Gluck: Coaching Youth #Soccer Part II

In my most recent article, Coaching Youth Soccer Part I, I ended with this quote.

There are roughly 8,250 square yards on a soccer pitch, if a team only makes use of around 7,000 square yards (by consistently playing counter-attacking and direct attacking soccer) then your ability to create time and space is only 3/4ths of your opponents.

When I teach players HOW to play soccer I use the entire pitch.

My main training tool is Rondo.  My training plans have multiple Rondo scenarios that use EVERY INCH of the pitch.

The critical part of these scenarios is not the consistent use of technical skills players need to master, it’s WHY players need to master them and HOW players use them to maximize controlled possession-based soccer.

For example.

  1. Every player needs to learn how to win the ball in their defending final third, but they also need to learn what they need to do with it once they win it.  Dribbling the ball out of danger is the wrong thing to do (manage risk) – so dribbling drills after winning the ball in the defending final third are NEVER-EVER trained.
  2. Likewise, if the team is pressing in the middle of the pitch, and they win the ball,  a decision on whether or not dribbling is appropriate (manage risk) depends on:
    1. Is the player able to dribble?  If not proficient in dribbling the player should:
      1. Pass the ball where you face (keep it simple) to relieve congestion and retain possession, or
      2. Turn away from the opponent and pass the ball out of the area to relieve congestion and retain control.
    2. Is there time and space available to dribble into?
      1. If the player is good at turning and dribbling, but time and space is not available, then no dribbling and refer to sub-decisions in paragraph 2.a. above.
      2. If the player is good at turning and dribbling and time and space is available then dribble as appropriate.
      3. Once an opponent is encountered refer to sub-decisions in paragraph 2.a. above.
  3. Finally, if the team is pressing high up the pitch, and they win the ball in the attacking final third it’s entirely possible, and even encouraged (manage risk), to see the player take two or three touches, dribble around an opponent (take them on) and pass/strike the ball as appropriate.
    1. NOTE:  Players in a forward position should already have mastered turning, dribbling and taking on opponents, therefore making a decision to dribble the ball is expected.
    2. If taking on the opponent isn’t going to end in a shot on goal then refer to sub-decisions in paragraph 2.a. above with one exception (risk based).
    3. Always consider the opportunity of making a pass into space that may create an opportunity for a teammate (or yourself with a return pass) where a shot on goal can be offered.
  4. All told, there’s probably 15-20 separate decisions each player (attacker and defender), involved in those scenarios, makes in this short example; all within the time of 2 or 3 seconds, within a 90+ minute game.
    • It’s not silly to estimate that if a player is making as many as 5 decisions every 2 seconds that’s 150 decisions per minute, equaling roughly 13,500 decisions in a 90+ minute game…
    • Muscle memory mentality is critical.

To ignore teaching decision making when running ANY Rondo training sessions, relative to pitch location, ignores HOW the game of soccer is played.

In closing.

As a coach, don’t just set up a “coned area” to work first touch, passing, and turning skills.  Set up the cones in the actual area of the pitch your training session focuses on.

  • Rotate all players into all positions during this training.

A winger who learns why and how a fullback is going to do things will be a better winger, and vice versa.  

Players physically develop at different rates – so the tallest player (who sometimes ends up playing center-back at the age of 12) is no longer the tallest player by the age of 17.

As a coach you should know that a player only controls the ball for about five minutes in a 90+ minute game.  Therefore, at least 50% of your coaching drills should include reinforcing their roles and responsibilities without the ball.

A successful coach should train appropriate use of technical skills as well as these key muscle memory mentality concepts: 

  1. Decision making,
  2. Positional Shape,
  3. The value of two-touch passing,
  4. Where and when dribbling can/should occur,
  5. Communication, (my words like settle, keep it simple, etc)
  6. Creating overloads,
  7. Mitigating under-loads,
  8. Control, and
  9. Risk

The greatest reward a coach can have is to hear a player say this:

“I think it just takes a bit of training until it becomes almost an instinct and you do it without thinking because if you’re doing it on instinct rather than thinking about it, then you’re doing it much faster because it’s much more natural.”

Quote provided by this article, from Timbers academy grad Foster Langsdorf, after Stanford Cardinal won the NCAA College Cup this year.  I’d offer Foster Langsdorf is advocating muscle memory mentality.

The second greatest reward a coach can have is to see ‘their’ youth player get promoted to a higher level of soccer.

My vision is American players, like Foster, need to begin to learn muscle memory mentality at the age of 10 or 11 so they fully understand HOW to play soccer by the age of 18 or 19.

Instead of beginning to learn these concepts at the age of 16 or 17 and not understanding HOW to play soccer until the age of 21 or 22.

Best, Chris





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