Coaches Blog

Sam's Blog is a bi-weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. Sam Snow is the Coaching Director for US Youth Soccer.


Speed of play

Sam Snow

Jeff Cade, the Technical Director at Nevada Elite FC, asked the question below of a few colleagues.
The phrase speed of play is used in almost every training session. For the most part, the coaches are using it in the sense of increasing the overall speed of the session or game. I do not disagree with the phrase being used in this sense. However, I have spoken to many coaches recently and have come to understand that speed of play to them is the recognition of the tempo of the game. They feel speed of play is the ability to follow and change the rhythm of possession vs. counter vs. combination. What do you see in the actual meaning of speed of play?
Greg Maas, Technical Director for Utah Youth Soccer had this to say:
Speed of play is common soccer jargon. In short, I regularly ask players what ‘speed of play’ means to them and here's a few of the consistent responses I often get:
·         Play faster or quicker
·         Communicate
·         Move more
I will then ask level two or three questions, such as, "Can you help me to understand what you mean by playing faster or quicker?" Or, "What's another way we can get the ball from point A to point B more effectively?" This line of questioning often provides answers closer to what I am looking for (no particular order or preference).
Some of the answers given include:
·         Limiting touches on the ball; playing one or two touch
·         Recognizing when to pass and when to dribble
·         Improving the pace (weight of the pass) of the ball or recognizing the correct type of pass to make (balls to feet versus balls to space)
·         Combining with each other to create better attacking options
·         Changing direction and the point of attack  
·         Movement off of the ball in support of the ball or to unbalance the opposition
·         Decision making on and off of the ball — making quicker, more effective and efficient decisions
·         Recognizing and exploiting numerical advantages on the field
Here are the factors involved in speed of play for an individual:
·         Mental: perceptual speed, anticipation speed, decision making speed and reaction speed
·         Physical: movement speed (without the ball) and action speed (with the ball)
To me, it first involves cognitive speed and then speed of producing the motor skills necessary to produce the proper technique needed based on one’s tactical decision.
Therefore, it is much better to set up situations in training where the players solve the problems and make most of their own decisions. It is also vital to hammer technique. When this technique is used, the motor skills pathways for performing technique become second nature. The player can then become efficient at possession, penetration, or combine as they ‘quickly’ make the decision mentally/tactically to perform an action (technique) in a given situation.
Think of Messi—he isn't big, but he is a magician because he thinks five steps ahead and can anticipate an opponent’s reaction. He has great reaction speed and has unbelievable movement without the ball and even better action speed with the ball. Marta, in the women's game, is another example that can be used (except she is very left footed, which maybe hurts my example a bit).
I believe speed of play as a group or team can be defined better as understanding the tempo of the game.
Carrie Taylor, girls Director for the Vancouver Whitecaps
One of my favorite sayings is, "The beauty of the game is in its simplicity." Quite simply to me, speed of play is how quickly players make decisions. The decisions to pass, dribble, move with the ball, and move off the ball—how quickly do I make those decisions? One-and two-touch passing can affect the speed of play, but ultimately to make a one or two touch pass is still a decision. A player’s technical ability also needs to be considered. Player's with lesser technical ability will struggle to make quicker decisions because the lack of technique does not allow for technical proficiency to make quick decisions, thus affecting the speed of play. What does that mean? The technical level of a player and a team will most certainly affect the speed of play. Therefore, teams should spend a fair amount of time on the technical aspects of the game. If players are more technical, the game itself creates the speed of play.
"The game is the great teacher." You can spend as much time as you want on the speed of play with your team, but if they lack the technical ability that team and those players will only achieve a certain degree of speed of play. This can be affected by how well a team is able to put pressure on them as a team and on the individual players.
Does speed of play have to do with the tempo of the game, changing the point of attack or how quickly we counter? To me, those are all end products of speed of play. How quickly we change the point of attack, how quickly we counter and at what speed we play are all decisions we make. For example, if you watch Barcelona, sometimes the tempo of the game is very slow and methodical when they have possession and even if the other team tries to high pressure them. They still are able to keep a calm, very slow and methodical tempo; however, and the decisions they make are done quickly to keep that tempo. When Barcelona possesses, even at a slow tempo, the midfielders and backs still only take one or two touches, even when under high pressure. Usually, the biggest change in tempo is displayed as they get forward and combine. Much of the interplay is one and two touch right to goal, usually ending in a great finish. It takes a lot of technique to play that way. But all the way to the goal, decisions are being made to play one or two touch. If you cannot play that way technically, then players usually take an extra touch which can slow the speed of play causing a player to get caught in possession and thus losing possession of the ball. I believe the same holds true for the changing the point of attack and counter attack. The technique of the players and team determines the speed of attack. The better the technique, the quicker the decision can be made to counter or change the point of attack. Plain and simple, poor technique means slower decisions, and slower speed of play.
It all comes down to technique, technique, technique. And when you are done, work on technique some more! I don't care how hard you try and make your teams or players understand, speed of play, tempo, changing the point of attack, counter attacking or whatever it may be. If the players don't have the technique they will to achieve only a limited level of speed of play.
Eddie Henderson, Heat FC Nevada - Technical Director
Playing quickly when needed. Put a foot on the ball when needed. Understanding when to use one touch and when to dribble or hold to slow it down. Overall recognition.
 Kai Edwards, Head Coach Women's Program - St. Mary's College
There have been thought provoking question and responses so far. In education, this is considered an inquiry of the highest level, above basic knowledge and comprehension, falling into the critical thinking category. My background prior to my current position was as an honors geometry teacher for 13 years. So here is my addition to the very insightful and spot on responses so far by the Coaches. Basically hoping to put another layer on the information....
By Definition:
·         Speed = Swiftness of action
·         Of = Derived or coming from
·         Play = moving or operating freely within a bounded space
How can this apply to the game of soccer? Well, does understanding and executing the angles matter in speed of play? Angles matter not only in attack, but also in defense and transition.
Angles of/to:
·         First touch to solve pressure
·         The pass to penetrate or keep possession
·         Strike on goal with higher scoring percentage
·         Cross to a more dangerous chance on goal
·         Support in attack above and below the ball
·         Runs to unbalance the opposition and get on the end of the pass
·         Transition to attack opening more time and space
·         Counterattacking runs – straight or curled
·         Transition to defense getting back behind the ball to protect the goal or immediate pressure
·         Deny passing channels and space to move forward
·         Recovery run
·         GK - Make the save
·         GK - Distribution
Another way to add onto the speed of play topic would be, "How quickly can you take advantage of the angles of success in the game of soccer?"



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