Just Boot the Ball Up!

We have all heard coaches say: “just play our game” or “let’s just follow our game plan” or “this system works best”. Well, coaches are sometimes a bit bullheaded and forget to take into consideration many factors such as weather, field size and especially the talent of your team.

Let’s take weather for example. In England and in other colder nations, the weather is usually a bit cooler and the fields are more likely to be very wet. To adapt to these conditions, these teams usually play a quicker, more aggressive style which involves a lot of movement. Mainly…to keep warm. If they stood still, they will be freezing and would not perform very well. Because the fields are usually very wet, teams tend to play the ball in the air a lot and have their teammates chase it down. If they played the ball on the ground, the ball would just get stuck in the mud. Critics say there is no skill or purpose to this “kicking and chasing.” If it was just kicking the ball blindly, I would agree, but have you ever tried kicking a ball 50 yards perfectly to a player speeding down a sideline? It takes a lot of skill and a lot of practice.

On the other part of the globe, you have teams who play in the boiling heat where the grass rarely grows and the dust rises with each pass. These teams don’t want to die of heat exhaustion after 10 minutes so they take their time, keep the ball on the ground, don’t kick and chase too much. Critics of this style would say that this is too boring, too slow, too much time on defense. Well, take a look at any Brazilian team play and you will see why soccer from Brazil is poetry in motion. Sure, they play a controlled slower game, but then all of a sudden… BOOM….a quick run, a quick pass, a brilliant dribble past two defenders, another quick pass…. boom…. Gooooooooooal! Then, they slow down and do it all over again. If the Brazilians tried this style on the soggy fields of Liverpool or Manchester, they would have limited success. Or if the English tried to play “kick and run” on a hot sunny day in Rio, after 15 minutes they would collapse and the Brazilians would end up dancing circles around them.

Although weather is a strong influence in the way a team plays, there are other factors that make the style of a team. Field size could decide the way a team plays. On a large-wide field, a team might play an offensive wide-open style. On a more narrow field, a defensive team has an advantage by stifling any wide open attacks by clogging up the middle of the field. As you might guess, on a short field, the long ball style of the English could become very ineffective.

The most important factor of all depends on…

…the players on your team.

First, age is the most important factor of all. Kids should learn by doing. If they are told ay seven to just boot the ball to protect a win, when will they learn how to trap and have control. Winning should never be more important than developoing a young player’s mind and body.

Secondly, unless a coach knows all the players on his team before the season starts, he or she should not go into training stuck on only one style of play. For example, if a coach wants speed down the wings with long passes to them, then he better make sure he has some players with speed and players who can kick the ball long and accurate. If a coach wants to have a team that has only one forward to pass off to his midfielders making overlapping runs, then the coach better make sure his forward can control the ball well, hold off two or three defenders and still make a good passes to his teammates making their runs. And these players better have tons of endurance. If not, then the coach may need to step back, change his favored style and adapt to the strengths of his players.

So often, we see youth coaches trying to force their players to do things that professional players have practiced for years. Coaches need to give their players alternatives and make sure that they can succeed at what they are asked to do. Especially in AYSO, if players are not yet skilled enough to play a possession game, keep that as a goal for the team to strive for but also give your players other objectives so they can be successful. Otherwise, your season will be long and frustrating for you, your parents and especially the kids.

Be realistic about what “playing our game” really means. Instead of your own team, you may be really trying to play Brazil’s game and…if you look closely at your AYSO schedule, your team might not be playing in Rio this weekend.