Soccer Articles

Specialization: The Multi-Sport Athlete

by Tony Earp, Executive Director

There has been a lot of research and articles about the dangers of kids specializing in sports too early in hopes for a future career in the sport or scholarship opportunities down the road. Outside of physical and mental burnout, risk of more injuries, and the “fun” being removed from the game, many players deal with pressure from adults to excel on the playing field. The game becomes more about the adults than it does about what is best for the kids. The good news is that it seems parents are taking note and kids are doing other sports or activities throughout the year. The problem is that it seems an important step was skipped. Now instead of doing just one sport, kids are “specializing” in multiple sports. In other words, we forgot to take anything away, and we just keep adding on to the problem.

The idea is correct. It is important for players to play and experience different sports and activities as they grow up. Outside of developing better athletes, helps prevent overuse injuries, it also helps create more well-rounded individuals with a more diverse youth sports experience.

The move away from early specialization and its benefits relies a child playing multiple sports or activities, but not necessarily multiple at the same time. This is the detail that was overlooked by some and now kids are not specializing in just one sport, but are specializing in many sports. In some cases, the situation has gone from one extreme to the other.

With this comes a new kind of burnout and overscheduled kids who are training 4 plus hours a night in multiple sports. They run from basketball practice to soccer practice, or lacrosse practice to baseball practice, or track to volleyball. Parents do their best to try to manage the schedules and avoid overlap as much as possible so the kid can avoid missing a game or practice for both sports.

The demands of one practice, workload, intensity, what is physically or mentally targeted, is not at all coordinated with the other practices and game schedules. One practice may be a walk through before a game or recover day after a game, and the other practice could be a physically intense session with a lot of fitness oriented activities. In this case, both coaches, are trying to do what is best for their players, but since it is two separate sports with two different schedules, one practice can be very counter productive than the other. In short, it is much harder, and almost impossible, to manage the player’s mental and physical well being due to their being no collaboration between the coaches and sports.

This is not the coach’s fault as most run their teams and seasons in relation to just that season and team. It would be a tall order for coaches to manage their teams and players based on everyone’s extra sports or activities. It falls on the responsibility of the parents and the players to manage their schedules to make sure there is a good balance between both sports and life outside of sports.

Some players who do this are not playing sports on two “competitive” teams, but instead, are playing with one competitive or travel team while the other team is more recreational. Obviously the demands of recreational sports and competitive sports is often very different, but when combined can still create a situation where a child is overscheduled and not getting the proper rest throughout the week in relation to one sport or the others.

The other issue arises when the athlete is very good at both sports. Often, it can become inappropriate for a player to play at the recreational level of a sport because of their level of play. It can lead to a negative experience for the player, his teammates, and other teams in the league if a player has clearly outgrown this level of play. The player can be seen as a “ringer” and does not belong due to running up high scores or clearly dominating even the next strongest player.

If a player is good and loves to play multiple sports, and they overlap in seasons, then what do we expect the parent or player to do? Pick? This could be an impossible decision for both. Paying at the recreational level at any of the sports is not fun for the player or really that appropriate, and playing competitively at both sports is not appropriate for the physical and mental health of the athlete. It becomes a very tough decision, so it is understandable for the player to try to both even though it could be too much.

To help with this problem, sports need to offer competitive options that are not yearly or multiple season commitments. This would give players more options to play and train at a level that is appropriate for them, while not having to stack the same sports in the same season. Coaches and programs would need to allow flexibility for kids to play just for a single season or not train in the “off-season” without it being seen as a lack of commitment or dedication to their sport or a lack of drive to improve.

Instead, it would be supporting the multi-sport platform and the benefits that come with it that have been well documented. There will still be players who just participate in a single sport and train more than others, but that does not mean that those players will necessarily have an advantage over the kids who do not train year round. But, it also could mean that they do, but that is ok, because that is how it goes sometimes.

Every player is different and every situation is different, so players who want to, and do, play multiple sports, need to be handled according to what is best for that particular player. With that said, it has to be recognized that there are additional dangers with kids playing multiple sports that overlap in season. Just like a player who specializes and is just playing one sport without rest, a player with multiple sports and no rest could be in an even more developmentally inappropriate situation that can have more negative effects than just playing one sport. There can be additional wear and tear on the body. In reality, the training and time has just doubled… along with diversifying the experiences. The real goal would be to diversify in sports without drastically adding to the number of hours/time spent training and playing to create the most developmentally ideal and safe playing experience possible.

In short, there are issues with specialization, but there can be even more issues with playing multiple sports at the same time. It is all about balance which is what original push against specialization was based on. Although you want to be careful not to paint everyone with the same brush because what is right for one person is not right for another, most agree that a proper balance needs to be struck between sports and other aspects of life. Especially when the push to play one sport or multiple sports is coming from adults with goals of making higher level teams, scholarships, professional contracts etc, there are a lot of adverse effects to the child.

We do not want to acknowledge the dangers of specialization, but at the same time have kids stretched thin between multiple sports and only point to the benefits. The benefits of being a multi-sport athlete can quickly diminished by the overwork and fatigue placed on the body. We want to be careful we do not move from one extreme side of spectrum of youth sports to the other.

Kids can play one sport, or play multiple sports, but parents and coaches need to be constantly monitoring the player’s physical and mental condition. The player must be enjoying the experience and growing within that experience. It should be self-driven, and not externally driven. The player has to want it, not just the coach and/or parents.

As a child who loved one sport, I understand what it is like to have a passion for something and pursue it relentlessly. It has sacrifices and struggles, but I never did it for any other reason except that I loved it. I do not think that is right for most kids. And, what about the child who is truly passionate about multiple sports or activities? Do we deny the opportunity to pursue both? I think that is a hard thing to do.

In the end, we do not want to push kids in specializing in one sport because we think it will help them achieve more, and we also do not want to push kids into playing multiple sports because new research shows it is better for them and many high level athletes played multiple sports. The common ground there is the word PUSH. It is the PUSH from adults and coaches that make either scenario inappropriate for the child.

Know your child. Know your players. Make decisions based on what is best for them and what they love to do and are passionate about. Do not make decisions or push one way or the other out of fear your child or team will be left behind or will lose opportunities to be successful.

Tony Earp
Tony Earp

Director Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University, is a State Certified teacher, and is a USSF C License coach. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. Tony's achievements included 2nd Team All Big Ten in 2001 and 2002, serving as Captain in 2002. Tony was named Most Inspirational Player in 2001 and 2002, as well as achieving Scholar Athlete status in those same years. Tony was a member of the 2002 MLS Draft Pool. After playing, Tony was a history teacher at Licking Valley High School in 2005 and at Dublin Scioto High School in 2006. In 2007, Tony Earp accepted a position at SuperKick as the Director of Soccer Training where he continues to serve as the Senior Director of Training managing programs, establishing training curriculums, and coaching athletes. Tony was the Head Coach for Hilliard Bradley High School boys soccer program in 2009 and 2010. In addition, Tony is a Director for Classics Eagles FC and is the Director of the SuperKick Classics Juniors Academy. With 10 years of coaching experience, Tony has developed a reputation of being a coach who motivates players to expect more from themselves and creates a training environment conducive to developing high level players.

Posted by Administrator on Wed, 15 Feb 2017
tags: Soccer, youth soccer, coaching, sport

Developing Soccer IQ

By Brendan Vazquez, SuperKick Director

The need for more intelligent soccer players is becoming more apparent each and every day. The question is not would a better game intelligence be a benefit to all players but how do we develop this trait in our players?

A simple answer is we have to develop a situational awareness. There are three things we need to be keenly aware of when playing the game.

  1. Where is the ball?
  2. Where are our teammates?
  3. Where is the opposition?

If a player can answer these three questions, they will be able to make quicker and better decisions of where to take their first touch, where to dribble and the space to move into. All to often there is only one question that player can answer in game situations: where is the ball? Many times, as a coach, I can only answer this question as well. We become so fixated on the round thing, that we forget that there is a game being played. I had an opportunity to have a small group discussion with Former USMNT manager Jürgen Klinsmann. One of the things he mentioned to the group, when asked about player development, was the need to have better players between the ears. The need for more intelligent players at the top level is apparent in that we have not produced a true creative midfielder since the likes of Tab Ramos and Claudio Reyna.

If you have a few minutes check out this video of Sergio Busquets, the player that I believe is the catalyst to the Barcelona side that has dominated soccer over the past 8 years. You can also let me know what you think of the music!

Busquets Play Video

Pay close attention to his head, when he is on the ball, first touch goes into space that has been left unoccupied by the opposition. His head goes up to scan the field and he normally doesn’t look back down to the ball until it is time to release it. He does an excellent job of playing the ball forward because he is always aware of the answers to the three questions poised earlier. Not only is he an excellent attacker and possession retainer, he also uses these three questions to start his defensive action. He is able to deny space to the ball carrier, intercept passes, and tackle the ball because he is acutely aware of where the opposition wants to move the ball.

How do we develop these traits in training? At SuperKick we strive to increase the technical abilities of all players. Increasing the comfort of all players with the ball at their feet is key to being able to play with their heads up. However, with that, the need for the execution of technique becomes apparent when we play in small sided games. The game becomes sloppy as players do what they have been told, move the ball forward, even when that is not the best option. A simple game that I like to use is the three team keep away. We see players taking their first touch into defenders or away from passing options. The reason I enjoy the three team keep away game is it requires players to be able to pick up their head, recognize which team is the “Defensive” team and find a pass that allows them to keep possession. When this is not happening, a corrective action would be to stop the play, have the players close their eyes, and be able to identify where a specific player is. If they are not able to achieve this, we ask them to see more of the field.

A way to do this at home: ask players to perform skills and pick up their heads. An example would be to do a fundamental movement, and see how many touches they can take with their eyes forward before they either take another look down or loose possession of the ball. You can do this in a set amount of time and record the number of touches verses the number of times they look up. While this would be geared towards allowing players to pick up their heads as they dribble or have the ball at their feet.

The best way to develop this skill is in game situations. Restrictions on game situations to increase the awareness of players would be touch restrictions. Playing a game knowing you only have 1,2 or 3 touches, the need to have an idea of what to do with each touch becomes even more apparent. The game format really does not matter, as long as you have more than 2 passing options. However, this restriction alone does not equate to soccer intelligence. When in the game the need to take space with a dribble, just take a negative touch, to turn and beat a defender or the area of the goal to finish into would all constitute soccer intelligence. If you look at the game, you never see a team play in an exclusive number of touches or restrictions. You see players that are situationally aware and execute the action needed to make the situation successful. Sometimes it is playing in one touch out of pressure. Sometimes it’s to take on the player to draw a second defender to create a passing lane or finding a killer pass after the space has been occupied.

Coaches need to encourage players to look off the ball by doing the same and seeing their heads. Are they scanning the field or just looking at and surrounding the ball? When you go to a local professional or higher level players, you will see this in the best players. They rarely loose possession of the ball in any game situation. It could be a central back, central midfielder or striker. Having this ability to look away from the ball to see the situation is what makes them so good!

I will leave you with a video of Christian Pulisic, watch how he makes the killer pass after picking up his head and finding the space. There is a reason why he is playing at Borussia Dortmund at 18 years of age. He sees the field! He makes a choice based on what he sees. Hopefully we can continue to develop players that have the soccer intelligence and situational awareness of Christian Pulisic. When we do, we will have a chance of winning the World Cup.

Pulisic Video Play Video

Enjoy and keep your eyes off the ball!

Brendan Vazquez
Brendan Vazquez

Programming Operations Manager Brendan was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. He is a 2016 graduate of Otterbein University with a BA in Sport Management. Brendan holds his USSF ‘D’ License, NSCAA High School Diploma, and NSCAA GK 2 certificate. Brendan is a currently a member of the Olentangy Liberty Men’s Soccer Staff, responsible of the JVA team in the 2016 season. He is also a member of the Ohio South ODP District and State Staff. In the past Brendan, has been a volunteer assistant at Otterbein University, Head Coach of the Olentangy High School JVB team. Brendan has been a staff coach with Classic Eagles for the past three years working with the 2000/1999 Boys age group, the 2005/2006 Boys and Girls age groups. He is currently working with the 2001/2002 Girls and the 2004 Boys. Brendan works with many different ages and groups at SuperKick and that has lead him to appreciate the entire player development cycle, and refocuses him on the developmental points in each age group. Brendan works with SuperKids, the Technical Development Program, and the Skill and Speed Program throughout the year.

Posted by Administrator on Tue, 31 Jan 2017
tags:

One Question

by Tony Earp, Executive Director

Can you play? It is simple question and the most important one. All the evaluations and feedback, opinions about what makes up a great player, and debate about the most important skills a player can possess, all come back to that simple question. The only thing that matters when determining a player’s ability level is if or if not that player can meet the demands of the game. When players are training, focusing on improving different skill areas of the game is very important, but will it translate into the players being effective and better in the game?

As many coaches have seen, there are players who are technically sound, physically capable, understand the game, and work hard, but struggle to be effective in games. They have the tools, but cannot seem to use them when needed. All the pieces of the puzzle are there, but they cannot put them together to meet the demands and challenges of the game.

These players have worked hard fine tuning their technical ability on the ball. With both feet, they are sound in receiving, passing and dribbling with speed and control. Tactically, they understand their role in their position, the principles of attacking and defending, and the coach’s expectations on how the team should play. The player is physically capable of playing the game, and the player is competitive and wants to win. Again, all the critical skill areas to play the game are possessed by the player, but for some reason, the player is unable to use them in the game effectively.

Something was missing in the player’s training. Something very critical. Although the player has learned all of these skills and has these tools, he has never learned:

  1. HOW/WHEN/WHY TO USE THEM.
  2. HOW/WHEN/WHY THEY ARE CONNECTED

Often this occurs when learning of these skills are done in a vacuum, isolated of one another, and not within the context of the game.

Think of it this way… like many people, I enjoy watching the many YouTube videos of people doing crazy tricks and skills with the soccer ball. From juggling, skill moves with the ball and finishing, there are some amazing things people can do. Many may watch these videos and just assume these people must be great players based on what they can do with the ball, but that assumption may be very wrong.

The only thing I know watching that type of video is that the player is exceptional at that one skill. I have no idea if the player is actually an effective player in the game. I know he can juggle, do a wicked (insert Boston accent) skill move, or hit a crazy bending shot, but I have no idea if that player is any good at playing the game.

I am not being critical of those players or those videos. I actually think they are tremendous tool for young players to watch and get ideas to train on their own, spark their own creativity, and expand their understanding on what is possible to do with the ball.

The point is that a player’s goal is NEVER to just get good at a single skill movement or an activity in training. It is not to be a better juggler or be able to do a skill move with the ball. A player’s goal should ALWAYS be to improve their ability to play the game. So when training, or practicing any skill, it always needs to be done in the context of how it will be used in the game.

When training, without the context of the game, or a clear understanding of the application of the skill being worked on, it is possible to develop players who are excellent at training but struggle to play the game. Just like in the classroom, information and skills learned are most effective and useful when applied to their required use when it really matters (in real life).

In contrast, there are players that in training seem to struggle, but when the game starts, they are able to play at a higher level than expected. They may not be as technical on the ball or physically good as we think they should be, but when they step into a game, the player can find ways to be successful and very effective in helping his team. On an evaluation, a coach may have a slew of areas the player needs to improve on, maybe a lot more than other players, but at the same time, the player seems to be more successful than a player who would rate better on a written evaluation.

This type of player shows a clear understanding of several important things:

  1. His own strengths and weaknesses. He understands how to play towards his strengths and hide his weaknesses.

  2. The game. Really understanding nuances of the game, the critical points, that allow the player to make exceptional decisions and anticipate the game.

  3. Competitive spirit. Let’s face it. Some players are better because they just want it more.

The larger point is that all players are deficient in some skill areas comparatively to other players, but that may have little impact on their level of play. Despite not being as strong in some areas as other players, their “total game”, or their ability to be effective in games, is much higher than players who have considerable better technical or physical abilities.

Again, the real “evaluation” or the only “test” that really matters in determining a player’s level is how they do when the whistle blows. I have always been one who believes in player evaluations and feedback, but when we cut through all of the fog of player development and determining a player’s level of play, the only true evaluation is the game. The game is the only real measure of a player’s level of play.

The game is not biased, it is not political, it has no self-interests, and does not care about getting phone calls or emails from parents. The game will always be the most honest person with any player about what they are and are not able to do. Simply, either you can play or you cannot play.

When training, keep this in mind. Your goal, whether on your own, with your coach, or with some friends, is to get better at playing the game. Find ways to train yourself to be more effective in a game, when it counts.

Skills are necessary, juggling is important to improve your touch, YouTube is fun, but the game cares very little about how many “views” your last video post received, how many times you can juggle, or how crazy your skill moves look. It will only ask you one simple questions once the whistle blows… Can you play?

Tony Earp
Tony Earp

Director Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University, is a State Certified teacher, and is a USSF C License coach. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. Tony's achievements included 2nd Team All Big Ten in 2001 and 2002, serving as Captain in 2002. Tony was named Most Inspirational Player in 2001 and 2002, as well as achieving Scholar Athlete status in those same years. Tony was a member of the 2002 MLS Draft Pool. After playing, Tony was a history teacher at Licking Valley High School in 2005 and at Dublin Scioto High School in 2006. In 2007, Tony Earp accepted a position at SuperKick as the Director of Soccer Training where he continues to serve as the Senior Director of Training managing programs, establishing training curriculums, and coaching athletes. Tony was the Head Coach for Hilliard Bradley High School boys soccer program in 2009 and 2010. In addition, Tony is a Director for Classics Eagles FC and is the Director of the SuperKick Classics Juniors Academy. With 10 years of coaching experience, Tony has developed a reputation of being a coach who motivates players to expect more from themselves and creates a training environment conducive to developing high level players.

Posted by Administrator on Fri, 20 Jan 2017
tags:

Tactical Robots

by Tony Earp, Senior Director

What is most important? Teaching young players individual skills or a tactical understanding of the game? It is a debate many coaches have, and often a stark contrast you can see between two teams when they play against each other. Although both sets of coaches want their players to be successful, there may be a difference between WHEN they want their kids to have success and the type of “tactics” being taught.

So, what is more important? Simply, it is not one or the other. The answer is both are important, but too often, it is the “tactics” that takes precedent over skills in a "robotic" way.

It is critical young kids develop necessary skills to play this game in order to be successful later on. If you cannot control the ball, you do not have a mastery of the skills, you cannot play this game to your full potential. With that said, as you are teaching young kids the skills to play the game, you also teach the ability of how to use those skills in games.

When you are working on 1v1 skills, it is not just how to beat the player, but WHY and WHEN? Is it best to dribble or pass in that situation? When working on passing and receiving it is not just the technique of how to do it, but WHY and WHEN did you take a certain type of touch in a certain direction with a certain foot, or why did you play that pass, at that angle, at that moment, in that direction, with that speed or with that texture.

When playing and training, you talk about finding space, and helping them see what is going on around as part of the skill development and ability to use them and that is learned over time. The biggest complaint I hear about coaches of older players is not about the players' understanding of the game, although it can always be better, but their lack of ability to do the simple things well enough, all the time, to play at a speed that is necessary at higher levels of competitions. Their control touch and competency on the ball is not good enough to deal with the high speed, unpredictable, pressures of the game.

With that in mind, and I think this where some coaches of young players make a huge mistake, sometimes a false or "rehearsed" type of tactics is taught to young players trying to learn to play. Players only move and stay exactly where the coach asks them to, not having to think, make decisions for themselves, or respond to what is happening in the game. It cosmetically looks great when you watch the team play, and it is often assumed that the players have a great understanding of the game. But the understanding is shallow, it is only on the surface, as it does not show a strength in competency, but rather a demonstration of the players ability to follow instructions. The players cannot solve the problems of the game. They can only do what the coach asks.

It is like teaching a kid that 2 + 2 = 4, but that is it. You never teach the child why, so he has no idea why that is the case. The kid has no idea about the actual value of each number, or that you are adding up its value to get to 4. So if you phrase the question differently, "If you have 2, but you need 4, how many more do you need?", the kid would not know the answer. All the kid understands is the statement that 2 + 2 = 4 because that is what he was told.

At times, coaches with young teams will teach the skills needed only to play the way the coach wants them to, and only allow the players to do exactly what the coach wants. But what about when the coach is no longer the coach, and the next coach asks them to do more? Or what happens when the game evolves, and there are more players, playing in different positions, more decisions to make, and the speed of the game is increasing? In the moment, a very well organized U8 year old team can have a lot of success in terms of results, but how many of those players have the same type of success later on as circumstances change and the game gets harder?

Helping players use space properly and how to make decisions on the field can start at an early age, but it cannot be done in a way that limits players options and ability to explore and learn the game by trial and error. Simply, neither skills or tactics can be taught in a vacuum, and both need to be done at a cognitive level that is both appropriate and promotes growth.

As kids move up levels, coaches will continue to look for important qualities in players. Do the they have the skills required to play the game? Are they intelligent players who understand the intricacies of the game? Can they make decisions on their own? Can they learn from mistakes and make adjustments? Can they compete and mentally handle stresses of the game?

The goal is for any player who is willing and works hard enough to have all those things by the time he is in his competition years (15+). All the years before that are part of the process in getting there, so nothing can be skipped or prioritized in the wrong order for short term results, UNLESS the coach’s end goal is different.

Long term development is not everyone's goal. And if it is not, then that process does not have to be followed. Since only less than 1% of kids will ever play at the highest level, many would argue that it is more important to just make sure the kids are having success and winning. Give them the best chance to win now. I understand the logic, but do not agree with it. I believe you teach every kid like they will be a professional because we have no idea who that will be, and I do not want a kid to miss the chance because of something I did to meet my own short term goals.

To use another school analogy, it is the same reason why you teach kids letters and sounds, and then teach them how to create words, that can be used to make sentences, and then can be used to write paragraphs/stories. It is a progressive process builds on itself. You can instruct a young kid to copy a long sentence down, and show that to someone else and say, "look what this kid just wrote", but the kid has no idea what the letters, words, or sentence means. They are "just copying" what they have been asked to copy. What might look to be impressive is really not. It is just regurgitation of what was asked of them to do, and does not show meaningful understanding.

So in short, skills are critical to be taught at a young age and the game should be fun. It has to be fun or the kids will not play very long. Within that context, the kids can be taught how to play with other players and work as a team. In smaller numbers at the younger teams (pairs), then progressing into threes, and then into larger numbers as they get older.

An older player with great skill but no understanding of how to play will struggle just as much as a player who has a great understanding of the game but lacks the skill to execute a decision.

I have heard an overemphasis of “tactics” at a young age defined as teaching “smart” soccer. I am not sure how you teach "smart soccer" without teaching skills required to play that way. "Smart soccer" with the youngest teams translates to "mistake free" or "paint by numbers" soccer where little learning and development is taking place. Just a regurgitation of rehearsed soccer from a practice where kids spent most of their time listening to instructions and walking through set plays versus actually playing or practicing (or learning). Like rehearsing for a show, the kids go over their lines each practice and are asked to stick to them when they get to the game. Any deviation from their scripted roles is punished.

Now, I have heard a coach use the term “Brain Ball” with his players. This is something completely different. He asks his players to make choices in the game based on what they see. He asks them to solve the problems of the game using their brains and the skills learned in practice. For me this is “smart” soccer because the coach is asking the players to think for themselves, make mistakes and learn from them, and use all the skills learned in training during the game. The result? Players with the skills needed to play the game and ability to think for themselves when they are older. The players will not be like many who have no idea what to do unless they are told. The players will not be those who can regurgitate tactics when it is clearly defined for them, but have no idea how to apply them on their own.

Unplug the joystick and the player will stand idle.

I will end with this though... there is no set formula/timeline. Coaches will constantly debate the delicate balance between the time spent on skills and tactics in training, and debate is always good. It usually breeds new ideas and innovation in pedagogy. But in the simplest terms, at the youngest groups, if they are learning good habits in training, the skills needed to play the game, having fun, and at each practice and game learning a little more about how to play, the players and coach are on the right path.

Tony Earp
Tony Earp

Director Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University, is a State Certified teacher, and is a USSF C License coach. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. Tony's achievements included 2nd Team All Big Ten in 2001 and 2002, serving as Captain in 2002. Tony was named Most Inspirational Player in 2001 and 2002, as well as achieving Scholar Athlete status in those same years. Tony was a member of the 2002 MLS Draft Pool. After playing, Tony was a history teacher at Licking Valley High School in 2005 and at Dublin Scioto High School in 2006. In 2007, Tony Earp accepted a position at SuperKick as the Director of Soccer Training where he continues to serve as the Senior Director of Training managing programs, establishing training curriculums, and coaching athletes. Tony was the Head Coach for Hilliard Bradley High School boys soccer program in 2009 and 2010. In addition, Tony is a Director for Classics Eagles FC and is the Director of the SuperKick Classics Juniors Academy. With 10 years of coaching experience, Tony has developed a reputation of being a coach who motivates players to expect more from themselves and creates a training environment conducive to developing high level players.

Posted by Administrator on Mon, 19 Sep 2016
tags:

Control Defined

Coaches talk to players a lot about their control of the ball and how to improve it. It is probably one of the most common things a player gets feedback on during training and games. “Better first touch” or “keep it close” are both examples of what a player might hear from a coach when the ball gets too far from the body and possession is lost. The coaches want the players to keep the ball closer to the body so they can protect it from defenders, while at the same time, be able to execute their next decision on the ball. With that said, is that really all that “control” is when it comes to handling the ball during a game? It is just keeping the ball close to the body? Yes, these are parts of what control of the ball entails, but it is not the complete picture. So, let’s define control….

Control is defined as “the power to influence or direct.” Throughout the game, a player’s ability to influence and direct the ball is the foundation of being able to play this game. So, control is not just keeping the ball close to the body. No, a player who has real control of the ball, can make it do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and wherever he wants.

A player with great control is a player who can consistently have the ball react to the body exactly how the player anticipated. If the player wanted to go left, the player went left. He wants his touch on the dribble to move the ball three yards from him, the ball moves three yards or somewhere very close. With any part of the body the player can legally use in the game, the player can direct and influence the ball to do exactly what was intended with little need for corrective touches or adjustments.

When we talk to players about “controlling” the ball, it cannot only be in the context of keeping the ball close to the body. It needs to be applied to every aspect of the game. Whether it is dribbling, passing, finishing, or trapping the ball, the player must have that element of control.

Dribbling does not just require a player to keep the ball close to the body when moving with it. Instead, dribbling requires the player to be able to make contact with the ball with the appropriate part of the foot, on the correct part of the ball, with the proper weight, and at the right time in order to successfully maneuver the ball around pressure and into space. The slightest miscalculation in any of those areas usually results in a loss of possession or a lost opportunity due to the player needing extra touches or time to get where he wanted to go.

When you watch a player handle the ball, does it look like he knows where the ball is about to go or does the player look like they are reacting to every touch? In other words, do they look surprised by the direction or distance of their touch? A player with good control is confident in where he is directing the ball with each touch. Whether he is trapping the ball, passing the ball, finishing, or dribbling, the touch taken on the ball looks intentional and with purpose.

Keeping the ball close is also not always the goal for a player. There are times in the game when a larger touch on the dribble ,or with the first touch, is needed to get away from pressure or quickly move forward into space. If a player is running with the ball, and has plenty of space, the player is faster the less number of times the player needs to touch the ball while running. The player needs to manage the distance of each touch to make sure nobody else can get to the ball before he does, but a touch may need to be farther from the body to allow the player to accelerate faster into the space before the defender can get there.

When a player receives the ball, to keep it close to the body may hurt the player’s ability to keep the ball. It could trap the player in pressure making it easier for a defender to close the player down. It is necessary in the game to be able to take a first touch away from the body into space versus keeping it close when appropriate. This allows the player to escape pressure or take advantage of space before the defender can close him down.

In both of these situations, the player must be able to direct and influence the ball to determine where it will go next. A miscalculated touch a little too far right or left, too soft or too hard, can quickly cause the player to lose possession of the ball. The more control players have of the ball, their influence and direction of each touch, the more likely they will have success.

Control is directly related to a player's ability to strike the ball to pass or finish from close or farther distances. A player with great control knows how hard and where to hit the ball to get the desired result of the strike. By using the correct part of the foot and proper follow through, the player can get the correct pace and texture to the strike. All of this is “control” because it is the player’s ability to influence and direct the ball. Players with great control are usually tremendous at passing and finishing, especially in regards to putting different types of spin and loft on their strikes.

Control of the ball directly correlates with a player’s ability to control the body. With great body control and positioning, the player puts himself into a better situation to get the desired contact with the ball. When a player is off-balance or out of position, it is difficult to get the necessary touch on the ball. This is why foot speed, agility, and coordination work is important for players in training. When players are deficient in these developmental areas, it is harder for them to be successful with the ball. Improved body awareness gives the player the ability to control how they are making an impact with the ball. Being able to direct and influence the body allows the player to more easily direct and influence the ball.

Again, control is not only keeping the ball close to the body. A player can trap a ball or dribble with it close to the body and still have a considerable lack of control of the ball. Control is about total influence and direction of each touch on the ball. A player with great control has few limitations to what he can make the ball do. As a result of that control, they not only can influence and direct the ball, they tend to be the players that can influence and direct the outcomes of games.

Tony Earp
Tony Earp

Director Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University, is a State Certified teacher, and is a USSF C License coach. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. Tony's achievements included 2nd Team All Big Ten in 2001 and 2002, serving as Captain in 2002. Tony was named Most Inspirational Player in 2001 and 2002, as well as achieving Scholar Athlete status in those same years. Tony was a member of the 2002 MLS Draft Pool. After playing, Tony was a history teacher at Licking Valley High School in 2005 and at Dublin Scioto High School in 2006. In 2007, Tony Earp accepted a position at SuperKick as the Director of Soccer Training where he continues to serve as the Senior Director of Training managing programs, establishing training curriculums, and coaching athletes. Tony was the Head Coach for Hilliard Bradley High School boys soccer program in 2009 and 2010. In addition, Tony is a Director for Classics Eagles FC and is the Director of the SuperKick Classics Juniors Academy. With 10 years of coaching experience, Tony has developed a reputation of being a coach who motivates players to expect more from themselves and creates a training environment conducive to developing high level players.

Posted by Administrator on Tue, 16 Aug 2016
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