Wins Don't Develop Players - An OTP Series

Soccer Kids by terren in VirginiaOne of the biggest challenges I had with my 96 girls team was getting them confident with the ball. They grew up playing soccer in a coed league and had very little confidence to possess the ball because they rarely had it in Rec. The boys usually controlled the ball and the game. It took a couple of years before they really believed they could possess the ball under pressure. You can teach them how to dribble, but you can’t teach them to possess it under pressure. They have to build confidence with the ball. So with my U8 players – I want them to own the ball.

Though they may not really understand why, I constantly remind my players that they have three choices when they get the ball and always in this order:

  1. SHOOT!
  2. Dribble
  3. Pass

Over time, I add some context to that:

  1. Close enough to the goal and open? SHOOT!
  2. Dribble until you are pressured by two or more players and have options to…
  3. Pass to an open teammate in motion

Obviously at U8 – long range shooting is not a skill most kids master. So our main focus is on possession. They *always* have a ball at their feet. In our Fall U8 season, we didn’t work on passing much in practice – though I encouraged it in matches. This Spring, we’ll probably focus more on passing in practice – especially technique. No sweeping foot passes! But possession has been the main focus.

In effect? I’m coaching a team of ball hogs – on purpose. This has actually had an interesting effect during matches. Our opponents know that when we get the ball – we tend to keep it. So they swarm to the ball, leaving a LOT of our team wide open. So this has helped the players discover options and passing on their own. One of our opponents is named the Butterflies – so I told them when the Butterflies swarm, look for an open teammate. We passed more than I thought we would! But overall the players work hard to maintain possession no matter what.

So how has this worked out for us? Quite well. We maintain possession for the vast majority of our matches, getting us the most ball touches under pressure. The players are gradually increasing the speed that they dribble as their confidence increases. We’ve absolutely given up some goals when we’ve lost the ball near our goal, but that’s an exception and the players get it. I’ve had to clue my parents in on the strategy to ensure they aren’t screaming ‘Kick the ball!’ or ‘Not in front of the goal!’ They know to cheer the players who dive in, steal a ball and possess it. The players back on defense rarely kick the ball away. They steal it/intercept it, and dribble. Well, that’s what we try to get them to do anyway 🙂

One of my favorite examples of how we stress possession happened near our goal. One of our defenders got the ball near the end line about 3 yds away from the goal. She had pressure from the corner and upfield. So she proceeded to dribble the ball within a foot of our goal line all the way across to the other side of the goal. The entire time she had pressure on her and using her arm and body, kept them away, kept possession of the ball and curved up the parent sideline to attack. It was awesome. 

We have won many of our matches (though we don’t keep score *wink*), but have certainly lost a few. I explained to my parents when the season started that we would almost certainly lose matches because of the way I coached them and what I encouraged them to do. And we have. Plenty of goals have been given up by both U8 teams due to back field possession and occasionally losing the ball. But the players clearly have gotten more confident with the ball no matter where they are.

That’s all I can ask for. We may not win every match, but it’s such a thrill watching the players own the ball. You can’t pass the ball if you don’t have it. Too many players are encouraged by parents and coaches alike to ‘KICK THE BALL’ when they really need to be encouraged to keep it. Will they be accused of being ball hogs? Maybe. But a ball hog is just a player that hasn’t learned their options yet.

Wins Don't Develop Players - An On The Pitch Series

  1. U6-U8 Soccer Player Development – Round Two
  2. Confidence Can’t Be Coached – It’s Learned (and Earned!)
  3. Developing Young Players Without Positions (or Wins)