Coach's Blog


Quote of the Week

“When I went to school they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down "happy".  They told me I didn't understand the assignment.  I told them they didn't understand life."

- John Lennon


“I am building a fire, and every day I train, I add more fuel. At just the right moment, I light the match"

- Mia Hamm.

"Just Do It!"

Nike commercial

No. 61, April 18, 2014  

Speed Kills*

Abundance of speed - Jazz finds Kristen on a quick pass during the Fuego's 2-1 victory over Crofton to clinch 2nd place

In sports, there is no substitute for speed.  I’m not talking about flat out sprinting speed, although that is great to have. 

I’m talking about speed of play. 

The faster you can play, the less time your opponent has to react to you.  The less time they have, the more mistakes they will make, and the more chances you will get to possess the ball and score goals.

But playing fast is not just moving your feet fast.  It’s reacting fast, and getting the ball moving fast.  Here’s a way to think about it:

Snail: Running with the ball and making moves and fakes through traffic
Turtle: Running straight ahead with the ball
Greyhound: Running without the ball
Porsche 911 Turbo: A moving ball

So, the more you get the ball moving, and the less time the ball spends at your feet, the faster you will play.  Also:

* if you can make the play with one touch, why take two?
* if you can make the play with two touches, why take three?

The fewer touches you make, the faster you play.  This is what is known as “The Holy Grail” of soccer.  If you can play faster than your opponent, you will usually beat them. 

This is not going to simply happen because you read this and realize you need to move faster.  You have to work on it.  Technique is vital.  So practice getting the ball moving quickly during scrimmages and training, and moving to open space quickly to get the ball back and send it on its way again. 

The faster you play, the better you’ll be and the slower the game will feel.  Plus, you will get your opponent to back off of you and give you even more space to move because they will realize that high pressure doesn’t work against a fast team…only a team that holds the ball (balls attract opponents - hold one long enough and you'll attract them all!). 

Here’s a way to do this without too much effort.  Every time you touch the ball, start a clock in your head.  If you get to three and you still have the ball, you’ve held it too long.  This can change depending on where you are on the field and the situation, but it’s a good rule to start with. Try it during the next practice and see how it goes.  

But do it fast...


*Adapted from Soccer IQ by Dan Blank

No. 60, April 3, 2014  

67% vs 14%

 Aby, Nina and Melissa get goal-side to deny a FASA player a shot on goal during the 2011 Toys for Tots Tournament


As most of you know, I have been shouting “Get GOAL Side!” a lot recently.  Its’ not that I like the sound of that phrase.  It’s that getting goal-side of your opponent slows their attack, forces them to push the ball to the outside, and take low-percentage shots.  The effect is that they have fewer chances to score. 

So what? 

Here’s a stat that may interest you.  Last year we were 6-4.  In the six games we won, we gave up a total of four goals, or fewer than one goal a game.   In the four games we lost, we surrendered 17 goals.  That’s more than four goals per game!

In fact, historically (in the WAGS era, that is), when we surrender three or more goals, our record is one win and six losses!  That’s a 14% success rate.  The stats going back to our ODSL days are even more stunning, with a success rate closer to 6%. 

On the other hand, when we keep our opponent under three goals, we have a record of 12-5-1, a success rate of 67%.

In short, fewer goals means more wins, and getting goal side, marking opponents, and denying them a path to the goal leads to fewer goals. 

Those of you who played indoor this past winter know this, because we gave up fewer goals and had more success late in the season when we started planning more defensively. 

Here’s a great rule to follow to make this simple.  Keep the game in front of you, especially in your own end.  That means make sure you can see both the ball and all 11 of your opponents. 

Two other things to keep in mind:

1) Mark a player.  That means keep an eye on them; don’t let them out of your sight.  Stay close enough so that when the ball comes to them you can put immediate pressure on them and force them to get rid of the ball, but not so close that they can run around you and into space.

2) Put immediate pressure on the ball.  That means, as I just mentioned, if the player in front of you has the ball, put intense pressure on them and force them to either pass the ball away or cough it up. As soon as they pass it away, back off and continue to mark. 

The only exception to this is when pressuring the opposing defenders in their own end.  In that case, swarm and chase the ball and try to force a turnover, which you can then convert into a quick goal.

 But remember, be smart.  If you are the only player between the attacker and the goal, don’t dive in to try and win the ball, but instead stay patient and deny the attacker a clear path to goal, or a clear shot, and wait for help to arrive.

Winning games is hard work, and it takes all 11 players playing together.  Scoring goals helps, but denying your opponents goals helps a whole lot more.  It’s not as exciting as scoring lots of goals, but it’s so much more effective.  

 Stats don’t lie. So which do you prefer, a 14% chance of winning, or a 67% chance?  If you said 67%, then GET GOAL SIDE!



No. 59, February 26, 2014  

The 11 (Soccer) Commandments


K-Tran connects with Jazz on a through pass as Carolyn provides outside support


As you prepare for the upcoming season, and throughout each game, keep the following 11 things in mind.  We have covered all of these already at one time or another, so none of them should be a surprise.


1 – Play FAST! – That means move the ball and move your feet fast.  Speed of play is the number one thing you can do to improve.

2 – Flow as a team – Move together, maintain your team shape, keep spaces even and always move to support the ball. 

3 – Move to space – Make yourself a target. Don’t get caught in traffic or hidden behind an opponent.  Move to open space. If you can’t see the ball, you can’t be seen.

4 – Close down space – Don’t give your opponent room to move.  Pressure them and try to force them to play before their ready. 

5 – Move your feet! – Stopping and starting slows you down, tires you out, and destroys both team shape and team flow.  Keep moving.

6 – Move the ball – It goes faster than you and it’s smaller than you are.  Don’t dribble when you can pass, and pass all the time.  Dribble only to create space to pass, or when driving up-field toward goal. 

7 – Trust your skills – Don’t think about it, just do it and concentrate on the flow of the game.  Let your muscle memory take over. 

8 – Play through or play back – Don’t waste time trying to find the perfect pass.  If you see it, send the ball, but if not, don’t force it.  Play it safe and pass back to a support player, then get open for the return pass.

9 – Save the high risk stuff for attacking – Remember, play it safe when you’re in your own end, and the closer to your own goal, the safer you play. Save the high risk stuff, like diving in, for when you’re in front of your opponent’s goal, where a mistake can’t hurt as much.

10 – Get goal-side! – As soon as possession is lost, all defenders and mids SPRINT to get in front of the attackers and close down space to deny them a path to the goal. 

11 – Talk, talk, talk! – Tell each other what’s going on.  Chatter on the field is as important as running and passing.  Keep each other informed…always.



And above all, RELAX, stay loose, and have fun!  



No. 58, January 31, 2014 (repost from February 2, 2012) 

"I Like to Move it, Move it!"


Manchester United Players move into position behind Wayne Rooney
Click on the picture and watch how the players on both teams remain in motion throughout the game

You’ve been encouraged by your coaches many times in practice and games to, “Keep your feet moving!” Aside from becoming a monotonous bore, there is a point to this.

If you are scientifically-minded, you might have heard of Newton’s first law of physics, which states:

“An object in motion tends to stay in motion. An object at rest tends to stay at rest.”

In non-scientific terms, it means that if you are moving, it’s easier for you to keep moving, while if you’re at “rest”, it’s easier to stay “at rest” and harder to get moving.

Rest in this case doesn’t mean lying prone on the couch watching a Breaking Bad or Sponge Bob marathon and eating copious amounts of popcorn. Rest refers to being stationary, or in this case, flat-footed on the soccer field.

Why does it matter in soccer? Simple – when you’re in motion you shorten your reaction time. You react faster to the play if you are already moving than if you’re standing still. You hit 60 miles per hour a lot faster if you are already going 20 than if you’re sitting at a red light. Specifically:

  • The ball is constantly moving, which means it is constantly changing its place on the field. In order keep up with it, you have to move as well.
  • Your opponents are moving, so you have to be able to keep up with (or preferably be one step ahead of) them.
  • Your teammates are moving and looking to pass the ball to someone, so getting to a place to receive the ball is very important.

This movement helps develop a rhythm and a flow to the game and to your team. Players begin to move as a unit around the field, matching each other’s pace and spacing. This allows players to react faster to each other, to the ball, and to anything their opponents try to do. In short, if you move, you play better as a team.

The interesting thing is that if you keep your feet moving, even if you walk or jog slowly, you’ll find you get less tired than if you stop and start for a whole game. It takes a lot more energy to go from a standing start to full speed than it does from a slow but steady movement. A slow stroll will rest you as much as standing still, but you’ll be able to react quicker when you need to. Varying your speed helps. The closer you are to the ball or the play, the faster you need to move. The further you are from the action, the slower you can go.

Standing still, even if you’re at mid field, makes you a spectator. Moving makes you part of the game.

Watch any soccer game on TV and you’ll notice that all the players remain in motion. It may not be fast motion, but it’s motion. They never stop, and they always move with the flow of the game.

Soccer is a game of movement, so keep your feet moving if you want to stay one step ahead of your opponent.



No. 57, January 27, 2014

Keep it Moving


Dasha feeds Kaitlin on a quick pass vs. the Reston Shock. To see a demonstration of how to keep the ball moving, click on the picture (sorry about the music)

“Soccer is a passing game.”

You’ve probably heard this before, but it may not make a lot of sense to you. Soccer seems like a running and kicking game. You pass when you have to, when the other team prevents you from dribbling or shooting. Or at least that’s the way it appears to most of us.

Maybe it makes more sense to say that “soccer is a POSSESSION game.”

What is possession? Keeping the ball away from your opponent. The longer you can keep the ball, the more chances you will have to score.

But how do you retain possession? You can dribble and shield the ball away from opponents. But that will only work for a short time, and then you will get tired and eventually surrender the ball.

So what’s the answer? Back to passing. And not just passing, but high percentage, continuous, accurate passing. If you can keep the ball moving from player to player, with quick, high percentage passes of varying distances, you will find that you can keep the ball for as long as you want.

But the key is to keep the ball moving. A stationary ball is like a stationary player, easy to cover, easy to run to and easy to attack. A ball in motion is much harder because:

1) it’s moving (duh!) so the defenders have to keep moving, and

2) it’s direction is unpredictable, so defenders have to change directions constantly to keep up.

So what? Well, this constant movement wears out the defensive team, which leads to gaps opening in their formation. The attacking team can then run into these gaps to create scoring chances. As the game wears on, the number of scoring chances increase.

Is this easy? No. It takes lots and lots of practice because players have to both become adept at making and receiving passes of all distances and velocities, and they have to learn how to move around the field to make themselves targets for passes. This takes time and patience. It can be frustrating and tedious.

But the payoff is incredible. When you are able to move the ball at will around the field against any team and retain possession for 60%, 70% or 80% of the game, it’s fantastic! You cease to compete and start to dominate every game you play.

Click on the picture above and study how the team in possession keeps the ball moving and the other team chasing.


No. 55, October 6, 2013

A Note From the Coach


I wanted to say again what a remarkable game you guys played yesterday, and that everyone did a fantastic job.  To win a game when it’s 90 degrees out, everyone is tired from taking SATs, and there are no subs for most of the game shows character, toughness and talent. 

If I seemed a little frustrated and overly vocal at times, it’s only because I know what you can do and it’s my job as coach to push you to do it.  Early on the heat and fatigue led to some less-than-Fugeo moments, and I knew you could do better.

But I also saw the effort everyone gave as the game wore on, and I knew everyone was playing as hard as they could (hence the on-field apology).  Every single player on the field gave 100%. That is all I can ask for as a coach. 

And as hard as it was to play in, this is a game that you will all remember, because of the collective effort it took to win.

And that’s the key. No matter what the odds or the obstacles, give it everything you’ve got and don’t quit and good things will happen – even in soccer.

I also wanted to say that you showed class and poise yesterday when some of the players the other team behaved badly.  In fact, you’ve shown this all season.  Despite what other teams say and do, you never lose your cool.  That’s a mark of a mature and confident team - to be gracious in defeat, humble in victory and show respect for your opponents.  Never lose that.

I am very proud of all of you, and proud to be your coach.  Well done Fuego!



No. 54, October 2, 2013

Simple is Best...Unless it's Wrong*



 Nina uses a simple roll move to avoid a CSA Fever defender.  
Click on the picture to watch Barcelona use a simple (and familiar) game to practice complex tactics


Everyone has heard the phrase “keep it simple.”  It’s a great rule to live by, especially when trying to do something that seems hard, like delivering a speech, writing a term paper, establishing a government, or playing a sport.

Keeping it simple means leave the fancy stuff out of the equation.  Use what you know to do what you know how to do.  Period!  Don’t overdo anything – just go with what you know how to do.


But what if you are doing it wrong? 


Ah, yes, there is the second part of this, which is; first, you have to put all the hard work to get it right in the first place, THEN you can keep it simple.

Take the game of soccer, for example (yeah, I know – what a surprise!  And in a soccer blog, of all places…).  Soccer is fundamentally a very simple game.  Put 11 players on the field, add a ball, and off you go!  But is that all there is to it? Not really. 

Soccer, like anything, has layers of complexity.  As you get better at the game, you add in additional layers.  First you learn to dribble, then to kick, then to pass and receive a pass, then to make moves to avoid opponents, then how to pass and receive the ball under pressure, then proper defending techniques, then how to overlap and support an attack, then how to use tactics to outmaneuver your opponents. 

You see, it gets progressively more complex the further along you go.  But as you master each level, the previous level becomes “simple” by comparison. 

This takes lots and lots of time and effort…nothing magic, nothing special…just hard work. 

But all that work can lead to something special, and that is the ability to “keep it simple” – to be able to rely on your skills, knowledge and abilities when you need them most and focus on executing your assignments with minimal complexity – to focus on what you need to do, not how you need to do it.

So keeping it simple is best, but first, make sure you have it right.

 *According to R. Meyer, University of Wisconsin


No. 53, August 29, 2013

(Reprinted from March 23, 2012) 

Move With a Purpose

Kaitlin moves into space to receive a pass from Julia during the 2011 Toys for Tots tournament in Woodbridge

Okay, you’ve heard the coaches yell to keep your feet moving, to keep your heels off the ground. Maybe you’ve even read a blog entry or two. Even if you haven’t, you at least are starting to get the message that standing still on the soccer field is probably not a great thing.

And you’re right. It’s not. But movement alone isn’t the answer.

Movement with a purpose is.

Simply, to paraphrase a baseball term*:

- When your team is in possession, move to where the other team ain’t!

- When your team loses possession, move to where the other team is going!

To put a little more meat on the bones, when your team gets possession, immediately move into space and give your teammate as many options to make a pass as possible. Standing still with a defender between you and her isn’t going to cut it.

Likewise, as soon as the ball leaves your feet, you should be heading for another part of the field, or into a space to receive the ball right back. ALWAYS BE READY FOR THE BALL!

This is called "support", and when done consistently, can lead to many happy things, like goals, and victories, and championships, and calm, smiling coaches.

On the other side of things, when you lose possession of the ball, work with your team to get it back. Move goal-side quickly, MARK A PLAYER!!!!! (this is yelling), and close down space. Where you go is dictated somewhat by what position you play (if you need to know what to do, ask your coach, or click on Soccer 101 to the left).

But while you’re doing all of this, make sure to tell your team mates what you’re doing, where you are, and what you want. In other words, TALK TO EACH OTHER! (more yelling)

Simple, but effective. For more on movement off the ball, see “I like to Move-it, Move-it” below.

*To win a prize, find out who originally said, "Hit 'em where they ain't!"


No. 52, August 19, 2013
(Originally posted July 25, 2012) 

Acting Like Champions*

The Fuego display their Virginian Finalist medals - May 2012

Little heard of Messiah College, a small liberal arts college in Central Pennsylvania with an enrollment of under 3,000 students, boasts the most prolific winning percentage in all of collegiate sports.

Between 2000 and 2010, the Men's and Women's soccer teams posted an incredible record of 427 wins, 31 losses, and 20 ties. No other college or university even comes close, in any sport, at any level (Division I, II or III). Over that time span, the Women's team lost only 13 games, won three national titles, was three times runner up, and amassed a 76-game home unbeaten streak.

How do they do it? Sure, they recruit really good players, but so do the other colleges. They have good coaches, but every college in the country has one of those also. So, what's the secret?

The Messiah teams live by a set of core values that they claim sets them apart from the rest of the teams they play, and adhering to them are what makes them successful.

I will let you judge for yourself. There is nothing on this list that is new to anyone. What is new is the fact that a team has demonstrated repeated and continued success by following them - evidence that as hokey and corny as they sound, they really do work.

Below are selected items from the Messiah College Soccer Team list of core values (some have been paraphrased):

1. The team comes first. There is no place for selfishness, egoism, or envy.
2. We have complete control over our physical preparation, and take responsibility for it.
3. We choose to be positive.
4. There are no unimportant details. We do things a certain way for a reason. "Little things make big things happen."
5. We are collectively friends first, teammates second.
6. We give our very best all the time, regardless of the circumstances.
7. We work hard.
8. We finish strong.
9. We show no weakness.
10. We walk like champions.
11. We respect everyone, teammates, coaches, referees and opponents.

There is nothing magical here - no secret revealed for the first time that will change the way soccer is played for ever. Instead, it's a familiar list of ideas that nearly every coach on every level has repeated to their teams.

But there is a connection between this list and a very, very successful program. As Messiah College players demonstrate, committing to these principals is a first step to creating a culture of success.

The rest, as they say, is up to you...

*Adapted from The Messiah Method by Michael Zigarelli



 No. 51, June 25, 2013

Prep Work:
Summer Conditioning


Everyone has played hard over the past year, and as a result we had two pretty good seasons. 

We took second place in our first season in WAGS, were the 2013 Liberty Cup Chapmions, and played strongest slate of teams we've ever faced during the spring season. 

We also learned a number of things this past year about us as a team and about ourselves individually.  One lesson is that we are a very competitive team and have a chance to win every game we play.

Another, and perhaps more important lesson, is that good teams run, and really good teams run A LOT!  In other words, there is no substitute for being fit.  The better conditioned you are, the less likely you will get fatigued during a game, the fewer mistakes you will make, and the more balls you will win.

Time to get serious

But if there is one lesson we can take away from this past season, it is this – we don’t work hard enough!  I doubt anyone would argue this point.  The teams we faced all had one thing we tended to lack, and that was the extra energy to push through to the end of the game.  This was particularly evident in Leesburg and again during our final two games when we had chances to win both, but tired and ended up slowing down.  We weren’t outplayed as much as out-lasted. 

Add to that the fact that we play in a warm region, often on turf, where the heat saps our strength and makes legs wobbly, and it’s no wonder that we play sloppier, make more mistakes, and lose energy and intensity as games wear on. 

Therefore, it is critical that we do the necessary prep work / conditioning during the off season so that we can concentrate on technical and tactical things during the regular season – and so we can enter the season with a slight edge on those teams that “took the summer off” and waited to begin conditioning until the start of the season.

So, to get you started on the fall season, here is your summer conditioning program:

1) Run as much as possible.  Go for at least 20 minutes, and more if you can.  Try and do a minimum of 2 miles per run.  If you think you can do more, go for it, but don’t overdo it.  Start with a manageable time or distance and work your way up gradually.  Do this at least three times a week and increase your frequency if time permits.  You should be able to do 3-5 miles fairly easily by the start of the season.

2) If it’s not possible to run, then find some other anaerobic exercise to do for a sustained period – a stationary bike, a treadmill, an elliptical, anything to get your heart rate up and your muscles working.

3) Mix in some strength exercises – weight training, push-ups, chin-ups, crunches, leg lifts, lunges, whatever.

4) Always, always finish with a cool-down – dynamic or static stretching for 5-10 minutes to keep your muscles loose and avoid injury.

5) Eat healthy.  Minimize junk food as much as possible, especially pizza, French fries, ice cream, potato chips, processed foods like deli meats and cheese… you get the idea (yeah, I know, but if you are serious about this you need to eat right).  Instead, eat lean meats, whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, and if you have to snack, snack on things like nuts, dried fruit, popcorn, yoghurt, and whole-grain bars.  Basically, if you follow the rule “if it don’t rot, don’t eat it”, you should be okay.

Think of your body as a finely-tuned engine that runs on premium fuel.  The better the fuel, the better the engine performs.  Put in cheap gas and the engine sputters. 

You’re the same way.  The better you eat, the better you’ll feel, and the more energy you’ll have.  There’s a reason why professional sports teams pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire nutritionists – because it works! 

6) Stay hydrated.  Drink at least eight glasses of water a day.

7) Attend as many team conditioning events as possible We will begin training once a week starting the week of July 15.  These sessions will mix strength and speed conditioning with some foot skills and other activities designed to build your stamina and get you in to game shape in preparation for the upcoming season.

Now for the hard part

This is going to take discipline and self-motivation.  It’s hard enough to do this kind of thing during practice with coaches and trainers there to push you.  Doing it on your own can be almost impossible, so here are some things to help motivate you:

*Partner with a teammate and work together.  It is much easier to motivate each other than to motivate yourself. 

* If that’s not possible, convince a friend or family member to work with you.  

* If neither of those are an option, keep a personal log to track your own progress weekly. Believe it or not, keeping a record really does make you focus on working out.  You think about it more and it becomes less a burden and more a personal challenge. 

But if none of these work, at least attend the conditioning sessions.

This isn’t going to be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.  You will get out of this what you put into it – more in fact, because the team as a whole will get better because of the work YOU put in.

Below is a sample schedule to get you started.  Use it or develop your own.  Keep in mind, this is to get you fit, not get you into playing shape.  That we will do during conditioning and practice sessions.

So, take a few weeks to rest and heal.  But once June is over and you’ve recovered, put away the excuses, get motivated, focus on the next season, and get going.  Every day you wait is a day lost.



Sample Weekly Workout Schedule


Monday:                  2-mile run*.  10-minute cool-down†. 

Tuesday                  Team conditioning training 

Wednesday             20-minute strength training**

Thursday                2-mile run, 10-minute cool-down

Friday                     20-minute strength training

Saturday                 2.5 mile run, 10 minute cool-down


* Increase distance 0.5 miles each week. 

† Cool down includes static stretching, slow jog, walking

** Strength training includes: push-ups, curls and crunches, toes-up, leg curls and bicep curls with free weights, resistance training (isometrics). 




No. 51, May 7, 2013 (originally No. 44, January 23, 2013)

Carving Up Your Opponent


 Barcelona players move fast to create passing triangles to control the ball. 

How many passing triangles/options can you spot?  

Click on the photo to see Barca carve up its opponents


Think of every pass as a knife cut or slice.  With each pass you make, you inflict another cut into your opponent.  The more passes you successfully complete, preferably in a row, the more frustrated, demoralized and tired they will become as they spend their time chasing the ball from one side of the field to the other. 

But to pull this off, you'll need patience, skill and great movement off the ball.  Specifically, you'll need to make crisp passes with minimal rotation (flat), be able to receive the ball with little or no ricochet off your foot, and run constantly to form and reform triangles all over the field to provide your teammates support and targets.

I know I've harped on this before, but there is no better example in the world at playing this way than the Blaugrana (blue and red) of Barcelona.  Known as tiki-taka (roughly translated, touch-touch), this style of soccer is more a game of prolonged keep-away designed to wear down the opponent while probing for weaknesses and scoring opportunities.  It is also the style of play that earns soccer the nick-name "the beautiful game."

Click on the picture above to see an illustrated demonstration of how Barca works the ball around and through their opponent (and I apologize in advance for the background music - I didn't choose it...).

Notice how relaxed they are, how quickly they move to close down space, and how rapid their passing is.  Rarely do any of them take more than two or three steps with the ball.  Instead, they send the ball around and through their opponents, essentially carving them up.  

Notice also that the players vary their distances from each other, and in many cases they are only 2-3 steps appart, but they continue to pass the ball back and forth.  The ball is in constant motion.  And so are their opponents, who continuosly chase the ball.  The Barca players move less, letting the ball do all the work, so they don't get as tired.

But notice also how everyone is always in position or moving into position to receive the ball.  The passer has 7-8-9 options either open or opening, and each receiving player is actively moving to open space or advancing to provide the passer with a clear target.  This is no accident.  Teams work at this relentlessly - maintaining team shape and spacing - so that during games they don't think...they simply react.

This kind of play takes a lot of practice and concentration, as well as a very good understanding of team shape and support, but if done right, you will effectively exhaust your opponent carve them up like a Thanksgiving turkey, each pass another slice through the middle of their formation. 

Call it Victory by 1,000 Cuts.



No. 50, April 30, 2013

Group Defending
Why Formation Matters

AC Milan defenders use a compact shape to deny Wayne Rooney a shot on goal
To watch a demonstration of team defending, click on the picture


This past Sunday we worked on team shape and spacing in the middle of the field.  The idea is that by getting in front, or goal-side, of the play, getting organized into a good shape and using proper spacing (2 lines of four or five players, 7-8 yards apart), and moving as a unit, a team can close down passing lanes, shrink the field, and force their opponent wide or into making risker passes that can be easily intercepted.

We also briefly worked on what to do once the ball is won back, which is to quickly spread out and move the ball wide and then up the field to take advantage of a disorganized opponent.

What we still need to cover is how to transition from attack to defense – from being spread out and looking for open space to run into, to dropping back into formation (and by that I mean shape and spacing) and applying pressure on the ball.

There are actually two parts to this.  

When the ball is lost:  

1: The player or players closest to the ball must put immediate and intense pressure on the player with the ball to try and win it back (think “swarming bees”)  

2: The players away from the ball immediately work back to get into formation in front, or goal-side, of the attackers and set up defensively.

If done correctly, immediate pressure can result in a turnover and maybe a quick and clear shot on goal.  But it also gives the rest of the team time to get back into team shape in front of the attack.

All of this happens very fast, since the ball changes possession constantly, so players have to be aware of what’s going on at all times. 

A key component of this is communication.  Players need to talk constantly.  You can’t take in all the information you need just by scanning the field, so information has to come from your teammates.  Just hearing things like “On your left!” or “I got ball!” can alert a player that possession has been lost and to get back in front of the play.

If this is all confusing to you, or if you weren’t at the Sunday session, then just remember this one thing:

When defending, keep the play in front of you  

If you can see the ball and your opponents’ faces, then you are in the right place.  If all you see is the backs of their jerseys, then you’re in the wrong place.

Two other things to keep in mind.  If your opponent has her head down and looking at the ball, press hard becasue she is either going to dribble or try a short pass.  If her head is up, drop back and spread out and leave her to the forwards because she's scanning the feild for a longer pass.


To watch a demonstration of how this is done, click on the picture above.


No. 49, April 25, 2013 (originally No. 32, April 11, 2012)

What Do I Do At Practice?

Gareth Bale of the Tottenham Hotspurs works up a sweat during practice.
Click on the picture to watch a workout by Bayern Munich (in the snow!), and notice the level of intensity

When you get to practice or training, what are you supposed to do?

No, this isn't a trick question. It's legit.

The question doesn't concern what drills you run or what position you play, or how you warm up. Your coach, trainer and captains take care of that.

This question is more personal. What are YOU supposed to do? How are you supposed to approach the training or practice session? What should your frame of mind be? How hard to you push yourself?

The answer is, work as hard as the situation dictates. If you are conducting a light stretching or passing drill as a warm up, low intensity and relaxed with a focus on technique is all that's required.

On the other hand, one-on-one drills, small group activities, or full scrimmages require 100% effort.

Why? After all, it's only practice, right? Why go all out when it's not a game?

Here's why. You get out of it what you put into it (see "We're Talking Practice" below). But in addition to improving your own skills, playing your hardest helps your teammates.

Part of what you do in practice and in training is to prepare yourself and your team for the upcoming game. Tactics alone aren't enough. You have to be ready for the PACE and PHYSICALITY (yes, it's a word) of the game as well.

Your opponent isn't going to come out at half speed. They're coming after you, and hard! They want to beat you.

If you're unprepared for that, then you'll lose. Simple as that. But by challenging your team mates in practice just as hard as you can, you prepare them (and yourself) to play their best during the game.

The more you simulate game situations, including game-level intensity, the more likely you are to play well during a game, because you're used to being pressured and chased, (or pressuring and chasing) and you know how to react; you're PREPARED to play, both physically and mentally. They can't intimidate you, because you've already been through worse and survived. If they aren't as ready, you'll eat them alive. In either case, you'll be a better team.

But does it really make a difference?

Former Chicago Bull Scotty Pippen was once asked what he did to improve his game. He pointed out that he had to play against Michael Jordan every day in practice, and Jordan was relentless, and always played like it was the 7th game of the NBA Championship, regardless of the circumstance. "You can't help but get better if he's doing that to you all the time." Pippen said. Pippen won six championships with the Bulls and is now in the NBA hall of fame.

It makes a difference. 


No. 47, April 12, 2013 (originally No. 39, August 2012)

How to Practice, Re-Revisited

Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney and another guy work hard during a Manchester United practice session
Click on the picture to watch a Manchester United practice session.  Notice how hard they push themselves
"You have to work like a winner to be a winner!"

What motivates a great athlete to become great? Why are some players better than others, even though they seem less talented? And how do they push themselves to be the best, even when it seems really, really hard?

The easy answer is: they WANT it, and so badly they can think of nothing else. But that's a general statement. Everyone wants to be the best. The question is, how do you translate desire into sustained action?

That's tougher. There is an easy answer, "Just do it!" But the underlying truth is much more complex, and requires everyone to decide how hard are they willing to work to succeed.

But if you think about it in small steps, it's actually not that hard to grasp. The tricky part is executing the plan once you figure it out.

Here's the best way to approach anything. Ask yourself, "What do I want out of this session/practice/drill/experience?" If your answer is, "I don't know," then you have some more thinking to do, and maybe ask yourself, "then why am I here???"

However, if your answer is "To improve," then you are on your way. But "to improve" is pretty abstract, so let's think about it in more concrete terms. Say you are engaged in a passing drill. You can tell yourself, "I want to make a good first touch every time I receive the ball." There, you have a concrete objective.

Now you have to execute. Focus 100% on the ball every time it comes to you. Let nothing distract you, not your friends, your coach, the four leaf clover you may have just spotted on the ground in front of you, or the locomotive dressed like a defensive midfielder charging right at you. Focus on that one touch of the ball, every time it comes to you.

Analyze your technique and success after each touch. Did I do that right? Am I moving too far to the side? Not enough? Did I hit the ball too hard? Work to improve that one thing every single time you touch the ball.

Don't let your concentration wander, or soon your technique will deteriorate and you'll become frustrated. Frustration leads to loss of focus and eventually abandonment. Success breeds success, and leads to continuous improvement and fulfillment as an athlete.

That's all there is to it. Well, almost all.

To make this work, you have to have a plan and figure out what to work on first, and how to progress. It doesn't have to be a big plan, but a plan of some sort.

Ask your coach to help you work one out. He or she knows your strengths and weaknesses better than anyone, and can help you target the skills you need to work on. Then focus on executing that plan every single time you step on the field. If it helps, keep a check list and mark off each thing as you progress.

But to be turely successful, you need three things.  First, you need to concentrate,.  Focus on what you want to accomplish, and let nothing, including teammates, noises, aches and pains, and rining cell phones, distract you. 

Second, you need effort.  Not just "I'll give it a try and see what happens," half hearted effort, but, "I will OWN this!" effort.  Unrelenting, tireless effort.  The kind of effort that requires you to dig deep.  I won't lie - it's going to hurt, and maybe a lot.  But no pain, no gain.  And the satisfaction you feel when you do succeed/win is like nothing else in the world.

Third, you need patience.  You won't achieve perfection the first, second, third, or even 100th time you try something.  But failure is part of it.  If you're not willing to fail, you're not willing to succeed.  Don't give up, and don't beat yourself up for struggling.  You WILL get it, but you have to allow yourself the time and the work to get there.    

This kind of effort becomes a habit after a while, and works with everything, not just soccer. The trick is to keep going, stay focused, and don't quit, not on your teammates, and not on yourself. It's not magic, but it works.  

Just ask any champion...

No. 46, March 8, 2013

New This Spring

You guys have made a lot of progress in the past couple of seasons and done some really great things.  The Fuego are starting to get talked about and you should all feel really good about yourselves and your teammates.
But with success come new challenges, and as we move deeper into WAGS, the teams we face will get stronger, faster and more talented, which means we need to improve both our individual and overall team play if we want to remain competitive. 
That’s going to take a lot of work, and motivation.  Realizing that neither come naturally to everyone, and that attendance at team functions has become “relaxed” recently, we are going to do a number of things to help us gain a competitive edge.
At the request of your teammates (and this is their idea, not mine, although I support it), starting with the first official practice of the spring this coming Tuesday the following changes go into effect:
      1)     In addition to practice and professional training, we hope to add a third activity during the week, a “team workout day” on Mondays.  This will be at a local health club.  It will be a player-run team function.  Details to follow...
      2)     Attendance will be expected at all three weekly events.  In order to improve, we need to get as much work in as time allows.  However, I realize that schedules won't always allow everyone to attend three week-day functions, so attendance will be mandatory at two.
      3)     Attendance will be taken at each event. 
      4)     Players with the best attendance will be in line for end-of season prizes.  Poor attendance and unexcused absences may lead to reduced playing time.
If you are going to need to miss one of these for any reason, you need to notify one of the coaches ahead of time.  This includes long-standing commitments, such as jobs, school sports, or other conflicts during the days in question.
If you have any questions, please feel free to talk to me or Coach Mark.


No. 45, March 1, 2013

Playing Striker


Playing striker, or forward, is often seen as a single-purpose job – get behind the defense and score goals.  Strikers gnereally possess a lethal combination of speed, quickness, skill and accuracy that often make them the stars of their teams.  Robin Van Persie, Christian Renaldo, Abby Wambach, Wayne Rooney, Ronaldhino, Marta, Didier Drogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Lionel Messi are all strikers, and are among the most famous athletes in the world today (outside of the US, that is).

While scoring goals is a big part of what strikers do, it’s not all they do.  In fact, in many ways, strikers are the first line of defense.  That’s right, defense. 

One of the most consistent statistics in soccer is that the team that successfully recovers the most lost balls, or turnovers, wins.  We have covered this before (see Immediate Chase below for more details), but in short, reacting immediately to a lost ball and working as hard as you can to win it right back is a deciding factor in winning the game.

Nowhere on the field does this strategy lead to goals faster than in the attacking end of the field.  By putting immediate pressure on the defenders who win the ball, attackers can force turnovers and create scoring chances deep in the opponent’s end of the field.

The striker is also an ideal set-up player.  Often playing with their back to the goal, the striker is in a perfect position to feed the ball back to an open midfield player for a shot on goal, or slide the ball sideways to an overlapping team-mate who is breaking in behind the defense.

In the defensive end and in transition, the striker hovers near the center line, occupying the center backs, and moves to support clearing balls up the sideline, looks for clearing passes into space behind them, or positions themselves to work a give and go with an overlapping mid or fullback.  Striker frequently overlap with outside mids and chase balls deep into the corner, then work or pass the ball back into the middle of the field for a shot on goal.

But mostly, the striker creates havoc in the attacking zone.   Strikers must use their speed to make diagonal runs to get in front of passes or to pull the defense out of position and create space for the mids to exploit.  They need to create space to run onto balls sent through the middle of the field or up the sidelines, and most importantly, they have to find their way to the front of the goal where they use their speed and skill to get to the ball before the defenders and the goalie to put the ball in the back of the net.

Click on the picture of Wayne Rooney above to see three of the best strikers in the world – Renaldo, Rooney and Messi.


No. 42, December, 2012 

Playing Midfield

Xavi Hernandez of Barcelona is regarded by many as the best midfielder in the world.

Click on the picture above to see him talk about and demonstrate playing midfield


All play on a soccer field goes through the middle.  This makes the midfielders the engine of a soccer team.  They are the playmakers, the ones who move the ball from the back to the front and side to side of the formation.  They must be quick, decisive and confident with the ball at their feet.  They also have to be fearless and willing to play physical to control the middle of the field. 

Midfielders must be ready to assume every position on the field except goal, sometimes within the same minute of play.  When possession is lost and the opposing team puts the ball into their zone, midfielders must track back quickly and get in front of the attack to cover the space in front of the defensive line and deny attacking mids a shot on goal.  They also double-team attacking strikers, join the back four if outnumbered, and clear the ball once possession is regained.

On the attack, center Mids set up the strikers with through passes into space or over the top of the defenders for the strikers to run onto, or feed the ball wide into space for the outside mids or overlapping fullbacks to push deep into the attacking zone.  They then follow the strikers into the zone, setting up around the penalty arc looking for a clear shot on goal and providing support to keep the ball deep.  They can also jump up to join the rush to create an overload situation or to attack a cross into the box.

They also slide to the left or right to support the outside mids and fullbacks deep in the corners, looking for passes back into the middle or overlapping to get the ball deeper in to the zone.

In transition and through the middle, the center mids work to move the ball quickly and accurately to deny the opposing team an opportunity to regain possession.  This is done mostly through short, one or two touch passes to keep the opposing team off balance, and working the ball across the formation and into space for the forwards and outside mids to run onto.

Outside mids also drop back to pressure outside mids and overlapping fullbacks in the defending zone, but immediately move "heals to the line" once possession is gained and open up to the field, facing inward.  Once they get the ball, outside mids are the key moving the ball up field, especially against a team that crowds the middle of the field.  They can either drive deep into the attacking zone, work a give and go with an inside mid to get deep, or press into the middle of the field and pass outside to an overlapping mid or fullback.  They also move to join the strikers to pressure the goal, angling towards the near post and look for rebounds or crosses into the box.

Midfielders must have great, speed, stamina, vision, be calm with the ball, and have confidence in their abilities.  Midfielders have to be the best passers on the team, as all play goes through them.  They must also be aggressive enough to challenge opposing players for the ball, quick enough to move into space to receive a pass, and skilled enough to work the ball quickly through the field either by dribbling or through combination plays.

Good teams have great players.  Great teams have great midfield players.


Click on the picture of Xavi above to see him talk about playing midfield.  To see him in action, click on the ball below.




No. 41, October 18, 2012 

Playing Defense

A team sets up a balanced defense in front of their own goal.
To view a video demonstrating a balanced defense, click on the
picture above(username: losjamones, password: fuego08).

This is the first in a three-part series that will focus on the three primary positions of the team: defense, midfield and attacking.

This entry deals with the defense – specifically the back four defenders, plus, on occasion, the two center midfielders. 

 No team, no matter how dynamic and talented, will win a majority of their games if they don’t have a strong, well organized defense.  Preventing the other team from getting off quality shots makes everyone’s job easier.  But playing good, solid team defense takes time, work, coordination and a lot of patience, because of all the positions in soccer, the defense works the most as a unit.

The key to playing good defense is proper spacing, both across the field, and in front of the attackers.  The defenders must avoid staying too close on the attack or too far apart in front of thier own goal, and they must keep the game in front of them at all times, especially the two center backs. 

On the attack, the center backs should be split by about 20 yards, with the defensive mid between them, and in front about 5-10 yards, forming a triangle.  Their job is to prevent the ball from leaving the zone and keeping pressure on the opponents’ defense.  The outside defenders, or fullbacks, push into the zone to support the attack wide, and look for opportunities to cross the ball into the box, or to penetrate and get a shot on goal.

When possession is lost, all defenders plus the center mids must make what are called "recovery runs," meaning they head towards their own goal and form a defensive line in front of the attackers.   Their main goal at this point is not to win the ball, but to deny the attacking team any space to penetrate towards goal. 

A key point is that the center backs should NEVER attempt to pressure the ball until they are within 20-25 yards of their own goal (near the top of the penalty arc).  Pressure in the middle must come from the center backs.  This is to prevent a player getting a clear run on goal, or opening up a passing lane for an overlapping attacker into space.

When the attack is on the outside, the fullback closest to the attacker should move out and pressure the ball, being careful not to dive in until she is sure she can win the ball.  The remaining defenders create a support line behind the pressuring back, making sure to mark all attacking players and putting themselves in a position to win any ball played into the center of the field.

Defenders must fill in for each other along the back line to avoid gaps opening up that the attacking team can exploit.  In order to do this, they must communicate continuously to alert each other of their positoin (e.g., "On your left!"), who they're makring ("I got 25!"), and signal when it's okay to challenge or when there's an unmarked attacker.

Once possession is regained, defenders should look to make a series of short, quick passes to move the ball up the field, avoiding passes across the front of their own goal, or make a long clearing pass upfield in the direction of the forwards.

By denying shots and closely marking attacking players, and by using the advantage of numbers in their own zone, the defense can frustrate an attacking team and clear their zone quickly and effectively once possession is regained. 

To see a demonstration of how the defensive back four defend as a unit, click on the picture above.  To watch the defense and center mids work together to fend off attackers, click on the photo below.

The Dutch forma  strong defensive line against Argentina.  To view a demonstration of 

the defenders and mids working together, click on the picture.  

Use the login: losjamones

 and the password: fuego08

No. 40, October 9, 2012 

Staying Focused

Manchester United trains for a match.  To watch

the team prepare for a game, click on the picture above.


You’re off to a great start this season, undefeated, sit atop the division, and won your last game by four goals.  You even knocked off your biggest rival.  You look almost unbeatable at times.  Now what? 

Before you respond, “I’m going to Disneyworld!” remember; you’re only halfway through the season.  There are still very tough teams to face.  What’s more, every team on your schedule from now until the end of the season wants to take you down.  You are now the team to beat; the game they circle on their calendar.  You, in a word, are IT!

What does that mean?  It means that you have a lot more work to do.  The truth is that you’re only half way to your goal.  Sure, past victories may suggest future success.  But success can be both a friend and an enemy.  Teams that start to believe their own hype soon write their own epitaph.

So how do you keep the momentum going without getting over-confident?  It’s a matter of perspective, respect, and determination.  But those are abstract concepts, so here are four practical approaches that should help:

1. Stay in the moment.  Don’t think ahead to the next game, practice, or even drill.  Focus on what you are doing AT THIS VERY MOMENT.  Stay right there, and resist the temptation to project what might be, or dwell on what just happened.  Put all of that aside.  Think only about your immediate situation.  Stay Focused.

2. Keep doing what works, and don’t back off.  Stay with your routine, your level of effort, and continually try to improve.  You may be good, but you’re not perfect…at least not yet.  And don’t forget, your opponents are working hard to figure out how to beat you, so you have to work just as hard to figure out how to beat them.

3.Never, ever underestimate your opponent, no matter how weak you think they are.  Every team can beat every other team.  That’s why we’re all in the same division.  You can’t take any team for granted, or look beyond them to the next game on the schedule.  The team you face next is the toughest team you will ever face, so prepare to play the best game of your life. 

4.Count your wins at the end of the season.  This echo’s the first point of staying in the moment.  The wins and losses are meaningless until they can be put into context, after all the games are played and the points totaled.  Only then can you look back and celebrate what you’ve accomplished. 

Every game starts with a blank scoreboard.  All the goals you scored in the last game don’t matter.  You can’t pull one or two of them out and apply them to the next game.  You have to start from scratch each time the whistle blows.  Stay focused, work hard, respect your opponent, and let’s see where we are after the last game. 

No. 38, August 21, 2012
New Moves for a New Season

Brazilian star Neymar dribbles through traffic.
Click on the picture to see some basic but effective moves you can learn quickly

Getting ready for the season requires players to run through a mental check list of things they need to do. Get in shape? CHECK. Get new cleats? CHECK. Perfect a new move.... Um... If the answer to this is not a check also, read on...

Every player should have at least two or three moves they can do without thinking to allow them to escape an opponent. These don't have to be fancy or complicated moves. A simple cut move will do, if done to perfection. Having a move or two you know you can execute at any time increases your confidence with the ball, so you can move in and out of traffic while looking for a teammate to pass to or open space to move to.

Learning a move isn't hard, but it takes time. Even a simple cut move requires hours of work to perfect. But the time is worth it. Every time you have a few minutes at practice, pick up the ball and practice your move. Do it over and over and over again until you can do it without thinking. That way, when you need that move in a game, you can pull it off quickly and effortlessly.

And often learning one leads to learning another, since most moves are built off the same basic move, so they require little more than a slight modification or an extra step to create. Simple stuff, if you already have the basic move perfected.

Click on the link above to view a few simple moves that you can incorporate into your regular training routine. Note that for the most part, they are all derived from the first, basic move, which itself is nothing more than a simple side-to-side dribble. The next time you're at the field and have a minute or two, try working on this. Even a few minutes each practice will do it. Within a few sessions you will find you can make the move with ease. Then once you do, try it out on your teammates. You'll be amazed how good you'll feel when it works and you leave them standing there looking at the back of your jersey.

No. 36, June 22, 2012
Summer Vacation!

The rain forest of Borneo.

So the season is over and there's nothing to do for two months until it begins again in September, right?

Um, not exactly. While it's important to take a break to allow yourself to heal and decompress, it's also very, very important to maintain both your conditioning and your skills, because both will leave you very fast if you don't use them.

Never has that been more true than this summer, with the team coming off two successive winning seasons, and heading into a much more demanding league in the fall. Failing to keep your skills and stamina could lead to some embarrassing moments and you might find yourself in unexpected, and unfortunate, places (read on).

So what should you do to train?

There are many things you can do, including attending a summer soccer camp and attending summer sessions and pre-season training with the team. But if your summer schedule won't permit this, there are three things you can do that will keep your skills and conditioning up so you will be ready for the fall.

First, running, or some kind of aerobic training. Try to get in at least 20 minutes of vigorous work every day, or at least three times a week. If you are going to be at the beach, run along the water or in the surf. If you're at home, run through the neighborhood or around the track at the local high school. If you can do it with a ball at your feet, even better. If you don't have space to run, use an elliptical machine or a stationary bike, or jump rope. Whatever it is, you need to do something to keep your stamina up and hopefully improve it.

Second, juggle. As has been pointed out many times in this blog, juggling is a great way to improve your overall foot skill and confidence with the ball. If you can juggle, you can do anything, in any situation, no matter how tightly marked you are.

Third, take a ball, find a flat surface, like a wall, a fence, a porch step, or a friend's foot, and practice one-touch passing. Keep the ball going as long as possible. Vary your distances and feet to get the feel of close and long passes. Also, you can work on your accuracy by picking out spots on the wall to target with each pass.

On the other hand, if you neglect your training over the summer, you could end up getting embarrassed in the first game of the season. If you get embarrassed in the first game, you'll feel dejected and want to avoid your friends at school by disguising yourself in an old hoodie. On your way to school you might stop at the Starbucks for a coffee. The barista might mistake you for a thief and call the police. If she calls the police, you will have to flee the country by hiding on a container ship heading to Borneo.

Don't end up on a container ship heading to Borneo. Train hard over the summer.


No. 35, June 18, 2012
Originally published No. 8, April 7, 2011

Juggle? Me? Why?

Click on the image above to watch Ronaldinho’s juggling technique -
see how easy he makes it look!
Yeah, I know - we've seen this one already, and more than once. But how many of you have actually done it?!

Juggling is one of the very best ways to improve soccer skills, but it is often overlooked. Juggling allows you to use all parts of your body to gain a feel for the ball. These touches increase your comfort with the ball and help you to control ball with ever-increasing confidence.

Greater confidence means greater imagination and success on the field, allowing you to test your opponents more, react more calmly to pressure, and escape from situations you otherwise would avoid.

Points to remember when juggling:

1. Use all parts of the body (head, chest, thighs, and feet) and alternate feet. Don’t get caught only juggling with your dominant foot!

2. Focus on good controlled touches, not speed or ball height. Let your level of comfort dictate these. Height and speed will come with practice.

3. Control the ball as long as possible. If you have a bad touch, try to recover and continue juggling rather than starting over.

4. Maintain good body position (posture and balance) and stay relaxed.

Practice juggling about 20 minutes every day! As you do, you’ll notice something. At first, you’ll struggle to keep the ball in the air more than 4-5 times.

But as you work at it, you’ll suddenly begin to get the rhythm of juggling and before you know it you’ll be keeping the ball in the air 20-30-40 times and more with relative ease. But it takes time.

Track your progress! Keep a juggling log and record how many times you were able to keep it in the air each day, and challenge yourself to beat your previous record each time. Then once a week send in your best score and we'll post the top five juggle scores on the web page.

Then, during the first training session of the fall, we will hold a contest, with prizes going to the top jugglers. And really go for it this time. I'm talking serious prizes, not candy or dollar store junk!).

To download a juggling log, click on the link below

Adapted from

No. 34,May 22, 2012
"Hey, What Do I Do, Coach?*"

Didier Drogba receives a pass in space.
To watch Arsenal (and other teams) play each of the positions described below, click on the picture

Everyone is pretty familiar with their positional responsibilities during a game. Midfielders, defenders and strikers kind of know what they need to do relative to everyone else.

Still, it never hurts to have a little refresher. Much of this is covered in Soccer 101 (link to the left), but just in case it's been a while since you've visited that page...

Goal Keeper

Once the keeper makes the save, she has two options: 1) look for a quick throw to an open, unmarked team mate, or 2) wait until her team mates have moved into position to receive a long pass or punt.

The goal keeper must keep a straight line, from the ball, through her body, to the center of the goal, regardless of where it is on the field. This will ensure she can cover all points of the goal equally.

The keeper should also move out of the goal as play dictates, such as when the play moves up field, or to challenge an oncoming attacker, backing slowly as the attacker approaches. The Goalie should never remain rooted on the goal line.

Fullbacks (outside defenders)

The Fullback's primary responsibility is to cover the wingers and try to intercept any balls played to them. If they can't, then they must ensure that the winger does not have a clear path to the goal, either by dribbling or passing/crossing the ball in. They must also remain goal-side of the winger/attacker at all times.

When the attack comes from the far side of the field, the fullback must move inside to help cover in front of the goal, but be ready to release in case a crossing pass reaches their side of the pitch.

On the attack, the fullback must move up to support the outside midfielders or wingers, looking for overlapping opportunities and lanes to penetrate towards the goal. However, the fullback's first responsibility is to defend, so they need to retreat fast if possession is lost.

Central Defenders

The central defenders anchor the defense. Their job is to deny the attacker a clear path to the goal. They should always keep the play in front of them and mark advancing forwards tightly, denying then any chance to turn towards the goal.

Central defenders also need to be willing to step in front of shots and play a physical game to keep attackers off balance and distracted from making a good shot on goal. On the attack, they must stay close to mid field, marking opposing strikers and move up only as needed to support the midfielders, or to apply additional pressure if the defending team collapses into the zone.

Central Midfielders

Central Midfielders have three main functions: 1) support the defensive line, 2) support the attack, and 3) serve as transition players from defending to attacking. When the team loses possession, center midfielders must get back quickly to get goal-side of the attackers and defend in front of the back four.

On the attack, the central midfielders support the strikers and wings/outside midfielders at a distance of 7-10 yards. Their main function is to help maintain possession and deliver the pass to the open player, although they are often the primary shooter, especially if the strikers and wings are closely marked.

Wingers/Outside Midfielders

Wingers have two primary functions: 1) move the ball deep into the attacking zone, and 2) cross the ball into the box. They also must drop back to help out wide in the defensive zone by marking the fullbacks or double-teaming the attacking wingers. Wingers should look for passes into space to run onto, open space to pass the ball into team mates on the attack, and overlapping opportunities into the box for a shot on goal.

Attacking/Transition Midfielder

The transition midfielder serves as the link between the central midfielders/defenders and the striker. On defense, the transition midfielder covers the area between the attacking central midfielders and the central defenders. On the attack, the transition midfielder works to support and overlap with the striker, or with the winger on a ball played into space behind the defense.


Strikers score goals. That is their first priority. Therefore they must always be going towards goal. But beware of the offsides trap.

Strikers, along with transition midfielders and wingers, also must put immediate pressure on defending fullbacks or defenders if possession is lost to try and create a turnover.


They pace around and yell a lot and try to figure out what everyone is supposed to be doing.

*Adapted from Skills and Strategies for Coaching Soccer by Alan Hargraves, Leisure Press, 1990.

No. 33, April 19, 2012
(originally 20, October 21, 2011)
We're talking practice??

Wayne Rooney drives for the ball during a training session.
Click on the picture to watch a Manchester United session and notice how seriously they takes practice.
NBA star Alan Iverson’s famous rant about his poor practice habits became a catch phrase used to epitomize the lazy and self-important athlete. His point was, ‘it’s only practice, so why should I make the effort? I’m good. I perform when the game is on the line. So what’s the big deal if I dog it when it doesn’t matter?’

The truth is, it matters a whole lot. Nobody ever became great at anything just by doing it. They first had to work at it. Every touchdown pass by Tom Brady, goal by Abby Wambaugh, hat trick by Alex Ovechkin, or championship won by Derek Jeter or Tiger Woods was earned in practice.

And here’s why it matters. Practice is the place where you are free to fail. You can make mistake after mistake, land on your butt time after time, trip, fall and look like a fool, and it doesn’t matter. Because the only way you will improve, in sports or in anything, is to be willing to fail over and over until you get it right.

The very best know this, and they use it to their advantage. Every time they step onto the practice field, court, or ice, they have one goal – to be better at what they do when they walk off the field later that day. It’s what drives them. They don’t measure themselves against anyone else, just their own performance.

To them, it doesn’t matter if they can’t do something right away. They just keep at it until they get it. Then they keep at it even harder until they perfect it. Then they keep at it some more until they can do it without thinking about it. Then they do it more so they don’t forget.

It’s also the place where you can ask for, and offer, help. If you don’t know how to do something, ask. Get someone – a coach, a teammate, a trainer, to show you what you’re doing wrong, and how to correct it. Or share what you know with a teammate who is struggling.

The thing about practice, as with anything else, is that you get out of it what you put into it. Give it half an effort, go through the motions, and start to think about what you’ll do when the hour or so is over, and you’ll see minimal results. But put in a lot of effort, time, sweat, and thought, stay focused, and challenge yourself to improve every single day, and you’ll see significant results.

There is no magic to this, and no easy way out. But if you want something – really want it, go for it! And remember, it’s just practice.

No. 31, April 3, 2012
(originally No. 7, March 29, 2011)
Passing Smart*

Aby slides a pass behind the LFC defenders to Kristen during the 2012 Liberty Cup

Good passes contribute to positive plays, like clearing the zone, maintaining possession, and scoring goals.

Bad passes contribute to negative plays, like give-aways, especially in your own zone, poor positioning for teammates, and easily telegraphed passes that the opposition can intercept.

Proper technique, both when passing and receiving the ball (technical skills) are critical. Equally as critical is knowing when and where to pass the ball (tactical skills).

A well executed pass to the wrong spot can be more costly than a poor pass put in exactly the right spot, just as a great pass mishandled can defeat the best tactical advantage.

Here are six TACTICAL things that will make you a much more effective passer:

1. Don’t overestimate your own ability: Don’t go for the great pass every time. Relax, keep calm and if you can’t find a “good” pass right away, make a safe one. And don’t wait too long to think about it, either, or you’ll end up with no options!

2. Always look for the deep pass first: Look for the players at the edge of your range (and know what that is), then work your way back. Try to get opponents on the “wrong” side of the ball, and your teammates at the edge to think about moving to open space. Even if your pass gets intercepted, it will be deeper in the attacking zone.

3. Risk/Reward: Save the risky passes for less risky situations, like in front of the opponent’s goal. When in your own zone, play it safe. When in doubt, DON’T LOSE THE BALL. Remember, pass with purpose, not with hope.

4. Don’t telegraph your passes: If you start looking to the same place or player every time, the other team will figure that out and be ready for it.

5. Remember your teammate: Think about their situation and what they need. Are they surrounded? Can they move into space easily? If you can't give them a pass they can handle, look for another target.

6. Quick, Simple, Accurate: Don’t hold the ball. Get it moving. It can travel faster than you. Movement should only be used to create space for a pass or shot, or to get away from an opponent.

* Derived from “Playing Better Soccer” by Larry Paul

No. 30, March 28, 2012
Play Your Game

Bayern Munich's Frank Ribery hurdles Danny Alvez of Barcelona. Munich never compromises it's aggressive style of play to suit it's opponent.

There is a tendency in all sports to play your opponent. That sounds like a no-brainer, because that’s what you do; you play against another player or team.

But do you really? Do you play THEM, or do you play your game and hope to beat them? The difference may sound subtle, but it’s not.

If you play your opponent, and focus on THEM as the main point of the match, then you are focusing on their game, their players, and the way they attack and defend. In short, you begin to try and play their style and end up trying to beat them at their own game.

The result is; you play your opponent’s game. That usually doesn’t work because your opponent plays it better than you, they’re built for it, and they know what they’re doing. You are guessing, chasing, and generally trying to figure them out. If you’re very good, and they’re not, you might get it right and beat them. But in most cases, you don't.

If you’ve ever heard the term, “Playing down to your opponent’s level,” this is what’s happening.

You want to know your opponent, what they do, how they attack, who their best players are, their strengths and weaknesses. But you want to use this information to develop a strategy to beat them using your game, designed to maximize your strengths, and one you are confident playing.

In other words you want your opponent to play YOU!

When you step on the field, court, or ice, your plan should be to execute the game you have trained to play. If you are a passing team, pass; a running team, run; a high pressure team, press. Play to YOUR strengths, make the other team try to figure YOU out, and try to play the way YOU do.

In short, play your game. It’s what you know how to do, and you’re probably much better at it than your opponent.

It's also known as imposing your will on the other team. It's how you dominate an opponent.

All the great teams do this. Watch Barcelona, or Real Madrid (when they don’t play Barcelona) or Manchester United, or Bayern Munich, or AC Milan – or for that matter the Miami Heat, the New England Patriots, the LA Lakers, or the Pittsburgh Penguins (sorry Julia). All of them have a distinct style they use that plays to their strengths, and they don’t change that style to fit an opponent. The opponent has to adjust to play them.

The result is that those teams tend to be more successful because they do what they know works, despite what their opponents do. They have studied those opponents, and have figured ways to neutralize them, but they never abandon what they do.

So, if you want to be a successful team, then do what the best do…play yourself, not your opponent.

No. 28, February 29, 2012
Shoot the Ball!

Kristen rockets home a goal against the Vienna Fusion. To see a montage of goals, click on the picture.

Everyone wants to shoot the ball on goal and watch it skip across the goal line (or rocket across) and cause the back of the net to bulge out. It’s thrilling to watch, and even more thrilling to do.

But scoring a goal is not easy. There is always traffic in front of the goal, legs and feet everywhere, and you’re in a hurry. As a result, players often wait for the perfect opportunity to get off the killer shot to beat defender and goalie. This almost never happens, at least not the way we’d like.

Very frustrating. But what can you do about it?

The answer is simple: shoot anyway. Wayne Gretsky, the hockey hall of famer who holds the record for most goals in NHL history, once said, “100 percent of the shots you don’t take don’t go in, so shoot the [ball] every chance you get.”

But how do you improve your odds of actually scoring on that shot?

There are many things you can do to improve your chances of your team getting a goal (and remember, a goal is not an individual achievement, but a team achievement – it takes all eleven players working together to produce a goal).

Here are four simple things that will help immediately. They all involve improving your accuracy. When getting ready to shoot, you should:

1) calm yourself before shooting (take a deep, cleansing breath to relax - some players think to themselves “the only way the goalie gets this ball is if I let her” or “you can’t stop me!” to give themselves confidence)
2) pick your target and visualize the ball going into the net. If you can see it, you can make it happen.
3) try not to overpower the shot but hit it just hard enough to beat the keeper (you don’t get a bonus point if you rip the back of the net) and,
4) when in close, think PASS FIRST as in PASS THE BALL INTO THE NET!

You will improve your accuracy tremendously if you do these things.

But don’t ever be afraid to take a shot on goal. If you miss, it’s a goal kick and most of those remain in the attacking zone, so that’s good. If the ball deflects off a defender or the goalie, it’s a corner, so that’s good. If the ball goes in the net, that’s a goal, and that’s very good. In fact, the only thing that can happen that isn’t so good is that the goalie gets control of the ball.

That means that if you shoot the ball on net, four things can happen, AND THREE OF THEM ARE GOOD!

So when you’re in front of the goal and you see an opening, SHOOT, SHOOT, SHOOT! Because the more you shoot, the more chances you have to score.

No. 26, January 27, 2012
(originally No. 5, March 4, 2011)
How to Get Killer Foot Skills!

Mia Hamm and Abby Wambaugh practice their ball skills during
a national team practice

More than anything else, playing soccer is about ball control. The more comfortable you are with the ball, the more you’re willing to experiment. The more you experiment, the more your skills improve. The more your skills improve, the more confident you are on the field and the better you will play.

You may ask, “How do I improve those skills when practice is only twice a week?” Good question.

Unfortunately, the answer don’t, or at least not very quickly. You need to spend more time...make that a lot more time, working on foot skills if you want to get really good quickly.

But here’s the good news. It doesn’t take hours at a time and require a field with goals and cones and cleats and even other players. It can take as little as 20-30 minutes a day and can be done in a relatively small space, like a garage, a basement, a family room, or even a clean space in your room (okay, maybe that’s a stretch).

If you want, you can use socks or pieces of paper as a substitute for cones, place them in a random pattern fairly close together, and gently tap and roll the ball in and around them using the bottom and sides of your feet, but just using empty space is fine as well.

Go slowly at first until you develop a rhythm, then pick up the pace a little (only don’t crash into the furniture). Remember to stay on your toes and keep your feet moving at all times. Click on the flaming ball below to see a demonstration of how to do this.

Juggling requires a little more room, so find more open space, like a driveway or a back yard, or any space where an errant juggle won’t collide with something breakable.

Finding time can be hard, but if you schedule 20 minutes each day, say right after you get home, or when you’re taking a break from homework, it’ll become a habit.

If it helps, print out the sample schedule below or off the welcome page and put it somewhere that you can see it, then try to follow the routine for a week or two.

The important thing is to do this every day, or as many days as you can. It won’t take much time, but the results will be amazing!

Individual and Group Activities

ActivityJuggle / dribble in tight space 20-30 minutesPractice & Juggle / dribble in tight space 20-30 minutes Juggle / dribble in tight space 20–30 minutes Practice & Juggle / dribble in tight space 20-30 minutes Juggle / dribble in tight space 20–30 minutesPractice & Juggle / dribble in tight space 20-30 minutesGame

This was originally run March 4, 2011

No. 24, December 23, 2011
Team Defending Revisited

Aby, Nina and Melissa defend as a team in front of Caroline vs. the FASA Premier.
Defending, as has been discussed in earlier blogs, is a team effort. Every player on the field has a role and a goal when we lose possession – prevent the other team from getting a shot on goal, and winning the ball back as fast as possible. Doing this takes all 11 players on the field, not just the 2-3 that are closest to the attacker with the ball.

Below is a brief summation of the elements presented in the earlier blogs. It’s important to understand that when defending as a team, everyone has a role. Those closest to the ball obviously have the most active role in defending against the attack, but those further away also have responsibilities, and they affect the success of the defense as much as the players closest to the ball.

Here’s what everyone need to do to defend as a team:

1. The player closest to the ball:

Your job is to slow the attack, not win the ball

• Slow the attacker down
• Apply just enough pressure to get the attacker’s head down
• Make the attack predictable and push the attack to the least dangerous part of the field (the sidelines are your friends. Only attempt to win the ball if the attacker makes a mistake and you are sure to win it, and
• Be patient.

2. The next closest player to the ball:

Your job is to back up the pressuring defender

• Cover the space behind the pressuring defender
• Adjust your distance based on the speed of the attack, and the skill and speed of the attacker
• Communicate with the pressuring defender, let her know that you are there, tell her which way to push the attack, if necessary.

3. The rest of the players on the goal side of the ball:

Your job is to watch the rest of the attackers and stop them getting the ball

• Mark any attackers who could receive the ball
• Watch attackers who are moving or could move into threatening positions
• Cut out any passing lanes
• Talk to each other - point out any unmarked threats or any opponents making runs
• Be ready to assume the role of pressuring or covering defender if the situation changes.

Click on the picture above (login: losjamones, Passowrd: Fuego08) to watch a demonstration of team defending. Notice how the player closest to the ball moves to put immediate pressure on the attacker, but does not dive in. Instead, the defender remains patient and prevents the attacker from making a play. Notice also how the rest of the team moves to support the defender, both immediately behind him and off the ball. Mostly, see how every attacker is marked – not tightly, but 8-10 yards off – far enough so that the defender has time to react and either pressure the attacker or win the ball, but not so far that they can’t recover if the marked player gets the ball.

Notice also how each marking player watches the ball, but moves with the player they are marking. This does two things. It keeps every attacking player covered, and it allows the defenders to watch the play in order to recover and pressure the attacking players should they beat the first defender. Movement is constant and the players talk to each other constantly to alert each other of their position and responsibility (I’m marking 23. I’ve got ball! On your Left (meaning I’m covering you on your left).

Adapted from the Soccer Coaches Weekly, published by Green Star Media Ltd, Meadow View, Tannery Lane, Bramley, Guildford, GU5 0AB, UK

No. 23, December 9, 2011
Tiki-Taka Futbal

Julia feeds Kailtlin with a pass against the Vienna Fusion
To see tiki-taka futbal in action, click on the picture
"Tiki-Taka futbol" is the term used for the style of play that includes lots of short, high percentage passes, minimal touches, and putting a premium on possession.

This style requires lots of practice, patience, and self confidence. It also requires players to think strategically ALL THE TIME! Movement off the ball is as important as movement with it. In fact, it is probably more important, because it sets everything up.

Here are the seven principals for playing tiki-taka futbal:

1. Building Triangles: Get in position quickly and give your teammate support.

2. Move the ball with limited touches: Keep the ball moving with quick passes – one, two, three touches max, then send the ball.

3. Movement off the ball: Move constantly to keep those triangles in tact throughout the field, or to open space to receive a long pass.

4. Sometimes apply “half a touch” to the ball: give it a glancing blow to redirect a moving ball to a teammate. Takes practice, but it works!

5. Make the field wide: Outside mids and fullbacks, go wide, heels to the line, facing into the play. This pulls the defense apart, and if it doesn’t it creates space to attack up the wings.

6. Play back and start again: If the passes aren’t there, play it back to the mids, fullbacks, the center backs or even the goalie and restart the play.

7. No forcing plays: Use high percentage passes, especially in your own end of the field. Work the ball around and be patient.

The key to all of this is to keep your head and your feet moving at all times, communicate with your teammates, and look to retain possession. And if we lose possession, see what to do in the entry below from October 4.

This style has been used by many teams since it was first introduced back in the mid 1970’s, but no team is more closely associated with it, nor has been as successful using it, as Barcelona (or Barça).

Click on the picture above to watch a video to see how this style works, and what it looks like when played to perfection. Every team uses this to some degree. The more successful ones use it to a great degree. Barcelona is just the best example.

No. 21, October 28, 2011
Watch and Learn

click on the TV to see some amazing foot skills. If you feel bold, try to imitate a few!
In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

Yep, it’s a head-scratcher, but what he meant is, watch and learn. Imitation is a great way to learn how to do something. And there’s no better way to lean than to watch the very best.

Every great player in every sport says, without exception, “I grew up watching so-and-so, and I tried to do what I saw them do…”

In soccer, that means watching the US National Team (Men’s and Women’s), English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga, Italy’s Series A, and countless other top professional leagues and international games.

And when you watch, don’t just watch the ball move around the field. Pay attention to the way the players use their feet and bodies to create space, the way they move around the field when they don’t have the ball, how they pass, how they position themselves to fill empty space, and how they support the attack or the defense.

As a player, you have a unique understanding of the game that the casual fan does not. You understand both the tactics and the technique involved in playing, and as you watch, you will notice things that happen both around and away from the play that you never saw before – things that make the play work or fail.

In addition, you will have a greater appreciation for the skill of the individual players, because you know how hard it is to duplicate what they do.

But you will also, fairly quickly, begin to see HOW they do what they do, so when you step on the practice field, you can mentally visualize what YOU want to do with the ball, because you saw Arjen Robben or Lionel Messi or Shannon Boxx do it, or you saw the way Real Madrid or AC Milan controlled the ball by moving off the ball and controlling the space on the field.

So check your TV Guide for Fox Soccer Channel, GOL TV, ESPN Deportes, English Premier games on ESPN or any other channel that might carry soccer. And sit back and watch – only you might want to keep a ball handy, just in case you see something you want to copy…

No. 19, October 4, 2011
Playing Defense the Barça Way

Pedro's successful challenge deep in Osasuna's end of the field leads to a goal in Barça's 8-0 rout.

Click on the picture to see a demonstration of how Barca does this (and other things) so well.
A common comment at Barça is the one that goes that “defence is the best form of attack”, and in coach Pep Guardiola’s book, that defending starts in the opponent’s half of the pitch. The idea behind that is that if your team does lose the ball, then there are immediately players available to win it back and build up another attack as quickly as possible.

Barcelona have had the best defensive records in the last three seasons, surrendering 35, 24, and 21 goals respectively. That's an astounding 0.7 goals a game.

But what's more impressive is the way Barcelona consistently pins opposing teams deep in their own end of the field and creates scoring chance after scoring chance.

By putting immediate and intense pressure on opposing defenders deep in the attacking zone, Barça wins back many balls before the defense can clear the zone. That increases the likelihood that Barça will score, and drastically reduces the chances that their opponent will find the goal.

And it works! Barcelona has won three league championships and two Champions League titles in those three years using this system.

The key is to be relentless in pressuring opposing defenders and trying to win back the ball when it's deep in the attacking zone. Even the best teams will wear down if they can't escape their own zone.

Keep them pinned in their own zone, and they can't score on you, and you greatly increase your odds of winning the game!

Keys to Defending the Barça Way

- Get organized
- High pressure on the defenders/mids
- Compact shape
- Press as a unit/team
- Communicate
- Balance
- Press in numbers

Adapted from the Barcelona web page.

No. 6, March 11, 2011 (reprinted September 21, 2011)
First Touch and the "POUNCE" Factor

Cesc Fabregas, striker for Arsenal and Barcelona, uses
a good first touch to set up a shot on goal.
Click on the picture to watch Fabregas demonstrate his first touch

A good first touch on the ball is critical because it lets you:
• Calm the ball
• Calm yourself
• Put the ball where you want it for the next pass or shot
• Create space between you and your opponent
• Pick your head up
• Create opportunities

You can practice on your own to get ball to go exactly where you want with your first touch by passing off a wall, a step, a door, a little brother or sister, or anything that will kick the ball back.

Pick a spot to your left, right, and in front of you. Each time the ball comes back to you, try to hit that spot with the ball. If you get really good, try to stop the ball right on the spot. Then pick your head up quickly, look at your target, then back down to the ball before you pass it again.

Work this into your regular independent training as a change from juggling or dribbling in tight space, then again during practice each time you receive a pass.

Why is this important?

First, a good first touch sets up what you’re going to do next. If you open to the field and see the center mid making a run into space behind the defense, a good first touch lets you step into the next pass and send her in on goal.

Second, a good first touch can move you into space and away from a marking defender.

But mainly a good first touch reduces the other team’s “Pounce” factor.

The what???

The pounce factor is the likelihood that your opponent will “POUNCE” on a ball that caroms off your foot due to a bad first touch. Good teams recognize this in an opponent and quickly take advantage of it. They figure out where and when to pounce on the ball as it bounces away from you.

A good first touch eliminates the pounce factor, and instead causes your opponent to respect what you can do with the ball. This will force them to back off, and give you even more space to work.

Likewise, if you see that your opponent has trouble with their first touch, get ready to POUNCE! Expect them to make the mistake, and anticipate where the ball will go, and get there first. Instant turnover!

No. 10, April 17, 2011 (reproduced September 21, 2011)
First Touch Part 2: Receiving Techniques*

Wayne Rooney goes high to receive a pass
Being able to make a good pass to the right place or player is vital to the success of any soccer team. But of equal value is the ability of the receiving player to control the ball. A well placed pass that caroms off a team mate’s foot or is intercepted by a defender who jumps the play frustrates everyone and can slow any team’s attack.

As you move to open space to receive a pass, here are some things to keep in mind that will help improve your odds of a successful pass.

Get into the line of flight of the ball.
Figure out where the ball is going and run into its path as fast as possible!

Choose the controlling surface of the ball.
Basically, are you going to receive it on your head, chest, thigh, instep, outside of the foot, where? The flight of the ball, the traffic around you, and the direction you want to move when you get the ball will all factor into this decision.

Side on, open up, and relax.
Whenever possible, open up to the field to receive the pass so you can see as much of it as possible. As you do, relax your foot (or whatever part of your body is going to receive the pass) to prevent the ball from bouncing away from you.

Show the passer an easy target.
Don’t stay lost in a tangle of defenders. Stay on your toes and move to open space, or show the passer where to put the ball in space so you can run onto it. Always active, always in motion. A moving target is much harder to defend.

Move to meet the pass.
Don’t wait for it to get to you because IT NEVER WILL! Always move to meet the ball when in traffic, especially if you plan to wall-pass it back to the passer.

Create space.
To create space in traffic, first move away from where you want the pass, then reverse course into space to receive the ball. This will pull the defender out of position.

Communicate your intentions to your teammate.
If you plan to move into space, let her know with a hand signal, a jerk of the head, or even a loud yell, “Up the middle!” Whatever works to get the message across.

And ALWAYS be ready to receive the ball, no matter where you are on the field.

EXTRA CREDIT: Write down your idea for a game or drill and bring it to the next practice. Everyone who brings a suggestion will receive a bonus!

* Derived from “Playing Better Soccer” by Larry Paul

No. 18, August 24, 2011
Keys to Effective Passing

Xavi Hernandez lines up a pass for FC Barcelona
Next to dribbling, passing a soccer ball is perhaps the most basic, and also probably the most overlooked and also the most poorly executed, soccer skill. It should be the easiest.

How many times has this happened to you - step into a pass, swing your foot and see the ball skip over your foot, or jump up in the air, or ricochet off in a direction you didn’t think physically possible given the shape of your foot and the force of gravity. If you say “never” or “rarely”, you’re fibbing. The truth is, this probably happens a lot more than you (and probably your coach) would like.

But what causes this to happen? There is an answer that involves lots of complicated formulas and graphs and would need a physicist to explain (and to understand). But from a soccer player’s perspective, the answer is simple – technique.

The basic pass requires two things to be successful. Get these right and 100% of your passes will go where you want them to, and how you want them to go (ground vs. airborne, hard vs. soft).

1. Balance: When you step into a flat pass, your weight should be middle to slightly back of center, knees flexed and relaxed, and back straight. If your weight is too far forward, you will tend to lunge at the ball, putting too much of your weight behind the ball and making it harder to control.

2. Surface If you are passing with the inside of your foot (instep), make sure your heel is down and your toe is pointing up and out, and ankle locked. This gives you a nice flat surface. It will also increase the chance that you will hit the ball in the middle, instead of on the bottom. This will reduce the number of pop-up passes you make. And make sure to swing through the ball keeping your leg relaxed.

Doing these two things will greatly increase your passing skill and accuracy. Practice them whenever you get the chance.

For a demonstration of proper passing technique, click on the photo above.
username: losjamones,
password: fuego08

No. 13, May 30, 2011
The Five Principals of Defending*
# 1 - Immediate Chase

Brooke gives immediate chase to win the ball
back against the Vienna Fusion
This five part series will walk though the five key principals of defense: immediate chase, delay the attack, pressure/cover, balance, and compactness. Because defense is the single most important element in soccer, all players must use these principals, regardless of their position or location on the field.

This entry deals with the principal of immediate chase.

Immediate chase simply means, if you lose the ball, you immediately try to win it back from your opponent before she can pass, run, or clear the ball away. Often, this is the best time to challenge a player because they don’t have full control of the ball yet and will be more likely to make a poor decision and surrender the ball.

Immediate chase also applies to support players. If a player loses possession, is there a support player nearby who can help win the ball? If the center mid loses possession, can the forward recover and challenge the player to win it back? Can the left fullback come up and help the left outside mid retake the ball from an attacker?

In addition, immediate chase applies to the team as a whole. Once the ball is lost, players must immediately recover into their positions and start to close down space and slow the attack to try and gain the ball back as quickly as possible. This shuts down the attacker’s options and increases the chance of immediate chase being successful by the player closest to the attacker.

Moving quickly and decisively in the seconds when the ball is lost can turn a challenge, and maybe a game, around quickly.

* Derived from Shutting Down the Opponents, by Jay Hofffman. The Soccer Coaching Bible, National Soccer Coaches Association of America, 2004.

No. 14, June 3, 2011
The Five Principals of Defending*
# 2 - Delay the Attack

AC Milan's Paolo Maldini skillfully delays an attacking Juventus player.
To watch Maldini demonstrate his technique, click on the picture. Enter the username losjamones and the password fuego08

The second principle of defending is to delay the attack. This means that once the other team has gained possession of the ball, you must slow them down and allow your team to reorganize around you and deny the attacking team space to move, pass and shoot.

Perhaps the most effective method of delaying the attack is the direct approach, which is to challenge the player with the ball. However, unless adequately supported this can be very costly if you miss. This usually triggers a frantic and often disorganized race into the defensive zone to try and cover space and prevent a shot on goal.

The more effective, if less dynamic plan, is to get between the attacker and the goal and prevent or slow their progress towards the goal. This allows your teammates to get back into position and organize defensively behind you. It also gives time for a supporting player to challenge the attacking player if they are in position to do so.

They key to delaying the attack is PATIENCE!!! Don’t dive in or try to win the ball, but remain patient, keep your spacing, stay side-on, and watch the ball. And be ready to move quickly to deny the attacker a path to the goal or take advantage of a mistake.

Click on the picture above to see how to effectively delay an attacker. Use the username losjamones and the password fuego08.

* Derived from Shutting Down the Opponents, by Jay Hofffman. The Soccer Coaching Bible, National Soccer Coaches Association of America, 2004.

No. 15, July 11, 2011
The Five Principals of Defending*
# 3 - Cover

Rhi and Kennia get into position to cover Grace as she pressures the Reston attack
The third principal of defense is Cover. Cover means supporting, or “covering” the space behind the player who is putting immediate pressure on the ball. If the pressuring player is beat, the covering player steps in and acts to slow the attacker’s progress. Cover provides layers and depth to the defense that will usually frustrate attacking players.

Players who provide immediate cover (supporting the player facing the attacker) should be about 5-10 yards behind and to the side of the primary defender. This allows them to intercept an errant pass, tackle or help tackle the attacking player if the opportunity presents itself, and defend the ball if the first defender is beat or the ball is played to another attacker in the area.

Players who provide supporting cover will be farther off the ball, marking opposing players or space, and maintaining a good team shape. They will also be looking to react quickly to intercept passes or pressure if the ball is played to another attacker (more on this in the entry on Balance).

Cover should be organized and the defenders patient and deliberate in their play. It is vital that covering players communicate to let their teammates know where they are and who they are marking or pressuring by calling, “I’ve got ball!”, “Cover left!”, “Cover right!” or, “On your right!”

Effective cover requires quick retreating runs to get behind the primary defender and to set up a good defensive line to deny the attacking team penetration. Well executed recovery runs allow the team to set up an orderly defense and control the flow of play in the defensive end.

* Derived from Shutting Down the Opponents, by Jay Hofffman. The Soccer Coaching Bible, National Soccer Coaches Association of America, 2004.

No. 16, August 14, 2011
The Five Principals of Defending*
# 4 - Balance

A team sets up a balanced defense in front of their own goal.
To view a video demonstrating a balanced defense, click on the
picture above(username: losjamones, password: fuego08).
The Fourth principal of defending is BALANCE. Balance refers to the overall team shape when defending. Good team shape means that all players, both those directly pressuring the ball and those away from the ball, are in support positions of each other (diamonds and triangles), that they are within 5-7 yards of each other, and that they can see the ball, their opponents and each other. Working to maintain good team shape helps the team stay in balance.

Players away from the ball MUST mark opposing players and know where those players are at all times. NO BALL WATCHING! Backs to the goal or at a 45 degree angle so players can see the ball and the player they are marking.

A balanced defense should limit the space in the middle of the field, cover open space that the attacking team could use to split the defense, and mark opponents. They should be ready to step in front of passes into their area and put immediate pressure on marked players to prevent them from turning to shoot or to make passes into the middle of the field.

It is vital that players get into a good team shape as fast as possible once possession is lost. Defenders away from the ball should make quick RECOVERY RUNS, or sprints into the defensive zone to get ahead of the attack, set up a good defensive line and deny open space to the opponents.

It is important that defenders remember to stay goal-side and ball-side of their opponents, to time attackers passes to step across the ball to intercept, and to remain patient and wait for their opportunity.

A good team shape will frustrate attacking teams, forcing them to take more chances, which in turn will force more errors. It will also allow the defending team to capitalize on attackers mistakes by using their team shape to mount an effective and organized escape and counter attack.

* Derived from Shutting Down the Opponents, by Jay Hofffman. The Soccer Coaching Bible, National Soccer Coaches Association of America, 2004.

No. 17, August 14, 2011
The Five Principals of Defending*
# 5 - Compactness

AC Milan defenders use a compact shape to deny Wayne Rooney a shot on goal
The fifth principal of defending is COMPACTNESS. Quite simply, the tighter the defense is in the middle of the field, the less space the attacking team has to work with. The idea is to use a good team shape and balance to restrict space in the middle of the field, and to drive the attack wide, away from the strikers and the center mids.

To do this, the team must act as a unit, maintaining a strong team shape and balance while in the defensive zone. If the attacking team is able to pull the defense apart and create space in the middle of the field, they will increase the chances they will get a good shot on goal.

It is important to pressure the attacking players and force them to the outside, to mark all players in the attacking zone, to maintain good team shape, to pressure and cover effectively, to communicate with each other, and to mark players.

It is also important to try and get to every loose ball in the defensive zone. A compact formation allows players to move quickly to retrieve a loose ball to either clear it or make an outlet pass to a teammate, triggering a quick counter-attack. But NO BALL should be left to an attacker in the defensive zone. EVER! Go and get it!

Teams that can do this effectively and consistently will frustrate their opponents and find they have much more success on the field.

To see a video that demonstrates team compact defending, including a good team shape, click on the picture above and enter the following information:

User name: losjamones
Password: fuego08.

* Derived from Shutting Down the Opponents, by Jay Hofffman. The Soccer Coaching Bible, National Soccer Coaches Association of America, 2004.

No. 12, May 4, 2011
Team Defending

Liverpool defenders and mids set up a good defensive line
to shut down the attack
Good team defending requires three key things: shape, communication, and motion.
A good team shape does a lot of things. It cuts down on the amount of running everyone has to do, it puts players in position to make plays much quicker, and players have a much better idea of where their teammates are and where they can safely play the ball. It also reduces the open space the attacking team has to work in, and puts a defender within a step or two of every attacker.

A good team shape allows players to mark opponents easier, move to cover the ball quicker, and recover faster. This closes down the space attackers can use in front of the goal to get off shots.

Good communication is essential during a game when players of both teams are moving around in a tight area. Things can become chaotic quickly. Talking to each other, letting your teammates know where you are, who you’re marking, who’s open, and who’s out of position, helps everyone calm down and play a smarter game. The smarter the play, the fewer mistakes, and the fewer goals allowed.

Motion is vital to defending. The ball is always moving, as are the attackers. The defense has to move also so they can:

- get between the attacker and the goal, and

- maintain good team shape.

Motion should be constant and steady; jogging or side-stepping to move with the flow of the game, both side to side across the field, and up into the attacking zone and back. This will do two things:

First it will help conserve energy, as a slow steady jog takes a lot less effort than stopping, starting and sprinting to recover space.

Second, players in motion react faster to a sudden change of pace or direction than stationary players.

A split second advantage in reacting to a ball could mean the difference between winning the ball or surrendering a goal.

Sprinting should be reserved only for times when you have an opportunity to win the ball, to get into open space to start a counter-attack, or to react to a sudden attack that requires a fast recovery run to intercept the attacker. The less you have to sprint, the longer you'll last, and the more energy you'll have at the end of the game.

Stats Don’t Lie

Stats Don’t Lie!

Think offense wins games? Think again:

From the Fuego archives, here are some eye-opening statistics:

When we allow two or fewer goals, we win or tie the game 55% of the time. When we surrender 3 or more goals, we win or tie 10% of the time.

Throw in tournament play, and the numbers are even more startling; 58% vs 6%!

To be even blunter: when we give up two or fewer goals, our record (league and tournament) is a respectable 19 wins, 19 losses and 7 ties.

By contrast, when we surrender 3 or more goals, we have a record of 2 wins, 31 losses!!! and 0 ties.

The moral of the story? Shut ‘em down, and you’ll win more games!

No. 11, April 20, 2011
Make eye contact before passing

Andres Iniesta and Fernando Torres make eye contact before
making pass out of David Villa's reach before
Spain's 2010 World Cup game against Germany
Making clean, accurate passes during a game is critical. Teams that can pass with confidence usually control the ball for the majority of the time, and that gives them a huge advantage. The team that controls the ball usually wins the game.

To be an effective passing team takes many things – proper technique, movement off the ball, excellent vision, and an understanding of your teammates’ movements to be able to find them in traffic or under pressure.

But one way to help ensure you always make an accurate pass is to look into the eyes of the receiver. The ball will follow the eyes. That way you also know that your teammate expects the ball.

Similarly, if you want to receive the ball, try to make eye contact with the ball carrier, and then signal where you want the ball to be played. No signal means “to me”. Hand or eye gestures, or even movement, can signal where you want the ball to be played.

As you work on this in practice, you’ll find that you scan the field differently. Instead of looking for any opening to send the ball, you begin to look to your teammates, you begin to make decisions, and you play more with your head up. This gives you a better chance to see the open pass, your teammate’s hand signal, or what the defense is doing. But always first look to make eye contact, then fire the pass.

Extra Credit: Write down the last name of one of the players in the picture above and bring it to practice to receive a bonus!

No. 9, April 12, 2011
Decision Points
Why You Need to Pick Your Head Up

Carles Puyol, FC Barcelona center back,
considers his options.
You need 1-2 seconds or more to make a good decision on the soccer field. Anything less is not a decision but purely a reaction. Basically, you’re kicking and hoping.

So when is the best time to make that decision?

1. When you get the ball?
2. Right before you get the ball?
3. 3-4 seconds or more before you get the ball?

The answer is 3, then 2, then 1. You want to…

• Know where you want to go with the ball BEFORE you even get it. HAVE A PLAN!
• If you don’t have time to scan the field, give a quick look as the ball approaches to see your most immediate options, decide which is best, then act as soon as you touch the ball
• If there’s no time for that, use a good first touch and / or a move to crate space and give yourself time to pick up your head and look around, then make a quick decision and go with it.

You should be moving around the field with a constantly changing list of options in your head about what to do if the ball comes to you. The list should contain:

1. Best long pass option
2. Best medium pass option
3. Best short pass option
4. Best plan of escape/attack with the ball

To keep this list updated, you’ll need to consider:

1. where you are on the field,
2. who’s around you,
3. your situation (defending, closely marked, moving to open space, open on the wing, etc.), and
4. where the open spaces are likely to be every minute you’re on the field.

Your teammates will help with this. They will update you and feed you with information through communications and movement.

Your opponents will also help with this, as you learn their formation, watch how they react and close down space, and how they create space themselves (where are their passing lanes?).

Use this information to make your decisions. And when you decide, act quickly, act decisively and immediately update your list of priorities.

But this also means you have to constantly be scanning the field, not just watching the ball. Every second you are on the field, you should know approximately were everyone is, both your teammates and your opponents. That means you have to pay attention to everything, and only focus on the ball as it gets closer to you.

So keep your head up and your eyes moving.

To see a demonstration of FC Barcelona employing this strategy, click on the picture of Carles Puyol above.

No. 4, February 18, 2011
Play Defense to Win!

Danny Alvez
Brazil & Barcelona defender

The old saying goes that offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships. While there have been great champions that scored lots of points, teams that can win consistently do so because they have a great defense. If the other team can’t score, then you can’t lose! Think about it. The worst you can do is tie. That’s very empowering, and liberating. Think how many chances you’d be willing to take on offense if you know you have a great defense backing you up!

But what is the “defense”? The truth is that the defense is everyone on the field, all 11 players from the center fullback to the strikers. Using proper defending techniques to pressure or delay an opponent deep in their own end is just as vital as doing so in front of your own goal, except forwards can afford to be more aggressive in their pressure to try and force a turnover.

Further, proper pressure-cover turns into ideal support as soon as the attacker wins the ball back by having the “cover” player in perfect support position. The transition is instant, and often fatal for the team that loses possession.

Proper defending is therefore the most important part of any successful team. Below are several videos that demonstrate both individual and group defending. They show both proper technique for backing down a defender, and also how to pressure/cover effectively. After you view them, give them a try the next time you’re on the field.

Access code:
username: losjamones
Password: fuego08

Defending techniques from Paolo Maldini

Follow this link to view videos of Paolo Maldini, world famous defender for AC Milan, demonstrate his techniques for defending against attackers.

2 v 2 defending - pressure/cover

Pressure/cover techniques when defending from the front.

1 v 1 defending - BOCA Jr (Argentina)

Demonstration of 1 v 1 defending from BOCA Jr Academy, Argentina (formern home of Lionel Messi)

No. 3, February 11, 2011
Moving like Messi

username: losjamones
Password: fuego08

Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona) is arguably the best, most elusive soccer player in the world today. He moves through, around, under and over player after player, while magically keeping possession of the ball. Yet his technique is surprisingly simple. Most of his spectacular escapes are not the result of fancy tricks, but quick, simple moves executed to perfection.

His signature move is the simple feint, or cut move – step hard one way, then brush the ball back the other way with the little toe. But he sells the move with such enthusiasm that even the most seasoned professional falls for it, time after time.

His second most useful move is not unlike the first – a quick change of direction while at or near full speed. Again, nothing fancy, just a slight tap on the ball with the outside of the foot.

The key to both, however, is that he first gets the defender to think he’s going one way, then cuts back the other way. Then after making the move he accelerates hard into the ball, maximizing the effect of the move by putting distance between him and his befuddled opponent fast. By the time the defender recovers, Messi is long gone.

He also never, or almost never, runs in a straight line when in traffic. Every third step he’s changing direction, making it nearly impossible to chase him. The only exception is when he accelerates into open space.

Click on the picture above to watch Messi describe and demonstrate his technique (you’ll need to use the login information below the photo), then click on the video link below to watch him in action. When you think you’ve ready, give it a try and see if you can duplicate his moves.

No. 2, February 10, 2011
Total Soccer!

Total Soccer!

February 10, 2011

The three principals of Total Soccer:

1) Put the opposition into a trance: move the ball around quickly, while keeping possession. Crisp and precise passing will keep your rival guessing, and will give you the upper hand. If they have to chase you, they won’t have time to think. If you ever get a chance, watch FC Barcelona. They are the best in the world at this.

2) Shorten the field: Keep the formation no more than 30 yards long front to back (defender to striker). If you overstretch your lines, you’ll leave big, gaping holes that the rival can exploit. This is what happened to Germany against Spain, and to Brazil against the Dutch. Keep the ball in a shortened terrain, which will force your rival to commit errors and give up possession.

3) Don’t hesitate – if you can shoot, shoot to score. Be effective, and BE BOLD

No. 1, February 10, 2011
Practice, Practice, Practice!

Research has shown that it takes around 10,000 hours of practice and experimenting to get really good at complicated skills like soccer techniques or playing the violin.

Interestingly the very best players spend a larger percentage of their 10,000 hours working on their own or with their friends in informal activity.

So if you want to improve your soccer skills, or you're bored and just looking for something to do, click on one of the training video links at left and get started today!

Sorry, no violin videos...


No. 56, November 22, 2013 

Futsal 101




Futsal looks a lot like soccer, but it moves A LOT faster.  As a game, it is easy to learn, but hard to master.  Futsal is played on a basketball court using a small, heavy low-bounce ball designed to be less “lively” than a regular soccer ball, requiring players to rely on accurate passing and foot skills.

Because it is played on a small, fast surface, futsal is a great way for players to improve their skill with the ball, their passing ability, their movement off the ball, their quickness, and their decision making. 

But it’s a hard game to master, so below are a few tactical elements to help improve overall team play:

    ·       Movement keeps opponents off balance, so remain in motion as much as possible to create space for passes and shots.

·   Passes must be quick and of the proper weight/speed. 

·   First touches must be accurate.  Use the BOTTOM OF THE FOOT to receive and control the ball.

·   Players need to communicate their movements.  Practice helps a lot.

·   Players need to keep their heads up and looking for passes, both on offense and defense (shutting down passing lanes), not down at the ball or locked on their opponents.

·   When defending, get the game in front of you as fast as possible.  Like basketball, it’s vital that players get back into their own zone to defend.

·   Futsal is a passing game.  Avoid dribbling the ball. 

·   Shoot as soon as you think you have a clear shot. 

Just as in soccer, when on the attack, teams need to spread out, move the ball quickly and move constantly to draw the defense out and away from the goal.  On defense, teams need to drop back and create traffic in the defensive zone to prevent attacking players a clear path to the goal. 

To see a demonstration of futsal being played by professionals, click on the picture above.

Click on the rotating ball below to download a (home made) example of team movement in the attacking and defending zones.