This weekend was our make-up date from our rained out matches from the first week of March. It also happened to fall on the last weekend of practice and play we would have before our school system, and our club go on Spring break.
I held an evening of pick-up soccer on Thursday evening, working against the assumption that we would be unable to practice Friday night due to storms expected to pass through metro Atlanta on Friday. While some parts of the metro area had the weather, it stayed South of our practice and game fields. Thus for the four players from the U8 team who came out Thursday night, we had four straight days of play. It showed for three of them in a very good way.
We had four players from the U8 team, plus Evan and another U6 player for pick up on Thursday night. I joined the group and we played 4v3 – initially in a straightforward style and later with a “Real Madrid” game that I had seen online where the goals are placed in the center of the playing area, back to back. The idea is to force the players to work on switching the point of attack and taking up a better shape to move the ball. I’m not sure they entirely did that, but I saw progression in several of the players in taking up a better shape to support the ball carrier.
Evan was ill Friday afternoon and missed Friday’s practice. His team worked on dribbling – specifically inside and outside turns in the technical training. We worked on 1v1 play again in our part of the practice and then played 3v2. Instead of running the game with kick-offs or any restarts, I blew the whistle after each goal (or out of play ball) and played in a new ball to keep the players moving. A lot of goals, but also progression from some players on defending 1v1.
The U8 team worked on dribbling as well in their technical session – with the same turns, as well as pullbacks and a simple reverse. With the U8’s, it frustrates me to see some of the better players (on match day) loafing through the technical training instead of trying to do things faster and sharper.
Our part of the session was spent playing as much 4v3 as we could. I stopped the group several times to work on some shape and strategy on restarts. During matches, I’ve seen too many instances of players putting a throw-in into a crowd of the other team (even though there was no one on our team in the group) or into a crowd of both teams because they happened to be in the direction of the goal. In many instances, there is a teammate straight in front of them not being marked at all and a wealth of open space.
I modified the rules in the second part of practice for both teams to use me as a wall pass or neutral player. It was a great innovation and some of the players really did well with the idea and took advantage of it when they got in trouble. I had the full run of one sideline. Players looked up, found me, made a pass and then made a run to open space.
Our end of practice review had the phrase “open space” repeated multiple times – I was hopeful it would sink in.
Evan missed his U6 match on Saturday morning. This gave his five teammates some extra time to play but also seemed to motivate the team to try harder. In fact, everyone on the team scored at least one goal. That’s probably the best match a U6 coach can ask for – everyone on the team to score! It makes it easy for everyone to go away happy.
There were players heading in opposite directions through the weekend. One of my players who’s stayed with us through U5 and U6 really excelled this weekend. He did a great job with dribbling and control and seemed really dialed in to where play was going. One of my players from the Fall has gotten noticeably more timid since the Fall. I’m hoping more playing time will bring him back out of his shell – but it seems like he’s afraid to touch the ball more than briefly or dribble the ball.
Our Sunday match was different. While Evan was back, he was noticeably weaker on field from being sick and low on energy for two days. But there were several times when the ball was between two of our players and neither seemed to want to touch the ball.
I’m not sure what to do next in practice – but it might be a full night of dribbling and dropping a scrimmage or small-sided game. My U5’s last spring just seemed to be in a different point than the U6’s this spring.
Our Saturday match for the U8 team was our side’s first win this Fall. We took a 7-5 victory against a similarly skilled team. I don’t think it was close to our best overall performance though (which was week 1) although we had a pair of outstanding quarters.
Our first half was well played. I was most impressed by how the ball was distributed from the back forward. One of our returning players from the Fall anchored our defense. I’ve been working on him from the fall, and through this spring to stop kicking the ball deep on first touch. And Saturday he followed through with it! He made good decisions with the ball to teammates on the wings of the field and we were able to consistently attack the goal in the first quarter. At the same time, our front line moved back with the ball and helped make plays on defense.
That fell down later in the game as we had several instances of players not helping out enough on defense and the opponent getting enough time and space to take repeated shots on goal. I also encouraged them to try to hold the ball up longer in the fourth quarter but they still played the same tempo of attack as earlier in the game.
Our offense also came from one player’s foot (entirely!) so it was disappointing to see the other players on the team not participating in the offense.
Our Sunday match was a better effort from the full team. We were one player short of full, so everyone picked up at least three quarters of our 48 minute match. We conceded two early goals on the same mistakes that allowed five goals Saturday – players not falling back on defense and playing throw-ins too tight to the line. There was more than one instance where the opponent put a throw-in over the heads of our entire team to an open man on the other team, and one time it was right in front of our goal. Maybe the team will start noticing.
Our performance on our throw-ins was better today – more often getting the ball to that open man, even if it was the defender. When the defender received it, he had time and space to have a good first touch and then make a good decision about how to handle the ball.
The fourth quarter was our best quarter of the match. We had a similar team in place to our first quarter from the prior day – and they worked in the same smart manner. We missed on several shots, including one over the crossbar at the final whistle and wen home with a 2-1 loss.
It’s been a great season so far – we’ve been competitive in every match so far.
And the Bonuses
With two matches each day, and downtime in between- Aidan and I stayed at our club’s fields and just spent time watching other teams play and playing together. This varied between working on volleys, goalkeeping, jockeying for the ball and passing – but it was time well spent. He expressed interest Sunday in playing Academy in the fall – which I had talked to him before but received a measured, cool response about participation. I think he’s seeing friends moving in that direction and is feeling it’s the way to go. I also think playing four days in a row has helped build his interests in playing more often.
I also managed to get twenty-five minutes of time kicking the ball around with my new team in Sunday before the kids’ matches. I’m really looking forward to our season starting in a few weeks.