As a youth soccer coach, I have learned a lot, but also have a LOT to learn. This spring has been a frustrating year for my U10 team and I’m working hard to ‘bring things together’ in the few matches we have left. "There is no I in team" is such an abused cliche, but sometimes it’s very hard to get young kids to really understand what it means.
My U10 team is a talented group of kids. We are VERY young (nine 8/9 year olds and three 9/10 year olds), but also have a diverse set of skills. I have two talented keepers who also play tough on offense, one with a blistering shot. I have a talented ball handler who often can get by numerous opponents and still land a ball in the net. A defender who can almost score from mid field and another who is one of the most tenacious players I’ve seen who will hassle an attacker endlessly until he disrupts the attack. The rest of the team have solid skills they build on every week, giving our team a depth some opponents may lack.
Yet we’re struggling. My team, while individually talented, is struggling to play as a team and it is holding them back. As a coach I’m having a tough time getting them to understand that their losses are NOT due to playing a more skilled opponent, but instead an inability to use their skills together.
I am not alone in facing a challenge like this. I realize that. But that does not change the reality that getting a team to play as a team is difficult. My players do not necessarily fall into the ‘showboat’ mold where the more skilled players hog the ball and showboat, thus keeping the ‘team’ from playing a strong match. I find it is more a matter of trust and concentration, something tough to teach.
Case in point. My kids have a tough time putting together a coordinated attack. The forwards will start out in their lanes, staying spread out. But at the first sign of trouble (i.e. the ball handler reaches a defender), the other forwards have a tendency to hang back, expecting the ball to be lost so the ball handler has no passing target. I’ve told them over and over that the defense will be there to handle that problem as 2 of my 3 defenders drift towards midfield when we attack (we play 8v8 right now – we’ll be doing 6v6 in U10 this fall) The age old problem of clustering happens as well. In a recent match I had 4 players within arm’s reach of each other at the top of our opponent’s penalty box. Thus we had nobody waiting for a pass or even waiting for the ball to squirt out.
We’ve run countless drills working on attacks, staying in lanes, and following up shots. The last item being another area we are weak at. All too often our players will see the ball going to an opponent and will back off and let them play it. We do not pressure opponents and instead wait for them to make mistakes. Teaching young players to ‘be aggressive’ toward the ball is a delicate balance.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m very proud of my kids. They have worked very hard on skill improvement and handle the ball better every day. But part of a balanced soccer education is the realization that passes and field position are a key component of a team attack and not a last resort when you get double teamed.
I know I’m not alone in this as a coach by any stretch. But since I have this forum I might as well use it!
I’d be curious how other youth coaches have handled a situation like this where you have a talented group of players that don’t gel as a team. How can you get your players to understand that staying spread out is key and that you have to trust your teammates to handle the ball, even if they are likely to lose it. That hanging back hurts more than it helps since the ball-handler has nobody to pass to. How can you get your players to realize that they have to stay focused during an attack and not to wing it the minute a defender hassles the ball handler.
I’ll keep you posted on how things progress and if I manage to make the light bulb go off. I remain convinced I have one of the more talented groups of kids in our division this year, but seeing them struggle as a team is tough when I know deep down when it ‘clicks’ that as a team they can succeed, they will be a scary opponent.
Regardless, even if they don’t gel, I’m extremely proud of their individual improvements and we’ll see how things go next season!