Posts Tagged ‘practice’

Effort and Playing Time

September 29, 2009

One of the most difficult parts of coaching youth soccer is allocating playing time. As a coach you want to be as equitable with the playing time as possible. For house (or non-competitive, non-traveling) teams, this was always easy. My philosophy was to give each player the same amount of playing time, regardless of skill. Only disciplinary issues would result in less playing time.

With competitive teams, playing time became much more difficult to manage. I still tried to be as equitable as possible but now skill level, attitude, score, and effort also contributed to or resulted in a lack of playing time.

For me, the most important trait in a competitive youth player is effort—the more effort put forth in a game and the more energy expended during game, the more playing time the player receives. I’m a strong believer that at the end of every game, a player should be very tired and have very little energy left over.

To illustrate how effort impacted the allocation of playing time with two charts.  The first chart illustrates the playing time during a game for Players A and B early in the season (x-axis). Both players start the game (green line). Player A puts forth much more effort and expends much more energy that Player B (y-axis). Both are taken out at the same time to recuperate (yellow double line). Because I like Player A’s effort, I put her in after a short rest. Even though Player B has completely recovered her energy, she remains on the bench because of the lack of effort exhibited on the field (red double line). Player B does make it back into the game but if the effort is not there, her playing time remains less than Player A’s playing time.

Early Season Playing Time

It is important for Player A to understand that she needs to be taken out of the game. If she did not come out, all of her energy would be used up before the end of the game (green dashed line). As a coach, I would much rather have her on the field at the end of the game. In addition, by taking her out, others get a chance to play.

The second chart illustrates what the playing time may look like midway through the season for Players A and B. Player A is still getting the same amount of playing time. However, Player B is getting less playing time because the effort is still not there.

Midway Season Playing Time

Player B should not lose hope. If I see more effort and energy during the game (and during practice … what they say is true, “you play the way you practice”), playing time would increase.

If you are a coach or a parent, show these charts to your players/child so they understand that effort can make all the difference in the world … and not just in soccer.

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2-3 Goal Difference Per Game: Penalty Kicks

August 26, 2009

I would say that at the professional level, 75 – 80% of penalty kicks are successful. For the misses, the goalie will save 15-20% and the other 5% miss the goal entirely. At the youth level, the success rate is around 50%. Given that youth goalies typically don’t move or dive until the ball is kicked, I would have thought the success rate would be higher. This is not the case. I have several theories why this is so.

  • When a player steps up to take a penalty kick, he does not know where he is going to kick the ball–he does not have a plan. And if he does, he may end up changing his mind before the kick because of the goalie’s actions. Without a plan or by changing the plan, the success rate drops sharply.
  • Penalty kicks are pressure kicks, especially for the penalty kicker. Everyone expects the penalty to be made so all the pressure and eye are on the kicker.
  • The penalty kick is not practiced much.

Before explaining how you can easily go from a 50% to a 90% success rate, it is important to understand the proper kicking mechanics of a penalty kick.

  • Because the penalty kick is taken so close to the goal, accuracy is much more important than power. Players should take the kick with the inside-of-the-foot.
  • When a kick is taken with inside-of-the-foot, the toe of the kicking foot should be pointing up.
  • When the kick is taken with the inside-of-the-foot and the toe is pointed up, the ball will have a spin or curve on it.

As a result, a right-footed kicker will naturally kick the ball to the left side of the goal (the goalie’s right) and a left-footed kicker will naturally kick the ball to the right side of the goal (the goalie’s left). To prove my point, try this exercise at one of your practices.

  • Place a cone 1-yard in from the right post and another cone 1-yard in from the left post.
  • Have each player take 10 penalty kicks with their dominant foot–5 kicked to the right and 5 kicked to the left. Have them alternate feet for each kick.
  • Put a goalie or coach in goal to simulate a game situation.
  • Score a point when the ball goes between the post and the cone.

Tally up the points. The right-footed kickers should be more accurate going to their left.

Ask each player which side they felt more comfortable with. Whatever side they choose (even it is not what I predicted), tell them that that is the side they should always target in practice and in a game regardless of what the goalie may be doing or where the goalie is standing. This will take a lot of pressure off the kicker.

Here are some additional tips and tricks:

  • It is a good idea to practices penalties once or twice a year, especially if there is an upcoming tournament that uses penalty kicks for tie-breakers.
  • Penalty kicks should not necessarily be taken by the best player or the player with the strongest foot. Consider using the player with the best accuracy. It could even be your goalie. Remember, they should use the inside-of-the-foot.
  • All penalty kicks should be kicked on the ground. It is much more difficult for a goalie to save a shot on the ground than in the air because it takes more time for a goalie to reach the ground, especially if the goalie is tall. In addition, a kick on the ground will never go over the cross bar.
  • The penalty kick should never be blasted. But there should be enough power behind the kick so if the goalie dives the correct way, she will still not be able to save it. When more power is used than necessary, accuracy will be compromised and kicks will tend to go high.
  • Make sure the penalty kicker knows which corner he will kick to well before the kick is taken. Remind him not to change his mind, even if the goalie is leaning to his preferred side. An accurate, well-struck penalty kick will not be saved.
  • Targets help. The target should always be the side netting.

Defensive Strategy

According to Law XIV, FIFA states that the defending goalkeeper must remain on her goal line, facing the kicker, and between the goalposts until the ball has been kicked.

Once again, everyone expects for the penalty kick to be made. Therefore, there is no pressure on the goalie whatsoever. Also, you and your goalie now know which corner the kicker is likely going to choose. With this bit of information, the chance of the penalty being successful drops to 25%. Those are pretty good odds for your team. In addition, follow these tips and tricks:

  • Reiterate to your goalie that she is under no pressure. If you want to remove all pressure, communicate with your goalie through hand signals which way you want her to dive. That way, the goalie won’t be able to second-guess herself. Personally, I don’t think this step is necessary but it should depend on the confidence and comfort-level of the goalie.
  • Since you know which corner is likely being targeted, have the goalie stand slightly off-center. But which way you ask–left or right? If the kicker is right-footed, you know he will likely target the left corner. In this case, have the goalie stand 1 foot to her LEFT-of-center (not right as you may think). This will accomplish 2 things:
  1. If the right-footed penalty kicker had decided to go to his left, now that the goalie is favoring the other side, the kicker will naturally stick to the left side.
  2. However, if the kicker had planned to kick the ball to his right, now he is presented with a dilemma. Is he still going to go to his right, or has the goalie forced him to change his side? Good question. In all likelihood, the kicker will probably change corners. Now a successful kick drops to 20% because the preferred side has been taken away. Just before the kick is taken (after the kicker’s head drops to look at the ball), have your goalie shift to the center of the goal and a foot to the right-of-center. Make sure that your goalie acts the part. It should appear to the kicker that the goalie is standing off-center not as a tactic but rather as a mistake.

In many ways, having all this information is not fair to the kicker. I’m always fascinated to see how penalty kickers and coaches counter this type of defensive strategy.