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Cognitive Soccer Skill Development – Exerlights

In our Seven Speeds Of Soccer I emphasize the importance of four cognitive skills (perception, anticipation, decision-making, reaction) and their speed. Our Soccer Drills & Practices incorporate the development of these critical speeds into training programs for all ages.

When the technical, tactical, and physical fitness components of the Four Pillars of Soccer have been developed to the near optimum level for individuals or teams, then the difference will be in the mental, or cognitive area, of the game. This is a realization of many national and professional team coaches. What this implies is that cognitive development lags the others, regardless of age and competition levels of the teams and players. This is why so many teams have benefited from our practices.

We have just leaned about a brand new and revolutionary training tool from Germany called Exerlights. Typically players wear pinnies to create small groups or designate roles within soccer drills (blue vs. red, green player is target, etc.). Exerlights uses LED strips on players with the ability to change colours instantly. There are also LED strips that can be attached to goals, again with goals changing colours instantly. All the activity set-ups are programmed into an App which is controlled from the coach’s handheld device.

Here is how it works:

Imagine a small sided game, 4 “red” vs 4 “blue”. There are four goals, two at each corner of the playing area. Team Red attacks the blue lit goals and team Blue attacks the green lit goals. So far it sounds like a typical soccer practice activity. The coach may introduce variations, such as asking teams to attack the other goal now, introduce a neutral player, rotate players between teams etc.

Exerlights has pre-programmed changes to both player and goal colour. If a player’s colour changes, they now belong to the opposite team. If a goal colour changes, teams have new targets. This forces players to always scan their environment (360 degrees) to be aware of which team they belong to, which goal to attack, which function to perform. At the same time they may be moving with or without the ball and make regular game action decisions. It is easy to imagine how the cognitive skills are first challenged and then developed.

Watch a You Tube Video and be amazed.

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Choosing The Right Soccer Goalkeeper Gloves

As a trained goalkeeper I enjoy coaching goalkeepers of all ages, but in particular young and motivated youth goalies. Currently I am coaching the keepers for a girls U12 competitive team. As we were doing drills one goalie wasn’t comfortable punching the ball because her gloves hurt her hand. The gloves she had were of the style that has air cushioned plastic inserts on the top of the gloves including the fingers. The pressure of the plastic hurt her hand when punching the ball. So we decided to set out and find a new pair of gloves.

That wasn’t an easy task since the variety, styles, brands, and prices were incredible. She tried on many different ones to find the ones that work best for her. As we went through the process I suggested some criteria for selecting gloves to help with the decision and I recommend using these for any goalkeeper. In order of priority these criteria are:

  1. Fit
  2. Ball handling, control, feel
  3. Dry grip
  4. Wet grip
  5. Cushioning

Fit

It is really important that the glove fits the hand perfectly. Remember that gloves were an invention to help goalkeepers. When I played we didn’t use gloves and our hands directly handled the ball. There was immediate ball feel and control. So from a fit perspective gloves should be as close as possible to giving the feel of “no gloves”. That means they should fit snug, not too tight and not too loose. This is particularly important for kids and youth players. Quite often I see gloves that are too long in the fingers. The rationale is that the keeper will grow into them and they should last a few seasons. Financially understandable but not good for the keeper. As the hands grow, the gloves need to grow with them. If that means to buy a new pair every year, or even every six months, so be it. There are other ways to save money. So try lots of gloves until you find a few pairs that fit just right.

Ball Handling, Control, Feel

The ultimate ball handling, control, and feel is with bare hands in dry conditions. Fingers can flex without impediment, grip is perfect, and feel of the ball is accurate. If you wondering what I mean by “feel” ask any goalie and they will explain it. Some of it is physical and some of it is mental (confidence). Therefore the objective is to find gloves that mimic bare hands as much as possible. That means the gloves should not be too thick and padded such that bending the fingers is too difficult. Lack of flexibility results in goalies parrying or dropping the ball more than they should instead of holding on to it. The plastic air cushions on the back of the glove as described for my goalie need to be considered carefully. The theory is that they provide extra support to avoid overextending or breaking the fingers and to help with punching the ball. But they can also be stiff and reduce flexibility or hurt the hand when the ball hits them. So be sure that your goalie is comfortable with them and can handle the ball properly. Don’t be afraid to toss a ball at the keeper in the store and let them catch, pick up, and punch it.

Dry Grip

The gloves should allow the ball to be gripped without slipping off or through the gloves. The actual soccer ball construction plays a role in this as well. Especially in youth soccer ball surfaces vary from shiny/polished to ribbed or embossed. Any surface other than shiny should not be a problem for any glove. So try them with a shiny ball. I have observed many goalies put water or spit on their gloves in dry conditions. I don’t see a technical reason for it but as long as it does no harm I have no objection. I believe it is more psychological than practical. Dry grip ranks ahead of wet grip because more games are played in dry conditions than wet conditions.

Wet Grip

Gloves should absorb some water and their surface should remain “sticky” to handle a wet ball. This is probably something you can’t test during the purchase process, but it shouldn’t be a major issue either. Most gloves will be fine. This is the one area where soccer gloves outperform bare hands, and it was one of the original reason for the invention of soccer goalie gloves.

Cushioning

You may be surprised to find cushioning at # 5 of my list of priorities, particularly since all gloves are cushioned and often sold on that benefit, performance, and difference to other gloves. But remember cushioning was secondary in glove development to wet grip. In my experience cushioning has not prevented any broken bones. Goalies can break wrists from hard shots, but there is little cushioning on the wrist. There are straps and they are for stability, which is good. A hard shot and unfortunate hand position may still cause breaks. The top of the hand rarely breaks. Fingers do break or overextend but that is mostly an unfortunate position of finger relative to the ball. Cushioning will take the sting out of hard shots and avoid some minor potential bruising. It is therefore a source of comfort and confidence. So cushioned gloves are a good thing and I recommend cushioning highly. But not at the expense of fit, ball handling, or grip.

Conclusion

Like getting the right shoes for optimal ball control and kicking, getting the right gloves to optimize goalkeeper performance is critical. No matter what coaches, parents, or peers think it is up to the goalkeeper to determine the right pair of gloves for them. They may not be the fanciest or most expensive, or they may be. Have your keeper try them in store. If they turn out not to be the best, buy another pair considering what you learned. You might want two pairs – one for practice and one for the game. Chances are that gloves get used more in training, which means they must be the best possible, just as for the game.

Check out our soccer goalkeeper practice plans & drills: Soccer Goalie Practices

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Soccer Skill Mechanics – Jockeying

An adolescent getting ready to kick a soccer ball. Link to a soccer preactice book for U9 to U12.
Soccer Jockeying Video
Soccer Jockeying Video Link

Very recently I was asked by two experienced soccer coaches how to teach players the mechanics of a particular soccer skill, one of them being defensive jockeying,

I was surprised because I thought coaches would know how to break down a skill into its mechanical elements, demonstrate to their players, and then correct them and show them how to improve that skill to perfection. So I explained jockeying but that wasn’t enough. I then demonstrated to show them what my words meant. We got into some discussion because one of them had learned something different. It then dawned on me that depending on the coach’s experience, their training, and their resource material, they may have different understandings of how a certain skill is executed.

When I got back home I researched the internet for specifics on defensive jockeying. To my surprise there were quite divergent views on how to jockey. I decided that the best way to convey the skill mechanics was through a well explained or at least well presented video. Again, I found material that was good, some that was completely wrong, and some I found good enough to pass on to interested coaches.

So what I will do is feature a soccer skill on our site with a brief explanation of the key elements and a link to the video I believe best represents that skill. Hopefully it will not only save you research time, but also give you the proper way of teaching the particular soccer skill.

Defensive Jockeying

Defensive jockeying can be from behind an attacker who is shielding the ball or from in front of an attacker who is trying to dribble past you.

The key principles of jockeying are:

  1. Distance to attacker – very close from behind, arm’s length from in front
  2. Body posture – crouched (knees bent) and at an angle
  3. Body position – between attacker and goal
  4. Eyes – on ball, not on body
  5. Goal – force attacker to the outside, away from the net
  6. Tip – the side line or goal line act like a defensive wall, pushing the attacker close to these lines severely limits their options.

Click on the picture above or this text link to access an excellent and short YouTube video:

Soccer Jockeying Video

 

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Soccer Speed 7 – Game Action

This is the last article in our series of the seven speeds of soccer. It all culminates in the final component of soccer speed: Game Action Speed. It relies on all of the other components of soccer speed for its execution. It is the ability to make fast, effective decisions during the game in relation to technical, tactical, and conditioning possibilities. The capacity to process information quickly during a game is an individual player attribute. It can even vary within a player depending on the game situation or the emotional, physical, and psychological state of the individual.

In this series on soccer speeds I used a lot of examples from out-players and showed quite a few practice drills. In this last segment I will again offer a couple of practice drills, but I will use an example of a youth goalkeeper to demonstrate all seven speeds of soccer.

Practice Drill 1:

Set up two goals (A and B with goalkeepers), 15 m to 20 m apart. Have two players and one server at each goal. A player from goal A sprints towards goal B and heads a ball thrown by server at goal B on goal B from a distance of 5-7 m. Immediately after heading the player turns and sprints to a second ball played on the ground by the same server (from goal B) and takes a one time shot at goal A. Player goes back to his group at goal A. Now reverse direction.

Practice Drill 2:

Divide team into groups of nine players. Each group of nine is further divided into three teams of 3, each team wearing a different colour vest/shirt (say red, yellow, blue). Set up an area of 20 m by 30 m. The teams play a 6 v 3, let’s say red and yellow v blue. Red and yellow pass (coach determines maximum number of touches per player – i.e. one touch or two touch passing). Once blue steals the ball, they become one of the attacking teams and the team that last touched the ball before blue took possession now defends. Let’s say red last passed the ball and blue intercepted, it will now be yellow/blue playing v red.

Speeds of Soccer – Goalkeeping Example

The goalkeeping example I will use is a penalty kick.

Perception/Anticipation/Decision Making Speeds

KyraPk1 The goalkeeper is in the “ready” position. She perceives everything the player who takes the penalty kick does. Deciphering body language she determines if the player is confident or nervous. A confident player is most likely to take a short run up and strike the ball hard. A nervous player may take some stutter steps and is unsure of where to place the shot and hence strike it with less than maximum power. The keeper then anticipates what kind of shot is likely to come. If she has information on the player’s PK preference that factors into the anticipated shot. I always teach my goalies to react to the penalty kick, not simply choose a corner to dive into. This means having anticipated the shot, she now observes the actual movement of the player, their planting foot placement and their body position/rotation before the ball is struck. The decision the keeper makes is where dive to, say lower right (from goalie perspective) corner, mid height left corner, or stay.

Reaction SpeedKyraPk2

Having decided in the instant before the shooter strikes the ball, the goalkeeper now reacts to the actual shot. If the initial decision was correct, executing the dive to the right corner has a better chance of success than reacting to a shot that goes in the opposite corner. In our example the goalkeeper made the right decision, reacted to the actual shot and made the save. The save resulted in parrying the ball to the side and now she must react to the new situation and get ready for the opponents to attack the rebound. In goalie language this is called recovery.

Movement Speed Without Ball

KyraPk3KyraPk4

Having been down on the ground and stopped the shot, the goalkeeper must now get up as quickly as possible, get ready for the shot off the rebound and go through the cycle of perception/anticipation/decision making again. She does this without the ball and saves the 1 v 1 situation against the opponent.

Movement Speed With Ball

HKyraRollaving gained control of the ball, the goalkeeper gets on her feet with the ball in her hands. She quickly runs to the top of the penalty box, all the while observing where her team mates are. Ideally she wants to quickly distribute the ball to start a fast break counter attack. Most likely the opponents anticipated a goal to be scored and aren’t thinking about transitioning to defense. The goalie’s team would react to the save and start making runs forward. If the runs are there the keeper can distribute the ball.

 

 

 

 

 

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Game Action Speed

The execution of the save, the accurate distribution of the ball, and the transitioning sprints from watching a PK to attacking the opposite goal determine the game action speed. If all the other speeds are underdeveloped, this will be a slow process and the opponent will have ample time to get into a defensive position. If all speeds are well developed then the counter attack will be fast and lead to a scoring opportunity within a few seconds.

The difference between winning and losing lies in the seven speeds of soccer.

 

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Soccer Speed 6 – Action With Ball

Let’s recap the first five speeds of soccer we reviewed in earlier articles:

  1. Perception
  2. Anticipation
  3. Decision Making
  4. Reaction
  5. Movement Without Ball

Notice that the first three speeds are mainly mental, in other words speeds of thought. Reaction is built on the first three but eventually it leads to an action in response to some stimulus – re(sponse)action. The fifth speed is entirely physiological. None of them actually require a soccer ball, in fact, none of them in their pure definition are sport or soccer specific. Of course it makes sense for us to train them in a soccer specific context, using drills involving a ball and game situations.

The sixth soccer speed, action with ball, totally involves the mastery and control of the soccer ball. It is about executing all required soccer skills with a high degree of accuracy at maximum speed.

It is good that a player perceived the play, anticipated the exact end point of a pass, decided to meet the ball there, reacted to the actual pass, and out-sprinted the defense to get to the ball first. All this will be wasted if that player needs a few touches to control the ball, needs to adjust their body to get ready for a shot, and then hope to strike with pace and accuracy. It may work at very young ages but as players mature, competition increases, and the demands of the game grow, it will not be successful.

What is required is to execute ALL skills at maximum speed with accuracy. I always start with emphasizing accuracy first, then add speed. The ONLY way to improve skills is through repetition. Assuming reasonable natural aptitude for soccer, the kids who practice most and touch the ball most often will eventually turn into the best soccer players. Studies have shown that 4,000 ball touches a week, starting at age 5, will suffice. A typical 1.5 hour youth practice will have each player touch the ball at best 100 times. So even three practices a week isn’t even close. Our practices average around 500-600 touches per player if coached correctly. Still not even half of what is required in three sessions per week. This then leads to individual extra ball work for those who aspire to higher level soccer.

Here then are some suggestions for improving action speed with the ball.

Simple Passing Drill

Two players are 10 m (more or less depending on age and skill level) apart and pass the ball back and forth to each other, using two touches. The first touch is to receive/control the ball, the second touch is to pass it back. The key coaching points are:

  1. The ball never stops, i.e. the first receiving/controlling touch must be forward and in the direction of the second touch – the pass. The ball must still be in motion when it is struck for the pass.
  2. The players never stop. They move toward the ball for the first touch (attack the ball). The ball must be controlled close to the body such that the second touch can be played in a quick continuous motion, striking the ball with the second step. To be clear: Receive/control the ball with the right foot and move the ball forward. Take one step forward landing on the left foot and strike the ball with the right on the second step forward. After passing the player shuffles backwards to be in position to receive the next return pass.
  3. Ball must remain on ground and be passed in a straight line.
  4. Use the instep or laces to pass the ball. Instep for shorter distances and maximum accuracy, laces for longer distances and pace.

Count the number of completed accurate passes in two minutes. It will become obvious that accuracy pays dividends as any errant ball will waste precious time in retrieving it and resetting the drill.

Once you are satisfied with accuracy and speed, advance to one touch passes. There are countless variations and progressions of this basic soccer drill to simulate various game situations – long balls, off the ground passes, give and gos, etc.

This is just a ball control/passing example. Our books are full of drills addressing ALL soccer skills.

Individual Drill

Parents often ask me what their children can do at home to improve their skills. One example I give them is the above drill, using a wall as the second player. Simply ask the child to pass the ball (could even be a plastic/rubber ball to protect the wall) against a wall such that it comes straight back at them. Attack the rebound, control, pass against the wall, retreat to starting spot – keep repeating. Set a specific distance to the wall and count the number of successful passes in two minutes. One progression may be to put a tape on the wall at ever increasing heights off the ground and ask the ball to hit the wall just above the tape.

This of course requires motivation and discipline, so find a way to make it fun and rewarding.

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Soccer Speed 5 – Movement Without Ball

Soccer coach going over play on writing board

Vern Gambetta of Gambetta Sports Training Systems said it best:

“Game analysis has shown that the average player will be in possession of the ball only 2% of total match time. What happens the other 98% of the time?”

The answer is that players move, or at times rest. The average professional soccer player runs between 10 km and 14 km during a 90 minute game. That is a lot. Using the math above 9.8 km to 13.7 km are run without the ball. The running is a mix of many physical movements:

  1. Short sprints to receive a pass
  2. Long sprints to close down an attacker
  3. Short jogs when the play is shifting
  4. Long jogs to get up the field to take a corner kick
  5. Jumps for headers
  6. Side steps
  7. Running backwards
  8. Quick changes of directions to lose a defender
  9. Quick moves getting into position to receive a throw in
  10. Short steps or long strides
  11. Sliding for tackles
  12. Diving for goalies
  13. And many more

Next time you watch a professional game live or on TV try to discover all the various movements. I challenge you to make a list and see if you can come up with at least 20 different movements, not involving the ball. It will probably be easier in a live game attendance since on TV the cameras tend to focus on players with the ball.

Then watch a youth (U3 – U10) game. If you coach youngsters you will see it all the time. The kids may have some decent ball skill, and the ones who do tend to dominate the games. That’s because in a lot of places, and in the home, emphasis is on ball skill development. And that is good. You will also see a lot of kids not moving, moving too late, moving too soon, using long strides for short distances, or quick steps for long distances. Their timing to tackle is off, resulting in unintended fouls. Try teaching them a new move, such as a simple step-over, and you will see them tripping over their own feet for lack of coordination.

So how do kids develop from limited movement ability to professionals with precision movement?

The answer as always is practice. Specific movement drills are rare and it takes an excellent coach to build them into practices. We want you to be an excellent coach. Some Ideas:

  • Mark a line on the field and ask players to walk from five meters distance towards the line. The goal is to step on the line with right/left foot and then go into a sprint accelerating off the foot that hit the line. Sprint for 10 m. To make it more fun, finish the sprint with a shot on net (resting ball, ball crossed by coach or player). Once they master this, ask to run to the line and step on it. You will likely see players get close to the line, stop, and adjust the length of the final step to hit the line. Challenge them to walk/run without stopping – suggesting they should think about spacing their steps.
  • Shuffle two or three steps to the left/right and explode into a short sprint. Again, finish off with a shot.
  • Jump and turn 180 degrees in the air. Right after landing sprint in the opposite direction you were facing before jumping.
  • Have two players pass the ball to each other (give-go) in a small grid, suitable to the age of the players. Make sure that the ball is passed into space diagonally forward and that the receiving player times their run to arrive at the target spot at the same time as the ball.

We have many soccer drills in out books that incorporate soccer movement speed without the ball.

You will see tremendous improvement from beginning to end of season.

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Soccer Speed 4 – Reaction

Soccer reaction speed is defined as the ability to react to a previous action as perceived by the player..

We typically think of reaction and its speed in the context of goaltenders making saves. And that is true as goalkeepers are trained to react to the motion of the shooter and the flight of the ball immediately after it leaves the foot. But all other positions rely on reaction speed as well. Although a player has perceived and anticipated the next play, and made a decision on what to do, the actual play may be somewhat different. Therefore one must react to the actual outcome of the anticipated play. A good example is a forward getting sent into the penalty box with a through ball. Both forward and passer perceive the space behind the defense. The passer anticipates the run and the forward anticipates the pass. The decision is to pass and the forward decides to shoot on goal on the first touch. At the moment of the shot a defender slides in from behind to block the shot. The forward now reacts to the new situation, controls the ball to the side past the defender, and then shoots on the second touch.

Many factors impact the reaction speed of a soccer player, arguably the most important one is aerobic fitness. As individuals become tired, the reaction speed slows. Other factors are the type of reaction, age, gender, motivation, emotional state, intensity of the situation, muscles involved, etc. So it is a very complex process and training has to be very specific to develop reaction speed.

Some soccer drills which are included in our books to improve reaction speed are:

Soccer Reaction Drill 1

Two players face each other with a ball in between them. Distance from player to ball is one step. On command by coach, both players try to pull the back with the sole of their foot.

Soccer Reaction Drill 2

Attackers and defenders are in a grid, attackers with a ball. The distance from grid to goal (with goalkeeper) varies depending on the age of the players. Attackers and defenders are numbered. I suggest to have a maximum of four attackers and defenders paired up, so you have attackers 1,2,3,4 and defenders 1,2,3,4. If you have more players set up additional grids. Inside the grid the attackers dribble the ball and the defenders follow them. The coach calls out a number between 1 and 4 and the attacker whose number is called immediately tries to leave the grid and go for a shot on goal. The defender who has been shadowing the attacker must react and try to prevent the shot.

Our books have many more reaction speed drills incorporated into practices. Our goalkeeper book, Soccer Goalkeeper Practices has a huge focus on reaction drills.

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Soccer Goalkeeping Metrics

Training soccer goalkeepers is very important. That is why we wrote a soccer goalkeeping practice book…Soccer Goalkeeper Practices.

It is important to track if your goalkeeper is improving. You can do this in practice by taking all the relevant skills and developing a 1-10 performance scale. Then evaluate your goalkeeper on a weekly or monthly basis by rating them. For example, let’s look at diving technique. The skill elements are:

  1. Ready Position
  2. Generating momentum (pushing off one leg)
  3. Extension
  4. Hand position during dive
  5. Landing position (on side, one leg up, etc.)
  6. Ball control (hand position)
  7. Decision making (hold ball or parry)

You can give each element a score from 0-10 and track over time. Then develop the same for other skill areas.

I would suggest that good goalkeeping coaches do this already, at least intuitively.

But do you evaluate your goalkeeper during games? If not, here are some metrics you could try.

  1. % saves of “easy” shots on target
  2. % saves of “difficult” shots on target
  3. % saves of “easy” shots from inside penalty box
  4. % saves of “difficult” shots from inside penalty box
  5. % saves of “easy” shots from outside penalty box
  6. % saves of “difficult” shots from outside penalty box
  7. % saves of 1v1 situations
  8. # of major mistakes (record type of mistake) per 10 shots on target
  9. distribution accuracy (% passes/throws getting to own team)
  10. % crosses handled correctly (caught, punched, or left to defenders – element of decision making)

I recommend you record the results for each game, i.e. # of shots on target/# saved, for each metric. Then aggregate the results for a number of games, five would be the minimum – ten preferred. Compare progress for each set of aggregation (group of games) and calculate the total for the season.

This is helpful to focus goalkeeping practices. For example if you think major mistakes are the issue and they are mainly dealing with low shots directly at the goalkeeper (ball goes through legs, big rebounds) then add some drills in practices with appropriate improvement suggestions until the score improves.

A word of caution: Goalkeeping performance has a lot to do with how the team/defense plays as well as with the quality of the opposing team. Your team’s performance will impact the amount of work your keeper gets as well as the quality of the opposing scoring opportunity. A clear shot from inside the box is not the same as a shot under pressure from your own defenders. A weak shot close to the keeper from outside the box is not the same as a hard shot in the top corner. So be careful to understand the qualitative element of the data. That is why I suggest to separate “easy” vs. “difficult” attempts at goal.

It is a somewhat subjective exercise and should be conducted by an experienced goalkeeping coach. Be positive when discussing the data with your keeper, especially with youth/child goalies.

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Soccer Speed 3 – Decision Making

Let’s review some typical scenarios you will likely have encountered during a soccer game:

Youth Game Situation 1

Seven year old boys play in a league game on Tuesday evening, 5 a-side including a goalie on a small sized field. One player is very aggressive and always wants to win the ball, and he does. Once he gets the ball, he holds on to it, runs/dribbles with it, and gets entangled with opposing players. The coach may shout at him to pass to an open team mate, but nothing happens. The immediate diagnosis is that the boy is a “ball hog”, doesn’t want to pass. The technical analysis might suggest that he keeps his head down and is not aware of his surroundings. Both may be reasonable causes of why he keeps holding on to the ball far too long.

Youth Game Situation 2

In the same game, another player also aggressively pursues the ball. When he gains possession, he looks up. He may dribble with it, looking up every now and again, or he may pass it to an open team mate. Aha thinks the coach, here is a good player who knows how to play the game properly, even at a young age. He is not selfish.

Pro Game Situation

Let’s look at the winning goal in the 2014 World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina. We are in over time and Germany had brought on Andre Schürrle and Mario Götze as late substitutes. Schürrle gets the ball on the wing and immediately crosses it into the box. Out of nowhere Götze appears and on the first touch, with his unfavoured left foot, volleys the ball and slides it past the keeper towards the far post – GOAL. What a brilliant play by brilliant players one thinks.

Now let’s look at these situation through the lens of decision making.

The coach of the youth team in the first two examples was me. I praised the player who “hogged” the ball for his great efforts in winning possession and then asked why he wouldn’t pass and eventually lose it again by running out of space or being swarmed by the opposing team. The answer was: “I don’t see the open players”. That may lead to the conclusion that his head is down and in practice we need to work on keeping the head up. But then we asked if he would do anything different if he did see open team mates. He hesitated, maybe trying to figure what we wanted to hear. It suddenly  became clear that he actually didn’t know that he had to make a decision of what to do with the ball once he gets it, and that the decision should lead to a positive play. So at the next practice we talked to him and asked him to think about what he could do after he gets the ball. It took a few minutes but together we came up with dribbling, passing, shooting, depending on where on the field he was and what he saw. Now that he knew there were options he realized that he had to look up, not because the coaches told him, but because that would give him information to make a good decision. Now, this process didn’t unfold as clinical as I describe it here, nor did we use a lot of fancy words. But we did encourage the right actions during practices and now he passes and the team is more productive. As an aside, this boy was in his second year of soccer and is a multi sport, active young child.

The second example describes a boy who has been playing soccer since he could walk with very engaging and knowledgeable parents. He has much more experience and even at this young age developed a very quick decision making process.

In the World Cup game, decisions were made at a very high speed. It was expected for Schürrle to cross the ball. Götze at some point decided to make the run to the near post, probably because he perceived space and anticipated a cross. When the ball arrived he had to make a decision. The ball came in from his left at half height. Being right footed the normal decision might have been to receive the ball, control it with a touch or two, try to get it onto the right foot and get a shot off. But for some reason he decided to take it on first touch with his left foot. Perhaps he perceived a very small time window to execute anything as defenders were closing in, who knows. But what we do know is that, fortunately for Germany, Mario decided to take the ball on his weak foot on first touch.

Experience is a key factor in decision making. The more experience you have, the faster information is taken in and processed. That in turn allows the decision to act to be made faster.

Decision making speed can be trained, best in small sided games in small areas. This creates many new situations for players to deal with. The nature of soccer having so many moving pieces guarantees that no two games or even game situations are ever the same. Hence each situation needs to be evaluated by the players and the best decision needs to be made.

Drill 1

Place 6-8 goals (made with cones) randomly on half a field, field size appropriate to the age group being coached. Make two teams and instruct that goals can be scored from either side, but the ball must be passed through the goal and received by a team mate.

Drill 2

This is a little more fun and creative. Check the ability of your team to understand and enjoy the little game. Make a small field and split your team into two groups. Designate two players (or use two coaches/volunteers) to hold a piece of wood or plastic (broomstick, swimming “noodle”) above their heads, thus making a goal (people are the posts, the implement is the cross bar). Ask the “goal” to move randomly within the field. The teams must score through the moving goal. Enjoy.

 

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Soccer Speed 2 – Anticipation

Soccer anticipation speed describes a player’s ability to predict the probability and end result of a game action situation. Because they can predict what will happen they can execute their own response/move that much faster. For example, if an outside defender can predict that the opposing midfielder will switch the play from the opposite side of the field to their side with a long ball, they can scan other opposing players, decide where the ball will likely end up, who the likely recipient is, and get physically and mentally ready to get into the target space before the ball or opponent get there.

This speed is highly dependent on a player’s experience. A professional will have seen more game situations and has developed a larger mental data base than a youth player in their second year of soccer. But it is not only experience, anticipation can be trained.

The best coaching method is small sided games in relatively small spaces, 2v1, 2v2, 3v2, 3v3, 4v4, etc. Some ideas of soccer practice drills, which can be found in our books:

  • Pass Interception: Play 5v5 in a 10m x 10m grid. Restrict players to two touch passing. A team can only gain possession by intercepting a pass. No tackling allowed.
  • Pass Through Defense: Make a grid 20m wide by 30m long and divide the length into three 10m zones. Divide the team into three equal groups and place each group in a zone. The teams in the end zone must pass a ball through the middle zone. The team in the middle zone must intercept the pass. Upon interception the team that played the pass goes in the middle. If a team plays the ball out of bounds it goes in the middle. Restrict the number of touches the end zone teams can play before passing.
  • Sequence Passing: Split the team into groups between five and seven players. Each group places its players randomly in a 10m x 10m grid. Assign numbers to each player, say 1-7, and starting with 1, pass the ball to each player in sequence. Players should be moving in the grid and after passing the passer sprints into an open space, but not interfering with the next sequential pass.

You can see how these simple drills will train anticipation. Our books have many more appropriate for the age group and competitive level of your team. Enjoy !!