Part of our experience, while in Amsterdam, Holland, included a 3 hour training session with one of the most respected Dutch coaches in the area. As we approached the training facility, we were blown away. The soccer fields (all 5 of them) were in tip-top condition; there were teams practicing everywhere; there were as many coaches and trainers as there were players; cones, pylons and other training gadgets scattered everywhere; it was soccer heaven. There wasn’t one thing missing – everything a player, coach and trainer needed to carry-out a successful training was in place.
Nonetheless, the coach was quick to snap us out of our daze and into the mindset for training. “Boys, stop looking and thinking like fans, and start looking and thinking like soccer players.” Those were powerful words for every single one of us. We quickly got changed and filed onto the soccer field which had been designated for our training.
He asked that everyone get into their position. Since there were more players than positions, naturally we rotated. He gave the ball to the goalie and he asked him to start the play. Our goalie looked puzzled, but picked the ball up and kicked it up to our forwards. The Dutch coach blew his whistle and asked: “what’s the rush?”
He brought the ball back and gave it to our goalie one more time and said, “start the play…but don’t rush.” All of us rather confused watched as our goalie scanned the field, took his time, and then once again kicked it up field. “Stop” he yelled, “why are you rushing?”
After seeing the mindset not only our goalie obviously had in place, but the mind set of the team, he began to talk. He explained that kicking the ball up is not your number option; it never has been and never will be. Kicking the ball up does not guarantee you possession or guarantee you anything really. He suggested that our goalie get the ball and roll the ball to one of the outside defenders. In doing so, the defender would have to move back and create the opening. As the defender moved back, the whole defense would move back, as would the midfielders and the forwards. The idea was to have everyone move back slightly and slowly, but surely, move the ball up the field with quick passes and short passes.
So we began the exercise. Our goalie rolled the ball to one of our outside defenders; everyone slowly shifted back and created passing options. We moved the ball around nicely and fluidly. After seeing we had got the hang of it, he divided us into teams so we could play against each other. The idea was to test the new system.
And so we began, our goalie had the ball in his hands and passed the ball to an outside defender, who was now being attacked by an opponent. He was flustered and had few options in which to pass to. He forced a pass and lost it. “What’s the rush?” the coach asked calmly. “You didn’t consider all of your options”. The defender, not willing to speak out of turn politely suggested no one was open. The coach asked, “what about the goalie, was he open?”
And so he made his next point, the ball does not always have to be pushed up the field. Moving the ball backwards, even to a goalie, is quite alright. It’s important to move the ball back as often as necessary until the right openings develop and the right passes can be made.
We began the next phase of our exercise and moved the ball around according to his directions. When no one was open for the defender, he would pass it to the goalie, when no one was open for the midfielders, they would pass it back to the defense and so on and so forth. The results were immediate. The other team simply could not get the ball away from us because we were never forcing the play. Eventually, the right pass could be made up the field, or the right opening was made and the play progressed. Best of all, the team chased us so much, while we stood still and just passed, that eventually, openings were everywhere as the other team could not run any longer and cover their zones.
Passing back to a goalie can be a very dangerous play nonetheless. Making sure to pass the ball to the right or left of the net is important so that if the ball is to roll over his foot, it will roll wide of the net and not into the net. However, passing back to the goalie creates another player in which the other team must now worry about. If used effectively, the goalie can be a player that creates just enough options and openings for the play to progress.
So don’t rush. Build the game up, take your time and take the opportunities as they come. When you control the ball, you control the pace of the game and you control the overall game.