Tag Archives: Football

The Optimism of A Eight Year Old

14 May

“Dad, they can still win.”

Aidan said those words to me as we watched the Manchester City – Queens Park Rangers match this morning.  It was about eighty-eight minutes into the match and City was trailing 2-1.  League rivals Manchester United were at the same point winning 1-0.

A City loss and United win would mean United would win the Premier League again.

I had my doubts.  City had failed to capitalize for the entire second half against a short-handed Queens Park Rangers.

As the clocked ticked past ninety minutes into stoppage time, it started to happen.

First Edin Džeko scored on a corner to place City even in the match – but still trailing Manchester United in the league.

We screamed in amazement.

Just moments later, Sergio Aguero finds his way through the defense on a ball from Mario Balotelli to score the winning goal.

Again, we screamed and cheered.

Our reaction wasn’t unique – check out Sky Sports reaction to the turn of events.

This is why we watch sports.  There is no fictional story, movie or show that can compare to a team moving from certain defeat to league champion while at the same time defeating their arch rivals for the title.


When Players Can Stay Calm, They Can Succeed

30 Apr

Two weeks ago we played a match and got caught up in the other side’s game of booting the ball as hard and far as possible.

Saturday morning was the opposite – while our opponent often sent the ball far down field, we managed to keep composure and play the soccer that we wanted to play.

Post spring break, our lead scorer had seen a change in his playing behavior.  While earlier in the season he had been a great dribbler and used skills to beat defenders, after the break he had a tendency to pull the trigger much earlier and was shooting from just inside of midfield (albeit with power).  The result was the ball going high over the goal or wide of the goal.

Saturday I focused my pre-game preparation with them on playing possession (keep-away) and then gave them some specific roles on the field.

Our Goalkeepers and Defenders need to make a smart pass to a player in open space.

Receiving players need to carry the ball up the pitch until they encounter resistance.  When they meet resistance they need to work on finding a teammate or beating the opponent with a good turn or move.

Shots should be taken closer to the box and then followed to pick up rebounds.

Our forward needs to pressure the ball in our offensive half when we lose possession.

But more than anything, I tried to emphasize staying calm and taking your time on the ball.

One of our parents this week brought a portable bench – and I took a seat as the game started and talked with our substitute player during the first quarter of the game.  I’ve always tried to say less specific instruction during the game – but perhaps being seated with a player took this a step further and relieved some pressure from the players on the field.

We put two goals in the net in the first quarter through using skills and persistence on defense.  The second quarter went by scoreless and then we scored three more in the second half.

We kept a clean sheet for the first time this season (and the first of any team I’ve coached).  There was good luck involved in that – one of their shots bounced off of the post – but we also kept them out of the box and our goalkeeper was rarely hung out solo in the back with the defender beat by a move.

We had two players score their first goals of the season!  That brings a total of five different players on our team that have scored this season.  This is a better ratio than I’ve seen on any of the U7 or U8 teams I’ve coached over the past fourteen months.

We have two matches left this season – I’m hoping we can continue what we did Saturday into the last two weeks of the season.

We Played Ugly Soccer

14 Apr

We played a team that played ugly soccer, and we reflected their style after the first twelve minutes.

Both of our teams were back in action today after a two Saturday hiatus for spring break.  Going into the break, we had played both days of a weekend and then took two Fridays (practices) and two Saturdays off.  Friday night we practiced and this afternoon was our game.

I wouldn’t say our U8 team is great by any definition.  We have a mix of players – but in the last couple games before the break, we started to show signs of playing intelligent football.  Our goalkeeper and defender distributed the ball to the rest of the field players well, and we generally did a good job of defending and closing down the opponent’s space.  My goals with our team though have been to emphasize playing under control, maximizing dribbling times and making controlled passes as a decision versus instinctive deep kicks.

Within the first twelve minutes, I could see that our opponent didn’t have these goals in mind.  The defender’s first touch sent the ball deep, and the other team regularly knocked the ball out of bounds when trying to close down an attacker.

In U8, it’s not necessarily a bad style of play if you consider the outcomes.  By sending the ball deep downfield, you get instant penetration and you might be able to regularly achieve a 1v1 situation with a defender plus the goalkeeper or even 1v1 against the keeper.

Our team was easily influenced by watching our opponents play this way – and I think our parents as well.  We came off the field after the first twelve minutes for subsitutions tied at one – their goal the result of a throw-in that the other team moved past our cluster of players to open space on the opposite side and our one goal the result of intercepting the ball in the midfield, a good dribble and shot.

But the opposition moved a bigger-legged kid to defender in the second quarter – and he regularly blasted the ball downfield on first touch (there were a few that bounced once before going out of bounds on the opposite end.)  The crowd cheered every time the kid blasted it away.

And soon our kids were seduced to the dark side.

We talked at half time about it.

I asked our team, “How many goals did they score in the second quarter from all of those big kicks?”


“Do you think they work to help score goals?”




I encouraged the team to return to playing with our eyes, ears and heads in the second half.

When the third quarter hit, our defender’s first touch had the same crushing impact – the ball rocketing downfield before going out of bounds.  After a few minutes, ping-pong set in and I knew we were done for the day.

I sat down for several minutes rather than say anything more.  My words were lost versus the cheers from the parents sideline.

Our opponents scored one more in the third quarter, and then we pulled even in the fourth.  Another member of our team scored his first goal of the season.

We did have some positives this week – most notably on throw-ins.  While we still had problems with making legal throw-ins (as usual in any U8 match) we found a lot more open space this week on throws and regularly chose not to throw the ball into a cluster of the other team.  Progress!

Next week I’m hoping to address the ugly play in practice though – I just need a plan of how to get there.


9 Apr

My son Evan, all of five years old tonight asked me how Barcelona FC found Lionel Messi.  I explained to him in a short way about scouts and the youth academy system in Europe.

He thinks for a minute.

He then says to me, “Dad, I think I need to go to Manchester City instead.  I don’t know many Spanish words.”

It is fabulous how the mind of a five year old dreams, isn’t it?

What’s a Good Size 4 Ball?

31 Mar

One of the aspects I like about soccer is that is a very gear-limited game.

A ball and a space to play is all that is needed to play. As you advance, a pair of shoes becomes more important – but it’s still about the player and not the gear.

At our club and in our state association, U8 age group and below use a Size 3 ball. In U10 and U12, the Size 4 is used.

As Aidan will move to the Four with certainty for the fall season, and Evan will move to the Four if or when he starts our club’s Pre-Academy program, I’m in the market for two quality Size 4 balls.

In just a few years of play, we have had several balls pass through our house already. There’s a lot of variety of play in balls under $20. Some have slick covers that don’t have a good touch. some have a lot of neoprene or other padding under the top cover of the ball. Some have virtually none. Most noticeable when playing, some perform like a beach ball while some are feel more like a rock.

With both of the kids dedicating more time to playing, I want to stay on the right foot with a ball that plays as “true” as possible.

The options I’m considering:

Select Numero 10 ($24.99): I’ve seen a few Select balls around at our practices and pickup games I’ve attended. You can’t find them at the Big Box Sporting Goods Stores and you don’t see them on the professional pitch (except in Denmark and some parts of Latin America). But the balls I’ve used have a nice solid feel to them and the right weight.  Of course, they have a number of different balls all under the “Numero 10” banner – at different price points.  Are they materially different?

Select Royale ($39.99): This is Select’s first “Step up” ball from the Number 10.  Looks like it has a lot of the same characteristics of the Number 10.

Nike Premier Ball ($39.99): This is Nike’s upgrade ball versus the $16-20 ball you see in Sports Speciality retailers. I’ve seen the size 5 version of this class of ball with some high school teams.

Nike Club Team Ball ($29.99): One step down from the Premier.  Looks like it has normal panel shapes instead of the rounded ones on the Premier.

Adidas FIFA 2012 NFHS Club Ball: I don’t know anything about this ball, but it seems to be based on their

What are your favorite balls for practice and match use in size 4? What characteristics do you look for when buying a ball?

U6 Curriculum for Spring 2012

12 Feb

I received our team roster for the Spring season on Thursday evening.  Overall, it’s five of the six players from last fall returning to us.  We are adding one more boy – who is new to soccer altogether (but fairly athletic already) so we’ll have some work to do to get him ready.

Season Goals and Objectives

I’ve coached Evan’s teams since he came into the sport – so this is the fourth season (our seasons run about two and a half months) that I’ve coached his team.  It’s also the last season playing “Mini-soccer” before we move up to the larger field and deeper rule set.  I feel obligated to start teaching the kids what they will need to start being successful at the next step in soccer.  Different players will work on different parts of these objectives this Spring.

  • Skills: Skills work will continue to be our most important objective, since that’s what they can most easily carry with them to the next level.  In the absence of maintaining and advancing their skills, they will regress or not be able to compete next fall.
  • Playing Head-up soccer: Seeing the options on the field in all directions.
  • Break the Kick-it-Far thoughts from players heads.  Encourage confidence on the ball.
  • Open Space: Really reinforce the idea of open space.  Evan really has come to understand this idea playing “Rondo” (Keepaway) in our front yard with Aidan, as well as front yard 2v1 soccer.  He does a great job of passing and moving to open space and being open to receive the ball.
  • Introduce inbounds plays: Our U5 and part of the U6 Fall season worked under a blurred sideline and “New ball” rule for out-of-bounds balls.  We will continue to have a loose sideline, but we started working on a tighter end of the field at the end of the season.  We will probably play with kick-ins this Spring to introduce the idea of inbounding the ball.  This was an area that the U7’s I coached last spring struggled with – they didn’t have a good idea of where to pass the ball to on goal kicks, corners or throw-ins.  This is an extension of understanding open space.


We will continue to have the club trainer facilitating half of the practice.  Based on the curriculum handed out at the coaches meeting, the first five weeks are dedicated to dribbling.  I will be encouraging Evan to continue during these session to work on his more advanced moves – turns, step-overs and other skills he learned during the Fast Track training last fall.  He’s very willing to try these in game situations, so I’m hoping he can refine them this spring.

We will spend a lot of time playing the game in various formats this spring.  One-on-one has been a great tool for me in both U5 and U6 and I’ll return it to our team this Spring.  It’s given me a lot of time to work with players to coach basic defending as well as encourage their on-ball confidence and break the kick-it-far thoughts from their heads.  One-on-one also gives every player on the team a chance to be successful and score multiple times during practice.

We will also play some 2v1 and various combinations up to a 3v3 game to start building some decision making skills in players, and learning to take supportive positions when your teammate has the ball.

I’ll continue to take the field with them and play alongside them – to lead on the field and help them understand the roles of a teammate in play.

Match Day

Match day is great in U5 and U6.  As a coach, I feel no pressure going into it like I have with U7 and U8.  It’s a joy to watch the kids perform and take the victory they get with each goal.

While we still have responsibility this spring to “Officiate” the games – I’m trying more and more to stand back to a sideline and give the kids more space to play.  It’s easy in this age group, with coaches on the field, to take too active a role.  The more we break the kids of bad habits (like listening to their parents!) now the better they will perform in U7.


I know Evan only has a few months of “Small soccer” left before moving up to the world of 5v5 on a bigger field, and I want to enjoy it. He’s a great kid, and takes joy in the game.  The better I can prepare him now for the year ahead of him – the more successful he can be in it!

When Should Passing be Taught?

15 Sep

On the Football Coaching blog today, author Simon Godfrey asks what the appropriate age is to teach players passing.

My response, was the 5-7 year old age group. But let’s break this down a little further to gain some insight into what is taught.

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