Monday, October 20, 2008
I have a question about formations, especially the back players. I coach recreation Under-12 girls and we play 11 vs. 11. All of the other teams have their four back players stand at the 25 yard line and wait for the ball to come to them. I encourage my back players to get involved and get forward as much as the game will allow. We have lost every game so far and our parents are requesting that we do the same because we're not winning. Is this the way youth recreational soccer is supposed to be? Most of the girls on my team played for a different coach last year and she instructed her backs to stay 25 yards in front of the goal.
What do I do? Please advise.
Please do resist the urgings of the parents and instead educate them on why your approach is the correct one. In the National Coaching Schools, one of the tactical concepts we teach is called compactness. Essentially this means a team should move up field as a unit on the attack and move back into their half of the field to defend. We expect everyone on the team to be involved in the attack and everyone on the team to be involved in defending. Even with the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program we look for players who have the versatility to be involved on 'both sides of the ball' as the saying goes. So we look for talented well-rounded players who can both defend and attack.
The approach of telling fullbacks to not move forward beyond a 25 yard mark is inhibiting those players from learning how to play the game.
Coaches take this action for a variety of reasons. Among those reasons are a lack of understanding of the tactics of soccer or a fear of failure. Soccer, like basketball, is a game where the team moves together around the playing area. Imagine a basketball team where some players are told to never cross the halfway line for the fear of the opponents scoring; that indeed would be a poorly played game of basketball.
What's most important in your situation is to teach the players about positioning. The idea here is the distance and angles that teammates take between each other during the match. Those distances and angles constantly change as the ball and players move around the field. It requires anticipation and game sense from the players. When children as young as 12-years-old are learning the sport of soccer they will make mistakes in regard to positioning. This is simply the learning process in action. However those mistakes may mean lost scoring opportunities in front of the opponents' goal and giving away scoring opportunities to the other team in front of your goal. This creates fear among the coaches and supporters who often value the score line more than a well played game. This is the fear of failure component I mentioned earlier. Regularly the adults involved in youth sports fear losing more than the players do. Yet winning, losing and tying are part of learning how to play the game.
So your challenge now is to balance short-term and long-term objectives. For the short-term work on the team learning to respond quickly when the ball is lost to the opponents to sprint back into good defensive positions - and here I mean the entire team. For the long-term objective work on the concept of positioning, which in the end is more important than learning positions.
Do not hesitate to let us know if the US Youth Soccer Technical Department can be of further assistance.