A view from my side.
I’ve been around youth soccer a long time. I played it, I’ve watched it and I coach it. I’ve coached boys and girls, from U11 through U19. I’ve coached “A” teams and “B” teams. My teams have won their share of championships, but nothing like Anson Dorrance at UNC. Still, more often than not, my teams win more matches than they lose. And they beat or tie teams that are, on paper at least, much more talented.
One thing I’ve always done, and have had reinforced since moving here working with some top notch coaches, is train the players to make the right runs. Train them not to run into space, but to create space for the ball to be played in. Train them to move off the ball and to be in the right place at the right time. Train them and work it until it is second nature to them. Train them not to run away from the ball. Train them to run certain patterns so that they all know what each player will be doing and what their responsibilities are. If they all pay attention and adhere to the training, we have success. If they don’t, then we struggle.
For example…I like to have a forward make a hard checking run to the ball when it is at an outside defender’s foot. He may start out 35 yards away, but in the end he will be about 20 or so. In order to make the space for this to be possible, the midfielders need to open up and get out of the way. By doing so, they pull defenders out of the way, they create alternatives for our defender if the striker’s feet are not available, and the are in the proper position for the striker to return the ball to complete the pattern. So, the field opens up, the defender looks up making eye contact with the checking striker. He plays his feet and the striker receives the ball with his back to the goal. He takes a touch back, returning the ball to the defender and curls inside, dragging his mark with him.
This opens a channel for a long ball to the second striker who was hovering about 15 yards off the checking striker’s shoulder when this all started. With the outside mid fielder wide on the touch line, the inside mid pulled inside, there is a wide open space in which we will play the ball, putting it behind our opponent’s defense with a striker in pursuit. He has the support of the outside midfielder making an overlapping run as the ball sails into the channel. The wider inside mid and the other striker move into the box with the near inside mid making a supporting run at an angle to the ball. The outside midfielder of the opposite side of the field is up, positioned like a third striker hanging off the outside post. And just like that, we have the ball in the box, behind the defenders, with four players in a position to finish the cross.
That sort of development doesn’t “just happen.” It has to be taught and the players have to work on it. The beautiful game is also a fluid game and not every ball plays the same way every time. That scenario is but one of many alternatives we practice. But we practice it over and over and over again, until the players can do it in their sleep. They know where to go, when to go there and what to do when the ball is played. This is how we are able to steal many results we have no business wining. This is how we surprise teams and get behind them so quickly not with just the ball, but with 4-6 players all in a coordinated attack. This is how we win.
There is nothing magic in this. It is just that most teams don’t take the time to work on tactics such as this. A club team I took over last year had been moderately successful in their prior seasons, but had always spent their practice sessions doing a bunch of unrelated drills. They had never had the kind of sessions we did. While they did not win the State Championship for their age, they did win 2 of the 3 regional tournaments and lost only 1 state league match. An overall record of 14-4-4. A vast improvement over the years before. I hear coaches and spectators shouting all the time…”make the run!” But in watching, I sometimes have to ask, have you trained the runs?
This week, we will spend time training the runs.