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World Soccer Update July 2017

As noted earlier this year the summer of 2017 is full of international soccer competitions. Here is a summary of results and progress to date.

U 21 Mens EURO

Spain defeated Italy 3-1 in semi-final #1 and Germany defeated England 4-3 on penalty kicks after a riveting 2-2 extra time tie. In the final Germany played a disciplined defensive game to hold on to a 1-0 lead and win the championship.

Confederations Cup

After battling to a goalless draw after 120 minutes Chile defeated Portugal 3-0 in penalty kicks in one semi-final. In the other Germany’s team of FIFA 2018 prospects ran over Mexico’s A-Team 4-1. The final was a group stage rematch between Germany and Chile with Germany emerging victorious 1-0.

U 19 Mens EURO

Portugal defeated Netherlands 1-0 and England defeated Czech Republic 1-0 in the semis. England went on to win the tournament 2-1 against Portugal.

Concacaf Gold Cup

With the group stage completed the tournament is set for the quarter finals. The match-ups are:

Costa Rica v. Panama

United States v. El Salvador

Mexico v. Honduras

Jamaica v. Canada

Although ranked lowest in FIFA (100), watch out for Canada to provide some upsets.

Women EURO 2017

Group stage play started this weekend. Look for Germany to run the table all the way to the finals.

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Women’s Soccer – A Success Story

I thought it is time to pay tribute to the continued growth and success of women’s soccer. It is not too long ago that young girls had to play on mixed teams and once they became teenagers there were very few options. There were no women’s teams at the professional, college, or amateur levels. No Women’s World Cup, Euro, or Olympic soccer.

So here are some statistics about women’s soccer today.

The women’s FIFA world cup started in China in 1991. Average attendance was 19,615 and the final game drew a spectacular crowd of 65,000 fans. The ensuing world cups were also successful, average attendance in brackets:

  • Sweden 1995 (4,316)
  • USA 1999 (37,319) – Final 90,185
  • USA 2003 (21,239)
  • China 2007 (31,169)
  • Germany 2011 (26,428)
  • Canada 2015 (25,664) – opening game 53,058

Around the globe there are now professional women’s leagues in over 70 countries. This provides a development path for young aspiring soccer players that never existed before. Attendance at professional league games still has room to grow. It will take some time until the excitement from major tournaments or national cup finals takes a foothold. Here are some leagues with approximate average attendances:

  • USA (3,000)
  • Germany (1,500)
  • England (1,000)
  • Sweden (1,000)
  • France (500)
  • Italy (500)

From my own experience as youth and university women’s team coach I encourage everyone to attend games. The pace is slower than the men’s version and that is often misinterpreted as a lower level of soccer. That couldn’t be more wrong. The competition is just as intense, emotions run just as high, the desire to win is second to none. The slower pace in many ways allows the demonstration of skills and tactics more so than in a high paced game. You can see plays develop and techniques being used without the harsh pressure of the men’s game. So for students of the game it is definitely worth watching high level women’s soccer.

Let’s hope the success story continues and that there will be attendances in the 20,000s in a few years.

Coach Tom

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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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Global Soccer Update 21 May 2017

European soccer leagues are winding down and international tournaments are starting up. Here is a recap of what’s happening in the world of soccer.

Europe:

England: Chelsea champions and joined by Tottenham and Man. City in 2017/18 Champions League. Liverpool needs to qualify for CL. Arsenal. Man. U, and Everton qualify for Europa league. Hull, Middlesborough and Sunderland are relegated.

Germany: Bayern is champion and joined by Leipzig and Dortmund in the CL. Hoffenheim needs to qualify. Cologne and Berlin are in the Europa league. Darmstadt and Ingolstadt are relegated, Wolfsburg will go into relegation play-off.

Spain: Real Madrid clinched the championship, Barcelona and Atletico joining in the CL, Sevilla needs to qualify. Villareal and San Sebastion are in the Europa league. Gijon, Osasuna, Granada are relegated.

Italy: One match day left, but Juventus has clinched the championship, AS Rome (2nd) or Napoli (3rd) will directly go to CL or to qualifier. Lazio, Bergamo, AC Milan will play in the Europa League.

The Champions League final between Juventus and Real Madrid in Cardiff takes place June 3rd. The Europa League final between Ajax and Manchester United in Solna takes place on May 24th.

International:

The  UEFA U17 Mens Euro finished on 19 May Spain defeating England 4-1 on penalties after a regulation 2-2 tie with Spain equalizing in the 6th minute of added time. England defeated Turkey in the semi-final and Spain defeated Germany on PKs.

The FIFA U20 Mens World Cup has just started in South Korea. It is played in 6 groups. Four groups have played their first game and a few upsets have already happened: Venezuela defeated Germany 2-0, Sambia defeated Portugal 2-1. Follow the tournament on http://fifa.com.

The Confederation Cup in Russia starts 17 June, featuring all continental champions plus the world cup winner and the 2018 world cup host. Group A features Portugal, Russia, New Zealand and Mexico. Group B contestants are Germany, Cameroon, Chile, Australia.

So stay tuned this summer – plenty of soccer to watch.

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How To Stop Ronaldo From Scoring

Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Portugal has been elected FIFA’s best player several times. He is a prolific, consistent top goal scorer in the Spanish La Liga and for his Portuguese national team. There always have been prolific goal scorers and there are others besides Ronaldo today – Messi, Lewandowski, Dzeko, to name just a few. But I want to talk about Ronaldo, because he has just accomplished something truly remarkable in the UEFA Champions League.

In the quarter-final he scored five of the six Real Madrid goals against Bayern Munich, both goals in the 2-1 win in Munich and a clean hat trick in the clinching 4-2 OT win in Madrid. He followed this by scoring all three goals in the first semi-final vs. Atletico Madrid. That is eight goals in three games at the very highest level of soccer. While Madrid and Ronaldo supporters are ecstatic about his feat(s), one might ask “How does he do it?”.  Or, “How does the other team let this happen, time and time again?”.

Ronaldo is no secret, his skills are well-known, his danger in front of opposing goals is globally recognized. Ancelotti, coach of Bayern, and Simeone of Atletico are excellent and very intelligent coaches. They have superb defenders on their team. How can they let Ronaldo score this many goals in critical games? As stated earlier, Ronaldo is representative of a host of prolific goal scorers and Bayern and Madrid represent teams  who get scored on by these exceptional players.

I look to the system of play and game strategy for answers to these questions. Today’s soccer relies on zonal defending while until the 1990s defenses mostly employed man marking strategies.

Zonal defending essentially means that defenders are responsible for a certain space on the field and they need to challenge any opponent that enters their space, with or without the ball. As attackers move around the attacking areas they get passed from defender to defender.

Man-marking means that a defender is assigned a specific opponent and when they enter the attacking area they get “marked” by a specific person.

In the days of man-marking there were also prolific goal scorers, Gerd Muller of Germany, Eusebio of Portugal, oele of Brasil, etc. So man-marking wasn’t the answer. In fact zonal defending was developed in the hope to control these exceptional attackers.

I believe it is time to admit that zonal defending has failed from the perspective of stopping the Ronaldos of the world. And that is the crux of the issue – top coaches today have accepted zonal defending as THE GOLD STANDARD and they will not move away from it. I am convinced that within their game preparation against Real, Ancelotti and Simeone had a plan to contain Ronaldo. I am equally convinced that the team bought into the game plan and was certain it would work. But it didn’t.

Should they have man-marked Ronaldo? Perhaps. But before I offer a suggestion, a brief analysis of what makes Ronaldo (and his goal scoring peers) so effective. They are the best at the Seven Speeds of Soccer, their reading of the game, anticipation and perception speeds, decision-making speeds, movement speeds, and game action speeds are superb. They show up in the spaces between the zonal defenders at the right time ready to strike. Look at the space Ronaldo had for his third goal against Atletico – incredible. It’s not because the defenders were bad, it’s because Ronaldo is that good.

 

What is required, in my opinion, is a rethinking on how to defend against these exceptional players. I suggest a mixed zonal/man-marking approach.  Play zonal defense everywhere except within 20 m of your own goal. As soon as Ronaldo (and his peers) come within 20 m of the goal, assign one of the defenders as a man-marker, staying tight to the attacker. Have covering defenders in case the “marker” gets beat by one of their trade mark 1v1 moves (check Messi, Robben). As marking and covering defenders are consumed, fill in the zones they are vacating with retreating midfielders. And always be goal side to block the shot.

Coaching pride might prevent such a strategy, but what is better – Munich and Atletico playing a conservative defensive game and advance, or sticking to their system and get eliminated?

On systems of play and how to adjust read our book Systems of Play

 

 

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Actual Playing Time In 90 Minute Soccer Match

If you’re a regular TV or live viewer of soccer you may at times be annoyed with the interruptions of the game. Frequent stops due to fouls, injuries, throw-ins, free kicks, goals, substitutions, etc. are one thing, the length of them are another. Time wasting by the winning team can add to the frustration, especially if you support the other team.

So are we justified in feeling cheated out of 90 minutes (plus added time) of soccer?

I just came across an analysis of the four major leagues in Europe. The conclusion is that the net playing time averages between 54 and 57 minutes:

Italy: 57

Germany: 56

England: 56

Spain: 54

That means that there is no active play for ~ 34 minutes or 38% of the alloted time.

The added time after the 90 minutes have expired is between 4 (Germany) and 6.5 (England) minutes. But of course there are stoppages within these as well.

Finally, the average number of game stoppages in these four leagues is 105. Shocking, if you think about it. It means that there is more than one game stoppage every minute. And the average length of each interruption is 20 seconds. Doesn’t sound like much, but try this. Go for a walk and after every 40 seconds stop for 20 seconds.

I have some thoughts on these statistics:

  • What is the point of a few minutes of added time when the game is halted for 34 minutes?
  • What would happen if soccer adopted net playing time from ice hockey or basketball? They play 60 minutes and the clock stops at every interruption. Soccer could say we’ll play net 80 minutes, two halves of 40 minutes. It may reduce time-wasting significantly.
  • Players run 11 km on average per game. It is a mix of sprints, runs, and jogs. So roughly a soccer player runs    11 km/hr. That is significant and is about twice the speed of a brisk walk.

I would advocate for some rule changes:

Play two 40 minute net playing time halves with a 15 minute break. No added time required. I suspect the total elapsed time would not increase by much, there would be fewer interruptions, shorter interruptions, and a better flowing game. Along with that I would allow one 60 second time out per game for each team. As for injuries, I would require any player who lies on the ground for more than 15 seconds to get a mandatory 10 minute medical examination off the pitch. They could be substituted of course.

Time to make the game more attractive and shake up some old habits.

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Soccer Team Depth Charts

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

A soccer team depth chart is a critical tool for any soccer coach at any level (kids recreational to professional). A depth chart essentially shows the ideal starting line-up for your team formation. If you have more than one formation or system of play option for your team, then you need a depth chart for each of them. For information about soccer systems of play, click Soccer Systems Of Play

To illustrate, below is a recently published potential depth chart for FC Bayern Munich. You can download the PDF version: Depth Chart Bayern

The example shown is for the 4-2-3-1 system of play. A depth chart has several purposes:

  1. Game management
  2. Team development
  3. Player development
  4. Player recruiting

Using the FC Bayern example chart, let’s review each of the above points:

Game Management

The player at the top of each box is the ideal starter. So this 4-2-3-1 would start with:

Neuer-Alaba,Hummels, Boateng,Lahm-Thiago, Vidal-Ribery, Müller, Robben-Lewandowski.

The player named below the starter would be the first choice to replace the starter in case of injury or poor game performance. The goal is always to have the best eleven player for the given formation on the field. But it’s not as easy as simply replacing a starting player in the same position with a player from the bench. Let’s look at a simple example for the Bayern chart.

Let’s say Lewandowski gets injured in the first half. According to the depth chart he is replaced by Müller. But Müller is the starting central attacking midfielder. His first back up choice is Thiago. But Thiago is the starting left holding midfielder. His first back up is Kimmich. Kimmich is not a starter. So Lewandowski would come off, Müller would move to the striker spot, Thiago to central attacking midfielder, and Kimmich would come off the bench as left holding midfielder. In the stadium it would be announced as Kimmich coming on for Lewandowski. Spectators and viewers might wonder about that move, especially if Costa and Coman, who are attacking players remain on the bench. Only if you understand the depth chart will this substitution make sense. On TV you would notice Kimmich coming on and giving all the position changes to Müller and Thiago.

Now imagine if Lahm were injured or suspended and Rafinha started on right defense. Rafinha gets injured and must be substituted. Kimmich would be next to replace him but he just came on as left holding midfielder. According to the depth chart Kimmich would now move to right defender and Sanches would come on as left holding midfielder.

These depth charts are helpful at all levels. For recreational youth coaches they help you shuffle your line-up if some players don’t show up for a game, regardless if you play 11 v 11 or 6 v 6. Or if you substitute at fixed intervals for equal playing time. As you approach the professional model with limited substitutions and more complex game strategies, the Munich example becomes real.

Team Development

As alluded to in the introduction, you will need a balanced depth chart for each formation. Suppose you play a 4-2-3-1 and a 3-5-2. The starting line-ups change dramatically. Using Bayern as the example, you now need two strikers and at least one back up striker. So Lewandowski and Müller might be starting strikers, but they don’t have to be. The 4-2-3-1 depth chart doesn’t translate to a different formation. The best partner for Lewandowski might be Ribery.

This means that your team needs to practice all different formations with starters and back ups in all their possible positions. You can imagine that this takes time. Now inject a coaching change and you can see that teams can struggle to find their stride. Sometimes a new coach can get quick improvements if he/she intuitively sees a more optimal formation, starting line-up, and depth chart than the predecessor.

Player Development

There will be many players who have to learn to play different positions, and they must learn it to be very close in effectiveness to the starter. Looking at the Bayern depth chart you will see that Lewandowski, Ribery, Robben, Vidal, Alonso, Boateng, Lahm, Rafinha, Neuer, and Ulreich only need to know one position in the 4-2-3-1 system. Müller is the most versatile player needing to know four positions. This is a challenge for players and places value on versatility. Now add to this that these players likely play on their national teams, in different positions and systems, and it becomes clear that besides having soccer skills and being fit soccer professionals must be intelligent thinkers.

Player Recruiting

The depth chart makes it clear that smart recruiting isn’t about acquiring a start player, it is about strengthening the line-up for all contemplated formations. If you have a strong starting line-up that will be with your team for a while, then recruiting to strengthen your depth in key positions may be the right move. If some starters might be a flight risk or just aren’t performing, then you may need to recruit a new starter. The human, communication and contractual aspects of player and team management become important.

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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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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.