I always said that parents are the pillars of youth soccer and without them and their commitment as coaches and fan of the game, the game of soccer would be at a standstill. I have a tremendous admiration for parents and coaches who take time out of their week (many 4 to 5 days a week even!) to give their child a chance to experience this wonderful game.
As parents and coaches, we always have the best intentions for our children and players. We naturally associate success as something positive and we try as much as possible to steer away from failure. It’s a
natural instinct that lives in all of us.
SOCCER: AN INVASION TYPE GAME
Soccer is considered an invasion type game. Two teams must protect their own zone and try to invade the opponent’s zone to eventually reach a goal (score in the net). As the ball enters one’s defensive zone (a team’s own half), it is instinctive to want to clear the ball out of the zone and send the danger the other way. In essence, when a player from a team enters the opposite team’s zone with the ball, the opposing team automatically enters a defensive mode in order to protect their goal. The more players enter the defensive zone with the ball, the greater amount of danger and pressure the defensive team will face. Relieving that pressure would consist of clearing the ball (essentially the danger) past their own half.
When the game is broken down the way I just did, one would not see a problem encouraging players to kick the ball up the field. At the end of the day, you’re simply helping them guide the danger out of their zone. Hey, if the ball is not in your zone, no goal can be scored against you right?
POSSESSION IN SOCCER
Here is the thing: soccer is also considered a possession type game. This means that in order to take full advantage of this sport, a team must try to keep the most amount of possession of the ball possible because the amount of players on the field (7 or 11) as well as the dimensions of the field allow you to do so. When a player gets possession of the ball, he/she has the possibility to move and pass the ball in all 360 degrees. Nothing forces a player to necessarily get rid of the ball right away, even if a player of the opposing team is right there in front of the player. A player is technically only limited to the boundaries of the field and within those boundaries, they can move, pass, shoot and dribble in every single direction. If your team has possession of the ball, the other team cannot score on you unless they take the ball away.
THE IMPORTANCE OF NUMERICAL ADVANTAGES IN SOCCER
A very important aspect to understand in soccer is numerical advantage. When 3 players from the red team with the ball are face to face with 2 defensive players of the blue team, the blue team find themselves in an impossible situation to fully be able to defend against the red team. Yes, in technicality they can “stop” them, but physically it is impossible for them to cover all 3 players, leaving one player completely open at all times. This is an essential part of soccer as well as any team sports. Numerical
advantage situations are mainly created in three ways in soccer:
Example #1- The red team’s midfielder has the ball and he and his 2 attackers enter the blue team’s half. As they try to pass the ball, the midfielder of the blue team intercepts the ball and now runs with the ball with 4 of his teammates into the red team’s half. The red midfielder and his 2 attackers now start running back to help their teammates in their own zone but they are delayed in coming back as they were all running forward and now must stop and turn back around. The blue team now entered the red team’s zone with 5 players and the red team only have 3 players back. In this specific situation, the blue team started a “counter attack” – a sudden change of possession that allows a team to attack the opposite team with more attacking players than there are defensive players left from the opposing team (usually happens because as the play moves up the field, the players of that team are following the play (ball) up field and when they lose the ball, there is a delay in coming back whereas the opposing team has a faster opportunity to get into the opposing zone). This also translates in the now attacking team having more space to attack in the opponent’s zone because there are less players (3 in our example) that are not covering their zone.
Example #2- A red team’s right midfielder has the ball in the blue team’s defensive zone and finds himself in front of a defender. As soon as this player passes his defender, even if he finds himself in front of another defensive player, he has created a numerical advantage. Why? Because if we consider the fact that for every attacking player there is a defensive player, every player on the field is technically matched 1 to 1. As soon as a player dribbles and passes one player of the opposing team, he/she naturally creates a numerical advantage. In our example, the red team’s midfielder passed his matching defensive blue midfielder. Now he ends up in front of a blue defender. However, that blue defender most likely was watching and surveilling the red team’s attacker. He now has to leave his player to try and stop the blue midfielder with the ball – which now creates a numerical advantage (and technically an open pass to his attacker).
Example #3- A set of quick passes are made by a team and during and after those passes, the players of the passing team are moving up the field faster than the defensive players are able to come back in defense. This creates a numerical advantage by a team moving the ball collectively and following the play up the field.
WHY IS YELLING “KICK!” A HUGE DISADVANTAGE FOR THE PLAYER?
Consistently yelling “kick!”, “kick it up!” or any variable of those terms is actually quite detrimental to a player’s development in soccer. What is indirectly being taught to the child is the following: BALL = DANGER. The reality is the complete opposite! BALL = OPPORTUNITY TO KEEP POSSESSION OF THE BALL AND SCORE A GOAL! When a player gets the ball and has space to move forward, yelling “kick!” is actually forcing him/her to give the ball away – the complete opposite of what soccer is all about!
What are two reoccurring things in the 3 examples of numerical advantages that was explained before: you need to have more players than the opposite team and the players must follow the play (ball) up the field. When parents and coaches are yelling at the players to just kick the ball up for the simple reason that the ball is in their defensive zone, they are simply preventing a numerical advantage to take place for their team and they are also forcing the player to potentially give the ball away because “KICK!” has no specific meaning except the action of kicking (unlike “Pass the ball to Johnny” that actually gives
the player a direction to execute his movement to).
SITUATIONAL GUIDE FOR PLAYERS WITH THE BALL
As a parent what do I tell my kid and his teammates? Technically speaking, only the coach should be giving his players’ directives on the field. However, twelve years and 4000+ games has shown me otherwise (not in a bad way! Parents care, it’s completely normal!). So here is a small guide for parents and coaches alike to help guide players during the game.
1- “You have time!” – When a player gets the ball and no defensive player is very close to him/her. This allows the player the ability to stop the ball, look up and make a decision based on where they are on the field, the space that they can move the ball up to and who is open to receive a pass.
2- “Carry the ball!” – A player receives the ball and has an ample amount of space in front of them. Remember the numerical advantage concept! If the player moves up with the ball, a defensive player has no choice but to leave his/her position and zone to try and stop them. This allows more space for the player’s teammate to get into and receive a pass. A player with more than 3m to 4m in front of them uncontested should almost ALWAYS dribble the ball up to take as much space as possible going towards or in the opposing zone.
3- “Man coming!” – When a player receives the ball or dribbles the ball and a defender is getting close to them. This essentially alerts them that they need to quickly and actively look for a solution (pass or clear the ball depending on where they are on the field and how much help is available). This DOES NOT mean that they need to kick the ball right away – it means they have 2 to 3 seconds to make a decision. Also feel free to use a direction such as “Man coming from behind!” to prevent the player from turning into them.
4- “Man on!” – When a player with the ball has a defensive player directly on them or within milliseconds of reaching them and potentially taking the ball away from them.
5- “Clear!” – When a player is in a compromising position with the ball (very close to and in front of his net) and you see incoming danger that they may not notice right away. This should only be said if deemed necessary – a player with the ball next to his net is not necessarily in a dangerous position at all times (for example he’s outside the box next to the corner – he’s close to the net but doesn’t necessarily need to clear the ball).
6- “Shoot!” – When a player is in a good enough position to take a shot and doesn’t need to go any more forward or dribble any more players.
7- “Look at (name of player)!” – When a player is open and the player with the ball can make a safe pass to them. Notice you are not telling them to pass but instead to look at a specific player as an option.
DISCLAIMER: It is very important to let players make their own decisions on the field. You may guide them but I highly suggest not “telling them” what to do. The above guide is to help your players (child) make better decisions with the ball. Notice how none of those term/phrases forces the players to specifically do something (like kick the ball up).
I decided to write this article after refereeing a game last night where one team had 95% of the possession of the ball because the other team were constantly told to just “kick the ball up!” then entire game. Even when the forwards got the ball and had space to move up the field, they were instructed to just kick the ball up and chase after it. The result? They gave the ball away 90% of the time and the other team easily spent 55 out of the 60 minutes in their zone (miraculously it ended 0-0).
Soccer is about keeping the ball within your own team. Asking players to kick the ball up only instills fear in them and gives them a false image of what the game is all about. Sure we all want our kids to succeed whenever possible. However success in soccer is measured by progress and improvement – not by the numbers of wins and numbers of clearances a player can make. Making 4 passes in a row as a team and increasing those numbers of passes per game is what defines success. Without possession of the ball a team and its player cannot progress in the game.
It is important that your players (child) understand what soccer really is about. At the youth level it’s not about winning – it’s about developing into better future players. Coaches and parents are the ones who can insure this – but to do so, your players (child) needs to keep the ball at their feet.
It’s never a bad thing to encourage your child and his teammates – children need that from you! When parents scream of happiness when the ball is kicked up the field, children automatically associate this to success. Although in some circumstances this may be a good thing (1 minute left in the game, your son’s team is winning 1-0, the goalie made an incredible save and the defenders cleared the ball up – that’s completely ok to scream when the ball is cleared!), screaming “YAY!” every time a ball is kicked up when the player actually had time to control it, dribble it 7 meters and make a good pass is actually taking away from their learning experience and progressing in the sport.
Thank you so much for your time and for your kind consideration,
Montreal Soccer Coach