Gimme three steps ...

Legendary Southern Rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd's classic Gimme Three Steps was a tribute to soccer.  No, not really, but the lyrics of the chorus are very applicable to soccer.  It's all about maximizing both quickness and speed. It's all about playing at peak pace.

There are four distinct phases of play in the game of soccer.

Transitioning from possession to defending
Transitioning from defending to possession

Gimme Three Steps addresses the transitioning phases in particular but can be applied to all four phases of play.  The first three steps an athlete takes in the transitioning phases often determine his success or failure in those moments.  You might be thinking this article is going to be about explosive physical speed and quickness. That's actually only a small part of it.  Actually quickness and speed in play has as much to do with brain power as it does with physical ability.

In our camps we work on re-training the brain of soccer players. You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be. In order to re-train how soccer players think about the game we must teach them to see the game differently than they ever have before. Once this is accomplished both individual and collective peak pace of play increases significantly.

Be first to the ball and then figure out your play on the ball.  This may seem a bit drastic or an exaggeration of the thought process of a typical teen aged soccer player, but it is unfortunately not.  Far too many players in this age group are afflicted with Ballwatchingitis which leads them to being one-decision, aka slow, players regardless of actual physical quickness and speed.  Their brains actually work against them achieving peak pace of play.

When training goalkeepers I place extremely strong emphasis on economy and efficiency of movement. My goalkeeping student train their first step to be into the path of the ball.  This may seem like a minor detail. It might appear to be common sense. Watch youth goalkeepers and you will often see they take a step backwards before they move forwards.  That is wasted time and wasted energy. That one shuffle step backwards to get going forward can be the difference between making a save and allowing a goal.  The same thought process follows through to field players. We must maximize our physical quickness and speed to achieve peak pace of play.

One the brain has trained the body to maximize physical effort we can enhance quickness and speed further by training the brain to interpret the game to a fuller extent. The key is to become a game watcher instead of a ball watcher.  Ball watchers are reactive in nature as their eyes (and brain) follow the ball. A game watcher is proactive in reading the game and therefore in physically moving on the pitch.  Great off the ball movement is a product of watching the game and correctly interpreting what is seen. This is the focus of our pace of play camps. We address the thought process for when the team is in possession of the ball.

What does this have to do with the transitioning phases of play?

Quite a bit actually.

Most youth soccer players see the game better from a defensive standpoint than they do from an attacking perspective. One reason, perhaps the primary reason, is because teaching pressure, cover, balance and ball / you / man principles of play to defenders is far simpler than teaching support to attackers.  Defensively the concepts need to be more ball centric then when attacking when the focus must be space centric in order to progress the ball toward goal. Melding these two distinctly different thought processes into one seamless thought process based on a foundation of game watching is what allows for peak performance in the first three steps of the transitioning phases of play.

Gimme three steps toward your next play. 

It's really quite simple.  If your first three steps are quicker than the opponents, chances are in your favor for making the play for your team.  To achieve this one must maximize all available assets and have these working together to the fullest extent possible.  Physical explosiveness triggered by effective and efficient brain power.  The ability to think the game effectively and efficiently is the key to achieving peak pace of play performance.

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