Keeping It Simple, But Not Too Simple

Over at Youth Sports, Joyce has a post up about the importance of keeping things simple in youth soccer:

During the holidays, my daughter’s soccer team played a series of “friendlies” in a three-hour span at the new Adirondack Sports Complex in Queensbury, a dome which boasts a large fie­ld perfect for indoor soccer. During one of the games, I sat next to a soccer dad who knows the game and kept repeating quietly to no one in particular:

“Simple passes, keep the game simple.”

Next, I got an e-mail from a soccer coach whose team we will be profiling this week in our youth sports section. A quote from soccer phenom Johan Cruyff (who has this amazing move named after him) was featured at the end of his e-mail:

“Football is simple, but the most difficult thing is to play simple football.” – Johan Cruyff­

There’s no question some youth coaches try to teach complex tactics too early when they should be concentrating on mostly technique and footwork. However, the first example Joyce uses is worrisome since it highlights a common problem in youth soccer: too much passing. If you take a group of young kids and work on passing, passing, and only passing – you’re going to win a lot of games. Younger players have trouble defending against teams that can reliably pass to each other. It takes a lot of time for them to figure out how to recognize passing lanes and work out angles to intercept passes. ­But as they get older, the defensive ability of opponents improves, and they’ll find they need more to beat that last defender.

The fact that Joyce quotes Johan Cruyff drives the point home. Keeping it simple doesn’t mean avoiding soccer moves. Coaches should teach soccer moves as early as possible as part of a balanced program that includes significant work on passing and receiving, keeping their head up, and learning a solid set of simple soccer moves. Does that mean teaching U8’s every Coerver move there is? Of course not. But I’ve seen many U8 Rec players with good coaches do a basic step over or scissor and a couple who can do a Cruyff turn in addition to passing well. Those players are the ones that have a solid balanced base to build on as the grow up.

One of the coolest moments for me as a coach this past year was when one of my U11 defenders took the ball upfield and met an opponent near mid field. Defenders tend to be cautious, knowing if they lose the ball, it can have dire consequences. So they tend to avoid holding onto the ball for very long. But my defender dribbled up to that opponent, did a scissors that faked the opponent, and continued up field for better position before crossing the ball towards the goal. Fantastic.

It’s all about balance. Young players need to learn the basics so they have a solid core to build on as they grow older. But that core has to be more than just passing and shooting. Just keep it simple :)

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