Our first practice after starting league games arrives and I am anxious to work on some things we have seen during the game. We always introduce something new and tonight the girls learn the takeover dribble and I am pleased to hear the girls communicating during the drill.
As it always seems to happen, I learn something new, too. The misty rain we had all day stops before practice, leaving the air humid. As we move to the 1v1 section of practice, I set up a drill to work on transition. We always try to avoid drills that use lines but the only drill I know for this skill requires lines; I am by myself tonight, so I can’t set-up two lines; so the lines are longer than I would like. I have not considered that most of the girls were stuck with indoor recess at school and their pent-up energy will not tolerate the long wait times of my poorly designed drill. I can feel my battery of patience discharging; we transition quickly to small-sided games and my battery recharges. I will look for a better drill.
Third League Game
I arrive at the third game early and select the shady side of the field. I know the team we are playing has been winning and winning decisively (6-0, 6-2) and we will need any help available. It is silly to have anxiety but I have some anyway; I hope that our team style of play won’t result in the other team blowing us out; I should have had more faith! I do not allow the anxiety to affect our starting line-up as we are going for balanced playing time. Yet another new goalkeeper dons the bib.
The game starts and it quickly becomes clear that the other team is well coached but only plays the inner 1/3 of the field. Anything we try to pass up the middle is quickly swallowed up in a sea of blue; unfortunately, we are wearing red. Our last practice had included a drill that taught the girls to remain calm in transition and to play the ball wide, taking advantage of width and space. The training has helped but this game is an even better teacher as every time we transition to offense and use the middle of the field, we find ourselves on defense again. The score favors the other team 0-2 before the girls figure out that if we transition to offense along the sides of the field, we maintain better possession. It is a lesson that will stick with the girls (well, at least it lasted to the next game).
At halftime, we mix up the line-up significantly but the girls keep playing their old positions. Chaos ensues and in the confusion, the other team is shooting shot after shot at our goal. Yikes! I learn another lesson about how much we should change at once. After some adjustment, the team is playing well again. Unfortunately, instead of playing good combination soccer, some of our players are making long runs up the sideline to shoot on goal. We cajole the girls to pass and soon they score after a nice series of passes. Regardless of the outcome, the coaches are happy with the play of the team. We outshoot the other team but the games ends in the other team’s favor, 1-2. Following the loss, the girls are in great spirits and are having fun; we have no tears and no one is upset. Even our player that was yelled at by a parent from the other team is not upset, “She told me to keep my hands to myself but the other girl tripped over the ball, I didn’t touch her.” We all laugh about it, and I am reminded that not all parents can just let go and be spectators.
Fourth League Game
The game has arrived for the coaches to be quiet. In the first three games, we have been giving tactical direction in addition to encouragement to the players. This game we will greatly reduce the tactical input so the girls are encouraged to communicate on their own. Although this something we make a point to do every year, this is earlier in the season than we have ever done this in the past; I believe we need to let the girls find their own way on the field. It turns out that both teams will play the game with no substitutes. No referee has shown up so the assistant coach, who is also a referee, takes the field. With no subs to manage, and no instructions to give, I sit back in my lawn chair to work on my tan. Occasionally, one of us would issue some advice, always ending with “…and why am I even saying this?” The girls are playing great and have learned to use the sides of the field to attack. Before the game we emphasized using the soccer moves we practice during the game and we are pleased to see several moves as the game progresses.
The girls are up 4-1 and we have moved the backs to forward and the forwards to back but the team keeps playing excellent combination soccer and the half ends 6-1. The opposing coach appears to believe that the girls will play better if they were only more aggressive and that by yelling louder he can instill that motivation. The yelling seems all the louder with our silence. We move our player with 3 goals into goalkeeper and start the second half. Our sweeper carries the ball in transition from midfield and scores almost immediately. The other team is getting frustrated (who wouldn’t with all that yelling?) and one of their players blatantly pushes our player down in the penalty box with her hands. A PK is called. The other coach is yelling for the goalie to “get off the line” before the PK is taken but the referee is telling the goalie to stay on the line; I am concerned the coach may suffer an aneurism. We convert the PK and we discretely remove the goal scorer from the field (with the referee’s permission, of course) to play shorthanded. The game is mercifully over quickly; I am embarrassed by the final score of 8-2.
After two weeks in league, we feel we have an average team with an average record but playing above average combination soccer. It’s a great season so far.