Every player wants to play for a team rather than a collection of individuals. To score goals there must be organization and team-work in attack, and switching the play or attack is part of this organization.
In order to become good at switching play, players should have the internal skill of being able to sense what’s going on all over the field and to sense the next move before it happens. This takes time to develop for young players and many achieve it faster than others, but for all it will eventually come. Kindergarten-age and younger soccer players are more concerned with what’s in front of them and don’t have the ability or sense of the game to know what’s happening on another end of the field.
Here are a couple soccer drills you can show your players to get them thinking big and developing awareness. Feel free to adjust these drills or add dimensions to them to make them more or less challenging for the level of players you’re coaching.
Drill 1) You can begin by practicing in groups of three. Have three players pass a ball to each other. As always they should concentrate on hitting the passes cleanly so that in a match they would have enough power to reach the player it’s intended for.
As soon as the players have the feel of the ball, detach one player from the group and get him to stand about 20 yards away from the other two, who are still passing the ball to each other. His job is now to make a run and call loudly for the ball.
When he calls, the player who has the ball must immediately pass the ball accurately and crisply to him. He then returns the ball to the two who begin passing amongst each other again. Players then switch roles and begin another run.
The idea is that the two players who are passing the ball back-and-forth must also be aware of what the player who is making the run is doing. They must keep in mind where he’s positioned. In other words they must have vision. So while passing the ball, they should look up and around so that they know what’s happening. In this practice they’ll only have to watch for one player, but in a game they’ll have several team-mates and many defenders to keep an eye on.
Drill 2) Now take this drill a step further. ‘Four Passes’ is a good way to build up vision. Split your group into two equal sides and play in a restricted area, such as the penalty area. The object of the exercise is to score goals, but they only count if they come after four consecutive passes by the attacking side.
As soon as you start to play ‘Four Passes’ you’ll see how your player’s vision will be put to the test. Unless they notice where their teammates are running, they’ll never be able to string together the four passes needed to score a goal.
However, when they do get a goal they’ll be amazed at how much enjoyment and excitement they feel from it. The ability to link four passes together and beat a goalkeeper is great team-work and that’s the key to soccer. In a game you’ll now have another weapon to create chances and score goals and you’ll get further enjoyment from the game knowing it was your player’s team-work that built the goal!
If I wanted to improve defensive awareness in soccer as a defensive midfield player, such as being able to stop balls coming into the striker and reading the movement of a striker, what could be a useful drill for this? It would be helpful if there were progressions for the drill and teaching points.
Midfielders are unique creatures not only in the world of soccer but amongst all athletes as well. No other position requires such a constant mental attunement to what’s going on during the game at all times and in all locations. The Chicago airport is considered the national hub because it’s so central and many more flights fly in and out of this busy airport than any other. Without proper organization it can become a logistical nightmare! To make the analogy, midfielders are also central “hubs” and are constantly busy and constantly directing traffic. Because of the requirements of the position, midfielders naturally develop more of a sixth sense for what’s going on around them.
Developing awareness as a defensive midfielder can be trained, although the truly great ones simply “have it.” Defensive football players often talk about how they were able to read the eyes and feel where the quarterback was going to throw before making a well-timed interception. Good soccer defenders also have such an awareness. Most will tell you it comes from simply playing the game and being exposed to many different situations.
It boils down to being able to read people in an athletic sense. But how can such a skill be developed in training? How can we, as coaches, bring a concept like awareness into a training field situation? The idea would be to put the defender in situations in which he would have to make a decision. It’s not a 50-50 guess by any means, although that’s how training awareness might begin. The defender must be forced to make a decision but the decision will have to be based on something concrete in order to raise his odds to greater than 50-50. What could help a defender in making such a decision? Perhaps reading body language such as the eyes or center of the body (coaches often tell defenders to watch the belly-button of the opposition and not the ball because it’s a better indicator of where the offensive player wants to go) is a way to start.
As for drilling, anything that puts a player in a situation in which he must decide based on what he thinks will happen before it happens. Three-on-one drills in which 3 players pass the ball amongst each other while the 1 lone player tries to intercept it can be challenging and fun. In order to intercept the ball the defender will be forced to use his wits instead of simply burning up energy trying to chase the ball down.
With progress, try a real-game situation in which you set up 3 players on the top line, 2 or 3 midfielders, and then 3 players on the back line. The goal is for the top-line players to consistently pass to the back-line players without having the ball being intercepted by the midfielders. You can adjust the number of players in any of these positions to make the exercise more challenging. Because the mids are outnumbered, they will be forced to read the situation and become more intuitive as to what the top line players have in mind.
Any drill that develops a feel for the game is a good drill because those are the skills that separate the great teams from the rest, when everything else is equal!