by Tony Earp, Senior Director
A staple to all soccer training and helping players develop a comfort with the soccer ball is teaching fundamental foot skills and moves. These movements include foundation touches using the inside of the feet, pulling the ball, cutting the ball with the inside and outside of the foot, and many basic movements with the soccer ball. It also includes teaching players “moves” like the scissors, “Cryuff,” lunge and take, and the “Maradona” just to name a few. When a coach is teaching these skills to their players, what are they really teaching?
In a way, the coach is teaching their players how to dribble, but REALLY the coach is really teaching the players skills needed to be ABLE TO DRIBBLE, not actually HOW to dribble. That may seem strange, but let me explain.
If you think of being able to dribble the soccer ball like being able to write a language, what is the first step? The first step is learning the letters of a language. This is the same as a player learning how to manipulate the ball with different parts of their feet. It is the basic understanding of how to move the ball with the feet and make the ball do different things using different parts of the feet.
Next, you learn that putting letters together forms words and understand those words mean different things. With the soccer ball, we teach players how combining fundamental foot skills with the soccer ball can create “moves” that are used to maintain possession of the soccer ball from a defender.
Finally, you learn how the words, you formed with letters, can be put together to form sentences, paragraphs, and stories. This is dribbling! Players must use different parts of the feet (letters) and put those together (words) to be able to successfully dribble the soccer ball in games (sentence). When a coach is working with players on their foot skills and different moves, they are not teaching them HOW to dribble, but are working on the foundations necessary for the player to be able to dribble.
Dribbling is an art form, like writing, all players will do it a little differently and in a way that works best for them. There are some “rights” and “wrongs” and definitely some players are better dribblers than others, but “successful” dribbling is not the same for each player. Once players have the foundations needed, they can use those skills in game situations to figure out how to beat defenders and/or maintain possession of the ball.
To help players learn how to dribble, coaches need to put players in situations that challenge their ability to use foundation foot skills and moves with the soccer ball at the appropriate times in game situations. These activities need to challenge player’s ability to recognize space and time, make quick decisions, move in different directions, change the weight of their touches on the soccer ball, and change their speed of dribbling. Overtime, players will learn, with a coach facilitating the process, how to use those skills to dribble with a higher rate of success.
It is common to see players who are excellent at doing foot skills and moves in a training activity, but seem to struggle in games to maintain possession of the ball when dribbling. Simply, the player knows the “letters” and how to put them into words, but the player does not know how to create a sentence with the words. They have the skills needed to dribble, but just have not had enough experience in situations in training to use those skills to learn how to dribble effectively.
This can be caused by a coach dictating what moves a player does in games or only giving the player one option when dribbling the soccer ball in training. In a game, players have many options with the ball at their feet. They can dribble in any direction, try to go past a player, move away from a player, pass the ball, or try to score. With this in mind, can a coach create activities in training that always give the players these types of options?
For example, a common game to teach dribbling is to play “one versus one” and try to dribble past a defender over an end line. Each time, the player MUST try to get past the defender. This is a great activity for players to learn how to dribble past a defender and develop the courage and the “know how” to do it, but how could a coach make this more like the game? If the coach added side goals to dribble through on each side of the field, the attacking player will have the option to either beat the defender OR dribble away from the defender to maintain possession. Simply, the attacking player now has a decision. Try to beat the defender or keep possession?
Beating the defender is better so scoring by dribbling over the end line should be worth more than dribbling through the side gates. But just like in the game, if a player cannot go forward to create a scoring chance, the next best option is to keep possession. The situation challenges the player to make that decision which has to constantly be made each time the player gets the ball in a game.
As coaches, we do not teach players how to dribble. We teach players the tools needed to dribble. The game teaches players HOW to dribble. The game presents the players with different problems in which they will need to use different foot skills and moves to solve those problems. Players will make mistakes and lose the ball, but through those experiences, and successful ones, the player will increase their understanding of how to move with the ball in a game. A coach can highlight the problems the game is presenting and help the player solve those problems by asking questions like:
Each player will have a different relationship with the ball. Some players will be more creative than others, some will use more complex moves, and some will use simpler moves and be very conservative with the ball at their feet. Just like writing styles, dribbling styles differ from players to player. Each will have different strengths and weaknesses, and it is the coach’s job to help a player to discover and use those areas of their game.
Teach the foundation skills and moves needed to know how to dribble to your players, especially when they are young, but never forget to help them learn HOW to dribble by putting them in many situations that will help them learn to use those skills. It is hard for me to see a player who has put the necessary time in tom improve their foot skills and moves with the soccer ball, but struggle to dribble the soccer ball when they play. Like all technical skills, it is critical for players to have a sound foundation, but the knowledge of how to use those skills is required to play the game.
Posted by Administrator on Tue, 2 Apr 2013
by Tony Earp, Senior Director
Like any coach before a game, I carefully think about what I am going to say to the players to help them play to the best of their ability. I talk about what our goals are for the game as a team and individually. It is important to make sure all the players are on the same page in that respect. Then I try to motivate the players and have an impact on their mindsets before stepping on to the field. My goal is to get the kids motivated to play and excited about the game. In the past, I have talked about working hard, giving it your best, you are the better team, you have to earn it today, and other things my coaches use to say to me. I now realize that my approach may not have been the best thing for the players before the start of a game.
Reviewing the team’s goals for the game is always important and should be part of every pregame talk with the players. This is a critical part of getting players ready to play and connecting the week’s practice sessions to what you want to see the players attempt during the game. This will always be part of what I talk about before a game with any team.
It is the next part that I have fallen short over the years with my players. I was just doing what my coaches used to do and what I see in the movies. For example, “Miracle” is one of my favorite movies of all time and the pregame speech before the game against the Soviets is my favorite scene of any movie. There was an important element to that speech that I have missed before and I now include in every pregame speech. Coach Brooks says, “It is your time.”
Although he may have meant it in a different way, it highlights something missing in my instructions to my players in the past. Simply, it is about them. It is their time. The game is their time. It is their time to be kids, be players, compete, have fun, succeed, or fail. In the end, it is just about them. This seems obvious, as “it is about the kids” is about as cliché as it gets, but how often do coaches actually remind the kids of that before they step on the field?
My goal was always to motivate, so I would put on my coach’s hat and say things to try to get the kids excited about playing. I might say something like, “Remember the last time you played them?” Did I really think the kids were going to go out and play better because of they wanted revenge? Is that really the best motivator to compete? If they win, then what is their motivation the next time they play the same team?
With this in mind, did I really even need to get the kids excited to play? I was always excited to play. My coach never got me more excited about it. I loved to play and I wanted to play more than anything else. Nothing that was said right before the game made me want to compete more than I already did. And if I needed that motivation, that would be a problem that a few words would not solve.
I have started to rethink what I say to players before a game. After the instructions are given and the game is about to start, I thought about what the player really need to hear. This is along the lines of what I came up with:
You had a great week of training and you are prepared for today. Today is about you. It is not about me or your parents. It is not about anything that happened before this game or will happen after this game. It is about you, right now, and your opportunity to play the game. Play today the way you want to play, in a way that would make you proud, and in a way that would make your teammates proud. I want you to enjoy every second you have on the field and make the most out of it. I look forward to watching you play and compete today.
This is a little different than what is normally heard before a player takes the field. As a player would you be ready to play after hearing this? Again, I think players for the most part are already excited about playing. In terms of helping their mentality and their approach to the game, this should help the players put the game in perspective and focus on what is most important when the game begins.
The best teams and players play with this type of mentality all the time. You hear it during interviews pretty frequently. Watch Sports Center the next chance you get and see what the winning and losing players/teams talk about in the locker room. The players on the winning team will talk a lot about wanting to make sure they played well for their teammates (and the fans) and could be proud of the effort they gave at the end of the game. The players on the losing team will refer to the fact it was not their best effort and they are not proud of their performance. Often, they will go as far as, “my teammates deserve more from me.”
Even at the professional level, the game is about the player, and those athletes view it that way. When the whistle blows and the game starts, it is about them in that moment and in that game. It is about them enjoying it and giving their best effort at all times. As a coach, before a game begins, take the opportunity to remind youth athletes of that fact. Ironically, even though the kids are not the ones being paid to play, they often approach the game as if it is a job.
Posted by Administrator on Tue, 2 Apr 2013
by Tony Earp, Senior Director
Great! That is awesome. You have been working your heart out since you were very young and you have got to a point where you are able to consider the option to play college soccer. It is something very special and an amazing experience for those who are lucky enough to get a chance. Now, the next point is deciding where you want to play and how. Unfortunately, this becomes the most difficult part of the process of getting to play soccer in college. There is a lot to consider and a lot of work to do on the athlete’s part OFF the soccer field. So, let’s get started…
Although below is not a comprehensive list of areas that are important for a player to consider, these are some major areas for a player to research when deciding where they want to play college soccer. As it says in the commercials, most college athletes go “pro” in something other than sports, so many of the things that should be considered are NOT soccer related:
Many student athletes want to stay close to home and others want to move far away. College is a great time to live in another part of the country and experience life away from home. With that being said, some kids find comfort with having their home and family close by.
Location is important because a player will actually spend most of their time away from the soccer field. Being home sick or not enjoying the town or city where the school is located can quickly over shadow a great soccer experience.
When researching a school, it is important to look into the community and surrounding areas. Does it seem like a place that would be enjoyable to live for the next four or more years?
Size of School:
A large school and campus with many students can make some kids feel like they are a drop of water in the ocean. A small school can make you feel like you are on a desert island with the same 5 people. The size of a school will impact a college experience. One is not better than the other, but one is definitely better than the other for you.
This is purely a personal preference. I wanted to be a part of a larger university with lots of things to do and different experiences offered. I was not sure what I wanted to major in and the larger schools I looked at had many more options for areas of study. I was not nervous about being in a large classroom or not getting as much personal attention from professors. As a student, I was always more of the person who just wanted to listen to the professor, study and read on my own, and then take the examination/test.
That would not work for everyone and a large university can make a person feel lost among the masses. Smaller universities may help students find an identity inside a smaller community of students and staff. A smaller campus may have better opportunities in a more limited fashion, but fit exactly what the student is looking for during their time in college.
My two favorite options to play college soccer were SMU and The Ohio State University. A big part of my decision to play at OSU was that I wanted to attend a larger university. When I was on SMU’s campus, I felt like I saw everything in a matter of minutes. At OSU, I was there for an entire weekend and felt I had not even scratched the surface of seeing everything. For some reason, that really appealed to me.
This is key. If a player already knows what he or she wants to study in college, soccer is a great way to get into a school that not only offers that major but specializes in that specific degree. As I mentioned before, the vast majority of college athletes, move on to a professional job after they are done playing. Soccer, like other sports, can open the door for players to attend a university that will set them up for what they want to do for the rest of their life.
If you are like me and are not sure what you want to study, it is important to find a school that has strong programs over a greater range of degrees. Ohio State is highly respected school in many areas of study, and this made me feel more confident about attending with not knowing what I was going to major in before I enrolled. Had I been certain about what I wanted to study, my college choice may have been different. Perhaps I would have looked for a school that specialized in that area.
This is the most anxious part of the college process for most. How am I going to afford it? Some families have the financial means to pay for a college education, but with rising costs of tuition it is becoming much more difficult. This means many students will need college loans, scholarships, and a job in school to help cover their expenses.
I know many aspiring college players have a dream of earning a full athletic scholarship to the program of their choice. It has been documented in many other articles and books how rare this is for a soccer player. With more than twenty players on a roster at a time, and a limited number of athletic scholarships, a “full ride” is an unrealistic hope for most.
This is why performing well in the classroom is a HUGE asset to players. There is more academic money to be earned at schools than there is athletic money. Having outstanding grades, test scores, and other extracurricular/service credentials on a college transcript can ensure a player more money than success on the soccer field. On a side note, these are things coaches look for as well to decide if they want to bring a player into the program. Not many coaches will take a risk on a player, no matter their skill level, if they feel they will be an issue off the field or struggle to stay eligible to play.
When a player and family do the research to find academic scholarships, financial aid, grants, loans, and other means of paying for college, along with some athletic scholarship money, even the most expensive schools can become an option financially to attend.
The Ultimate Consideration:
Simply, if you were not going to play soccer at the school, would you still want to be there? If your answer is “yes” to this question, the school should be strongly considered. If the answer is “no”, I always implore a player to look elsewhere.
Now how about soccer related items?
Of course these need to be considered as well, and are important to where a player will enjoy their experience playing soccer.
There are some things a perspective student can tell about a program when looking at the team’s roster. Here are a couple things to look for…
How many seniors are on the team? Yes, some years a program will only have a handful of seniors, but a severe lack of seniors or no seniors on a roster can be an indication that many players to do not stick around for four years. There are a lot of reasons this could be the case, but it is something that should be researched.
What is the average size and weight of the players? This can be an indication of what type of player the coach is looking for and the team’s style of play.
How many players are listed who play your position? This could be a sign of the team being of need of players who play your position or that the team is pretty set. This is especially true for goalkeepers. If the team has 4 goalkeepers on the roster, and most are sophomores or freshmen, there is a good chance the school will not be recruiting a goalkeeper for a couple years.
Where are all the players from? Here you may look to see if the coach recruits in your area. Coaches tend to have recruiting patterns or habits. If there are some players from your area, it means the coach has recruited out of your area before. It may be more likely the coach would get to see you play or trusts someone’s opinion in the area to scout you. When I was looking for a school, one roster I looked at was comprised mainly of players from Europe. I had no problem with that, but it made me feel the coach definitely had a preference in regards to where he recruited and the type of player he wanted on his team.
Number of players on the roster? There are some schools that bring kids into the program as it helps the school with their enrollment numbers. If a roster exceeds 30 players, it may be worth inquiring about the large roster with the coach.
Style of Play:
This is important for a player to understand before committing to a school. If a player feels more comfortable in a certain type of system, role, and style of play, to find a program that fits will make it more likely the player will be successful. Different players thrive in different playing systems, so it is important to discuss this with the coach. What type of system does the team play? Where does the coach see you fitting into that system? In a specific position/role on the team, what is expected?
A coach may see something in a player different than what the player wants to do. A player should be open to playing different positions and roles within a program, but making sure that is understood before accepting a spot on the team will help avoid future frustrations for the player and the coach.
Again, all coaches have different styles and approaches to doing their job. Players want different things from their coaches. With that in mind, players can use the college recruiting process to see if the coach is the type of coach they want to play for over the course of their college career. Often a conflict between a coach and a player is a result in differences from what the player expects from their coach and what the coach expects from the player.
Players should ask coaches about their coaching philosophy and style of instruction. How does the coach manage the program and the players? If you get to visit the campus, ask the players on the team about their experiences with the coach. Whether the experience has been good or bad, there will be indications of the important qualities of the coach that are important to the player.
Impact on Being a College Student:
Playing college soccer is an amazing experience. It is a great privilege and honor to represent your team and school on the playing field. The memories and lessons learned over a college athlete’s career are invaluable to success for the rest of their life.
With that being said, a student athlete has a tremendous amount of responsibility on top of the regular responsibilities of a college student. Although all college students have other responsibilities outside of class (jobs, family, etc..), a college athlete will have many of these same responsibilities and have all the responsibilities of being a college athlete. At all times, the student athlete is expected to perform at a top level both on the field and in the classroom.
With all the team training sessions, lifting, individual training, games, and long road trips, it takes a lot of discipline and time management to keep priorities in line and not fall behind in class. This creates a different experience for college athletes. While other students are participating in fraternities or sororities, going to watch football/basketball games, enjoying their weekends with friends, and joining other student groups/clubs, a college athlete may have limited opportunities to do many of these things as often as a standard student.
In short, there is a sacrifice to being a college student athlete to the regular college experience. I think it is absolutely worth it, but that is a personal decision. Playing college sports is an intense, pressure filled, competitive, time consuming, and rewarding experience. There is not much a college athlete does through the day that somehow is not influenced by their commitment to the program. You must LOVE the game, to be willing to sacrifice and work that much harder, in order to be successful as a college student athlete.
If you are in the process of looking at colleges and making the decision to play at the next level, seek advice from those who have been through the process, experienced playing collegiate sports, is a big part of the process. Use the resources and people around you to help!
The college recruiting process is a proactive process. Do not sit around and wait for college coaches to contact you. It really does not work that way. You must actively seek out the schools you want to attend and make contact with the coaches of the programs you are interested in attending. If you don’t, you may still get interest from some programs, but will those programs be the right ones for you? Believe it or not, you have A LOT of control in the recruiting process. The players who are actively seeking out college and programs and communicating with coaches, tend to have more, and better options, to choose from when it is time to make a decision.
Posted by Administrator on Tue, 26 Mar 2013
by Tony Earp, Senior Director
There is plenty of information out there from all the top experts from around the world and the US in regards to the benefits of youth players playing small sided soccer games (4v4). If you search the internet for “small sided soccer games” and “youth soccer” you will find a plethora of information talking about the benefits of small sided games for developing players. Especially at the youngest age groups, small sided games give players more touches on the soccer ball, more opportunities to try skills, more involvement in the game, and puts players in a game environment that is cognitively appropriate for their age. Outside of all of benefits for player development, is there another argument to be made for the use of small sided games in youth soccer? Believe it or not, the use of small sided games also benefits the parents!
What would the benefits be to the parents if teams played small sided games each weekend (festivals) versus playing in leagues and in tournaments? Below, I have outlined just some of the benefits to the parents (some also benefit the kids as well). Mainly, playing small sided games eliminates many of parents’ biggest frustrations with youth soccer. If players up to U9 played in these types of formats, youth soccer at the youngest age groups would not only become more about the kids again, but create an environment that is beneficial for the parents as well.
For parents paying “X” amount of dollars every season for their kids to play soccer, it is normal for those parents to have the expectation that their kid gets time to play in games (especially at the young age groups). Those games should be about development and the kids having fun, right? Even if a coach divided time up evenly for a team of 10 players, playing 6v6, in a 50 minute game, almost every player would play less than 50% of the game. I will go out on a limb and say most parents probably want to spend their time on the sideline of the soccer field watching their kid get to play, not their kid watching the game from the other sideline.
If you take the same 10 players on that team and break up into two 4v4 games against another team with 10 players, the two teams could play two smaller 4v4 games and each team has one sub. In this scenario, the kids would get a drastic increase of time on the field playing (which is needed to improve). For a parent, the games would be more enjoyable to watch if you got to watch your child playing the majority of the time.
Could you just have fewer kids on a team playing 6v6? Yes, of course and playing time for all would increase. Although, still with larger numbers and field at the younger age groups, how often would a parent’s child be involved in the game?
Another issue parents tend have is kids getting stuck in certain positions. Maybe their child plays defender every single game because it gives the team the best chance of winning, despite not being developmentally beneficial for the player. In a small sided game, positions are fluid; you really do not have forwards, midfielders, or defenders. Everyone does everything! Every player gets to attack and defend all the time. The players just need to make sure they are not crowding each other and finding space on the field. For the parents, again, it would be nice to get to see your child get the same opportunities on the field as every other player and not have a “position” labeled too early keeping your child from getting to do learn different aspects of the game.
What if parents did not have to pay to cover league fees, tournament fees, or for hotels in different cities when kids are 9 years old or younger? One of the arguments for small sided, “festival” format games is that it eliminates tournament formats and leagues that often produce an environment that is counterproductive to player development at the younger age groups when scores/results become a focus. If teams and clubs could agree on playing in small sided formats in local festivals, they should be able to reduce the cost to the parents as league and tournament fees would not be necessary. This should eliminate on travel time and costs as well since the parents are not traveling far to play games. The games should be within their community or neighboring communities. I am sure parents would not mind spending more weekends at home through the Fall and Spring, and at the same time, saving money each year on gas, food, hotel rooms and other fees.
The Fall and Spring can be a hectic time for parents. Multiple games during the week, different days and times for games each week, and a never changing schedule can make youth soccer a headache for parents. Trying to keep a schedule and coordinate between different events and activities for multiple kids, or just one kid, can be more complicated when game schedules change each week. When teams play in multiple leagues and need to schedule around tournaments things can become even more complicated. What if each week your child played on the same day and relatively the same time? For example, each Saturday the kids could come together and play for two hours around the same time each week. For 8 to 10 weeks in the Fall and the Spring, parents will know that they need to be available on Saturday before noon (just an example) for their kid’s game. Would that not be an easier arrangement to schedule and plan for?
If two or more clubs or teams could agree that they will play each Saturday morning in these small sided games, everyone could plan accordingly throughout the season with a more consistent and concrete schedule. This is beneficial from a parent standpoint in terms of scheduling, but also would allow kids to participate in other sports and activities. With a set schedule, it would be much easier for a child to schedule around other sports as the soccer schedule would be more concrete and not different week to week. There is no reason at the youngest age groups soccer needs to be as hectic as it currently is for parents. Using small sided games and these types of festival days would allow for a more consistent schedule week to week.
Kids enjoy small sided games. They get more touches on the ball and more opportunities to have success. If a child only gets to touch the ball one time during their time on the soccer field, and a mistake was made, they probably will not enjoy themselves. If the player has a number of opportunities on the ball, some successful and some not, they are more likely to enjoy the game. In addition, small sided games create a “community” or “culture” around the game. If all the players in an age group are together playing on the same day and same time, an EVENT can take place that the kids look forward to each week. They know all of their friends will be there and other kids and families. Everyone comes together and gets to play and watch other teams play. Instead of a single team, going to a park and then go home, all the teams within a community can be there together and support each other. Again, it creates an environment that is more about the kids and them enjoying themselves with their friends and family versus just showing up, playing a game, and going home.
Parents want their kids to enjoy what they do. That does not mean every second they are smiling or every moment goes as planned. In sports, there are good and bad moments and kids need to learn how to deal with them. But kids tend to leave a sport once the bad moments significantly outnumber the good moments. With small sided games, players may enjoy the experience more than in larger game formats where they do not get to play as much, score as much, or always be part of the game.
Playing small sided games has a lot of benefits for players. That is well documented. Obviously, there are benefits for the parents as well to change to this type of format. This requires a departure from old ideas about what youth soccer should or needs to look like for young kids, but with the increase of research and data it is becoming easier to accept. So, if there is an opportunity to improve the overall experience and development of young players, and make things a little easier for parents, what are we waiting for?
Posted by Administrator on Thu, 14 Mar 2013
by Tony Earp, Senior Director
If you ask veteran high level players why they did something on the field, you may not get the answer you would expect. Often high level athletes do a lot of things out of “instinct” or, as I like to say, out of habit. It is hard for the player to explain why or how it was done. It is something that has been learned over time, and at this point, is done on a subconscious level from meaningful repetitive training. As it is said, “Practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent.” Ok, but what IS learned over the many hours of training that produces these fast and efficient high level skill movements from elite players? I’ll give you a cue…
A cue is a “response-producing stimulus, often not consciously perceived, that results in a specific behavioral response.” During games, the play happens so fast that many of the decisions a soccer player makes, the smaller and frequent decisions, are done without a formal thought process. Many coaches are good at telling players how to do things on the field, but tend to leave out the cues that help explain the why and when. These cues are what high level players use to "make decisions" so quickly. So... when do players learn these cues and how do coaches help this process?
Let’s use individual defending as an example. Often, you will hear coaches tell players to “not dive in” or “you have to tackle that ball.” But why and when? Why should the player not try to tackle or tackle the ball during the game? Well, there are cues that players need to learn from an early age to help answer those questions.
Some cues for a player to try to win, or tackle the ball, are a bad receiving touch by the player receiving the ball, an under-weighted (softly hit) pass, the attacking player is facing their own goal, the attacking player’s head is down, or the player takes too big of a touch on the dribble (just to name a few). Now, with practice and reinforcement from an early age, the hope is these cues would tell players when to try to win the ball. When the cue is recognized, the body reacts accordingly allowing the defender to win the ball quickly. In the pace of a game, if this has to be thought about, it will take too long for the player to make the decision.
On the flip side, the player should not try to tackle the ball if the player’s touch allows them to bring the ball under control quickly, are facing the defender’s goal, the player’s head is up, and the attacker has a lot of space and time. Trying to tackle the ball at these moments can be costly for a defender. These cues would tell the defender to try to get in a good defensive position to limit the players options going forward, try to make play predictable for other defenders, and try to delay the attacking player from going forward or playing a penetrating ball forward.
Again, the decision whether to tackle the ball or not needs to become a reaction to these cues so the player can react in “real time” of the game. If a coach or teammate is telling a player to tackle the ball or not to dive in, normally it is already way too late.
Scoring a goal is one of the most difficult things to do. Player’s who have a "nose for the goal" are some of the highest paid players in the world. Are these player’s just natural goal scorers? Were they born with a gift? Maybe it is a gift, but it is wrapped in cues.
Great goal scorers use cues to find the easiest way to score goals. A player’s decision to score a goal needs to happen before or right as the opportunity is created. Players who struggle to score goals will seem indecisive or unsure around the goal and when they have a chance to take a shot. Although they may make a good decision and create a good chance to score, it happens just a little to slow for it to work. The goalkeeper or a defender has enough time to get in a good position to stop the shot or win the ball.
A goal scorer uses cues, without knowing it, to make decisions on how to score goals. Messi’s genius around the goal, and why he is arguably one of the best goal scorers of all time, has obviously something to do with his skill, but I think it is more about how quickly he reacts to cues in the game. Many of his goals look effortless as he lifts a ball over a goalkeeper or quickly deflects the ball into a seemingly defenseless goal?
When a player has an opportunity to score a goal, there are cues that need to be recognized that will affect how and when the player strikes the ball. A couple cues a player may consider is where the goalkeeper is located, is the goalkeeper moving and in which direction, and how is the goalkeeper standing (or is the Gk standing). This should influence how the ball is struck by the player to try to score. Again, this needs to happen quickly and without much thought. The action of striking the ball needs to be a reaction from one or more of these cues.
When players are coached on how to score goals, normally the coaching points are limited to “stay over the ball, be composed, lock the ankle, and follow through” and other technical points (all which are very good). But do we teach players the cues on when and why to strike the ball to score? The cues to how and why to strike the ball are even more valuable for a player than just the technical aspects of striking the ball. Should the player strike the ball with their laces, inside of the foot, outside of the foot, or the toe (yes, toe)? Should the shot be low or high, how much speed does the ball need, and should the player try to bend the ball? Obviously this is a lot to consider in a fraction of a second, so this is not something players can really consider. It needs to be something done as a reaction to learned cues from years of playing and proper instruction.
A couple more cues…
When and where to make a run into the 18 yard box to get a cross from a teammate?
A very difficult thing to teach a player and coaches can get frustrated by players making runs too early or too late and in the wrong area in front of the goal. A cue for when an attacking player should run into the 18 yard box would be the player with the ball pushing the ball out from under their feet and picking their head up. This is a simple cue that tells other players that their teammate is about to cross the ball. Where and why do the players make their runs? The cues for this would be where the defenders and goalkeeper are standing (or where are they not standing), where is the player starting the run into the box, from what area of the field is the ball being crossed (closer to the end line or farther out from goal), and will the cross swing towards or away from goal.
On the defensive side of this situation, the same cues for the attacking players indicating the ball will be crossed are the same cues for the defensive players for them to react and position themselves appropriately to defend the cross.
Should the player pass the ball to a player’s feet or play the ball into space?
First, how is the player who wants the soccer ball standing? If the player is moving towards the ball, facing the player with the ball, and maybe pointing at their feet, these cues indicate the ball should be played to feet. If the player is moving or facing away, pointing into space, or is being closely marked, then the ball will need to be played into space. Often when these cues are missed, you see players playing the ball over a teammate’s head or a ball played on the ground behind a player running into space.
There are many more cues in many situations that players need to learn so they can produce a reactive, or instinctive, response to them during games. Learning and understanding these cues is an invaluable part of a player’s development during their younger years. As the game becomes faster and more complex, these simple cues need to be automatic as there is little time to really think about them during the run of play.
It is critical coaches teach these cues along side technique and tactical aspects of the game to their players. This will allow the players overtime to associate cues in the game with the technique and tactical elements of the game being taught. Ideally, players will begin doing the right things automatically without much prompting from the coach or teammates. The players will be using the cues that the game presents to them to react and perform quicker and at a higher, more effective level.
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Posted by Administrator on Mon, 4 Mar 2013