Posts Tagged ‘pass’

USA vs. Netherlands (1:2) — Statistics Show it Could Have Been Worse

March 4, 2010

I watched the USA vs. Netherlands game today. The U.S. did not do too well (granted several likely World Cup starters did not play and the U.S. was playing the team ranked third in the world). Though the scoring chances did not reflect it, the first half was dominated by the Dutch. Jonathan Bornstein gave up a silly penalty and was lucky not to be called for a second one when he unintentionally handled the ball in the penalty area. The 0-1 was a just half-time score although if you look at the statistics I compiled (more on those shortly), the U.S. was lucky to be down only one goal.

In the second half, the U.S. showed more urgency but so too did the Dutch. The U.S. was very unlucky in conceding the second goal but made up for it with a beautiful header by Carlos Bocanegra. 23-year-old Dutchman Eljero Elia sure is a good player. He was all over the field today. The U.S. was fortunate to lose by only one goal.

The statistics I referred to earlier are shown below. They are the same type of touch-statistics I compiled for the 2010 MVP tournament for which the inside-of-the-foot was crowned champion (MVP stands for most-value-part).

The Dutch completely dominated the first half in terms of touches (see below). They more than doubled the number of U.S. touches: 769 (71%) – 317 (29%). When looking strictly at feet touches, the percentages are even higher (see yellow cells). I contend that controlling the ball with the feet gives players more control than with other parts of the body.

I also contend that using the inside-of-the-foot to control a ball, whether it is to receive, pass, or shoot, gives players far more control of the ball than other parts-of-the-foot. While both the U.S. and Dutch used the inside-of-the-foot a majority of the time (see yellow cells), the Dutch did so with much more frequency.

  • Dutch: receiving-73%, passing-76%, shooting-100%
  • Dutch: receiving-60%, passing-62%, shooting-33%

I’m not sure if these statistics prove anything (I did not compile statistics for the 2nd half because it takes a long time to do so and I wanted to get this post published in a timely manner). However, today the Dutch were the dominant team and they did exhibit very good ball control.

Author’s Notes:

I believe that poor ball control and a lack of emphasis placed on using the inside-of-the foot are the biggest problems facing U.S. youth soccer. If you concur and believe that the inside-of-the-foot is soccer’s MVP, please join the “Inside-of-the-Foot Soccer Fan Club” on Facebook.

I compiled these statistics as follows:

  • I watched the game on ESPN2.
  • I only counted touches that were televised.
  • If I could not tell which body part or surface was used, I did not count the touch (this included when more than one player was playing the ball).
  • If there was a one-touch pass, it was counted only as a pass, not a reception (under receiving).
  • Headers were counted as passes when the intention was there. Otherwise, headers fell under ‘receiving’.
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Soccer’s Magic Cube

March 1, 2010

A lot of young players today rely on only one foot to do all the work. Oftentimes, I will see young players run around a ball just so they can stop it with their dominant foot. I strongly believe that at a very young age coaches and parents should encourage and work with their players and children to get comfortable using both feet. Much like learning a second language or a musical instrument, it is much easier when a child is young. This can also apply to learning to use both feet.

To help in this endeavor, I have created the ‘Magic Cube’. It is soccer’s equivalent to the ‘Magic 8 Ball’. It helps teach and remind a player which foot to use to stop a ball.

The Magic Cube has three main colors (see below). They are:

  • Light brown represents the side of the body the ball is passed to (pass).
  • Red represents which foot should be used to stop the ball (stop).
  • Blue represents which surface of the foot should be used to stop the ball (side).

The cube also has four letters. They are:

  • L’ for left
  • R’ for right
  • I’ for inside-of-the-foot
  • O’ for outside-of-the-foot

With the help of the Magic Cube, remembering the proper technique for stopping a ball is simple.

  1. When the ball is passed to a player’s left side, he/she should use the inside of the left foot to stop the ball (LIL).
  2. When the ball is passed to a player’s right side, he/she should use the inside of the right foot to stop the ball (RIR).
  3. When the ball is passed to a player’s left side, he/she should use the outside of the right foot to stop the ball (LOR).
  4. When the ball is passed to a player’s right side, he/she should use the outside of the left foot to stop the ball (ROL).

Feel free to download and assemble your own Magic Cube. In other posts, I have mentioned fun practice alternatives. Assembling Magic Cubes would certainly qualify as a fun practice alternative. All you need to bring to practice are some 2-dimensional cubes and a few glue sticks (depending on the age of the kids, the cubes may need to be pre-cut and scored). Once the cubes have been assembled, demonstrate the proper stopping technique. Young players will remember the sage wisdom of the Magic Cube for a long time. During the year, coaches and parents can always refer to the ‘Magic Cube’ when the players need some assistance.

I added dots to each face of the cube so the Magic Cube can also be used as a die. If a player uses the Magic Cube more than once, its message will have a better chance of sinking in. To open and print out the Magic Cube shown above (complete with instructions), click here. To check out Magic Cubes in several color schemes, click here. Choose your favorite. I will also be happy to create a custom-colored Magic Cube. Just let me know.

The sooner a young player feels comfortable using both feet, the better.

2010 Soccer MVP: Inside-of-the-Foot … Structure

February 8, 2010

Author’s Note: This post is one in a series of posts that breaks down the 2010 Soccer MVP Tournament competition. Be sure to look at the final results to review how ‘Inside’ was crowned champion.

The first discipline that the four main parts-of-the-feet were evaluated on was its structure. Specifically I looked at the flatness of the surface as well as the forgiveness level. The forgiveness level is how forgiving a surface is when the ball does not make contact with each surfaces’ respective sweet spots when trying to receive, pass, or shoot the ball. ‘Bottom’ was crowned the ‘Structure’ winner with ‘Inside’ coming in a close second (see table below).

Flatness

Imagine playing billiards with cushions (bumpers) that were not flat/straight. You would have little idea how the balls would ricochet off the cushions.  However, since they are straight, you will always know how a ball will behave coming off a bumper (unless the ball has spin or English on it).

The same principle carries over to soccer. The flatter the surface, the easier it is to control a soccer ball. A flat surface eliminates a lot of unpredictability in terms of how a ball will respond when it is received, passed, or shot.

With that in mind, ‘Bottom’ won the ‘Flatness’ secondary discipline, ‘Inside’ and ‘Laces’ tied for second, and ‘Outside’ came in last (for this discipline, I measured flatness of the foot with the shoe on.)

  • Despite the studs/cleats, the undercarriage of a shoe is flat across the entire length of the shoe (represented by the lime green line in image ‘A’).
  • The flat surface of the inside-of-the-foot extends the full length of the foot’s arch, from the ball of the foot in front to the heel in back (represented by the blue lines in images ‘A’ and ‘B’). Note that this surface is slightly concave (it is more pronounced in image ‘A’). As it turns out, a concave structure has a significant advantage in controlling a soccer ball. Concave shapes have a way of drawing a ball in for better control. Some examples of concave shapes that are very effective are the position of a football receiver’s or soccer goalie’s hands when catching or receiving a ball. The shape of a baseball glove is also concave. In my Loopball curriculum, I like to refer to the inside-of-the-foot as a glove, especially with younger players.
  • The top-of-the-foot is also relatively flat. While it appears to be slightly concave (represented by the purple line in image ‘C’), the top of the bare foot is relatively flat). ‘Inside’ and Laces’ tied for second because ‘Inside’ had a slightly longer surface area but ‘Laces’ was straighter.

  • The opposite is true for ‘Outside’. Its shape is more convex (as shown by the yellow lines in images ‘A’ and ‘B’). This makes controlling a ball much more difficult.

Forgiveness

Everyone has heard of hand-eye coordination. A vast majority of sports as well as simple daily activities require and develop this coordination. Soccer, on the other hand, requires good eye-foot coordination. Since this is a skill that is extremely difficult to develop and there is not much opportunity to develop this skill other than on a soccer field, there is much value when a surface has a lot natural ‘forgiveness’ built into its structure. Each foot surface has a natural sweet spot. I measured forgiveness by the additional area around the sweet spot where ball control can still be achieved with some degree of success.

In this discipline, ‘Bottom’ and ‘Inside’ tied for first. ‘Laces’ came in a respectable third and ‘Outside’ a distant fourth.

  • The sweet spot for the bottom-of-the-foot is in the front-center portion of the foot (dark red spot in ‘image ‘A’). Its forgiveness area radiates out to the edges of the foot and down to the heel (red transparent area in image ‘A’).
  • There is a protrusion of the talus (ankle) bone near the top of the arch (red spot in image ‘C’). That is the main sweet spot for the inside-of-the-foot (red transparent area in image ‘C’). The forgiveness area is not quite as large as the bottom area. However, ‘Inside’ has a secondary sweet in the front of the foot (smaller red spot in image ‘C’). This spot is namely used for passing or shooting the ball with a curve (like ‘Bend It Like Beckham’). By virtue of this second sweet spot, ‘Inside’ earned a tie for first place.
  • ‘Laces’ has a great sweet spot (red spot in image ‘B’) but its area of forgiveness is smaller.
  • The sweet spot for ‘Outside’ (red spot in image ‘D’ below) is in the front of the foot. The area of forgiveness is the smallest of all the surfaces.

Conclusion

The ‘Structure’ competition was close but ‘Bottom’ pulled out a narrow victory.

The other disciplines evaluated in this competition were: receiving, dribbling, passing, shooting, popularity among professionals, and ease of learning.

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.

Fun Practice Alternative: Catch

January 6, 2010

I played American football in high school and college. I was both a field goal kicker and punter. One trait often overlooked in kickers and punters is their creativity. There are only so many kicks and punts these players can practice before they either develop a dead leg or simply die of boredom. When I played, we needed to be creative to get through most practices. When I was not working on field goals or punts, I enjoyed playing catch. We would take turns being the quarterback and pass the ball to kicker/punter turned-receiver teammates running prearranged routes. We would also play catch by having the receiver run down field and instead of throwing the ball, we would punt the ball, The goal was to hit the receiver in stride.

A similar game can be played at a soccer practice. Here’s how.

  • Come up with a few pass routes. Some short and some long.
  • Divide the team into 3 groups: left-sided receivers, right-sided receivers, and the quarterbacks (kickers).
  • Have a receiver run one of the routes and have the quarterback pass the ball to the receiver in stride. Kick the ball off the ground so the receiver has to catch it. The ball should be stationary when kicked, like a free kick or corner.
  • Make sure everyone gets a turn playing all three positions

Once the players begin to feel comfortable with this game, add some variations:

  • Add new routes.
  • Have the quarterbacks chip the ball high into the air or have them kick it ‘on a line’.
  • Have the quarterbacks kick with their weaker foot.
  • Instead of catching the ball, have the receivers control the ball with their feet.
  • Add a defender so the pass needs to be more accurate.

This fun practice alternative is great for the quarterbacks. It gives them an opportunity to work on:

  • Touch. Chip shots, regular kicks, or power passes all require different types of touches to be put on the ball. During a regular game, correct ball touches are important.
  • Kicking into open space. Since the receiver is moving, the quarterback needs to pass to the spot where the player will be when he/she receives the ball. This should happen in a soccer game all the time.

The receivers benefit as well.

  • It gives them an opportunity to receive and control the ball from unusual angles. This is a great exercise for the forwards.
  • It reinforces the need to always be moving.
  • Running the routes helps with fitness.

If playing ‘catch’ with a soccer ball is not a big hit, break out some footballs. While throwing and catching a football will not benefit the team much from a soccer perspective, it will still be a nice break from a regular soccer practice.

Parents: Do Not Reinforce Poor Play

October 5, 2009

As a coach, referee, and fan, I am always surprised to hear some of the things that can come out of parents’ mouths during games. So much so, that there will multiple posts devoted to soccer parents. Don’t get me wrong. A vast majority of parents are very encouraging and well-behaved during games. In addition, I recognize that I am no saint. I have not always been the ideal coach or fan. And if you ask my youngest, he would say that I’m a bad soccer parent because I will tell him to hustle and on occasion ‘coach’ him just a bit. However, I know I am getting better so I do feel like a can share my thoughts with you without being considered too big of a hypocrite.

As a coach and as someone who wants to improve soccer in the United States, there is nothing that drives me crazier than parents reinforcing poor play. The biggest example of this is the long ball.

U.S. parents are obsessed with the long ball. When a player kicks the ball 40-50 yards down field, you will hear a chorus of ‘ooooohs’ and ‘aaaaahs’ coming from the sidelines. It does not matter where the ball goes. The player will still get lauded for his/her ‘tremendous’ kick. Naturally, players hear and like this reaction. So any opportunity they get …. BOOM! … there goes the ball accompanied by the parents’ approval.

What parents are reinforcing is a type of soccer called ‘kick ball’. In kick ball, players just kick the ball as hard as they can. It may go in the right direction–towards the opponent’s goal–but rarely will it go to one of the player’s teammates. If you get both teams playing like this, it by no means ‘a beautiful game’.

Soccer is all about the first-touch and ball control. The better first-touch (on the ball) a player has and the more control he/she has over the ball, the better the player, the better the team, and the more beautiful the game becomes.

So what can parents do? A lot. But for the purpose of this post, reinforce a good first touch and good ball control. Ooh and aah when a player makes a good stop. Do the same when a player makes a good pass to a teammate. When a team starts to string together several nice passes in a row, start an ‘ole!’ cheer after each pass, as bullfighting spectators do when the matador eludes a bull’s charge. This will get the players’ attention.

Remember, the first-touch and ball control are skills that take a long time to develop and can never be mastered. David Beckham and Cristiano Renaldo will be the first to tell you that their first-touch and ball control can be better. Anything that parents can do to encourage this behavior, the better.

It is still OK to ooh and aah the long ball if it is done with purpose and precision. A 30-yard shot on goal is worthy of such recognition. So, too, are long punts that result in a scoring opportunity.

2-3 Goal Difference Per Game: No Offside Traps

September 3, 2009

I don’t get it. The offside trap is one of the most difficult defensive strategies to implement successfully, yet I see coach after coach yelling at their young players to play an offside trap, especially on free kicks inside the offensive third. My recommendation is that no teams U14 and under should ever employ this tactic. I would even question if older teams should employ it. It is simply too risky and more often than not will lead to more and better scoring opportunities for the other team. These are some reasons why the offside trap is a bad idea:

  • It takes precise defensive coordination to apply an offside trap. All players must be on the same page and must know and when and when not to push up to put the offense in an offside opposition. Invariably, one or more defensive players will not move up which will keep an offensive player onside. Professional players have a hard enough time playing an offensive trap. Just don’t do it!
  • You assume the assistant referee (if there is one) will call the offside correctly. Oftentimes at the younger age groups, the assistant referees (ARs) are just a few years older than the players and they are just learning to be referees. Many of the young ARs don’t follow the second-to-last defender so they will not be in a good position to call the offside. In addition, calling the offside correctly is one of the most difficult calls to make in soccer given the new interpretation of the offside law. Just don’t do it!
  • The new offside law makes it OK for an offensive player to be in an offside if they are not playing the ball or are not directly involved in the play. This makes the call of the AR that much more difficult and uncertain. Just don’t do it!

Offensive Strategy

If you are fortunate enough to be playing a team which believes in the offside trap, count your blessings and count on more scoring opportunities. The best way to counter an offside trap is to:

  • Test the offside trap. The defense needs to be well-coordinated to pull off a successful offside trap. Test them early in the game to see how well they do. If you have several offside calls made against you, so what.
  • Kick the ball across the field into open space. The player the defense is least worried about is the opposite winger. As long as that winger is alert and has some speed, they will get plenty of scoring opportunity.
  • Confuse the defenders. Have an offensive player stand in an offside position. The defense will become pre-occupied with that player and will often forget the whereabouts of other players. As long as this player does not play the ball or is not involved in the play, she will not be called for an offside infraction. A few offside calls against you will be well worth the confusion this player generates. If the referee and AR are calling this player offside when she is not, abandon this idea.
  • If a player is in an offside position and the ball is passed her way, have her stand like a statue or simply turn away from the ball. This indicates to the referee and AR that she has no intention of playing the ball. Good referees and ARs will not whistle this infraction. While the defenders and other coach are appealing for a call, have another offensive player from an onside position, chase after the ball. Use good referees and ARs to your advantage.