Monday, September 13, 2010
"Football is a sport made up of individual moments and you have to know how to play in each of them. That means playing short passes when it suits and playing long balls when necessary, the combination of which is beautiful, but always maintain a balance. The most difficult skill is knowing exactly what to do at each moment."
- Vicente del Bosque, Spanish Men's National Team Coach
Knowing what to do in each moment in a match is a long learning process for both players and coaches. Reading the game requires both players and coaches to have a common language. That language is encompassed in the Principles of Play and the Components of the Game. US Youth Soccer is producing a DVD on coaching the Principles of Play in Small-Sided Games for the U-6 to the U-12 age groups. That DVD should be available by the end of 2010.
It is important for players to eventually be able to perform within all moments of the game (keep in mind though that even adult professional players make mistakes in this regard). For all age groups and all levels of play, the most important moment in the game is transition. Transition is the moment in the match when individual players switch their player role in the game from defense to attack or attack to defense. Transition is understood first by an individual player, then a group of players and then the team as players learn to see the tactical cues in certain situations. That ability leads them to reading the game.
This moment of transition occurs first as mental recognition of the situation and then a decision that initiates physical action. The faster the recognition-decision-action connection is made, the more impactful a player's performance will be. Only once individual players are quickly making the transition from one phase of play to the next will it be possible for a team to execute quick and skillful transition from defense to attack or vice versa.
If transition does not happen fast enough for a player or team then they are always a step or two behind the action. The speed of a player's transition is based on their tactical awareness. Tactical awareness is being mindful of where you are on the field, as well as the location of the ball, teammates and opponents. It's the ability to read the game – to anticipate what will happen next and not merely react to what just happened. We refer to this level of mental focus and tactical awareness as being soccer savvy.
Your players have no chance of becoming soccer savvy players if they are simply cogs in the team wheel. Players who are over-coached in matches become robotic in their performance and cannot make tactical decisions fast enough. Slow decision making leads to reaction players instead of anticipation players. The over-coaching comes from not only coaches, but spectators too. They constantly yell out to the players what to do and when to do it. This further hinders a player's decision making as spectators are typically a step behind the action – the pace of the game is quicker than their words can be conveyed. This environment of coaches and parents making soccer decisions for the players during a match has lead to an American soccer weakness in transition. Our goal is to develop anticipation players, those who can read the game. That type of player can see what will happen next in a match. That player is one step ahead of the game. This sort of player evolves in a healthy soccer environment. That environment requires less coaching during matches and better coaching during training sessions. The training environment should lead to self-reliant players who think and communicate for themselves during a match.