to help them fine tune their game. As it concerns passing, this can be a more complicated process than it seems at first glance, but since a player really cannot play the game without being able to pass effectively we must be diligent in improving our players ability to pass.


Just do it.

As a young adult working in corporate finance at an international retailer one day I found myself participating in the company's annual golf outing.  The format was a four person co-ed best ball scramble.  One member of our team was a non-stop talker, what we called a blowhard back in the day. We got off to a decent start but it was soon obvious the blowhard was grating on nerves and having a negative impact on everyones enjoyment if not their golf games.  As we approached one green our best ball was about 20 yards off to the side.  In the spirit of encouragement I stated "we're about due for one" meaning a chip into the cup. The VP said, "talk is cheap, just do it."  The tone was condescending and although I recognized he was frustrated with the blowhard I took it a bit pesonally. There was only one thing I could do. I played my chip shot onto the green where it bounced twice then rolled right into the cup!  Yes,  I am sure I had a smug and self-satisfied look on my face after completing that shot.

That memory has stayed with me not so much because of the great shot I made, but because of the lesson learned. Talk is cheap. It is action that resonates long and loud. Belief is a huge factor as well. I had made similar golf shots before. I knew I could again. I had self-induced pressure through being called out on my words. Perhaps this pressure forced me to concentrate more on that shot. I was able to block out the aggravation of the blowhard and concentrate on the game. Maybe I was just lucky.

Years later as a soccer coach I find I do not panic when things are not going our way. I do not yell or scream at players. I refocus on the simple things in the game and remind the players to do the same. I use a calm voice and as few words as possible. The message to players is simple. - You know what to do. Just relax, concentrate and do it. Far more often than not my teams have responded very favorably to this approach. Many have commented how my calmness in crisis gave them confidence and belief in themselves. If I was not panicked, why should they be? If I believed in them, why shouldn't they believe in themselves?

What I took from a disruptive blowhard and a VP chastising me at a golf outing 30 years go was the importance of blocking out distractions and controlling those things within my control. My attitude. My effort.  My work ethic.


Broken Trust

Much has been written about the importance of establishing trust in the team environment. Perhaps all the sayings and slogans are cautionary in nature. Surely there are tales of betrayed trust that have taught the value of true trust. I have seen very little on re-establishing trust in the world of team sports once it has been broken. Coaches are fired, players are benched, cut or traded - seldom do we hear or read of succssful instances of trust being rebuilt. Broken trust destroys relationships. In the world of team sports the desire and time to re-establish a relationship doesn't seem to exist. Seasons are simply too short and emotions run too high.

As a coach I work extremely hard to build working relationships with the players on our team. I also work hard on establishng working relationships between players. The same is true for coach / player relationships with referees and even opponents. If trust is the foundation in all these relationships, then truth is the cornerstone.

In the world of team sports, truth is all about effective communication. When communication breaks down truth, and therefore trust, are put at risk.

How does one go about repairing broken trust in the team environment?

My mind is drawn to training where the introduction of pressure is gradual to allow players time to establish comfort and confidence in the aspect of the game being worked on. This is a luxury the fleeting time of a season does not allow for in addressing broken trust. It is a high pressure situation with immediate importance.

Think of the instances in your life when you have either had to ask for forgiveness or have been asked to forgive. Forgiving is not an instantaneous endeavor. It takes time, a concerted effort and a desire to heal the relationship. If we are frank with one another we will admit it can be easier to move on even if that means throwing away the potential of a season in doing so. This a sad truth of team sports.

There is no template for how to go about quickly repairing a broken trust. This is especially true when the time constraints of a sports season are considered. I believe an earnest effort must be made to do so.  An effort based in good faith and belief that success is not only possible, but necessary for the team to succeed to its fullest potential.  I have seen success when both parties put aside differences for the good of the team. I am unsure if these are rare instances or if the success stories are overshadowed by the pain of lost opportunities in the failures to be truthful with one another and re-establish trust. I do know the best course of action is to not betray a trust in the first place. Be truthful, even if the truth is painful. Just deal honestly with one another - a key to success in life.


Team Rescue

On TVs Bar Rescue Jon Taffer works with bar owners to save floundering bars. The owners of the bars are aware their establishments are failing and that they need help to keep from having to close their business. This doesn't necessarily equate to the owners being receptive to the changes Taffer makes to rescue their bars. Even in the face of looming financial disaster there exists a resistance to change.  Taffer often speaks of first having to rescue the bar owners before he can rescue the bar.  Only then can he begin to retrain a bars staff and implement changes that will move the business forward on a new path to success. He is not always successful. A recent episode saw Taffer revisiting bars from previous episodes who reverted to their old ways after he had left.  Old habits can be hard to break.

What we do at Conceive Believe Achieve Soccer Camps is rescue teams.

Although we generally do not need to rescue coaches in the manner Jon Taffer rescues bar owners there are some similarities in what we do with teams to what Taffer does with businesses. We come in and help to retrain teams.  We break down bad mental habits and re-train player's brains to think the game differently than they previously have. In doing so we address technical and tactical aspects of play as well. As with any soccer camp experience their is a physical fitness component included in what we do.

As part of our camp program I do follow up visits with the teams during their seasons. What I find is much the same as Taffer finds when he revisits bars he has helped - varying degrees of success.  Some coaches and their teams take what we bring them as a foundation to build upon. They expand their overall games and enjoy great success.  Others struggle with practical implementation going through the motions but not fully appreciating or understanding what we have brought to them.
The buy-in is not 100%.  There have been on occasion a coach / team that revert almost completely back to their old ways ... with the same old results.

In the end, I think it comes down to discipline. It takes focus and hard work to remain disciplined in the effort to improve. Sometimes it is easier to slip back into a familiar comfort zone for no matter how unsatisfactory that zone actually may be, it is still comfortable in both its substance and its projected outcome. Positive and progressive change requires an acceptance of truth, an establishment of trust, a belief in the process and an expectation for greater success.  Not everyone is willing to make that investment in their future.


How to Measure Success in Youth Soccer.

As a youth soccer coach I have occasionally lost players from my club teams when they (or their parents) have heard me proclaim I am not overly interested in our won / loss record, that I am more concerned with developing players. 

Lost in the translation is the simple fact soccer is different than most team sports in the United States which are coached centered and statistically driven. 

Think of the other major sports – football, basketball and baseball. In each of these sports the coach is often the primary decision maker. In football, coaches call offensive and defensive formations and plays from the sidelines. The same is true in basketball. In both sports a coach can call a timeout to further instruct their players. In baseball, coaches go so far as to call what type of pitch should be thrown and on the other side whether the batter should swing or “take” the pitch. In soccer the privilege (and burden) of in-game decision making resides mainly with the players on the field. Not just a single player such as a quarterback, point guard or catcher either.  In soccer the decision making responsibility is shared among all 11 players on the field. 

Let that sink in for a moment.

Warming Up the Goalkeeper III

Stretching with the ball should be common sense. We want the goalkeeper to be comfortable handling the ball is a variety of circumstances and positions. Stretching provides a great opportunity to continue handling exercises.  Continue to stress the toes of both feet being pointed in teh same direction and down the field whenever possible during these stretches. We must develop muscle memory with this.


Three repetitions.  

Hold for a count of 10 

            - Toe touches holding the ball in two hands

                        - Right over left

                        - Left over right

            - Lunges holding ball in two hands

                        - Right foot forward

                        - Right foot diagonally forward

                        - Right lateral

                        - Left foot forward

                        - Left foot diagonally forward

                        - Left lateral

            - Trunk twists

                        - can combine bouncing ball on one side and catching it on other

            - Ball over head

                        - Lean left

                        - Lean right

            - Hurdlers stretch

                        - hold ball above toes

- On knees

-  roll ball forward using both hands until fully extended then back.

                        - Prone position

                                    - extend arms and raise torso, ball overhead.

                        - On knees

                                    - ball at feet/butt and lean over backwards.

                        - Sit ups with partner

                                    - catch ball on way down

                                    - toss ball to server on way up.

                                                - catch with both hands

                                                - catch with left hand

                                                - catch with right hand

                        - Jog

- The distance varies depending on time of season, when last game was played and when next game is.


Warming up the Goalkeeper II

I utilize a footwork grid to warm the legs up before stretching. Begin at an easy relaxed pace. The final time through should be at approximately 90% of full speed. The goal keeper should have broken a sweat by the time we finish with the last repetition of this exercise.

Warming up the Goalkeeper

Warming up the goalkeeper.
Step 1

Ball familiarity is the first thing to do every practice. Many of the exercises employed in this phase are taken from my experiences in playing and coaching basketball as they translate well to goal keeping.
I ask GK'ers to have both feet pointed in the same direction for each of these exercises. In fact, I demand it.  This is one of the foundational things we do throughout the warmup. It will be explained in greater depth as we move through the process of warming up the GK'er.

10 repetitions each

             - Around each leg in each direction

            - Figure 8

            - Around both legs together in each direction

            - Around the waist in both directions

            - Around the head in both directions

            - Speed drill up and down the body

            - Machine gun – One hand front, one hand back between the legs

            - Popcorn - 2 hands front to 2 hands back between the legs

For variety I sometimes add in

            - Walking figure 8

            - High ball, lead with each leg with “KEEPER!”call.

 Can be done in pairs with GK's moving towards one another and collecting the ball side by side to add passive pressure

Keeper Calls

C.B.A. Goalkeeping

 Keeper Calls


Keep it simple.

Keep it short.

Be clear, be loud and be forceful.


Every call you make must be a command and must convey confidence.

            KEEPER! – This tells everyone that the GK is coming for the ball.

            AWAY! – This lets everyone know that the GK is not coming for the ball.
            WALL!  TWO!  -  GK wants a wall with two defenders in it.
            LEFT! – Tells the defenders in the wall to position to their left..

            RIGHT! – Tells the defenders in the wall to position to their right.
            DROP! - Demands a defender drop the ball back to the GK to relieve pressure.
            GIVE! -  Tells defenders to give ground to deny "negative" space behind them and in front of GK.

            FORCE OUT! – Tells the defender to keep the ball carrier outside.

            STEP! – Tells teammates to step the opponents out away from goal.

            CLEAR! – Tells teammates to clear the ball.

            GAME! or GAME ON! – Informs teammates the distribution is being made.


The best and fastest way to learn to play the game is to
watch and imitate a champion.
 "The bottom line is,
if I don't go into it everyday consistently committed,
I won't get results."

Mia Hamm


England v Norway U19 European Quaifier. What will this re-do mean for soccer go forward?

The recent England versus Norway Women's U19 game ended in controversy.  The center referee and her crew most definitely erred in the administration of the match. It has been generally accepted an officials ruling cannot be reversed once play resumes. FIFA has now allowed for appeals and reversal of on-field referee rulings.  They took a bold stand and got it right, but I wonder if any consideration was given to how their ruling will trickle down through the ranks? 

I imagine youth coaches everywhere attempting to appeal unfavorable referee decisions to leagues and tournaments citing this FIFA case as grounds to do so. Given referees are human and do make mistakes there will certainly be legitimate reasons for doing so. Will there be a legitimate framework in place to deal with such cases?   Again, while some leagues and many tournaments do allow for protests, usually with an associated set fee to discourage one from filing an appeal, I have never witnessed a league or tournament overturn a referee's on-field in-game ruling.

I can provide a first hand account of one such case. Our U12 team was playing in the Dublin Nike Cup one year. I knew when the center referee instructed the coaches any attempt to address him during the match would result in issuance of  a card we might be in trouble.  He was an foreign referee with a very thick accent. He also managed the match with a deportment more suited to an adult league than a youth tournament.  In the first half the opponents substituted 3 players, but only two came off.  They actually went on to score two goals while playing with an extra man on the field.

I sent our captains to the CR to make him aware of the situation. I personally addressed the issue with the AR in front of our bench. In the mean time the match continued and the opponents scored a second goal while playing with an extra player. I address the field marshal and also sent a representative to the referee's tent. Then I too my chances and stepped onto the field to address the CR.  Meanwhile the opposing coach surreptitiously removed a player from the pitch. 

There was no evil intent on the part of the opposing coach. It was an honest mistake. He apologized profusely.  The CR allowed the match to continue to half time.  At half time the CR admitted his mistakes. He ordered our team to take two penalty kicks to rectify the matters.  I declined.  I took the matter up with the referee assignor and tournament director. They agreed our team had a valid and fair claim.  They said I could formally appeal for a price of $100.00   I asked if I gave them a $100.00 would they reverse the referee's on-field decision and replay the match.  Their replay was "No, the referee's in-game decisions stand. Besides, we cannot disrupt the tournament schedule to replay your match."  And that was that.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Poor Attitude

A poor attitude is like a flat tire,
You can't go anywhere until you change it.
As I watched a player commit the same decision-making error he has been making for years I was reminded of this saying. This kid thinks he knows it all to the point of being damn near un-coachable. I know, I had tried.  There exists a thin line between being determined and being stupid.  And it's not just players who suffer this malady for I have seen coaches flirt with this line as well. The worse of the lot confess they have much to learn and then continue to do as they have always done.
I recently sat a young man down in the figurative sense and explained to him that knowledge is not going to find him. Rather, he is going to have to seek knowledge out.  He has to be willing to learn, but that is only the first step.  Acquiring knowledge does you little good if you do not apply it correctly.  The king consideration is a practical and useful application of knowledge.
The coaching sphere might provide the best demonstration of what we are discussing here.  It is a well known fact that great players do not always make great coaches.  By extension, some who never played the game turn out to quite successful coaches.  The important difference between the two is not in how they acquired knowledge, but in how they apply and communicate the knowledge they do possess.
In the 30+ years I have in coaching various sports on a wide rage of levels I have witnessed humble players excel in the game only to turn into arrogant coaches who fail on the sidelines.  It is a bitter transformation of attitude.  It attests to the stark cold reality of change being constant in the world, but not always positive in nature.  There is also a fine line that exists between a humble attitude and one of arrogance. 
Failure on the pitch or on the sideline can be a humbling experience.  It can make one bitter or make one better dependent on your approach to dealing with failure - your attitude. If bitterness is allowed to permeate your consideration of failure chances are your failure will perpetuate itself. If there is recognition and acceptance that you failed, then the possibility for improvement exists.  It really is all about attitude, or how you handle adversity ... and prosperity... that determines your chances for success.


The Currency of Success is Appreciation

I have been strolling down memory lane of late reminiscing about past glory of teams I have been associated with seeking the common threads.  Several words have come to mind including leadership, resiliency, work ethic... and appreciation. It seems to me I always felt appreciated on the best of those teams. Be it the 4th grade undefeated Parkmore Tigers or the St Matthew men's softball team or the Grand Lake United U19 team... I have always felt appreciated for the contributions I made to the teams success.

I have, of course, also remembered the talented teams that underachieved and found appreciation was almost always lacking on those teams. There was the basketball team that seemingly had everything - great size, speed, skill - yet struggled to a .500 record.  A softball team as talented as any I have ever played on that failed to win the league and was routinely bounced from tournaments early. The soccer team with mediocre success despite an abundance of individual talent. On these teams I often felt like a piece of meat, a number on the roster, someone to round out a line up. Underappreciated and longing for a word of acknowledgement for the contributions I had made to the team effort.

I recall that when participating on those underachieving teams I made a point of acknowledging the efforts of others because of the lack of appreciation I felt for the contributions I made.  That's me. However, I am not a saint. I also recall how I focused on individual accomplishments when a team was not performing to potential.  I wanted to lead the team in doubles, or to lead the team in scoring irregardless of the teams success. A selfish attitude for sure, but if my teammates or coaches did not appreciate me I could at least appreciate myself.

It occurs to me that successful teams celebrate one another's individual successes as contributions, big and small alike, to the teams efforts.  In fast pitch softball it might be the laying down of a bunt, a sacrifice. In basketball or soccer, making an extra pass to a teammate who has a better scoring opportunity than you do, an assist. I have myself described this as playing for one another. 

In softball after failing to get a hit with runners in scoring position we would often ask the next batter to "pick me up" and when they came through would always thank them for having done so. In basketball taking a help side charge or coming from across the lane to block a shot were having a teammates back. We were there for one another and not concerned with who got credit for a job well done because we lavished praise upon one another in celebrating our success.

I think the most important contribution any of us can make is to be appreciative of those around us and the contributions they make to our team, our lives and the success we find in these. I was on the right track as a player, but did not persevere to see it through and change the culture on those underachieving teams. I don't know if I could have been successful or not... and that's a regret. I regret surrendering myself to a negative team culture when I knew better.

This is not to say we should never be critical of one another, but the appreciation we show of and for one another must be dominant over any negativity shown to one another. The "Oreo" or "sandwich" approach to coaching.  Before criticizing a player, find a positive in his play. Then address the issue at hand before concluding with another word of praise. Let that player know you care not just about his play, but about him as a person.  Let him know you value his contributions. Praise his efforts. In return that player will redouble his efforts for the team.

Both positive culture and negative culture are contagious. Breed a culture of positive re-enforcement with the recognition that the choice is yours to make. Praise the players, your teammates, their efforts much more than you criticize them. Be patient through mistakes understanding they are opportunities to learn.  Teach in a calm enabling manner instead of being critical and condescending.  Bring out the best in one another by telling each other frequently how much you appreciate efforts on behalf of the team.  When you score a goal, go find the person who assisted immediately and thank him for the great pass. Celebrate the accomplishment together.  When the goalkeeper makes a great save, let him know as soon as possible what a great play he made... and thank him for doing so, for having your back, for picking you up.

Appreciation, the currency of success. How rich in appreciation is your team?

Creating numbers up... the wrong way?

My youngest son, Lance will sign his National Letter of Intent next week. As part of the recruiting process, we have watched film of how each college that has pursued him plays on the pitch.  As regular readers of this blog can attest, I am a huge fan of watching match film. There are great learning opportunities to be found in how others approach the game.

Over the course of Lance's high school playing career it was frustrating to watch his team attempt to attack. They were very much about playing in the (right) outside channel. Predictably so.  Now, I do not have a problem with channel play, per se. No, the problem I have his high school teams form of channel play is how they go about attempting to create numbers up situations for play in the channel. After watching film of a certain local college side who has had considerable influence on the high school program I have a deeper appreciation for why the high school coaching staffs attempted to play as a they did.

The danger lies in isolating the creation of numbers up situations to the exclusion of other facets of the game, namely playing in space to allow for playing with pace.  With the high school side, the weak side wing players were either instructed to come ball side or were allowed to do so when the team attacked. Ostensibly this was to help create numbers up situations around the ball. 

If we refer back to Sun Tzu Soccer we find there is some validation for manipulating an opponent to move numerical strength to one side of the pitch. The advantage is in opening space and weakening the opponents ability to defend in another area of the pitch.  However, if the intention is not to exploit the space and weakness created, then all that is accomplished is to self-deny space and time in the ball side channel thoroughly negating any numbers up situations created.  And this is indeed what we saw from the high school side as they struggled all season long to generate any sustained offense - they were their own worst enemies in that they self-inflicted pressure to an extent they were not capable of playing securely from it.

Creating Numbers Up for Combination Play.

The reason to create numbers up situations on the attack is to allow two (or more) attacking players to isolate a single defender.  This is where the recognition and execution of the cues for combination passing come into play.  A key element in combination passing is having space for the ball carrier to engage the lone defender.  Making the defender commit to defending the ball opens teammates to be used to help defeat the pressure defender.  If the ball side is overloaded with attacking teammates the space required to execute combination passing is severely limited and restricted.  This is exactly what happened throughout the high school season for Lance's team.

Now, there is value to cluttering the space in one outside channel ... IF this is done so intentionally to be able to cross the ball to and play in the other outside channel.  This is something our club team did often and with great success.  No so much for Lance's high school team. Whereas our club team would often run two players to ball side in front of the action in a purposeful attempt to manipulate the opponents defense, the high school team seemed to purposefully run players to ball side at or near the level of the ball which allowed opposing back lines to stay relatively stationary in their comfort zones within their preferred defensive shape.  This is why the high school team struggled with early crosses while the club team excelled at early crosses. 

It's all about having proper space and time to allow attackers to dictate the pace of play. The club team was the maestro in dictating not only where on the pitch the ball would be played, but also by whom and at what pace.  The high school team, through self-inflicting pressure via their own player movement allowed the opponents defense to dictate the pace and rhythm of the game.

Ball movement is predicated on player movement.  I 100% believe this to be true. We might expand on this by saying intentional and purposeful ball movement is predicated on intentional and purposeful player movement.  It is not enough just to be in constant motion on the pitch.  The high school team had 3 or 4 players who were exceptional at being in constant motion, but so much of their motion, their effort, produced little in the way of positive team results. In fact, they were the prime perpetrators of self-inflicting pressure on both themselves and their teammates.

Another way of stating the need for intentional and purposeful player movement can be found in the old basketball / soccer adage that mandates making your movement benefit a teammate - playing for your teammate or making a run for your teammate.  Every attacking movement on the soccer pitch should be purposeful.  A run into open space. A run to create space. 

A run into open space will draw a defender to that run.  The consequence of the defenders movement is creation of space or a seam somewhere behind him.  When attacking, the club team emphasizes passing to the second man running.  That is a second run being made on the heels of the first runner who is drawing the defender away. That second runner is often open when cutting up field on the heels of the defender following the first runner.  It is a simple and easy means of creating a numbers up situation by forcing a defender to respect the first runner / threat and then passing behind the defender to the second runner.

In effect, the first run into space purposefully created space for a teammate to run into / be played the ball into and through.  When runners are brought to the ball side channel in front of the ball and engage the opposing backs the space being created is to the weak side or outside the width of the opposing backs - the early cross.  The ball side runners ultimately benefit from their own selfless runs. Upon an early cross the defense will shift back across the pitch to deal with the changing threat leaving those runners free on what has become the back post side.   Again, the cub team was very adept at this while the high school team never did find this solution to their attacking problems. 

Is it any wonder why the club teams averaged 4+ goals per game against some of the best competition throughout the Midwest while the high school team struggled to score even one goal per game against an average high school schedule? 

It has been posited to me that the club team had a roster of all-stars, that it was the talent that made the difference.  We did have a roster of all-stars on the "A" team. We also took on all comers.  What of our club "B" team?  The overall talent on the "B" team was no better than an average high school team and they still managed to score 3+ goals a game and defeated some very good opponents using the same attacking philosophy of the "A" team.   The idea that a high school team cannot employ the attacking strategies being advocated here is a product of one of two things; 1) Lack of knowledge on the coaching staffs part and or 2) Laziness to implement the attacking strategies on the coaching staffs part.  I know, for I implemented these attacking strategies to turn around a moribund high school program and turn them into a powerhouse in under 2 years time. 

The point of relating these teams stories to you is rather simple, a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.  It is foolishness to emphasize one aspect of play in the belief it is the answer to the overall level of play.  Each part of play is dependent on all other parts of play.  Simply creating numbers up can be achieved by flooding a channel of play, but to what end?  If the bigger picture is not seen and the whole of the pitch is not used, why bother creating numbers up situations in the first place?  Effort alone is just not enough. Intelligent effort is required.  Purposeful effort is required. 

Lance's high school team was infected with Ballwatchingitus and the efforts and movements of many of their players reflected this.  The majority of their movements were made for the ball with far too few of their movements being made for a teammate or for one another.  They allowed the focus of opponents defenses to remain on the ball and too rarely challenged opposing defenses to account for player movement away from the ball, player movement outside the defenses direct line of vision to the ball.

When coaching / teaching a team how to create numbers up situations I encourage you to focus on the broader concepts involved in being numbers up; 1) it's a great way to defeat a single defender and 2) it forces other defenders to move to compensate for their beaten teammate as well as 3) creates space to be exploited in other areas of the opponents defense, especially on the back side of the opponents defensive shape.  Make sure your team is prepared to utilize and exploit all valued gained from creating a numbers up situation for if it is not the resulting self-inflicted pressure surely defeats the purpose of creating numbers up situations, does it not?