Recently named to US Youth Soccer’s Recommended Reading List, “It Pays to Win on Defense” is a book for soccer coaches who are looking for the most effective way to engage all of their players all of the time in order to teach them how to best keep the ball out of their own team’s goal! The book provides an all-encompassing framework for instilling the skills and mindset necessary for highly effective defenders. By combining educational theory and making everything a competition, coaches can maximize their practice time and teach that defending concepts are not just limited to certain players (e.g. the centre backs or the defensive midfielders). As I tell my teams, when we don’t have the ball, EVERYONE is a defender. Therefore, EVERY player on your team needs to know how to defend and defend well!
Beginning in August, 2017, there are changes coming to US Youth Soccer…
Recently, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) announced changes to encourage youth soccer development. You can read the official press release here.
The two key changes are as follows:
- Will now be aligned with the calendar year (January to December) rather than school year.
- The example given is that “a U15 player (players 15 years old or younger) would have a birth year of 2000 for the 2015 registration year.”
- This applies to all age groups and is being done to combat the “relative age effect” which has been shown to give competitive advantage to players who are physically older than their peers.
Number of players and size of the field
- The field dimensions for players in the U6-U12 age groups will be smaller than they are currently, as will the number of players on the field.
- The size of the field and the number of players on the field will increase from 4v4 to 7v7 to 9v9 until players reach U13 when they will play 11v11.
In this post, I will focus on the second change – that of smaller fields and fewer numbers on the field.
This doesn’t mean fewer players get to play; on the contrary, now a coach can set up 2 games happening simultaneously to get more players more touches on the ball.
Click here for the USSF analysis of why small-side match standards will benefit players. In short, though:
- Fewer players on the field means more touches on the ball and increased touches translates to more individual skill.
- Players who are more skilled may become more confident and comfortable when in possession of the ball.
- The ratio of players to field size is designed to assist players with making the right kind of decisions and improving awareness.
- This approach builds on itself as players get older and start playing with more players on bigger fields.
- And as players get older, the building block approach also allows them to better integrate into a team model where they develop partnerships with the other players that make up the team.
Why this might be a great idea
Manchester United recently completed a study of playing 4v4 rather than 8v8 in youth soccer. The results are staggering and have profound implications for youth soccer coaches.
On Average 4v4 versus 8v8 had:
- 135% more passes
- 260% more Scoring Attempts
- 500% more Goals Scored
- 225% more 1v1 Encounters
- 280% more Dribbling Skills (tricks)
It’s been a while, but I have been busy prepping for my new class at school. I just found out today that both of my books have been added to the US Youth Soccer Recommended Reading list.
If you have read either of my books, please click here and consider leaving a review.
I am currently working on a book of practice sessions utilizing game-based soccer activities.
I believe in a competitive, game-based approach to soccer. Game-based soccer training is the philosophy that all practice activities can and should be turned into a game. By “game,” I mean that there are winners and losers. The players can be competing against themselves, each other, in teams, or all together against a target. There should always be consequences for the losing person/team in this approach. It does not have to be a big consequence, but the players should develop a mindset in which it pays to win. Consequences should depend on the activity/game, but they can range from a few sit-ups to a short sprinting exercise – it should be just enough to motivate the players to try harder to win next time!
Using a Game-based approach helps to create an environment in which every player is incentivized to compete at his or her highest level. This is where the biggest developmental gains are made, both individually and collectively. How do you set up an environment where players are always incentivized to give their best? Make everything a competition with consequences for the losers. As the coach, it is up to you to determine the most productive ways to define competition for your team; for example, some games are more suited for competing against an external target, a player competing against his previous best score, or two individuals/teams facing off against each other. The goal is to make the consequence just enough to incentivize the player/team that lost to try harder next time and also to encourage the winning team to up their game so that they don’t have to do the consequence.
How do you create the most effective learning environment with your team?
I believe that the warm-up sets the tone for practice. If you can have a quality warm-up, it gets everybody buzzing for the rest of the session. How do you achieve this? I have found that there are usually one or two players on a team that can be energizers for the group. An energizer pumps up her teammates and raises the energy level. Thus, when selecting a warm-up activity, pick one that your energizers will love.
I remember coaching a young lady named Jasmine Pratts. If anyone had the mindset of a defender, she did! She loved to defend. What I mean by that is, she had the mentality that she was going to stop you from playing your game. She would bump, nudge, capitalize on a bad touch, and if she got you in her sights, she wouldn’t leave you alone. Of course, I started her as a forward her freshman year! Shows what I know! She didn’t play her sophomore year, but she returned as a junior and was simply outstanding. Jasmine was an older player on a team primarily composed of freshmen. We were young, scrappy, and we had the kind of talent that on its day could be amazing. Because we were young, though, we had our bad days, too.
In April of that year, we went to Augusta and played a very strong Westminster team with a number of girls who would later play in excellent college programs (University of GA, University of Florida, and Wellesley College to name a few). We got pounded 8-1…that’s right, we lost by 7 goals to a team that would score 100 that year. It was a long bus ride home. How do you recover from a loss like that? Well, it starts in the warm-up of the next practice and you have to get your energizers doing their job. What did we play? Knockout (Sharks and Minnows in this book). This was Jasmine’s favorite game because she would hound you until she kicked your ball out – in fact, she took pleasure in it and she got everyone else moving, forgetting the disaster of the previous game.
Anyway, we got things back together and went on a run to the state championship game, squeezing through the semi final with a 1-0 win. Guess who we were slated to play…Westminster. The team that just 6 weeks earlier had demolished us! You can talk tactics all day long, but when the whistle blows, the players are on their own. This was the game where Jasmine stepped up and marked their star forward out of the game. I have never seen something like it before or since of how such a strong player was effectively taken out of the game. The girl did not get a kick. Jasmine epitomized the mindset I am trying to communicate in my new book. The score of the game? We won 5-1…It pays to win on defense!
My latest book, It Pays to Win on Defense: A Game-based Soccer Training Approach to Developing Highly Effective Defenders, is now available from the Amazon Kindle Store.
Basically, It Pays to Win on Defense is a book for soccer coaches who are looking for the most effective way to engage all of their players all of the time in order to teach them how to best keep the ball out of their own team’s goal! The book provides an all-encompassing framework for instilling the skills and mindset necessary for highly effective defenders. By combining educational theory and making everything a competition, coaches can maximize their practice time and teach that defending concepts are not just limited to certain players (e.g. the centre backs or the defensive midfielders). As I tell my teams, when we don’t have the ball, EVERYONE is a defender. Therefore, EVERY player on your team needs to know how to defend and defend well!
Whether you are an experienced coach or a volunteer parent just starting out, there is something for everyone in this book. “It Pays to Win on Defense” includes 50 games that bring defending situations to the fore, hundreds of guided discovery questions, and many regressions/progressions to tweak every activity to match your specific training needs.
Let me know if you have any questions.
I saw the above infographic on Twitter yesterday (@LBfutbol) and it got me thinking about coaching youth soccer here in the states. In America, I feel that we live in a society that places a large emphasis (and value) on rationalization and specialization. These two movements intersect in American youth soccer in a number of significant ways.
- Does it not make sense for parents to get their son/daughter playing soccer from the earliest age?
- Is it not logical for them to desire a safe and structured playing space for their son/daughter?
- Should parents not want the “best” coaching possible?
- Is it not logical that these parents want coaches with playing pedigree and coaching “qualifications”?
- Does it not make sense that those coaches who have playing pedigree and coaching qualifications (badges, diplomas, licenses, etc.) should want to be well compensated for their time?
- Is it not right, then, that parents should demand “quality coaching” as a return on their investment?
- Do many coaches not feel the need to “perform” their coaching role to justify their position?
- Is not a large part of this performance “doing” something, “saying” something?
- Is this a good use of practice time?
- Given the attached infographic, would coaches be preparing their players for the games more by allowing their players to play more?
If you are interested in implementing a game-based approach to soccer training, check out my book, It Pays to Win on Offense: A Game-based Approach to Developing Soccer Players that Score and Create Lots of Goals
It Pays to Win on Offense is currently sitting at #5 in the Top Sellers for Soccer Coaching e-books on Amazon.
Also available is my new book: It Pays to Win on Defense: A Game-based Soccer Training Approach to Developing Highly Effective Defenders,