Coach's Corner Soccer Player IQ

Impacting your way into a team

You’re playing on a new team with new players, a different coach and they play a different system. Now you have to force your way into the line-up. How do you do it? Unless you’re a clinical goal scorer and can impact the game greatly, you’ll likely play where the team asks you to play. And yes, this could be in a position where you’re greater strengths are not as highlighted as before. This does not have to be a bad thing but now you have to do your best to understand your teammates, your opposition and communicate this as a unit. Here are three ways you can do so:

The first part is to analyze the key players on your team. I’m referring to the players who have ball possession more often than other players. How do they play? Is their first instinct a long ball, a short 1-2 combination pass, do they look to be the third player into these triangular combinations, are they work horses, do they float around and/or understand positioning? The list goes on…you get the idea. Now that you’ve identified what they like to do how can you adapt?

The reality is you’ll likely have to change your game and adapt to theirs. After all, you’re new to the team. And this doesn’t have to be a bad thing but it should be acknowledged on your part (unless the coach wants the whole team to adapt to your game). If a player has only been applauded for his long ball passes and the coach leaves him in the game then that is the system they are going for and you can forget, for example, receiving regular ground through balls.

The second part is to analyze your opposition. Look at the player you are matched up with. For example, if you’re a winger and the left-back marking you is a bigger, stronger but maybe a slower player then how would you take advantage of this match-up? If you are the center midfielder and looking to create offensive opportunities for your teammates then how would you go about it? Do you do this alone? Do you play diagonal passes, ground passes, aerial passes etc? These are things to consider. Each player has his strengths but you must identify these key areas first before going out on the pitch.

I once had a coach that benched a player for sending a long ball. That particular team was built on keeping possession starting from the back. The long ball was only a last option and later in the game if we were down a goal. If you played this long ball, guess what…you were taken off right away. Complain all you want but this is how that particular coach wanted to play. We had great success in this system and it was a delight to play that way. Any new player coming in had to understand that was how that team played. Do not fight the system…adapt to it.

This whole idea that you have to play your team’s system every game is not right. Sure you play a certain way but you must adapt to the opposition. The best teams in the world do this at every level of play. For example, if the other team is physically bigger and likely to win 50/50 balls then you must keep the ball. Stop creating 50/50 chances when you already have possession. In college, one of the best strikers I played against weighted 145lbs. There was no chance he would win a physical battle for the ball. He never received a pass in the corner. The ball had to be passed to his feet in or around the box. He was also excellent in the air so from time to time the ball was crossed to him but overall the team played to his strengths and he was able to score many great goals that season.

Furthermore, have a look at the goalie. I always want to know if the goalie tracks the ball well, how is his positioning, does he play high, is he good with the feet (or only one of them)? These are all little things many people do not do and you can to take advantage of your opposition.

The third part is to communicate with your teammates and coaches. Not only do you have to communicate but this should be done in advance. The coach only has 15 minutes before the game and a short half time speech to make his points heard. Be sure to communicate with each other in training prior to your game. Look at the scouting report and discuss how you’re going to play. Finally, this should be done as a group so everyone is on the same page and understands their role.

Take in mind you may have to adapt your system again due to injury, a red card, poor field conditions, bad weather etc. However, if you’ve communicated this as a collective unit then your system will be better yet and each player, including the new ones, will thrive even further.

Hopefully you can apply these three parts to your game and share them with your team and have success.

By Philip MacDonald

The idea for Goalden is to help other soccer players of all ages improve the many different aspects of their game. We began coaching youth teams and watching youth soccer all over Ontario. We watched semi-professional and professional teams and noticed how far the game still has to develop here. From that, we decided we want to help others obtain the best information as early as possible in their soccer careers. We want to educate readers about the game of soccer and the fine details that are often overlooked by coaches in North America.

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