My personal opinion is that our players do not play pick-up games ‘street soccer’ simply because no one has taught them how! I am positive that many of you don’t believe me. So, I am encouraging you to try the following experiment at your next practice…
Get to the field at your usual time and lay all of your equipment, balls, cones, flags, bibs, goals, etc. in one central spot on the field. As the players arrive greet them and tell them that you will meet them by the equipment. Pretend to be occupied with something a distance away from the gathering spot. Stay occupied until one of your players has the courage to come to you and ask, “What do you want us to do?’
It is extremely important that you do not give a directive response like, “Go ahead and Warm-up!” But simply say, “I will be right with you!” and continue to stay away.
I have conducted this experiment in more than 20 states in the USA and twice in Canada. The teams and players used in the experiment ranged from U-6 to U-18 Olympic Development players. The results were almost always the same…
The younger players would impatiently sit-around and toss grass at each other or put cones on their head and sit on their ball. The majority of older players would serenely lay in the grass listening to something in their head-phones. Rarely would players take the initiative to either juggle or even pass the ball around. When eventually asked, “What are you waiting for?” The universal response was always, “We are waiting for the coach to tell us what to do!”
Sadly, not even once did any of the players take the initiative to lay-out a field and start playing soccer 🙁
What does this have to do with our player’s lack of development? Anyone who has traveled abroad will tell you that it is only a matter of time before you come across children playing soccer in pick-up games. We also know that ALL world class players learned to play in pick-up games organized by older kids in their neighborhood. Yes, they learned the tricks-of-the-trade in free-style games where they experimented and failed their way to success.
Think about it, while our children are waiting for their parents to drive them to the next practice and then wait for the coach to tell them what to do. Children around the globe walk to the nearest open area in their neighborhood and adjust it to be soccer playable. Strange as it may seem no one has ever seen them organize a ‘drill’ of any kind. They use what is available and simply lay-out the environment to start playing their version of soccer. Why aren’t our players doing the same?
Because we have a coach controlled environment where the coach controls all aspects of practice and provides constant direction. We lay-out the cones, hand-out the bibs, choose the teams & even tell them when to start playing. This controlled environment subconsciously teaches our players that they cannot play soccer without adult assistance.
I believe that it is our duty to teach the players that they are responsible for laying-out and adjusting all playing environments in each and every practice. This is very simply accomplished by using the same traditional steps that we use in teaching them technique or tactics.
Step 1. EXPLANATION –Be Brief, What I Hear I Might Forget
Communicate in simple everyday language. Create ‘buzz words’ words that trigger the mind to highlight points of emphasis. Some example: “Lay-out the FUNdamental warm-up square”; “Lay-out 1 vs. 1 fields”; “Lay-out 3 vs. 2 fields”; “Lay-out 5 vs. 5” fields; etc.
Take into consideration the attention span of your players and adjust the length of your explanation accordingly. After you have dealt with a point ask question to make sure the point was understood. Repeat the verbal instructions only if necessary
Step 2. DEMONSTRATION – What I See I Might Remember
Give a demonstration slowly, simply and visually correct in how you want each playing environment to be laid-out. Show them the difference, for example, between a 1 vs. 1 field and a 4 vs. 1 field. Show them items that can be used to layout the environment such as: cones, flags, shoes, bags, etc.
Step 3. ACTION – What I Do I Will Eventually Understand
Have the players show you that they can correctly lay-out the environment you requested. Help only those who need help and increase the speed of laying-out the environment as they become proficient at accomplishing the task.
Step 4. ASSIGN HOME PLAY – The key to dramatic player improvement is their playing some type of soccer (pick-up game) whenever and wherever possible! Your encouragement in this step is vital with your ultimate goal being self-motivation to play pick-up games on a daily basis.
Step 5. ASK them before every single practice session, “How often, where and the results of their pick-up games?” Make a big deal about writing down their responses/scores to let them know how important this is to you and should be to them.
When applying these 5-steps: Be patient and do not expect immediate result. Be persistent because it will take time and effective repetition. Reward progress with a positive reaction, a positive comment or a smile!
An argument can be made that a coach may end up using a great deal of energy teaching them ‘how to’ layout the environment. Considering that this initial investment worked for the older neighborhood kids around the world. Surely it can work for us..!