Posts Tagged ‘eye-contact’

Making Players More Vocal

March 26, 2010

As a child and teenager, I was painfully shy and quiet. That is except on the soccer field. While living in Norway, my sister said she could hear me from a half-mile away. One year in Salt Lake City I won the most-talkative award and received a set of chatter teeth. From a vocal standpoint, especially at a youth level, I was definitely the exception–not the rule.

I’ve been asked by a number of people how to get young soccer players to be more vocal. This can be tough because it usually comes down to personalities. Some kids are simply quieter than others. On the other hand, some players can be vocal in a negative or undesirable manner.

Below are some suggestions on how to get players to be more vocal.

  • Start slowly by promoting positive comments. Some examples are, “Great shot, nice pass, and good hustle”. Get players to compliment each other.
  • Stress that communication can be non-verbal. Gesturing with the hands that you want the ball is a great start. Making eye contact with teammates is also important. Stress that non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal communication. What is great about non-verbal communication is that in order for it to work, players, especially those with the ball, need to play with their head up.
  • As a coach, play in scrimmages with your players and set a good example. Call for the ball and let players know if a defender is approaching. Make sure to communicate loud enough so everyone can hear. Use teaching moments to point out to the team when communication would have been helpful. Exaggerate your non-verbal communications. Run to the player with the ball when you want to receive a pass. Point to the spot where you want the ball passed. Wink to acknowledge a good play.
  • Pull the offending player aside when you hear poor or improper communication. Blaming or getting upset at others for mistakes should never be tolerated.
  • Reward players for good communication. At the beginning of the season, stock up on tiny chattering teeth. (If the entire league wants to promote good communication, each set costs $0.60 – $0.70. Stickers could be a cheaper alternative.) When a player exhibits good communication, recognize it with a set of teeth. You will see how quickly other players will follow suit so that they too can get some teeth. At the end of the season, recognize the best communicator with a large set teeth. They will remember it forever.

Spring Forward and Prosper

March 18, 2010

I hope everyone made it to school or work on time this past Monday. The start of Daylight Savings is my most anticipated weekend of the year. Losing that extra hour of sleep in exchange for the seven or eight months of additional evening sunlight is more than a fair trade-off. For me, it has always marked the time during soccer season when practices become more enjoyable. The extra hour of sunlight makes scheduling and attending practices much easier. Plus, Spring is just around the corner.

I was at my son’s practice the other day and was asked to play in goal during a small-sided game with large goals. One thing I noticed when I tried distributing the ball to my teammates was that many of them were not ‘springing forward’ to receiving the ball. In soccer, it is critical to constantly move without (or off) the ball. If it is the player’s desire to receive the ball, he/she must always look for and move into open space.

Oftentimes, the open space can be where the player is currently standing. When this is the case, standing there is not enough. In this instance, a player should also move toward the player with the ball. In honor of daylight savings, a player should ‘spring forward’ to that player.

Springing forward serves two main purposes:

  1. Moving toward the player with the ball indicates to the passer that you are making yourself available for the ball and that you are open. This visual cue will catch the passer’s attention and will result in a greater chance of receiving a pass.
  2. Springing forward will significantly reduce the chance of a defender stepping in front of the pass and taking the ball away. In American football, it is the equivalent of a receiver needing to step towards the quarterback’s throw. When this is not done, a cornerback can easily step in front of the pass for an interception.

As the goalie during practice, there were a few things I did to get the players to move toward me.

  1. I made eye contact with my teammates and gestured with my hands to have them spring forward into the open space.
  2. I verbally asked them to “check in”.
  3. I rewarded good behavior by passing the ball to the players checking in.
  4. I held onto the ball as long as possible giving players ample opportunity to check in. Only when an attacker was about to take the ball away from me did I make a pass to the outlet player.

I really like descriptive expressions and clever mnemonic devices. ‘Spring Forward’ certainly qualifies as one. There is no mistaking in which direction to move the clocks in March. In soccer, this expression also paints a pretty descriptive picture is terms of how players should move when the open space is directly in from of them. ‘Spring Forward’ and prosper!

Improving Throw-ins: Putting it All Together (part 4 of 4)

January 8, 2010

In this (potentially) final posting on improving throw-ins I write about putting all the pieces of the earlier posts together into a game plan and philosophy so that teams that have adopted the ‘let’s-throw-the-ball-down-the-wing’ strategy can be more imaginative and use the throw-in more to their advantage.

First a quick recap.

  • Checking-in: Instead of a field player running down the wing or simply standing still, field players should check-in to the thrower in order to improve the throw-in retention rate.
  • 180 Choices: Too often, throw-ins are simply thrown down the wings. On most areas of the field, the thrower should exercise his/her options and also look to throw the ball backwards and into the middle of the field. The 180 choices refers the number of degrees in a semi-circle and thus, the number of throw-in options a thrower should exercise.
  • Hit the Feet: The easiest way to control a soccer ball is with the feet. Therefore, it is imperative that the thrower aim for and hit a field player’s feet. This becomes more difficult when the player is moving and checking-in.

The final ingredient that binds these aspects of the throw-in together is ‘movement’. For most throw-ins, especially those between the penalty areas, a minimum of three players should make themselves available to receive the ball from the thrower. Let’s look at the examples below:

  • An attacker (A1) should check-in to the thrower (Thr). When an attacker checks-in, a defender (D1) will usually follow. If the defender follows, A1 can pass the ball back to the thrower, pass it to another player, or make an instant move and beat the defender. If the defender does not follow, A1 should control the ball and turn up field. It is a good idea for the thrower to get into the habit of communicating with the player(s) checking-in. For instance, ‘man on!’ can be called out by the thrower if the defender is following his/her teammate or ‘turn!’ if the defender does not follow.
  • A midfielder should also check-in (M2). It is important that the player checking-in does it abruptly so that he/she can separate him/herself from the defender (D2). Equally important, M2 should either make eye contact with the thrower before checking-in or call for the ball to get the thrower’s attention. ‘Here!’, ‘ball!’, or calling the thrower by his/her name are acceptable commands.
  • The thrower’s defensive teammate (D3) should also be available to receive a throw-in. However, instead of checking-in, D3 should move away from the thrower while keeping constant eye contact with the thrower. The reason you don’t want a defender to check-in is because if the ball is misplayed, it could lead to a scoring opportunity for the other team. Usually there won’t be an opponent on the defender so having a greater distance between the thrower and the defensive teammate should not cause a problem. There is no need for this teammate to draw attention to him/herself. The thrower should always know that a defensive teammate is available for a throw.

A fantastic by-product of checking-in is that it creates open spaces and, therefore, more throw-in options.

  • When M2 and D2 check-in, they create open space where they once stood (denoted by the orange circle). When M4 moves into the vacated space, he/she becomes a fourth option available to the thrower.
  • The same thing happens when A1 and D1 check-in. The wing area (blue circle) is now open space that A5 can fill and give the thrower yet another throw-in option.

With seemingly little effort by the field players and recognition on the part of the thrower, any team can turn the throw-in into a more advantageous play. However, this is easier said than done; otherwise all teams would be doing this. I have found that movement off or without the ball is one of the toughest things to teach and instill in young players. Many kids simply focus on the ball and many times get so captivated by its movement that they become spectators on the field. Conditioning, or the lack thereof, also can play a role. So what is the solution?

As I wrote in my other throw-in posts, the best way to instill the concept of movement for throw-ins is to instill this concept with non-throw-in drills and small-sides games. Checking-in, seeing the field, accurate passes, good ball control, communication, and movement takes place every second during a game. If these skills are developed on the field, improved throw-ins will be a by-product of these new and improved skills.

Improving Throw-ins: Hit the Feet (part 3 of 4)

January 4, 2010

This is the third in a series of posts that discusses how to improve throw-ins. The first two throw-in posts covered checking in and throwing in to all areas of the field (all 180 choices).

You often hear coaches telling their players to pass the ball on the ground. This is great advice. After all, it is easier to control a rolling ball than a bouncing ball. But what should a coach tell the player who is throwing in the ball from a throw-in? Rolling the ball is not permissible and passing the ball on the ground is impossible given the angle from which the ball is thrown. But if a coach were to instead instruct a player to pass the ball to a player’s feet, this instruction could apply to a throw-in as well.

There are times when it is not doable or desirable to throw in a ball at a player’s feet. Some examples would be when:

  • You want a field player to flick the ball with his/her head.
  • Throwing the ball into an open space.
  • Throwing a long distance throw to an approaching player.

But for the most part, the player taking the throw-in should always aim for a player’s feet. Ideally the ball will land directly at the player’s feet. But as you can see in the photos below, there is some leeway. The ball can be thrown as high as the knees (transparent blue area) and up to a few feet in front of the player (transparent red area). If the ball is not directly at the player’s feet, it is expected that the receiver will make the necessary adjustments.

There are many advantages to throwing the ball to a player’s feet.

  • It is easier to control the ball. Players are used to and more comfortable controlling the ball with their feet when the ball is on or near the ground.
  • A player has the best control stopping the ball with his/her feet.
  • A player has more options for a next move when the ball is controlled with the feet. For example, receiver of the throw-in can:
    • Pass back to the thrower.
    • Pass to another teammate.
    • Control and turn.
    • Beating a defender with a quick move.

Throwing the ball accurately is much easier said than done. Most throwers are conditioned to throw the ball down the wing as hard as he/she can. Now when a player is running at them, it becomes a challenge to time the throw with the player checking in. What also tends to happen is when a thrower tries to take a little pace off the throw-in, the throw-in technique changes enough (i.e., the ball is not placed behind the head) to result in a foul throw-in.

If you read my other throw-in posts, I’m not a big fan of working on throw-ins during practice. This is in large part the result of seeing many coaches spending too much time on throw-ins. However, I am a fan of making sure that the game of soccer is played and taught properly. I also believe that when a team is in possession of the ball, they should take advantage of the situation and not just give the ball away.

With that in mind, the following exercise will help players develop more accurate throw-ins and also reinforce the act of checking-in.

  1. Team up players in pairs.
  2. To warm up, have the two players stand 5 yards apart. Have them throw the ball back and forth to one another (Scenario A) using proper throw-in technique.
  3. Next, have them move 10 yards apart. Have the receiver break toward the thrower (Scenario B). The goal is for the thrower to time the run and throw the ball at the advancing player’s feet. Have the receiver control the ball, pass it back, and then return to the 10-yard spot. Repeat this 5 times and then switch the thrower and receiver.
  4. Repeat this same exercise at 15-yards apart (Scenario C) and 20-yards apart (Scenario D).

During the exercise, make sure that:

  • Good throw-in technique is used (hands behind the head and both feet on the ground).
  • The players make eye contact with one another and the receiver calls for the ball.
  • The ball lands at the receiver’s feet or within the designated area.
  • The receiver controls the ball properly.
  • The receiver breaks away quickly from the imaginary defender.
  • The receiver passes the ball accurately and with the correct pace back to the thrower.
  • The receiver returns quickly to the prescribed starting spot and repeats the check-in (this is a great conditioning exercise for the receiver).

Remember that the player receiving the throw-in does not always have to pass the ball back to the thrower. When the ball is passed back, I often see the thrower simply kick the ball up-field without much thought. In my opinion, this action is just as bad as throwing the ball down the wing. The player receiving the throw-in should always be aware of the defender’s and his/her teammate’s positioning. Based on this information, the receiving player has many options after controlling the ball. Make sure towork on these options and incorporate them into the exercise above.

Improving Throw-ins: Check-In (part 1 of 4)

December 29, 2009

I’m not a big fan of throw-ins. When I coached, I spent very little time on thrown-ins. I never had throw-in warm-ups. I never designed throw-in plays. My preference was to spend more time on soccer fundamentals, such as the first-touch, and playing small-sided games. I surprise myself that I am even writing about throw-ins. But year-after-year I see too many teams doing the wrong thing on throw-ins, so I feel I need to write about it. This is the first in a series of throw-in posts.

A peculiar tactic I see many coaches employ on throw-ins at all age levels is what I call, “the check-in, check-out” move. This is where a field player runs toward the thrower (checks-in) and then turns and runs down the wing (checks-out). While this is a good tactic to use a few times during a game and catch the opponents off guard, using it ALL the time simply does not work. A team that employs this tactic is literally and figuratively ‘throwing in the towel’ or ‘throwing away an opportunity’ on a play that can and should be much more advantageous to the team in possession of the ball.

A much better approach is for a team to simply have its players check-in to the thrower. There are many advantages to checking in.

  • A team will increase its possession percentage by retaining the ball much more often. A ball thrown to a player facing the approaching ball will receive and possess the ball much easier.
  • It creates movement on the field.
  • A field player is able to separate him/herself from a defender.
  • Open space is created when a player checking-in vacates or moves away from the area.

A field player should follow these steps when checking-in on a throw in;

  • If a defender is on the field player, play it cool. Referencing ‘Box 1’ below, when it is time to check in, the player (A1b) quickly breaks away from the defender (D1) in a quick burst. It a player is cool and appears nonchalant, the burst will leave the defender flat-footed and create greater distance between the two players (A1a). Now reference Box 2. If the defender (D3b) is marking a player (A3b) tight, the field player may need to first move away from the thrower (check-out) before turning and breaking to the thrower (A3a). This will leave the defender (D3a) further away from the play.

  • Before checking in, the field player should make eye contact with the thrower. If the thrower is unaware of the field player’s intentions, he/she may not be prepared to throw-in the ball to the approaching player.
  • If the thrower is not aware of or does not see the player checking in, communicate with a command such as ‘Ball!’ or call the thrower’s name to get his/her attention.
  • If the ball is not thrown to the player checking in, that player should cycle-through the check-in. The worst thing for a player to do is just stand still waiting for the ball to be thrown to him/her. Not only is that player in all likelihood covered but when a player receives a ball flat-footed, the next moves are limited. Veer away from the thrower and let another check in.

By far and away the biggest advantage to having players check-in on throw-ins is the carryover effect it has on all aspects of the game. During the course of a game, players should always be ‘checking in’ with the players who have the ball. Checking-in does not always mean running directly at the player. Checking-in also means checking in to the open space to give the player with the ball many options to pass the ball. Teach and reinforce the skill of checking-in with field play. Then when it comes to throw-ins, the players will check-in naturally.

2-3 Goal Difference Per Game: Communication

September 21, 2009
There is no prettier sound on the soccer field that 22 players communicating with one another. Communication is a critical component to soccer success. A player can see only so much in terms of what is going on around him at any given time. He needs help from his teammates. In addition, a player needs to know what his teammates are thinking. This can only take happen if everyone is communicating with everyone else.

Communication can happen many different ways. The three main forms of communication are verbal, gesturing, and eye contact. For now, I’m only focusing on verbal communication and only two examples. But if you incorporate just these two examples, you will see instant improvement in your team’s performance and communication.

“Keep”

Goalkeepers have a distinct advantage over field players. Not only can they handle the ball inside the penalty box but 99.9% of the time, the play is in front of them. As a result, goalies have the best picture of what is happening on the field. As such, a goalkeeper will know best if she will be able to get to a ball before her teammates or opponents. When she makes the decision to attack the ball, she needs to yell “Keep” so the whole field can hear her.

Yelling ‘keep’ serves two purposes:
  • It lets the goalie’s teammates know that she wants the ball and therefore not to touch or play it.
  • It warns the opponents that the goalkeeper has every intention of going after the ball.
It always helps to have a vocal goalie. However, if you have a quiet goalie, as long as she says ‘keep’ loud enough for her teammates to hear her, that is fine. Another term that a goalie can use in this situation is ‘keeper’.

“Man On”

How often have you seen a player waiting for a ball only to have an opponent step in front of him and steal the ball? Much too often, I bet. But what happens when a player or coach yells “Man On”? Instantly that same player will react and go toward the ball. ‘Man On’ means, “watch out, someone is coming up on you from behind or from the side.” This expression is the best expression new or young players can learn. It will:
  • Help them start to become more vocal and communicative
  • Get players to go toward the ball more frequently and naturally
  • Reduce the number of times the ball gets stolen
  • Keep coaches from having to yell or scream the warning. And given decibel levels I’ve heard recently, everyone will appreciate this.