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.  

3 thoughts on “Gaining Territory v. Possession: Part II”

  1. Clint,
    "In desperate attempts to win matches, players are pigeon-holed into specific positions and assignments"

    Thanks for bringing this topic: I have gotten feedback from others that the U9 age is appopriate for establishing players into positions. Strictly my opinion, but i believe it is just as important to observe players in different positions to see how well they understand the game. Sure, we begin to see players tendencies for the different roles on the field, but wouldnt it be great if we could help them to understand the game and not just a position? i believe so.

    "Teaching them to pass by not teaching passing." I came up with this double-speak after an interesting development of my U5 team. We made it a point to never say 'pass' and i encouraged all players to be selfish. However, we played many games where kicking the ball to another teamate was involved. Trying to focus on the word kick vs pass, two players standing 10 feet apart moving the ball between them, is this passing? I think it is more important to associate the word pass with the decison, when to pass, moreso when not to pass.

    So in our last three games i introduced a patch that would be awarded for an assist. one player could earn it by kicking, or passing the ball to a teamate who scored. Last game of the year, and it began to click. they started to kick, and on rare occasion, pass the ball to a teamate. Players were making runs to goal, and even sometimes finding space.

    Sure, it took three seasons to prepare the team for this, but it was the hard work of knowledgeable parents and the will of 3 and 4 year olds that culimnated in a moment that i'll never forget, the teams' first assist, first square, first drop, first through, all in the same game….

  2. Thanks for sharing Nick. Isn't it fun to see the progress? What do you think about getting your kids and mine together for a day of 3v3s on the BYSC 4v4 fields?

Love to read your thoughts...