Why does possession seem to be an afterthought in youth soccer?

Discussion in 'Youth & HS Soccer' started by The Wanderer, Mar 15, 2003.

  1. The Wanderer

    The Wanderer New Member

    Sep 3, 1999
    I hope to have a free academy someday, but I'm not coaching yet, so some of you all with kids are much closer to the scene than I am. I'm biased also--to me the game is not always about attacking, attacking, and attacking some more.

    Thoughts? Opinions.
  2. NC_ODP02

    NC_ODP02 New Member

    Mar 5, 2002
    NC, USA
    The first thing that comes to mind when I hear this question is confidence. I dont think enough defensive players have enough confidence in their ball ability to hold the ball back there and help in the possession.

    There also always seems to be one weak player on every team, and when egos get together, that player may feel unconfident, and mess up when getting the ball, so the other players may not use that person.

    Also, I think that a lot of coaches teach too much of the "get the ball to your forwards feet as fast as possible" too often. Coaches need to teach the use of the midfield, but I think this will be resolved as more and more citizens grow up with the game....
  3. Karl K

    Karl K Member

    Oct 25, 1999
    Suburban Chicago
    This is a very interesting subject and really would require a pretty in-depth discussion. I'll hit some highlights.

    1. /b]The British Influence is Alive and Thriving in the States[/b]

      As any one who has been around youth soccer can attest, the transplanted Brits are everywhere. Many of them are very fine coaches, and some (I know of one in particular) have come around to the Brazilian and Dutch influences. But the inclination towards direct play is alive and well.
    2. Isolating speedy forwards is a common technique at the elite level

      What happens with most high level teams is that you have a least one very very fast player up top who, ideally, is also a good finisher. So the ideal situation is to find him 1 v 1 and isolated and get him the ball so he can go to goal.
    3. Speedy forwards on a less speedy defender means the defense is under lots of pressure As a result, the slower defender is going to play it safe before he will try to hold, shield, possess out of the shield or possess through combinatons.
    4. Defender on elite teams will use the backpass to keeper more readily --

      In that sense they will play a more sophisticated game than your average youth team. But it is another version of "playing it safe."
    5. Most elite youth teams play a 3-5-2 sweeper/stopper diamond system

      The reasons for this formational choice are complicated and interrelated -- and not necessarily in order of importance.

      First, a 4-back system requires real tactical sophistication, especially the passing of marks, that most youth players don't possess. Second, this approach controls the middle of the field defensively, as you have up the spine a sweeper, stopper, d-mid, a-mid. Most teams, while having good technique, don't have the high paced short passing combination playing skills centrally to get past this gauntlet. Third, and a corollary to this, most teams have a hard time crossing from a wide position on the run, and so teams have no problem ceding that space--where the aforementioned speedy forward can find himself isolated. Fourth, and as a result, that space wide is usually available, so the ball goes over the top/directly out wide to get it advanced as quickly as possible.
    6. Wide midfield play is very challenging for most youth teams

      I believe that the wide midfield position in the 3-5-2 is the most tactically challengeing position for the elite youth players. A forward simply has two without-the-ball decisions to make: when to check, and when to run off.

      But the wide midfielder has FOUR decisions to make: (1) when to create additonal depth; (2) when to pinch in centrally to support; (3) when to create width by staying with butt to touch; and (4)when to run off forward. Making these decisions at the right time and at the right speed is very difficult for professional level players, let alone youth players. And to control midfield possession, the wide midfield has to make the CORRECT one out of the four.
    I actually thing the technical abilities of most elite players, like the ODP kids in Plano, are probably pretty high, but you simply don't see it on display all that often because of these factors, among others.
  4. Turk from Pigs Eye

    Turk from Pigs Eye New Member

    Jun 14, 2002
    Pigs Eye (St. Paul),
    Many youths don't know the first offender, second offender, third offender concept. Consequently they often don't have a safe pass to make.

    Also, many youths won't pass the ball backwards. They always kick it up the field.

    They don't know how to hold the ball or work it up field.
  5. gkm1

    gkm1 New Member

    Mar 16, 2003
    In my opinion, the reason most youth teams don't play possession style is because it requires knowledgable training, and many youth soccer coaches don't have the knowledge base to effectively teach their players this style of play. A lot of elite coaches rely on stacking their team with big, fast, physical players who can outrun or physically dominate the opposition. Since this formula often wins games-- especially at the younger ages, they never take the time to teach effective possession, because their end goal is game winning not player development.

    It is unfortunate, because a good possession game is a beautiful thing to watch and is so rarely seen in US youth soccer.
  6. JohnR

    JohnR Member+

    Jun 23, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    The Possession Game

    Wanderer -

    I'm glad that you didn't put "U.S." in your title because I suspect that your question applies to much of the world's youth game.

    I write this because of my experience with Chicago's U10 Hispanic league, which my kid played in this summer. Route 1, all the way. Pretty much all the teams played, in effect, a 3-0-4 formation. Three backs, push it up to the 4 guys up front, who would run head on toward the goal.

    We're talking a group of kids whose soccer experience, by and large, consists of playing in the neighborhood and seeing MFL on Telemundo. Which is the ultimate possession, walk-it-up-the-field league.

    So I am suspicious of the "cultural effects" answer.

    But if you want to win games now -- and they certainly do in the Hispanic league -- you follow Karl's observation, and get the ball to the fast & good kids upfront.

    I bet that a whole lot of youth soccer played worldwide is like that.

    Two positive influences for creating the possession game -

    1) Good coaching - The second-tier pro youth U10 teams I saw in Europe played pretty good, although not great, possession games. The sole top division U10 team from a major league (Spanish La Liga) that I saw played a great possession game.

    2) Fields - Most fields in U.S. are long & fairly narrow, and often bumpy. Perfect for kick and run, not good for possession game that requires skill and width. Kick-and-run isn't rewarded on a futsal field, nor is it on the wide, short, fast, and smooth fields that I saw in Spain.

    Gmk1, if you're in Chicago, I invite you to watch my kid's U10 team. Ain't a perfect team -- defense is suspect -- but we will have sequences like: a) keeper rolls the ball to right back, b) right back moves ball to right mid, c) right mid passes to center mid, d) center mid passes to right mid on give-and-go, e) right mid penetrates deep and wide (hmmm, sounds obscene, doesn't it?), f) right mid passes back to right back (who has pushed up just outside the penalty box), g) right back swings ball to center mid (at top of box), h) center mid passes to left mid/forward on left side of box, i) shot.

    I will say this tends to occur on the right surfaces -- such as this past weekend's indoor game. Put the kids on a long cow pasture, and they'll starting sending the ball to the fast kid up top. They're not stupid -- they know that such a tactic will lead to more goals.
  7. The Wanderer

    The Wanderer New Member

    Sep 3, 1999
    Re: The Possession Game

    I think it's a big weakness, and hinders the ability of kids to do 1-2s and combination play. I didn't get a chance to go to the second half of the ODP National Championships, but IMHO we need a greater connection between the youth game and MLS. If that means playing 9 v 9 on fields that aren't regulation, then perhaps that's what they should do.

    I'm talking 15,16,17 year old kids here John, not U10.

    Karl---I definitely agree on the British influence, they're EVERYWHERE unfortunately.

    The more I see, the more it looks like youth soccer is like college soccer--way better than nothing, but far from ideal.
  8. The Wanderer

    The Wanderer New Member

    Sep 3, 1999
    To me it's more enjoyable to watch, but beyond that---playing a possession style directly connects the youth game to the MLS game. The skills they learn at younger ages are applicable. But it appears that the skills they're learning now are more applicable to the EPL. Those skills would be great if our average temperature during the MLS season was 20-30 degrees lower.
  9. Hedbal

    Hedbal Member+

    Jul 31, 2000
    DC United
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    This thread makes me recall the time about 20 years ago when my oldest son joined an elite club team coached by Keith Tabatznik, now the long-established coach at Georgetown University. Every single starting player on Keith's team had been a forward on the "open" teams they had left! Why? Because they had been dominant soccer players, so their "coaches" moved them forward where they all scored bushels of goals. Keith looked the kids over and found many natural midfielders and defenders, so that is where he played them, and that's where they stayed for the rest of their soccer careers. The year before joining Keith's team, my son had been a striker on his open team and had scored 18 of his team's 21 goals (and had assists on 2 others). Keith saw him, properly, as a defender/defensive midfielder, and that's where he played through high school, college, semi-pro, and men's over -30 open league.
  10. dogbyte

    dogbyte New Member

    Apr 22, 2000
    Los Angeles
    I played competitive youth soccer in the early/mid 80's... Brittish coach of course. Our only help was that he was a defender in the blackpool system, so we did get a bit more sophistication on defense than somebody more offensive minded. But basically, I was encouraged as the keeper to punt it to our super skilled, super fast forward. I had quite a leg, so often we would score goals simply by me booting it 65 yards to him, and he would outrun the defenders for a breakaway. It won games, but it didn't teach fundamentals.
  11. JohnR

    JohnR Member+

    Jun 23, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    Re: Re: The Possession Game

    Yes, I know, but even by bigsoccer.com's exceedingly low standards for expert status, I don't know enough about the subject to discuss U17 soccer.

    But I do think U10s are relevant. The U10s and U11s at my kid's club play possession soccer (largely). The U17s don't. Reason? The U17s were coached by dads when they were U10s. The current crop of kiddies are coached by B/C license pros.

    I don't think you're going to teach them possession soccer at U17 if they didn't learn good habits at an earlier age. At least that's what our club's U17 coach believes ... he is trying hard to stamp out the random booting, but he says that it seems to be too late.
  12. The Wanderer

    The Wanderer New Member

    Sep 3, 1999
    Re: Re: Re: The Possession Game

    I'd say that sounds pretty smart.

    Let's say you're a 21 or 22 year old college senior. You've been playing soccer your whole life with the up tempo, physical style of attack, attack, and attack some more. You get drafted by an MLS team, you go to pre-season and you are slapped with reality: that style only works for short amounts of time within the context of a professional 90 minute game. So, basically, you've been playing soccer for 11,12,13 years and NOW you have to learn to play another way. Perhaps I'm taking this too far but I have a hard time seeing how that is even remotely efficient.
  13. The Wanderer

    The Wanderer New Member

    Sep 3, 1999
    And this gets into the whole win vs. develop argument. This just highlights exactly why we need MLS or some kind of professional entity to throw their hats into this ring. It's not like club soccer would disappear since the MLS team would just be taking the top prospects.
  14. Squash

    Squash Member

    Mar 8, 2003

    I see MLS teams that boot with the best of them....please don't try to tell me an MLS run youth soccer would change tactics.

    If booting and running scores goals and wins, then so be it. It's not what I coach, but if it wins for some coaches, why would they change? A smart coach uses the talent he's given...nuff said. A smart coach, uses the players he has in a way they can win.

    You can teach the basics, but when it comes down to it. You use the talent you have to exploit the weaknesses of the other team. Passing the ball around looks great, and controlling the ball is great, but if you lose 3-0 to a boot and run team. Which coach did a better job?
  15. Hedbal

    Hedbal Member+

    Jul 31, 2000
    DC United
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Boot and run works well with young kids, especially when they haven't matured, because there are always a few players on the side who are light years ahead of the rest physically and, perhaps, in skill, and the way to win the game is to get the ball to those guys any way you can and let them outrun every one else and put the ball in the net. However, when the other kids catch up, and when your marquee player can no longer pull away from the defense, you have a problem if there is no other way you can attack. It seems that the kids who can adapt best to the possession/short passing game are those whose soccer experience is not confined to formal teams, large fields, etc., but is learned on the recess playground, back lots, etc., where the space is restricted, the "pitch" is crowded, and one has to work one's way forward.
  16. schmuckatelli

    schmuckatelli New Member

    Nov 10, 2000
    I heard that this was also a method of development w/ the Dutch school of soccer "Total Football". You take the best center forward, and he plays center forward. The next best center forward plays center midfield, then center back, etc. I think the goalkeeper was the sole exception.

    Odd, though, that I've run into the 4-4-2 formation much more than the 3-5-2 in youth select teams we've faced, particularly using a diamond (sweeper/stopper) setup in the back. I thought that was far more common.
  17. Karl K

    Karl K Member

    Oct 25, 1999
    Suburban Chicago
    I think we speak of the same formation -- in that there aren't four acoss the back, so it looks like this

    ...Left forward.................Right forward

    .........................A mid

    Left mid...................................Right mid


    ....Left Back................................Right Back


    Some teams will send the stopper to the back, and use a dual sweeper system.

    But you rarely see am American youth team, even elite teams (unless it's the U17 USMNT) use four across in the back, whereas you see it all time from Italian and British teams.
  18. gkm1

    gkm1 New Member

    Mar 16, 2003
    Isn't that just what they've done with the Super Y league teams?
  19. gkm1

    gkm1 New Member

    Mar 16, 2003
    Agree. My daughter's U13 team trainer (Aussie) has been teaching the girls on the team possession style play for a number of years. At U11 and fall of U12, the teams who recruited big, fast and physical players and played direct ball kicked their tails. He kept saying to the girls and the parents that this was for a time and that eventually the height and weight would equalize out and possession play would become one of the major factors in determining the dominant teams. They saw this begin to happen in the spring of U12, and at U13, these previously dominant teams are falling by the wayside and look lost when playing my daughter's team.

    If the coach had only cared about winning, we would have abandoned possession training, but patience and persistence has won out, and these girls now play a beautiful game and win many more games than they loose.
  20. JohnR

    JohnR Member+

    Jun 23, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    Confined Spaces

    An artificial way of creating the recess environment is to play a lot of indoor soccer. Boot and run doesn't work indoors -- ball just skips to the keeper -- and frequently the field is small and crowded with players.

    Small-field practices/scrimmages & keepaway drills in tight spaces are also useful, of course.
  21. el pescadito

    el pescadito New Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    costa mesa
    raiders futbol

    S.Calif. futbol is interesting to watch at the lower levels. My friends son is 10 and has played AYSO for several yrs. now. Has the Beckham poster in the bedrm. Says he wants to be a 'prof. soccer player."
    Watches no soccer on cable. I ask him about EPL, Argentine, Brazilian and MLS players & teams - no response - doesn't watch them. Take him over to the field to kick it around. He whacks a few in , doesn't dribble much- really can't - and likes to take PKs (does for his team).

    He can tell you all the key stats for the Oakland Raiders and sweats it out with his dad during NFL season.

    Ask him to go to Coliseum for Arg./Tricolores friendly- doesn't want to go.

    Ask him what he wants to do in life: "..be a prof. soccer player."

    His coach never played, watches the Raiders and takes "coaching seminars."

    Klinsman on Amercan kids: " ...play for too many teams at once." Really? Which ones are they Jurgen? Most looked tired after one match. Great if they are playing for more than one - lift their fitness level a bit.

    Am I missing something here then? It seems to me that many American kids are keeping their parents happy and have no idea what kids in Brazil, Mexico and England are doing in their spare time - KICKING THE BALL AROUND - PLAYING SOCCER!!!

    If they're "booting and running" or whatever - good on them! At least they're trying. Some kids look lost on the pitch during games - waiting for the match to end and head to the next distraction.

    USA soccer is a sleeping dragon. When enuf kids have seen EPL, La Liga, Serie A, MFL, Argentina, Chile - they'll elevate their own games. They have to do it on their own like most kids around the world. The coaching, atmosphere and opportunity are not enough in America for kids to drop the Raiders and watch D'Alessandro get crazy and work it around the middle.

    American kids live off the boob tube. When it all connects we'll win Copa Mundial with a generation of spinning, Play Station freaks with brilliant ball skills and speed. Until then I guess we watch ten little strikers trying to win without passing skills.
  22. cpwilson80

    cpwilson80 Member+

    Mar 20, 2001
    San Jose Earthquakes
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    There have been some great points in this discussion, so I only need to summarize and add a few things. Keep in mind, all these things are with an eye towards player development, not necessarily what is best for a well-rounded child ;) :

    1) Development in youth soccer is progressive -- Those habits you learn in U10 stay with you until some coach comes along and breaks them. I was fortunate enough to have an A license coach when I was U14 through U16. He left for our U17 season, and when an inexperienced coach brough in new players, the difference in tactical understanding was incredible.

    2) Too much of a premium is placed on results instead of player development -- If I were running a soccer association, my league wouldn't even keep score until U-12. There is no reason that 9 and 10 year old kids should be playing solely long ball to win a game at the expense of learning basic soccer. In my league back home, it wasn't until U14 or so that you would have 3 consecutive passes in the run of play.

    3) Too few kids are obsessed with the game -- In order to play a more attractive type of soccer, you need more skill than kick and run. The rudimentary skills of dribbling, passing and trapping aren't developed during the games or twice a week practices: it needs to be daily. All the points about distractions from other sports or video games are totally valid. Becoming a better player doesn't take any more than 15 minutes a day though, especially in the off season.

    4) The infrastructure is lacking -- As mentioned before, the lack of good coaching, good fields and year round opportunity for playing all hurts the development necessary for playing attacking soccer. Having a coach that will be patient with a team is rare. Bumpy fields will lead to discouraged players if their 4th pass in a row hits some dirt clump and goes astray. And kids either fall out of shape or lose ball skills over a lengthy off season.

    As sort of sub topic on this on, I hate to see kids play indoor over futsal. Sure indoor is fun for a while, but it builds nothing but bad habits. Futsal forces kids to play passes on the ground and improve their strength on the ball.

    5) Influence of other sports -- This one goes last as it is hopefully fading. This isn't against playing other sports, but rather the amount of exposure kids have to the sport on the highest level. I thought it was very cool how some of the draft picks this year grew up wanting to play in MLS. Competiting with Baseball and then Football is difficult, but we are reaching people. If you are a family, there is no better alternative than a day out to an MLS game for value entertainment.
  23. DoctorD

    DoctorD Member+

    Sep 29, 2002
    Philadelphia Union
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    How about this decision?

    You have one slot on your team and have to decide between a kid with excellent ball handling skills who beats people and puts the ball in the net, or a kid with poorer skills who makes good passes and get assists. Who do you pick?
  24. SueB

    SueB New Member

    Mar 23, 1999
    Waterbury, VT
    On the surface, I'd pick the player with the better skills. But a lot depends on the skills of the other 10 players. Do you have other scorers already? Passers?
  25. The Wanderer

    The Wanderer New Member

    Sep 3, 1999
    When a club starts picking up the yearly $2-3K in expenses, i.e., charging nothing, then parents and kids will come around a lot more to this idea.

    Super Y the kids' parents are still paying.

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