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Global Soccer Update March 2017

This world soccer update focuses on three key competitions:

  • World Cup 2018 Qualifiers
  • UEFA Champions League
  • UEFA Europa League

World Cup 2018 Qualifiers

After an extended winter break the qualifier rounds are restarting this week.

North/Central America has only played two rounds with three of six teams qualifying directly. Costa Rica leads (6) followed by Mexico (4), Panama (4) and Honduras (3). The U.S. is last after two losses which cost Klinsmann his coaching job late last year. They face Honduras in a critical match and a win puts them back in the race, a loss and the prospects of going to Russia will be bleak for the U.S. boys.

In Europe teams are entering match day 5 of 10. There are nine groups with the winners qualifying and the 8 best second place teams going into elimination games. In group B second place Portugal (9) faces third Hungary (7). A Portugal win would likely seal Hungary’s fate. Group E is seeing key showdowns between first place Poland (10) and second Montenegro (7) and third Denmark (6) against fourth Romania (5). Group G features first place Spain (10) against third Israel (9) for what might be Israel’s last chance. Second Italy (10) plays fourth Albania (6). Group H features first place Belgium (12) against second Greece (10) with the winner in great shape to qualify. A similar scenario exists in group I with first place Croatia (10) taking on second Ukraine (8).

South America is entering game day 13 of 18 with the top four qualifying. Brasil safely holds top spot with 27 points, followed by Uruguay (23), Ecuador (20), and Chile (20). Argentina is in fifth (19) which would get them into a play-off with an Asian group team. They are challenged by Columbia (18). Argentina v. Chile is the key game, a loss by Argentina and they will be in trouble.

Africa is playing in five groups with only the group winners qualifying. Teams are entering round three of six. The key game is in group B with leaders Nigeria (6) playing Africa Cup champions Cameroon (2). A Cameroon loss and they are all but eliminated.

In Asia the two groups are half way through. Group A is lead by Iran (11pts) followed by South Korea (10) and Uzbekistan (9). The top two teams qualify directly. Syria (5) is playing Uzbekistan in a last chance game. Group B is much tighter with Saudi Arabia (10), Japan (10), Australia (9) and United Arab Emirates (9) in a tight battle. The key game is Japan vs. UAE.

Oceania teams are playing in two groups of three with the group winners playing a each other for a qualifying opportunity against a North American team. New Zealand is comfortably leading group A while Tahiti and Solomon Islands are tied for top spot in group B.

UEFA Champions League

The quarter finals are set to start April 11 with Dortmund – Monaco, Juventus – Barcelona, Bayern – Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid – Leicester. Who would have thought Leicester to be the only EPL team left. And I believe they have a realistic chance to make the semi with my other picks of Dortmund, Bayern, and Juventus. Yes, I see all three Spanish teams going out.

UEFA Europa League

Quarter finals start April 13 with Ajax-Schalke, Celta Vigo-Genk, Lyon-Besiktas, Anderlecht-Man United. I see Man U. as the clear favourite to win it all.

Enjoy watching any games you can.

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Soccer Player Development – A National Strategy?

I just reviewed the national soccer programs of some leading (Germany, Spain) and not so leading (Canada) soccer nations. I can say with confidence that both groups have defined visions and strategies. In fact in many ways they are similar. Here are some common elements:

  1. National, regional, and local administrative organizations
  2. Coaching development frameworks – certifications
  3. Player development frame works – regional centers, academies
  4. League structures from recreational to professional teams
  5. Defined club structures with technical directors and qualified coaches
  6. Playing philosophies

The execution and advancement of the vision/goals/strategies into action varies. Countries with long and successful soccer histories are leading in the development of structures, training programs, coaching certifications, etc., while the “newer to soccer” countries are emulating and catching up.

Interestingly enough, both sets of nations face some key common questions:

  1. Should we force all clubs, teams, coaches, players everywhere to follow a top down standard player development model? If so, what should that model be?
  2. Should local organizations, grassroots clubs and coaches have freedom to develop their own player development approaches?

Both top down standardization and bottom up “free for all” have been tried with mixed success. The difficulty isn’t that the sport of soccer is changing dramatically and thereby outdating the latest development models. The issue is that kids starting to play soccer come with varying skills and abilities, coaches have different ideas, and organizations have different goals. Forcing everyone into one model can stifle creativity, allowing everyone to do their own thing fails to develop consistency.

What are some of the issues countries face?

Germany has made great advances in changing from a purely tactical and physical style of soccer to developing more skills and flexibility. They have developed a national program and professional clubs are required to have academies with residences in which youth are trained in soccer and receive their education. The concern is that young people are “standardized” and eventually creativity will suffer.

Spain has placed emphasis on technical and cognitive skill development at very young ages in their club structures. This has led to success through possession soccer. The concern is what will happen when other countries develop responses to this standardization? Which has actually happened.

Canada is in the growing stages and still has a lot of autonomy at the regional and local level. Infrastructures to train coaches and player development systems are in place, yet at the club and team level coaches have lots of autonomy.

I believe there is something to be learned from all approaches. In my opinion it is important to have administrative and development structures defined and  in place. The ultimate objective is to develop the best soccer players possible for a country which come together in national teams achieving maximum success. For Germany and Spain this means to be competitive in World Cups, for Canada it might mean to qualify every now and again on the men’s side. The national women’s team has achieved international success. One might wonder why.

Player and team development has to be a healthy combination of following prescribed programs while allowing coaches and players to be creative and flexible.

I would suggest that the top down administrations provide a framework of coaching and player development supported by training programs, yet allowing coaches flexibility within the framework. What could this framework be? I believe our 4 PILLARS OF SOCCER ™ would be a good model. You can read about it here: 4 Pillars of Soccer.

Defining technical, tactical, physical, and mental (psychological, thinking, emotional) competencies by age group and skill level supported by training programs and plans would be the right path.

Technical Skills haven’t changed much over the years and skill development could be fairly standardized.

Tactical elements change all the time, they even reinvent themselves. This is an area in which flexibility is key. It’s not about possession or fast break soccer, it’s about teaching both. What is the right tactic at which time?

Physical Fitness training is continuously evolving. Proper conditioning, injury prevention, injury rehabilitation, speed, strength, endurance, diagnostics, etc. need to be introduced properly at the right age and competitive levels. This is an area that is underdeveloped at the grass-roots level.

Mental Training has the most potential. As a foundation example I recommend the Seven Speeds of Soccer supported by the appropriate psychological and emotional training programs, for administrators, officials, coaches, and players. The area of cognitive player development has huge potential. If you think about soccer as a high-speed chess game with all pieces moving all the time then developing the ability to analyze, think, strategize, and execute quickly will be the key to future success.

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Soccer Drill Unpacked: Goalkeeper Reaction Dives

An icon of a soccer goalkeeper making a save.

Today we unpack the soccer goalkeeper development principles embedded in a reaction dive drill.  All drills in our  Soccer Goalkeeping Practice Book are assembled into practice plans to ensure that each practice offers the proper balance between the four pillars of soccer:

Technical Skills – Tactics – Physical Fitness – Mental Fitness

It is this balance, practiced over a season, that has led the tens of thousands of coaches who own our books to improve the performance of their goalkeepers.

Soccer Goalkeeping Drill

Download the drill here: Soccer Goalie Reaction Dives

From: Soccer Goalkeeping Practice Book

Soccer Drill Profile:

 

The profile indicates that this drill emphasizes soccer goalkeeping technique and physical fitness, with a strong element of mental toughness.

Set Up:

This drill does not require any goals and can be set up in a 10m by 5m area. In addition to the goalkeeper two ball servers are required. Ideally all three individuals would be goalkeepers. The first server rolls a ball through the legs of the keeper facing the server, 1m away. The keeper then pivots and dives on the ball. The keeper immediately recovers, gets up into ready position and makes a diving save of a ball thrown by the second server facing the keeper from 5m away.

Technical Skills:

The technical skill trained is diving. This includes the proper “get set” position for the keeper, remembering that the closer the in the shooter is, the lower the keeper has to crouch to get fastest maximum diving distance.

The first dive is straight forward, after a 180° pivot. This works on the technique of saving low shots directed at the keeper. There are different ways to go on the ground for a low ball, see Soccer Goalkeeping Basics

The second dive is a high sideways dive with the distance being varied. The drill progression suggests to throw the ball at various heights and varying distances to the goalkeepers body. This forces a variety of reaction saves, from quick parries to fully extended “flights”.

It is important for the keeper to execute the basic technique elements of “not rotating in the air and landing on belly or facing backwards”, of grabbing the ball securely with both hands (or punching it far away if it can’t be caught”, of landing on the quads and arms with one leg kicking up, etc.

 

Tactics:

There are no team related tactics involved in this soccer drill. The only tactical element is goalkeeper specific and relates to the proper ready position relative to the distance of the server.

Fitness Training:

This is a physically very demanding drill with the flexibility to vary intensity.

With the first throw the keeper trains flexibility by (1) rotating and (2) getting back up immediately after the save to face the second shot. The same is true after the second save – immediate recovery and getting ready to save the next short ball through the legs. The speed at which the servers throw the next ball determines the recovery speed of the keeper. At the maximum pace the keeper will get both an aerobic and anaerobic workout.

Repetitive diving will be challenging on all parts of the body that touch the ground upon landing, especially if the ground is a little harder.

The continuous crouching and recovery will challenge the quadricep muscles of both legs and help strengthen them. This will contribute to improved vertical leaps in the future.

Mental Fitness:

This soccer goalkeeping drill involves all Seven Speeds Of Soccer

Perception

The keeper has to see the servers and read their body motion quickly so they know how quickly to recover from a save and set for the next one.

Anticipation

 

In this drill the key anticipation is the timing and weight of both throws. On the first throw the goalie must pivot as soon as the ball is rolled/kicked through the legs and anticipate the pace of the ball. This will dictate the extension of the dive. On the second throw the goalkeeper must quickly anticipate the pace, height and horizontal distance of the throw, reading the flight of the ball immediately after it leaves the server’s hand.

Decision Making

The key decision is whether or not the ball can be securely caught, must be parried away, or requires a foot save.

Reaction

Once the ball leaves the server, the keeper must react to the direction, pace, and height of the throw. This is the essence of this exercise.

Movement With Ball

If the keeper catches the ball and has control, they must recover with the ball in hands and return it to the server while setting for the next throw. This is not easy and requires a lot of coordination and stamina.

Movement Without Ball

These movements are primarily resetting for the next save.

Game Action

This drill replicates game action in which the opponents have created a scoring chance in the penalty box, near the goal. The chance could have been generated by a cross, a corner kick, free kick, or a though ball setting up a 1v1 with the keeper. It does not simulate long distance shots.

Coaching Tips:

1. It would be great if you have three keepers to work together on this drill.

2. The crouching positions must be very low to explode into dive.

3. Vary the distance of the first dive from a short collapsing dive to a fully extended dive.

4. Vary the second throw from throwing it to goalie’s feet, chest, over top of head, to either side requiring little to full extension dives.

5. Insist on proper technique and stress the fundamentals of getting behind the ball and getting both hands on the ball.

It is important for the person working with the keeper(s) to build a rapport with them and to understand their strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Use this knowledge to provide the keeper with lots of successes, but also with some “surprises” or challenges to improve performance and build skill and confidence. Relate exercises to game situations as much as possible, preferably to actual experiences of the keeper.

 

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Soccer Performance Metrics

In today’s information age and the availability of “Big Data” enabled by camera and on-body sensors, more data than ever are available to soccer coaches. Each player in each game and each practice can be measured and data can be aggregated to the team level. To illustrate: distance run in a game can be measured for each player and team distance can be aggregated by adding all of the players’ distances.

There are software packages that manage all the data for coaches and generate any number of analyses and reports. As a trained soccer coach and professional engineer I understand that it is not the amount of data you get, but the appropriateness of data. The purpose of data is to identify areas for improvement and to enable the development and implementation of improvement plans. A wise person once said: “Tell me how I’m measured and I’ll tell you how I will behave”.

I have sifted through a lot of the metrics collected all over the world, some of which are reported during live broadcasts on TV. The scope of this review is game performance and improvement. This therefore excludes medical, physiological and any other individual or team health data. The idea is that if you have data that relate to your team’s performance, then you can identify what areas need to be improved and structure your soccer practices accordingly.

Possession %

This measures the amount of time a team controls the ball as a % of game time. Usually camera systems track the seconds each team is in control of the ball. Analysis has proven that possession % does not correlate to winning games. This metric is therefore only useful if your game philosophy and strategy is to dominate possession. Then you should establish a target of possession % (say > 65% +) and practice how to play a possession game.

Scoring Chances & Shots Taken

Shots taken is what you see on TV and it is a simple measure. Any shot from anywhere deemed to be in the direction of the goal counts as a shot taken, regardless of whether or not it actually hits the target. So a shot going up into the rafters counts as a shot taken. There is very little subjectivity. The metric is to count the number of shots taken by the team during a game.

Scoring chances is more subjective, but in my opinion more relevant. A scoring chance is defined as a play that offered a good chance of scoring a goal, even if the final shot isn’t taken. The metric is to count the number of scoring chances your team generates in a game.

To illustrate the difference between these two measurements:

A shot taken from 30 m out that goes 5 m wide of the net is counted as a “shot taken”, but wouldn’t qualify as a scoring chance.

A cross into the box to an open player 5 m in front of goal is a scoring chance, even if the player slips and never gets their foot on the ball – no shot is taken.

Shots on Goal

This metric goes with both of the previous metrics – scoring chances and shots taken. You count the number of shots on goal. A useful statistic would be to calculate the % shots on goal as a percentage of shots taken AND as a percentage of scoring chances. A low % of shots on goal  indicates that shots taken need accuracy improvement or scoring chances need finishing improvement (determination, timing, etc.).

Ultimately goals scored as a % of shots taken or scoring chances generated gives you an idea of the efficiency and effectiveness of your team’s attacking plays.

Getting By Opposing Players

This is a more recent metric. There are two ways to get by an opposing player – a 1 v.1 move or a pass. Furthermore it is of significance which players you get by, any player or defenders. So the metrics are, for each player and aggregated to team total for a game (or practice drill)

  • getting by any opponent in a 1 v. 1
  • getting by an opposing defender in a 1 v. 1
  • getting by any opponent with a completed pass
  • getting by a defender with a completed pass
  • receiving a completed pass past any opposing player
  • receiving a completed pass past a defender

You can also analyze these results by position and set some goals for your team. For example if you encourage your wingers taking on defenders 1 v. 1 to generate a cross and scoring chance, then measure the number of successful and failed 1 v. 1 moves by your wingers. By wingers I don’t mean only the designated wide players in your formation, but anyone who happens to be in the attacking third on the wing, such as an overlapping defender. You can count these for each player and later aggregate the numbers for individuals, positions (defenders, central midfielders, etc.), and the team. You can further accumulate the data for each game and the sum of games played to date.

Summary

There are many more metrics but if you consider those presented, you could easily formulate a vision/strategy for your team. For example:

“We are a fast attacking (not possession) team generating at least 10 scoring changes per game and scoring at on at least 20% of scoring chances. We generate these scoring chances through two touch soccer, quick and accurate passing past opponents, with a final cross or a vertical pass into the penalty box.

Then pick the metrics that are meaningful to the strategy, correlate the data to goals scored, wins, points and formulate improvement plans.

I should mention that I have illustrated offensive metrics. Defensive metrics for your team are the exact opposite. Track the same metrics for the opposing team.

Coach Tom

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Soccer Tactics – Breaking Down Defensive Teams

Icon of a clipboard showing a page with a soccer strategy.

It has become more prevalent for the better soccer team that dominates a game in possession not to win or even lose. By better we mean a team with more highly skilled players who play their system well together. In international competition they typically end up in the final four and in league competitions they routinely occupy the top five spots.

Quite often their system of play has been innovative and they enjoy initial success. But once the competition adjusts they are less successful. Less successful in this context doesn’t mean they drop to the bottom, but rather that they don’t win the titles they used to win or defeat the “easy teams”. To illustrate a few prominent examples:

Spain

Spain invented the “tiki taka” possession game focussing on precise passing over short distances supported by quick runs into space. The opponents were chasing players and ball and eventually a space was created around the penalty box which Spanish players exploited to scorer goals. When their opponents had the ball Spanish players quickly closed in on the ball carrier with two or three players to pressure him into a mistake. At the same time a second layer of defense closed down all passing lanes. So the combination of high pressure and possession game was effective and led Spain to successive Euro and FIFA championships. But then the opposition adjusted by setting up defensive walls and essentially letting the Spanish pass the ball around without giving them space to penetrate into dangerous areas. When opponents gained possession they used super fast break counters to catch the Spanish defense out of position and get an attempt at goal. The result is that Spain has lost its domination and advances in tournaments.

Pep Guardiola

Pep was the embodiment, if not the creator, of tiki taka at Barcelona. He was successful with it in Spain and then was hired first by Bayern Munich and now by Manchester City to create dominant teams. In Munich he did create ball possession dominance but in three years struggled to deliver the success that the quality of the roster (and management) demanded. He did win three successive championships but was knocked out of the Champions league semi-finals three years in a row, twice in embarrassing fashion. Even in the Bundesliga his team faded in the second half of the season. Why? because everyone knew what to expect and adjusted to it with their own strategy. A similar pattern is emerging at Man. City. A solid season start with nine winning games at the top of the table has turned into mediocrity (at a high level still). Man City will not win the EPL.

Jürgen Klopp

One of my favourite coaches for enthusiasm and ability to quickly turn a team around. His stile isn’t tiki taka, it is high pressure, requiring lots of running, and a fairly direct play into the box to generate scoring chances. His teams play through the middle and down the sides, they switch play often enough. It is a game strategy this coach embraces, with one exception. Initially at Dortmund Klopp was very successful, then teams caught on, personnel changed, and results dropped. Now at Liverpool he has inspired his team early, charged up the table bringing Liverpool back into contention. As of late his team is in a terrible slump, particularly against weaker teams, losing against bottom EPL teams and lower league clubs in cup competition. Klopp’s game demand a huge physical effort to keep the high press up and to transition quickly to defense upon loss of possession. His players are marathon sprinters. They get fatigued in a game and as the season goes, especially if key players get insured. I wouldn’t play a permanent pressing game but allow the team some periods of rest and sitting back.

WHY DO WEAKER TEAMS SUCCEED?

With two exceptions the teams I have coached were the weaker teams in competitive youth and university leagues. I have coached against the Spains, Peps, and Klopps in  my world. I wasn’t surprised by their play because I scouted their teams and games and had a very good idea who they played and which players to watch for in particular. Good professional coaches do the same, so there is no surprise.

I had no choice but to move into a defensive mode. Here are proven soccer rules:

  1. If the clearly weaker team tries to ignore the strength of their opponent and play “their game”, they get slaughtered – Liverpool, Man City, Spain still generate lopsided wins.
  2. If there are equal strength teams on the pitch it becomes a very entertaining chess game as each will play to its strength and be successful in certain phases of the game.

So the clearly weaker team MUST move into a defensive shell and rely on counter attacks, without exposing their own defense while doing so. This usually results in a flat back defensive line of five or six players with a flat four defensive midfield  line 10 m or so in front of the defense. One or no attacker is kept up to challenge defenders or at least keep a couple of them back. The space here doesn’t allow to get into all of the tactical formations to accomplish this strategy.

The strong team now is forced to find a way through this tight defensive mesh and despite 70%-80% possession, gives up the ball 1 out of 4 times. This change of possession is the opportunity the weaker teams rely on the start a fast break counter attack quite often ending up in 2v1, 3v2, 4v3 advantage at the other end. The longer the game stays close the better the chance for the weaker team to snatch a point or a 1-0/2-0 win.

WHAT ARE THE STRONGER TEAMS TO DO?

First of all the coach must realize that the ONE game strategy has been adapted to by some teams. The moment they recognize this in a game (or even before a game) they need to be able to change game plan. Instead of setting up occupation outside the opponents penalty box and passing the ball sideways and backwards waiting for a gap in the defense, they must adapt themselves. The goal is to break the two defensive walls, creating spaces for penetrating passes through the middle or crosses from the goal line into the back of defenders. Here are some traditional ways:

  1. Take defenders on 1v1 with your best dribblers (thinking of Ribery and Robben at Bayern Munich). This draws out the supporting defender and starts to open up spaces for quick runs and passes into the back of the defense.
  2. Set up 2v1 to get by defenders, tried and true tactics are give & goes, overlaps. You’ll see them from good teams and they work.
  3. Switch the side of attack quickly.
  4. Move your attacking player around randomly to confuse the defense. Get your center forward to make diagonal runs to the wing and have a wide midfielder break to the center. It will distract the defense and open up spaces.

Additionally you can consider:

  1. Play the odd long ball just to send the message that it’s not all possession.
  2. Intentionally give the other team the ball and then win it back and launch your own fast break counter catching the other team out of shape and balance.
  3. Vary your style during the game.

Teams that you can study who are more or less successful AGAINST WEAKER DEFENSIVE MINDED teams are Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Juventus, Germany,

The one thing is for sure – sticking to one formation and one style doesn’t work in a game, in a season, or in a tournament.

We have a great book to help you practice successful high-speed transition: Competitive Pro Fast Break Soccer Practice Plans & Drills

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Soccer Drill Unpacked – 7v7 Flank Attack

Today we unpack the player and team development principles embedded in a youth competitive (U3-U18) flank attack soccer drill embedded in an end of practice scrimmage. All drills in our  Youth Competitive book are assembled into practice plans to ensure that each practice offers the proper balance between the four pillars of soccer:

Technical Skills – Tactics – Physical Fitness – Mental Fitness

It is this balance, practiced over a season, that has led the tens of thousands of coaches who own our books to improve the performance and social environment of their teams.

Youth Competitive Soccer Drill

Download the drill here: Youth Competitive Flank Attack Scrimmage

From our book: Youth Competitive (U13 – U18)

Soccer Drill Profile:

 

The profile indicates that this is a fairly balanced soccer drill involving strong elements of tactics, physical fitness, and mental training.

Set Up:

This a full field 7 v. 7 practice game. Near each corner flag a 10m x 10m square is marked into which the ball is passed into the run of an attacking player. The attacker cannot be challenged and gets a free cross. Upon change of possession (goal, save, out-of-bounds) the previously defending team must now cross the center line and then attempt to play a pass into ANY of the four corner squares.

Technical Skills:

Passing, crossing, finishing and goalkeeping are the key skills developed in this drill. Defenders will train closing down passing options and intercepting passes. This is not a 1 v. 1 drill employing moves to beat defenders.

The team in possession is encouraged to play fairly short one/two touch passes. Passes have to be accurate and are either played to feet or into space.

Passes into the square can be long and high, diagonal or down the line, or they could be a last short pass after combination plays.

Within the grid ball receiving and control are essential to allow quick movement of the ball.

The goalkeeper will have excellent opportunities to come off the line to intercept crosses, to come off the line and cut the angle of the shot, or to stay in net and make reaction saves.

The attackers running into the box train one time shots/headers, timing of run, or one touch control of the ball followed by a second touch shot.

Tactics:

There are several key tactical elements in this soccer drill.

  • the first is to play a quality pass into one of the squares allowing the “incoming player” are very quick one or two touch cross into the danger area. Therefore the pass should be into the run of the player.
  • the second is a quality cross and importantly, proper runs of attackers into the box to get into a position to finish. The flight of the cross must be judged and the run timed to strike/head the ball with maximum accuracy and power. Likewise defenders have to be in position to prevent a strike.
  • the third is the quick transition after gaining possession to get the entire team across center into the other half. At that point the team must recognize which of the four corner squares can be reached quickest and allowing the defense the least amount of time to set up to defend the cross. A key coaching point is to make the team aware that once they cross center there should be space behind them in the half they just left, assuming the defenders came along with them. That indicates an opportunity for a quick turn around and attack of the space just vacated.

As a transition drill, as soon as the defending team gains possession they become the attackers. They have to switch mental gears immediately to set up a scoring play in the box. Likewise the attackers who lost possession must now transition to blocking/intercepting passes and defend.

Fitness Training:

When done correctly both teams will be in constant motion with frequent sprints to get across center to start a new attack after change of possession. This should be excellent anaerobic/physical speed training.

Mental Fitness:

There must be communication (verbal or non verbal) to ensure that only one player runs into a square for a cross. This soccer drill involves all Seven Speeds Of Soccer

Perception

The attacking players must perceive a path with sufficient space to pass safely into a square. Defenders need to perceive the same spaces so that they can close them. All players need to perceive a change of possession so that they can switch roles from attacking to defending and vice versa.

Anticipation

The player in possession must anticipate a team-mate’s run into a square to make the final pass before the cross. Players without the ball must anticipate which square a ball might be passed into and make the run.

All attackers must anticipate the cross and time their run to meet the ball in the danger area.

The goalkeeper needs to anticipate the cross.

The defenders need to anticipate every pass so they can react and intercept.

Decision Making

The attacker with the ball needs to decide if they should pass to a team mate within the grid or pass into a square.  They also need to decide if they should continue the direction of the current attack or make a quick turn and attack the goal in the opposite half (behind them). The attackers without the ball need to decide which one breaks into a square. Once in the square the attacker decides whether the cross is high/low, near post/far post or around penalty spot. The goalkeeper decides whether or not to come off the line to intercept the cross.

Reaction

The key players who need to react are the one going into the square for the cross and the goalkeeper. They have been anticipating the play and made a decision to act, and in the case of the attacker communicated that decision to team mates. They need to react to the actual pass and time their runs accordingly.

Movement With Ball

Given this is a one/two touch drill there isn’t much dribbling, 1 v. 1 or other movement of players with the ball. The movement that is critical is setting up a good second touch (shot, header, pass) with an excellent first touch.

Movement Without Ball

This is a critical element of this drill. Attackers in the grid must move into space to receive a pass and also to have an option to pass into the square with their next touch. Thus the recognition of space and anticipation of defenders’ positions are important. It is quite acceptable for attacking players to run into more than one square, giving the player with the ball options. If they make a run and the ball is not played to them, then they must adjust to join play in the grid or to go in for the cross. Finally, the attacker wanting to break into the square must sprint to the anticipated point of contact with the ball.

Game Action

This soccer drill is all about game action speed to set up and finish scoring chances.

Coaching Tips:

This soccer drill, as is the case with all of our over 500 soccer drills, has coaching points and progression suggestions.

In addition to those you can vary the numbers of attackers in the grid using up all available players evenly in two teams. You can also create unbalanced teams, playing 8 v 6 or 10 v 6 to increase scoring success, test defenders, etc.

Consider grouping players into functional units, i.e. defenders + defensive midfielders vs, attacking midfielders and strikers.

If the attackers are executing well, you can challenge them by allowing defenders to follow them into the square.

The perception of the opportunity to turn and attack the half the team in possession just left may be weak. Stop the drill a few times initially and point out where the space and opportunity was if the team missed it.

 

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FIFA Expands World Cup To 48 Teams

From FIFA:

“The FIFA Council has unanimously decided in favour of expanding the FIFA World Cup™ to a 48-team competition as of the 2026 edition. World football’s supervisory and strategic body held its third meeting at the Home of FIFA in Zurich on 9 and 10 January, and decided on a new tournament format with the 48 national teams split into 16 groups of three. The top two teams from each group will then advance to a 32-team knockout stage……”

Read the full article on FIFA’s web site: FIFA expands World Cup

There have been many articles about the pros and cons of this already, and everyone will need to decide for themselves. Here are some of the views:

PROS

  • more nations qualify and hence more global engagement in the sport
  • more games on TV for the TV soccer addicts
  • more revenue for FIFA (+20%) leading to more money available for development
  • more exposure for good players from countries that typically don’t qualify
  • more Cinderella story potential

CONS

  • watering down the competition and devaluing the qualification process
  • less meaningful games in the first round, less chance of two top ranked teams meeting in the group stage. With 16 groups the top 16 teams will not meet in group stage, therefore no group of death.
  • Only two games per team in the group stage takes away the “tournament” flavour.
  • Two out of three teams in a group qualifying is 67%, two out of four was 50%. This makes the drama of elimination, especially for top teams, less meaningful.

Like all change, it will take time to adapt to it but eventually, it will become the “new normal”. We have 10 years to get ready!!!!!

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2017 Soccer Calendar

Welcome to 2017. As usual we offer you a comprehensive calendar of major soccer tournaments (finals) for the year. Watch games (with your team if you can) in person, on TV, or on-line and remember: sometimes the youth tournaments offer the purest and most exciting soccer. Also, keep an eye on the game tactics and how the commentators interpret them. Apply it to your team.

January

  • African Cup of Nations (14 Jan – 5 Feb)

May

  • U17 Women Euro (Czech Republic, 2-14 May)
  • U17 Men Euro (Croatia, 3-19 May)
  • U20 World Cup Men (Korea, 20 May – 11 June)
  • Europa League Final (24 May)

June

  • Champions League Final Men (1 June)
  • Champions League Final Women (3 June)
  • U21 Euro Men (Poland, 16 – 30 June)
  • FIFA Confederation Cup (Russia, 17 June – July 2)

July

  • U19 Men Euro (Georgia, 2 – 15 July)
  • Concacaf Gold Cup (USA, 9 – 26 July)
  • Womens Euro 2017 (Netherlands, 16 July – 6 Aug)

August

  • U19 Womens World Cup (Northern Ireland, 8 – 20 Aug)

October

  • U17 Mens World Cup (India, 6 – 28 Oct)

December

  • FIFA Club Championship (UAE, 12 – 17 Dec)

In case you are soccer starved from February to May, remember that Champions League and Europa League knock out rounds are happening, World Cup 2018 Qualifiers will kick in, and soccer leagues all over the world are in the home stretch towards their championships and relegations.

“Soccer is Life” – Enjoy

Coach Tom

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Soccer Drill Unpacked – Pass & Shoot

Today we unpack the player and team development principles embedded in a youth (U9-U12) pass & shoot soccer drill. All drills in our  Youth Foundation book are assembled into practice plans to ensure that each practice offers the proper balance between the four pillars of soccer:

Technical Skills – Tactics – Physical Fitness – Mental Fitness

It is this balance, practiced over a season, that has led the tens of thousands of coaches who own our books to improve the performance and social environment of their teams.

Youth Soccer Drill

Download the drill here: Youth Pass & Shoot Soccer Drill

From our book: Youth Foundation (U9 – U12)

Soccer Drill Profile:

youth-pass-shoot

 

The profile indicates that this is a fairly balanced soccer drill involving strong elements of technical skill, tactics, and mental training.

Set Up:

Eight player plus goalkeeper play in an area extending the penalty box by 25m. In a 16m x 25m grid outside the box teams play a 3 v. 3 with a neutral player on each wing. The purpose is to pass or cross into the penalty box to set up a quick shot on goal. Defenders cannot enter the penalty box to defend the shot.

Technical Skills:

Passing, crossing, shooting and goalkeeping are the key skills developed in this drill. Defenders will train closing down passing options and intercepting passes. This is not a 1 v. 1 drill employing moves to beat defenders.

The team in possession in the grid is encouraged to play fairly short one/two touch passes. Passes have to be accurate and are either played to feet or into space.

Within the grid ball receiving and control are essential to allow quick movement of the ball. The neutral players have no pressure and therefore have time to set up an accurate cross to the target area.

The goalkeeper will have excellent opportunities to come off the line to intercept crosses, to come off the line and cut the angle of the shot, or to stay in net and make reaction saves.

The shooter running into the box trains one time shots/headers, timing of run, or one touch control of the ball followed by a second touch shot.

 

Tactics:

The key tactical element is to play a quality pass/cross into the penalty box and for a team-mate to time their run into the box. Ideally the passed/crossed ball and the shooter arrive in the target space at the same time so that a one touch shot/header is possible. If the ball is played through the middle then the ball should lead the shooter. If the neutral player is used then the shooter sprinting into the area to receive the cross must delay their run. They do not want to wait in the box for the cross, but must run onto the cross to shoot/head with maximum power. This also makes it difficult for defenders.

A key tactical decision is whether to pass through the middle or play the ball wide for a subsequent cross. That decision is made based on the gaps between defenders. If they are wide enough for a pass through the middle, then the direct approach to net is available. If the defenders are shifting and closing gaps then the wide option is preferred. One way to open gaps between defenders is switching play within the grid quickly. This is an excellent drill to teach young players the concept of space and constant movement to open up and use it.

The other tactic being trained is transition play. As soon as the defending team gains possession inside the grid, they become the attackers. They have to switch mental gears immediately to set up a scoring play in the box. Likewise the attackers who lost possession must now transition to blocking/intercepting passes.

 

Fitness Training:

Ideally this is a 15 – 30 minute drill in which all players sprint short distances constantly. As coach you need to encourage this movement as young players might have a tendency to stand and wait for a pass.

Mental Fitness:

There must be communication (verbal or non verbal) to ensure that only one player breaks into the penalty box for a shot/header. This soccer drill involves all Seven Speeds Of Soccer

Perception

The attacking players must perceive a gap in the defense to pass safely into the box. If the gap is not there then they need to perceive the neutral players. Defenders need to perceive the same gaps so that they can close them. All players need to perceive a change of possession so that they can switch roles from attacking to defending and vice versa. The neutral players must follow the play so that they are ready to receive a pass in the space in front of them.

Anticipation

The two attackers without the ball must anticipate a pass into the box for one of them to follow the pass for a shot on net. If the neutral player has the ball for a cross then the three attackers need to anticipate the flight of the ball such that the best positioned attacker breaks into the box for a shot/header. For example if the three attackers are spread out across the top of the box and the cross seems to be coming to the near post side of the target area, then the attacker on that side breaks into the box.

The goalkeeper needs to anticipate the pass into the box or the cross and make some key decisions (see below).

The defenders need to anticipate every pass so they can react and intercept.

Decision Making

The attacker with the ball needs to decide if they should pass within the grid, pass into the penalty box, or play to the wide neutral player. The attackers without the ball need to decide which one breaks into the box for a shot. The neutral player decides whether the cross is high/low, near post/far post or around penalty spot. The goalkeeper decides whether or not to come off the line to intercept the cross. If the ball is passed into the box the keeper needs to decide whether they can get to the ball before the player running in, or whether they should come out, cut the angle, and set to save the shot.

Reaction

The key players who need to react are the one going into the box for the shot and the goalkeeper. They have been anticipating the play and made a decision to act, and in the case of the attacker communicated that decision to team mates. They need to react to the actual pass/cross and time their runs accordingly.

Movement With Ball

Given this is a one/two touch drill there isn’t much dribbling, 1 v. 1 or other movement of players with the ball. The movement that is critical is setting up a good second touch (shot, header, pass) with an excellent first touch.

Movement Without Ball

This is a critical element of this drill. Attackers in the grid must move into space to receive a pass and also to have an option to pass into the penalty box with their next touch. Thus the recognition of space and anticipation of defenders’ positions are important. The neutral players must move up and down the side to be available for an easy pass into the space in front of them. Finally, the attacker wanting to break into the box must sprint to the anticipated point of contact with the ball.

Game Action

This soccer drill is all about game action speed in the center of the attacking third to set up and finish scoring chances.

Coaching Tips:

This soccer drill, as is the case with all of our over 500 soccer drills, has coaching points and progression suggestions.

In addition to those you can vary the numbers of attackers in the grid. If 3 v. 3 doesn’t generate many scoring changes, go to 4 v 2 or 4 v 1 even. In that case you cannot transition between offense and defense after change of possession, but that wouldn’t likely be successful anyways. Just change the players’ roles after a few minutes.

If the attackers are executing well, you can challenge them by allowing defenders to follow them into the penalty box.

You can also allow more than one attacker to enter the box for a shot.

As always, set up a grid at each end of the field to have all players busy.

At this age the perception of the opportunity to pass into the box may be weak. Stop the drill a few times initially and point out where the space and opportunity was if the team missed it.

This drill is also an excellent opportunity to evaluate players. You may be surprised and find a strong “finisher” amongst your regular defenders. Players are still young and need not be assigned positions for the rest of their playing careers.

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European Soccer Ticket Prices

Living in North America makes it very expensive to watch just about any professional sport live. NHL, NFL, NBA tickets can easily run in the $ 100 plus range. Add to that the fairly expensive food and drink, travel and parking, and an outing for a family of four can easily add up to $ 500. Play-off games demand premium pricing even above this.

Which limits attendance to a special family occasion, to the wealthy, or to businesses. The fact that games are mostly sold out suggests that the model is working for the clubs.

In contrast ticket prices in top European soccer leagues are much lower. Here are the average prices for the top leagues:

  • Spain $ 45 US
  • England $ 40
  • Italy $ 35
  • France $ 31
  • Germany $ 28

Stadiums still offer standing room spots and tickets can be had for as little as $ 12 in Germany.

In addition food prices are reasonable. A sandwich or sausage on a bun can be had for as little as $ 5 and a beer in Germany for $ 4. Quite often the ticket price includes public transportation to the stadium. This means that fans can park outside the congested stadium area, which often is near a city center, and avoid delays in exiting the parking lot after the game is over. In larger cities trains or trams are used at higher than normal frequency, in smaller centers buses.

Why are the prices relatively low? For the most part because there are so many teams, not just in any particular country, but including neighbouring countries, that games still don’t sell out. The low ticket prices mean less revenue for the teams but make games affordable for anyone. As discussed in a previous post European soccer teams generate revenue through club sponsoring and media, much more so than teams in North America. Imagine the Dallas Cowboys having “AT &T” plastered all over their jerseys.

Two different systems, my preference is the European one as it opens sports up to families.