Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Possession is always a highly valued topic for soccer practices and keeping possession certainly helps a team at many points in a game. However if we focus on possession alone without directional possession, we fail to optimally prepare our players for the game.
When participating in a 360 degree possession game a player can quickly find the most immediate or closest option in any direction and, thus, do not need to look forward or far or prepare their body as they would do so if needing to go forward. A player’s approach to the ball, hip positioning, pre-reception scanning, and first touch are all different when playing 360 degrees versus playing directionally. There clearly are times players need not go forward in the game and simply maintaining possession to make a defense chase is exactly what a team wants to do. If only practicing this a team will not have the necessary skills when they do need to go forward (or the time presents itself to do so) and attack the goal. Speed of play always becomes a larger variable when playing directionally as space becomes smaller and defenses become more compact than they could in a 360 degree game. True, a defense would try to restrict space and time in a pure possession game, however the reality of a specific area of the field or goal being the target provides a different challenge that requires skill building.
The skill of a penetration pass or dribble is not always needed in a 360 degree possession and often players are given touch restrictions preventing them from dribbling. Providing such freedom and presenting situations that create these demands are hugely important in developing creative attacking players.
As I have recently transitioned from spending many years directing youth clubs and a state to spending more time coaching college players the points above have risen to the top of my thoughts repeatedly. Strong players I coach have great difficulty adjusting to playing sideways-on and taking peeks forward before receiving every ball. Proactive attacking first touches need to be coaxed out of them very often. We spend weeks and, often, over a season breaking habits formed over past years when these players were not forced to play directionally often or at all other than in games. Once my players have learned to do so, they become much more impactful, more dangerous attackers. First, we work on mechanics of doing so. Then, we work on decision making when given the options such early preparation allows. Makes me wonder how much more expansive their skill and creativity could be had they done these things regularly when 13 or 14 years old and following.
Head Men’s Soccer Coach
Washington and Lee University