Common Tactical Problems
"Everyone has these once in awhile."
Here are 10 tips from professional
players and coaches that could help you with your game and fix those little problems you
might be having.
Missing Scoring Opportunities
dribbling into the corner of the net is a lot more effective than one hit 80 miles per
hour off target."
How to get better at consistently
putting the ball in the net is an age-old problem with no simple solution. However,
players can prepare themselves to finish off their scoring chances.
One way is to practice knocking balls into the net over and over. Players have to hit all
kinds of balls, says Leslie Gallimore, head women's coach at the University of Washington.
They should practice hitting balls that are served from the side, from behind them,
rolling at them, bouncing at them and bouncing away from them.
"A lot of coaches put players in
unrealistic shooting positions, such as hitting stationary balls," Gallimore adds.
"I prefer having balls served from the sides and making players get used to hitting
them across their bodies."
When players get the chance to score,
their nerves frequently take over. Jimmy Glenn, who--when he was at Clemson
University--was the NCAA's leading scorer in 1993 and who now plays for the Greensboro
Dynamo of the USISL, says players often think too much. "Some guys get nervous when
they start thinking, 'What am I going to do? What's the keeper going to do?' Jimmy says.
"You have to know what you are going to do and then just do it."
Jimmy reminds players that all goals
count as one point; you don't get additional points for hitting the ball hard. "The
most important thing is to be sure that your shot is on net," he says. "A ball
dribbling into the corner of the net is a lot more effective than one hit 80 miles per
hour off target."
Losing Control of the Midfield
"When you make
the pass into the crowd, make sure you don't follow the ball into the mess."
Today's soccer players are better
athletes than were the players of the past. Because they are faster and stronger, the
midfield area tends to get crowded and players have less space to play in. Players have to
be able to handle the pressure they will find in the midfield.
Bob Gansler, who coached the United
States in the 1990 World Cup, teaches his players not to join the crowd. He suggests that
you try passing balls to a teammate who is under pressure to trick the other team into
moving to trap him. The player who receives the ball then quickly passes it back to you,
and you can switch fields to a place that is less crowded. Or, he can play it back to
another supporting teammate.
When you make the pass into the crowd,
make sure you don't follow the ball into the mess. "When a player plays the ball
forward, his first inclination is to follow it forward," Coach Gansler says.
"But if he plays the ball forward into a tight space and then takes a step backward,
he is able to receive a pass back, and then he will be able to switch fields."
Another method coaches use to avoid
pressure in the midfield is to keep the ball moving. "One way to relieve pressure is
to get a lot of players involved in the attack," says University of Virginia coach
Bruce Arena. His teams have been successful in getting outside midfielders and defenders
involved in the attack by carrying the ball into the offensive end.
Not Winning One-on-One Duels
"Try to confuse
All coaches would like their players
to be able to beat defenders one-on-one. But good dribbling skills are a luxury on most
Mia Hamm and Carin Gabarra, both starters
on the U.S. Women's National Team, are two of the best dribblers in the world, and they
have different dribbling styles. Each style, however, is effective in winning one-on-one
When Carin dribbles, she changes
directions a lot, often tying the defender in knots. She knows, however, that to change
directions effectively, you have to be able to change speeds. "There has to be a
change of pace, because you have to be able to have some explosion out of your move,"
says Carin, who also coaches at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Mia, on the other hand, relies on
tremendous acceleration to burst past opponents. "When you are dribbling, you have to
keep the ball moving," she says. "I use a lot of small, quick touches and then
when I accelerate, I use a longer touch."
Both women point out that the game
situation should determine what type of dribbling you do. "I don't think you should
have a plan when you are dribbling," says Carin. "That doesn't work in games.
You might have a half a second to decide what to do, and you just have to react to the
situation." She adds, "Obviously, if you don't have space, a change-of-pace move
is not going to work. You have to adapt yourself to the situation."
The dribbling styles of Carin and Mia
have one common element: trying to confuse the defender. "If she gets off balance,
then maybe you can put the ball past her at that moment," says Mia.
"To build a successful
attack, the ball needs to go forward...When you go forward, the game changes..."
To build a successful attack, the
ball needs to go forward, and the best way to do that is to carry it, draw a defender or
two and then pass it off. But coaches find it difficult to get players to do this.
"To me it's a constant battle in the
players' minds," says North Carolina State coach George Tarantini. "They want to
do the safe things, the things that won't create problems." Players on Coach
Tarantini's teams are encouraged to go forward with the ball, and eventually they gain
confidence and realize they can be attacking players.
"If I teach my players anything, I
teach them that every time they go forward, they have created something that has never
been done before," Tarantini says. "When you go forward, the game changes.
"If a guy takes the ball in the
middle of the field, beats one man, two men, three men and scores a goal, he's a
hero," adds Coach Tarantini. "But if he takes the ball, beats one guy, two guys,
and loses it, the first thing people say is that he's selfish, that he should have passed
it. I have to be sure that guy tries again."
Not Seeing Your Teammates
"If you are technically
competent, you can look around and see where you want to play the ball while it is coming
Very often, players have to watch the
ball come to their foot to settle it correctly. But if players can play the ball without
concentrating solely on it, they will be able to look around and find their teammates more
quickly and more easily. Coaches refer to this as "being comfortable with the
"If you are technically competent,
you can look around and see where you want to play the ball while it is coming to
you," says Jay Hoffman, coach of the U.S. Under-18 National Team.
When Hoffman runs a practice session, one
of his favorite phrases is "How many players do you see?" He hopes someone will
say, "All of them." "When the ball is coming to you" he says,
"you should be able to see all of the players on the field. If you do, you're
comfortable with your ability to control the ball.
"We are trying to get players to
create some vision for themselves, to read the game," he adds. "Even before the
ball is served by the guy 20 yards away, they have to be reading his body language."
Coach Hoffman points out that there are a
lot of players watching what is going on, but not enough of them are watching the right
things. "One of the things I see happening a lot in this country is that there are
only two people playing the game: the player who has the ball and the player who is
defending him," says Coach Hoffman. "Somehow, we need to involve
Making Transitions Too Slowly
"The first thing to do when
you win the ball is to look as high as possible."
There are three distinct moments in a
soccer game: when your team has the ball, when you team does not have the ball and when
your team is in the process of winning or losing the ball. The key to winning or losing a
game may be how quickly your team makes the transition from one of those moments to
Kristine Lilly and Julie Foudy are two
key members of the U.S. Women's National Team. As midfielders, they are often responsible
for making smooth transitions.
"The first thing to do when you win
the ball is to look as high as possible," Julie says. If she can't serve the ball
long to her forwards--Michelle Akers, Carin Gabarra or Mia Hamm--Julie has to find her
next option. "If you can't serve the ball to the player up high, then you look
"As a playmaker, you have to see
what is around you," Julie says. "You have to be able to see the whole field.
Ideally, you should be able to scan the field quickly and find your options."
Through experience, Julie knows her
options well. Few situations arise that are new to her, and there are several constants
that she can count on. One of those constants is Kristine Lilly. And Julie knows where to
"When we get the ball, I have to
expand out to the side for an easy outlet," says Kristine. "When I get the ball,
and if I have the space, I'll penetrate, or I'll look for the quick 1,2 pass," she
says. "If I get the chance, I'll take off. And when I carry the ball, I want to get
to the end line and into the box."
that if they get beaten, they can't hang their head for an instant."
Your opponent will always have
elaborate schemes to beat the defense. "Good attacking players, more often than not,
will beat good defenders," says University of South Carolina coach Mark Berson.
"And we want our players to know that it's not the end of the world. The big question
is what you do when you get beaten."
A common mistake players make is assuming
that when they get beaten, they are out of the play, when, in fact, they are still an
important part of the action. This is where teamwork comes into play.
Says Coach Berson, "We want players
to understand that if they get beaten, they have to take this attitude: You may have
beaten me, but you still have to beat my buddy. And if you beat him, you'll have to beat
me again, because I'll be right back there. Then, if you beat me, you'll have to beat my
Defenders have to learn quickly that they
have a lot of help and that they can rely on their teammates. But they also must realize
that others will be relying on their help in return.
When recruiting or searching for
defenders, Coach Berson looks for the ability to recover and to help. "I've found
over the years that good, quality, experienced defenders have a different kind of
mentality," he says. "They have a good balance of safety and risk, and they
understand that if they get beaten, they can't hang their head for an instant."
Not Being A Creative Attacker
"Every time you touch the
ball in a game, it's a new decision."
The University of Virginia has won
the last four NCAA Division I championships using an attractive, offensive attacking
style. To play attacking soccer, Coach Arena says that players on the field must be able
to attack from anywhere at anytime.
To do this, they must learn to make their
own decisions. "We want them to play soccer, and playing soccer involves making good
decisions," he says. "This is not always an easy concept for players to accept
Too many players have learned to rely on
what their coach tells them to do. But Coach Arena believes that these players will learn
on their own if they are forced to answer their own questions.
"Some of the younger kids on our
team will ask questions like, 'Remember when I was by the far sideline, and this guy was
here and that guy was there, what should I have done?' I'll tell them I have no idea what
they are talking about. I'll say, 'You figure it out. You're the one on the field.'"
According to Arena, practice sessions
need to be geared to teaching players how to make decisions. They have to learn that there
isn't always a right way and a wrong way; there are just different ways.
"In practice, you can't mimic
everything that goes on in games," explains Arena. "Every time you touch the
ball in a game, it's a new decision. Granted, some of the decisions you will have made
before, but every situation is different. The players have to figure out how to handle
Keeper Not Starting Counterattacks
"A common mistake that young
players make is that, if they are right-footed, they drop the ball with their right
When the goalkeeper gets the ball, he
should start a quick counterattack with one swift kick. The problem is that the keeper
usually lacks the skill to get off an accurate punt.
Tony DiCicco, coach of the U.S. Women's
National Team and a nationally renowned goalkeeper instructor, believes that a few tips
can help improve punting accuracy. "A common mistake that young players make is that,
if they are right-footed, they drop the ball with their right hand. They are working
against their bodies in an unnatural way," he says.
"If you are walking down the street,
your left hand moves forward with your right foot," DiCicco continues. "This is
the hand you should use to drop the ball when punting right-footed."
Another way to improve punting accuracy
is not to swing your kicking leg around from the side. Instead, you should hit the ball
straight on. "If you swing around from the side," says Coach DiCicco, "you
will shank a lot of kicks to the side because you are not getting the right part of your
foot on the ball."
When punting it is important to relax.
Rushing into a kick will almost always lead to a breakdown in mechanics. To help yourself
relax, develop a ritual that will help you concentrate and allow you to get off a better
kick each time.
"It's very much like a basketball
player when he gets ready to take a free throw," says Coach DiCicco. "He goes
through a ritual and does the same thing every time. It enables him to get into a set
routine and concentrate on what he is doing."
Not Marking Up
time a goal is scored, it can be traced to the moment when somebody let their man go
You hear it all the
time: "Get your man! Don't lose him! Who in the world are you supposed to be
marking?" Loose man-marking is a common problem in all levels of soccer. Nearly every
time a goal is scored, it can be traced to the moment when somebody let their man go free.
Marking is an individual skill much like
dribbling, trapping, heading, shooting or passing. And it's something you can improve.
There are three things to remember when your job is to mark. First, don't let your player
get the ball. You can do this by staying ball side and goal side of your man. That way,
you're always in a position to step in and get the ball before your man does. Second, if
he should happen to get the ball, never let him turn upfield. Stay on his back, slowly
forcing him toward his own goal until he passes it off. Third, don't get caught
ball-watching. Your man tends to disappear magically when you start watching the rest of
Paul Caligiuri, who played for the U.S.A.
in the 1994 World Cup, knows these rules well, and he has a few tricks of his own.
"There is an old saying that your man should beat you with skill, not speed,"
says Paul. "The distance between you and your opponent should vary according to the
situation. If I were marking Cobi Jones, I would drop off him a little bit because he is
so fast. It's important not to give the faster player too much room," Paul adds.
"You want to disrupt him enough to make him look down at his feet."
This is expert advice written by Tim Nash
for the High School Edition of Soccer, Jr. Magazine. It found it's way to us through
Eileen Hanniford, WebMaster Wonder of Tulsa, Oklahoma, creator of the SoccerLynx.