Have you ever wondered why our players’ development over the past 40+ years has been extremely sluggish? One would think that with our resources and number of players it would have only been a matter of time that would keep us from attaining our rightful place at the top of the soccer world. If you are skeptical try these two experiments with your team:
Experiment Number #1
- Place a cone on the field – Anywhere on the field is OK
- Appoint a ‘team leader’ – Each player gets a turn
- Point to the cone and say: “Line-up the team in numerical order”
- No further instructions – Turn your back on the team
- Observe! – Take an occasional peek
Experiment Number #2
- Ask the players to get a partner – They can pick a friend
- One in charge of the cones – Any objects will do
- One in charge of the ball – See if they use their hands
- Point to the field and say: “Lay-out the field and play!”
- No further instructions – Turn your back on the team)
- Observe! – Take an occasional peek
The two experiments mentioned have been conducted in more than 30 states. The teams and players used in the experiments ranged from U6 to U18 Olympic Development players. The results were almost always the same:
Results for experiment #1: The players were able to line-up without assistance 100% of the time. The players were able to give each other sequential numbers. And the players lined-up faster and faster with each go around.
Results for experiment #2: Twenty-four (24%) of the players responded by setting-up 1 vs. 1 fields and started to play soccer. The other 76% would stand there holding balls and cones in hand looking puzzled. Many put the cones on their heads or use them as megaphones. Those with the ball sat on it, tossed it to themselves or threw it at others. A very small number of players would actually start juggling the ball. When asked what they were waiting for the majority replied: “The next instruction!”
What we must do is to use the same persistent approach that resulted in getting them to stand-in-line and teach them how to organize and play the foundational 1 vs. 1 and other small sided soccer games.
Think about it, while our players are often waiting ‘their ‘turns to touch the ball players around the globe are playing a variation of the 1v1 game and other small sided games –on their own.
Free-time soccer around the world is played similarly to how we play basketball. And it goes something like this:
- One player -One ball -One basket =Imagination game of 1 (me) vs. 1 (Curry or LeBron)
- Two players -One ball -One basket: They begin by alternating taking shots. Then, they play a game of H O R S E and eventually, end-up playing 1 vs. 1.
The same scenario in our soccer communities It goes something like this:
- One player -One ball -One Goal =May juggle the ball for a while. Eventually leaves the field and finds a basketball basket to shoot at.
- Two players -One ball -One Goal: =Often begin by Alternating being GK and shooter. Eventually they leave the field and find a basketball court
We must teach the players, in our practices, that all it takes is a ball, two goals (objects) and two players to play a 1 vs. 1 game.
In the beginning we must teach them how to place the objects (shoe, cone, etc.) on the ground to represent goals. Teach them, when in possession of the ball as 1st Attacker their main/sole objective is to score goals. Teach them, when not in possession of the ball as 1st Defender their main/sole objective is to prevent goals. We must stress the importance of the 1vs.1 games and make them feel so exciting in every practice where they actually beg to play them. Finally, and most important, we must give them 1 vs. 1 home play assignments!
For extremely rapid player improvement the understanding and proper application of the 1 vs. 1 game in every practice is vital.