There are many components of the game of soccer that are over-looked – much like every aspect of life. The reason some players are better than others can be attributed to talent and work ethic, but quite a bit can also be attributed to paying attention to all the details of the game; that is what makes a player great. The difference between good and great is inches; the difference between good and great boils down to the meticulous fine points.
There are many details in every sport that can be dissected, examined and mastered. In this particular blog, I want to talk about leading the way as a passer. When players have the ball at their feet and are about to make a pass, what can be done to increase the value of the pass, while also increasing the chances of the player at the receiving end of the ball, of making the right decision.
In some instances, it is important to simply make the right pass. The right pass might mean getting the ball to its destination without really worrying about how it gets there. For example, when a player is making a long run up the field, there is no real urgency to get the ball to that player in a certain way, it is just important the ball gets there. However, when making passes in the defense, in the midfield and penetrating through balls, HOW and WHERE you pass the ball can change the outcome of that play.
Consider moving the ball around in the defense first. When the ball is being passed from the left fullback, to the centre fullback, then to the right fullback, it is very important that the right ball be played. If there is no pressure from the opposing team and you would like to move the ball up field, the ball from the central defender to one of the fullbacks needs to be a ball that leads the fullback up the field. That ball needs to be passed 5-6 yards in front of the fullback so the ball can be received in stride. When this type of play is made, the momentum of the fullback will carry him/her up the field and will create much more opportunities. Conversely, if the ball is played directly to the fullback, he/she must wait at a stand-still, and then once the ball arrives, they must push it up field and generate their own momentum. It is not a matter of just losing time or momentum, but the entire game is slowed down. If the fullback must stand and wait for the ball, so must the rest of the team as they cannot make any runs to open spaces. However, if the ball is played ahead of the fullbacks and they receive the ball in stride, the remainder of the team will be forced to make runs and open spaces.
The simple fact that the ball was played 4-5 yards in front of a defender can change the entire outcome of a situation.
In a different situation, assume the defense has possession but they are being intensely pressured, or pressured just enough that the same forward-leading pass cannot be made. The fullbacks and central defenders need to make different decisions now. When moving the ball from central defender to fullback, the fullbacks need to now make retreating movements. The ball from the central defender needs to be made in a backwards motion while the fullback retracts.
Why? There are two main reasons you take this approach. One, you give yourself more time to receive the ball and make another pass. More importantly, however, you pull the opposing team deep into your own end. For some people, this might be a terrible thing to even consider. No, think of this as opening space in the field. Now you create gaps between the opponent’s forwards, midfielders and defenders.
So do you see the power of making the right pass and leading the way? It is not just about the player at the receiving end opening up to receive the ball; the player making the pass has an equal responsibility to dictate where the play should go. Just the minor difference of leading your teammate right or left, up or down can change the outcome of a situation and even a game. It is the little things that make the difference between a good player and a great player – between a good team and a great team.