Example of simple brilliance in soccer coaching

I highly recommend that soccer coaches listen to this short 3Four3 podcast for a good example of how to coach an important, and mostly overlooked, skill in soccer: receiving across the body.

As a side note, I’ve used the 3Four3’s versions of the 4v0 and 4v1’s in my practices because they work on more fundamental game concepts than the standard versions.

Here’s just one example:

A standard 4v1 has four kids stand on the corner cones of a square and pass to keep the ball away from the defender in the middle. This trains players to stand like statues in games waiting for the ball to come to them.

In 3Four3’s 4v1, players stand between cones, on the side of the square (instead of on the corner), and move side to side between the cones, to check toward the person with the ball to give a supporting passing angle.

This provides training on three game skills in addition to passing and receiving across the body — moving to support passes, anticipating the next pass and communicating.

All these things improve the team’s speed of play.

My additional 4v0 and 4v1 recommendations

The 4v0 is for when kids aren’t technically ready to receive and pass under pressure of a defender. This is needed when they cannot complete 10 passes consistently, using proper technique, in the 4v1.

Without a defender, however, intensity and focus drop quickly.

One way I’ve found to keep the intensity and focus up in the 4v0 is to have the player with the ball pass to the first person who called for it.

This creates a competition between the two passing options, to see who can call for it first, and they quickly learn the sooner they call for it the better — even before the ball gets to the receiver.

So, this automatically teaches anticipation and communication. It also helps the passer start evaluating options before receiving the ball, instead of waiting to decide after getting it.

Giving the player with the ball a simple decision to make helps things, too. Without that, he or she too often overthinks their next pass, which slows ball movement, and reduces intensity.

By overthinking, I mean that they consider way too much. I can see the wheels turning when they’re deciding who to pass to. It can range from ‘what fancy trick am I going to do to show off’, ‘who’s my best friend right now’ or ‘she dissed me in the last drill, so I’m not passing the ball to her.’

Giving them the simple decision framework cuts out this nonsense.

Another way to motivate players is to let the players who are ready for the 4v1 play that and keep the players who are not ready in the 4v0. Let them know that they earn their way into the 4v1 by demonstrating they have the basics of the 4v0 down pat.

When they see some of their friends make it into the 4v1, they’ll want to be there, too. So, they will work harder in practice and at home to get better.

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Good advice for coaches and parents of soccer players from 3Four3 podcast

In this 3Four3.com podcast, John Pranjic describes the importance of setting a culture for your team.

He describes an important first moment with the team (bold mine):

It’s the moment when you meet with your team for the first time. It’s your first opportunity to establish a proper team culture. It’s when you set the tone for the work that you will do together. And it’s a moment that becomes a reference point for you to come back to whenever necessary.

Having that reference point is great advice. But, what should you reference?

Quoting Brian Kleiban, a successful 3Four3 youth coach:

Brian introduced the players part of the deal. The two things that he says are non-negotiable. Two things that only they can control.

Players don’t control the quality of the field. They can’t control the actions of their teammates. They can’t control their opponents.

The only thing players have total control over are themselves. More specifically, players control their own level of focus and work ethic.

Just like the players cannot control the quality of the field – the coach cannot control the amount of effort a player puts into training. Only the player can.

This is an important reference point to set with parents, too.

Some parents work hard to find ‘great’ and motivating coaches, but fail to encourage their kids to put in the effort.

They think the coach will mold their child into a star, not realizing that how much effort the kid puts in is the biggest factor in that.

Coaches, like schoolteachers, can only do so much. The best teachers have had their share of C and D students. The best coaches have also had their share of flame-outs.

I also recommend setting the following reference points with parents:

  1. Questions about your child’s position and play time should sound like, “What does my child need to do to earn more play time/the chance to play a different position?”
  2. If you’d like to discuss subjects not related to your child — e.g. other players, what we work on at practice, team strategy — let’s first discuss how much effort your child puts in on and off the field.

For every conversation about a child’s effort, I’ve had 20 on other topics where more could have been accomplished discussing their child’s effort.

These reference points will help keep players, parents and coaches focused on the number one factor that will help the players — their own effort and work ethic.

re: US Soccer firing Jurgen Klinsmann

This Warren Buffett quote came to mind:

When a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.

There are structural challenges (like ‘bad economics’ in business from the Buffett quote) in the U.S. soccer environment that keep its soccer talent from developing to a level that can consistently compete with talent developed in countries where the soccer culture is more optimized to produce top 10 talent.

The current soccer landscape produces talent that allows the U.S. to hang around on the edge of the Top 25. Think about that in terms of college basketball or football. #25 won’t often beat a top 10 team.

Until those challenges are removed, firing the US Soccer coach will happen every so often on disappointments like the latest two US losses in the World Cup qualifiers, because I’m skeptical that any coach can turn Top 25 talent into Top 10 talent.

What’s missing isn’t a coach that can take a group of Top 25 players to the next level. What’s missing are key steps in soccer development the players go through long before they ever get their US Men’s National team call up.

Putting so much expectation on the coach, and players, is like thinking you can take a group of good 8th grade math students and compete, in a math competition, against college math majors. They won’t be successful because they’re missing 5-7 years of math progression.

With our soccer environment, we get good athletes with sound fundamentals and good X’s and O’s, but they will get beat by the top 10 talent that adds creativity and ninja-like abilities to control the ball and read the game (and think 1-3 steps ahead) that come from amassing 5-10x the amount of soccer playing time against good competition and soccer learning time in their life times — starting from a very young age.

Here’s the kicker…if those structural challenges were removed, I believe the US could produce talent that would make the current crop of soccer greats — e.g. Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar, Suarez — look pedestrian.

So, what are those structural challenges? I’ll cover what I think they are in another post.