Where are the creative American players?
Mar 11, 2019
We hear quite often soccer experts lament the lack of creative players in our country. Just recently, a few of our soccer analysts complained that youth soccer in America does not produce creative players and that all our players look robotic, clones of the same make. The writer agrees with this opinion.
So the question is, How do we produce creative players? The obvious and most common answer is that coaches should allow players to make mistakes without fear of criticism and encourage them to express themselves and try the unpredictable in practices AND games.
This sounds like a sensible approach, and it is, but here is the problem: our players are still tactically naive and do not have a game awareness. They tend to ball watch, which means that when they get the ball, they have no idea where their teammates and opponents are. Our players play with their heads down and only think about what they will do with the ball after they receive it, when it is already too late. This lack of awareness and vision causes a lot of turnovers since players get into trouble with their first touch.
So, before we give our players the license to be creative, we have to teach them a few fundamental concepts: get into the habit of looking around and 'taking pictures', opening their body to the field so they can receive the ball facing up, adopting a good team shape with good support angles, and learning some basic passing patterns and player movements that get the whole team on the same page.
Only then will our players be ready for creativity. A player who has his head down tends to dribble more out of a desperate attempt to get out of trouble than as an expression of creativity. There is a difference between expressing yourself and simply being tactically naive. One cannot be 'unpredictable' if one does not understand 'predictable'. If, say, an attacking midfielder gets the ball and he/she knows what's going on around her, she is in a much better position to decide between making a predictable/safe play or doing something special. This is the proverbial 'cart before the horse' scenario.
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