So first game of the Spring 2014 season is upon us. And we have had ONE, count it, ONE team practice. Vitoria U14 Girls had one practice where all 17 members of the team were present. One practice where I was the sole coach. And what did we do?
It’s the first practice after the long winter’s break. Most of the girls stayed busy in other sports and five of them actually played soccer. The first practice isn’t about working with the center forwards on how to play with their backs to the goal or work on our defensive headers. I see the first practice as a quick refresher for the girls. Their bodies need to remember the patterns of how to kick a ball, how to trap a ball, and how to shoot a ball.
The drills were simple. Small square, everyone dribbling with a ball. Keep your head up. Don’t run into anyone else. Evolve that into a bigger space, changing pace with the ball. Break up into 3 teams and move and pass in a space. Then play keep away, two teams against one. Change it up to a shooting drill. Run around a cone 20 yards from goal, turn and shoot. The angle of receiving the ball slowly becomes more parallel to the goal. Move on to transition game where every time the ball goes over the end line, a new set of players come in. And then a game.
It was quck, fast pace practice. Some of the girls were having conditioning issues (track coach started running the girls to thin the number of girls doing track), but most of them remembered what they were doing. They moved to where they needed to. Remembered what they wanted to do with the ball, but, in some cases, their bodies failed to connect the synapses.
That’s fine. Their brains will remember it… eventually.
Over the last few years, I taught the girls to use their brains. Yes, technical skills are still part of it, but as they have gotten older, I’ve given their ideas on what they could do with or without a ball. “If you see someone in front of you running into the space you were running, run into the space your team mate ran out of.” I would never say, you go here and you go there. Ok, maybe on set plays, but once the game is on, the ball is placed for a free kick, what the girls do is basically up to them. I’m there to dole out the timing of substitutes and to state the obvious at half time.
The girls have to play soccer for themselves.
And then I read this quote from Jurgen Klinsmann:
“Soccer is an inner-driven sport. That means it’s a players’ game. So it’s very difficult for the coaches here in the United States who grew up with the other big sports to understand that actually the players make the calls. The players make the decisions. They decide on the field if they want to dribble, pass, shoot or whatever they want to do. As a coach you become more like a guide. You kind of are more like a helper. You have to give them the responsibility to get the job done.
“If you talk about American football, everything is a set piece. It’s the next play that we study and we kind of learn inside-out, and they have to execute it exactly the way I told them to. It’s not going to work in soccer. Soccer is a very kind of intuitive and improvised game. My biggest challenge here when I talk to coaches is to make them take a step back. Let the players decide. If they make the same mistake five times, eventually at the sixth or seventh time they’ll think, ‘I’ve got to try it a different way. I’m not getting anywhere.’
I think I just said that, but it sounds more valid coming from him.
So today, at 6 PM CST Vitoria will play their first game of the season. They’ve had one practice this season. But, if I did my job correctly over the last few years, they’ll do fine. Their brains will get a workout while their bodies try to keep up. First games are always about remembering you know how to ride a bike. Sometimes, you have to wobble first.