Tag Archives: youth soccer

Gaining Territory v. Possession: Part II

As outlined in the prior post, kick and rush soccer, which has infiltrated every layer of American soccer, had its beginnings in England and, though justified with faulty statistical analysis, has spread throughout the world.  While there are likely times when, because of the skill level of the respective teams (meaning, when there is large discrepancy in skill level of players on one team that is playing another), less possessive tactical strategies may be required, consider the following statements of soccer “Style and Principles of Play”:

Style of Play-Specific
1.  Technical. Passing the ball on the ground with pace from different distances and receiving the ball while keeping it moving will be encouraged in all age groups.
2.  Ball Control and Turning.  Players will be encouraged to keep close control of the ball and use different turning techniques to move away from a defender.  

1.  Playing Out from the Back.  All teams must feel comfortable playing the ball from the back through the midfield and from there to the final quarter of the field. 
2.  Possession & Transition.  All teams must try to keep possession of the ball playing a one-two touch game. Players will be encouraged to support and move, thus creating passing options. Once the possession game is consolidated the team must learn how to transfer the ball in the most efficient way from one area of the field to another.  (I added emphasis here because it seems that they want us to develop ball control and possession passing before long ball).  

Principles of Play
1.  1,2, or 3 touch maximum. Minimizing the number of touches improves the speed of play.
2.  Keep the game simple. Do not force situations, over-dribble or be careless with the ball (kickball).  
3.  Keep the ball on the ground.  A ball on the ground is easier to control and can be moved more efficiently by the team.
4.  Accuracy and quality of the pass.  Passing must be firm and accurate, with the proper weight.
5.  First touch.  Make a clean, controlled first touch without stopping the ball. Take the touch away from pressure and into free space.
6.  Perception and awareness.  All players with or without the ball should constantly scan the field.
7.  1v1 situations.  Encourage determination to regain control of the ball in defense and keep it simple in attack by taking a touch to the side, at speed, to beat a defender.
8.  Individual transition.  Players must react quickly when possession change from offense to defense and vice-versa.
9.  Shooting.  Always keep an eye on the goal.  All players are encouraged to shoot.
10.  Take risks.  Soccer is an error prone sport and mistakes are part of the game and learning process.  Players are encouraged to take risks in training session to increase the speed of play.  1
(U.S. Soccer Curriculum, Style and Principles of Play, p.2-3)

You may think from the style and principles outlined, that those are guidelines for Spain, not the U.S.  But these are our new youth coaching guidelines.  Why are these our guidelines?  As Spain demonstrated in the World Cup, possession soccer isn’t just cute, it wins.  

But in my experience, most youth soccer locally, from recreation to competitive to high school, is based on the kick and rush model rather than the style described above.  Why?  I think one of the problems is that we focus too much on the result at young ages when we should be focused on player development.  In desperate attempts to win matches, players are pigeon-holed into specific positions and assignments, like winning the ball and kicking up to a fast forward.  It works.  With little or no change, kids develop habits and, later on, are then asked to change them.  That is not so easy.  

I appreciate and respect all of the time that coaches give for youth sports.  But, is it helpful to a 8 year old to play fullback all season with the instruction to kick it as hard as he can to a fast forward?  While that does work and should be a part of the game, it should not be the only part of the game.  One of our local coaches that I admire (Chris Carter), who was previously a basketball coach, puts it this way:  “You need to be able to fast break, but you don’t fast break an entire game.”  To finish the basketball analogy, you also need a half-court offense.  Or, to put it in soccer speak, a soccer team should be able to play an over-the-top through style (long ball), but it should not be their only style.  

Most of the objections come from people who believe that the system described above is too hard for kids. But, as noted on the principles above, a ball on the ground played to a young player is easier to handle than a lofted ball from longer distance.  

Here’s hoping we embrace the paradigm shift from U.S. Youth Soccer in Southeast Texas.  

"Go on son, take him on"

As I noted in a prior post, I think over-emphasizing the pass at young ages can restrict development of a soccer player.  Kids at young ages need to have time with the ball.  Opportunities to create must be allowed.  If we over-emphasize the pass, kids will lose the opportunities and time to create with the ball, especially in “competitive” formats (i.e., games) that are necessary to build confidence with the ball.  

At the same time, I am in love with the possession game and encourage my players to make shorter passes with the ball on the ground rather than longer balls.  However, even then, I am working hard to allow the boys time on the ball and not to stifle their creativity.  

Former US Youth technical director, Claudio Reyna, says we focus too much on the result of weekly games — that they are “do or die.”  He continued, 

At Barcelona, they are about educating players, and winning takes care of itself. I believe it makes an impact when players can develop in a calm and proper environment, not being judged on whether you win games all the time. They are just looking for players with soccer brains. 

When I reviewed the curriculum for the new US Youth Coaching Paradigm, it started de-emphasizing dribbling at age 7.  That is too young.   I included this quote from a trainer at La Masia, Barcelona’s renown youth training academy:  

“Their (Barcelona) Academy coach Carlos Rexach reveals … ‘Above all what we are after is a boy who is good with the ball and then we hope he becomes strong physically. Other academies tend to look for athletes they can turn into footballers. Most coaches, when they see a kid who dribbles a lot they tell him to stop and pass the ball.  Here (Barcelona) they do the opposite. We tell them to continue so that they get even better at dribbling.  It’s only when the kid develops that we start teaching them the passing game.'”  (Arsenal: The Making of a Modern Superclub, Page 68).

One of the, if not the, most successful youth academy in England is near Newcastle.  The Wallsend junior football club has produced 67 professional players, five of whom have represented their country.  The current club president, Peter Kirkley, who has been with the program for 40 years, noted that the junior club was not formed to create professional players but to “give local lads and lasses a game of football, help them grow and love the sport.”    The club emphasizes punctuality, politeness, and discipline.  And, what they teach has been referred to as the Wallsend Way — love of the ball.

Rather than focus on kick and rush, the club emphasizes adventure and skill.  Kirkley had this to say about the current teaching model at other academies: 

“I was involved in Newcastle’s youth set-up for years, and I don’t think any kid they signed at eight has ever made it through to 16, never mind the first team. I go to academy matches and all I hear from the coaches is ‘pass, pass, pass’. I long to hear someone say: ‘go on son, take him on.’

My worry is that academies are producing automatons. That’s why they come here and get our lads later. They need players who are still in love with the game. Who have a bit of imagination. That’s what we do.  We don’t manufacture pros. We help people love the game.”

I love his comments about helping kids love the game.  I think the early ages, up to early teens, are the best times for kids to learn to “love the ball.”  They pick up things quickly at that age.  I am now having to go back and re-focus on dribbling with a son who I overemphasized passing.  I can now see the beauty of the US Youth setup – 3v3, then 4v4, then 6v6…11v11.  The idea is to give kids touches on the ball.  But, training and games are not enough.

With some kids, I have to remind them to take the 1v1 opportunities.  Whatever quality that a player can make on a pass in front of the defense is magnified if that player, rather than passing at the first sign of pressure, beats a defender and then serves a ball to the teammate.  By that time, covering defenders are required to move to the attacker creating gaps in the defensive line.  I had the luxury of coaching a girl (Macy Chilton) that excelled at 1v1 match-ups and, as a result, lead our squad in assists.  While many people see her obvious talent at goal scoring, her ability to beat defenders opens defenses creating opportunities for her teammates to score with less pressure.  

Just imagine:  Attacker with ball makes pass in front of defensive line.  The quality (depth, pace, angle, height) of the pass must be perfect.  Contrast that scenario with one where the attacker beats the marking defender, getting behind the defense, then delivers a pass.  The danger to the defending team in the latter example is heightened; the quality of the service by the attacker usually requires less precision (as it did before the defensive line) as openings have been created by the defense to cover the beat defender.  Keith Barrow, Nederland HS girls soccer  coach, reminded me that “soccer is all about the 1v1 situations.”  It is math – if your player beats their player, that is one less defender in front of the goal.

So, while we teach and encourage players to play short, keep the ball on the ground, use 2v1 passing, etc., let’s also remember to tell players to “go on son (or daughter), take him on.”  

Quotes form Kirkley taken from The Daily Telegraph,  26 Oct. 2011,  No End in Sight for Wallsend Production Line.  Quotes from Claudio Reyna were taken from The New York Times, May 26, 2011, La Masia, a Model for Cultivating Soccer Players.