By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
Like everyone else involved in the game, I was disappointed that the USA did not qualify for the event this summer. The disappointment was short lived as I was quickly reminded as a US Soccer instructor and educator to use the disappointment to fuel greater efforts in player developement and to work harder to change the game. The message rang true particularly for a believer in a growth mindset.
So, I have been watching the games in Russia whenever a chance has arisen and what a great spectacle the world's game has provided. Shock results, evolutions in refereeing the game with the use of VAR and the introduction of some new villains and some new heroes. The TV audience anticipated for the final once again simply proves that soccer is indeed the world's game and has appeal like no other.
On the field, we wait for the scientific breakdown of player performance, how many sprints, how far each sprint was, frequency of each sprint, total miles run, how many goals from set pieces, how many with less than three passes, how many with more than five and the list goes on and on. Like many of my fellow educators, I will spend weeks after the final wading through the data in the hope that I can unearth the gem that will lead to greater player development and a player development platform that will create the next great player.
What is obvious without the reports is that many teams and players struggle to breakdown two blocks of four or in some cases two blocks of five. That teams can shut the game down by building a very compact block of players that defend a limited space and steal the game with one counter attack. Whereas this approach may not lead to the most exciting games in the world, it does pose key coaching discussions.
The following are the ways of beating two banks of four:
1. Score first so they must attack.
2. Possess the ball and switch the point of attack quickly and frequently to get behind the banks.
3. Play in between the seams with quick 1, 2 and 3 person combinations.
4. Individual brilliance where one player can take on three or four defenders and either score themselves or lay the ball off to the free player now in a space.
5. Long distance shooting – with power and swerve, hitting the ball with such pace and deception through a huge mass of players that the GK has no chance of making the save.
6. From a set piece, corner or free kick in which the ability to defend as a block is somewhat nullified.
Looking at the equations above from an individual player development standpoint, the players you need to break down compact groups of defenders need to be or have:
a) Wonderful technical ability to hit pinpoint long passes and short ones with great pace and deception.
b) Great crossing ability – the ability to deliver a ball from a wide position while running at pace which arrives at a chosen teammate in a manner that means tapping into the net is easy (I think we need to redefine crossing)
c) Great running with the ball in tight spaces ability.
d) Ability to hit a long distance shot with power, pace, dip and swerve.
e) Wonderful ability to receive the ball in tight spaces and maintain possession.
f) A strong mental profile based on the conviction that ultimately their skill and belief will be enough to win the day.
g) Players with vision and great decision-making ability who can read the game and the stance of a block of nine in a split second and find the one weak space.
Try this – close your eyes and build a player you would play to see play, you’re in charge of their DNA and their technical abilities. You just built the player described above. Now the next step for all coaches is to consider the environments we need to build that will help forge the players described. The more I consider this conundrum the more I am convinced that these environments are:
1. Challenging – in terms of space, time and level of competition.
2. Activity and game driven (NO DRILLS).
3. Are player centric where players and not coaches make the decisions.
4. Are fueled by the players intrinsic desire to be brilliant.
5. Manage through scenario coaching or level of competition to put players in adverse situations.