2014 SEASON: NEWS ARCHIVE: FAST TEAMS NEED TO STAY GROUNDED

Saturday, August 31
FAST TEAMS NEED TO STAY GROUNDED

DISCLAIMER: PLEASE NOTE THAT THE REMARKS BELOW EXPRESS GENERAL FRUSTRATIONS WITH THE HIGH-SCHOOL GAME AND ARE NOT NECESSARILY DIRECTED AT THE ABINGTON PROGRAMS OR THEIR FINE COACHES

People who know me know that I am quite persuaded of the importance of soccer technique and ball control. Most kids do not work enough on these. Even those who work hard on other important things, such as fitness, do not want to spend time juggling, dribbling, and repeating ball manipulations in the backyard or basement. In fact, many say that you do not even need technique at the high-school level because there is not a strong standard of play. Many say that fitness, athleticism, toughness, and clever "tactics" alone will win games in a high-school league.

Sadly, there is a ton of truth in what these people say! You CAN win a lot of games at the high-school level with athleticism, physicality, and fitness alone. Consequently, and much to the detriment of the beautiful game, too many high school coaches overlook technique. Much to the detriment of player development, coaches spend minimal, if any, time showing players how to develop a versatile first touch, how to bend a corner kick, or how to gather in balls out of the air. They also hardly ever teach players how to put proper texture on a pass. Again, this is because they do not need to teach this to win high-school games, and so the players never develop important soccer skills. Winning is still considered the bottom line, and (at least, within most of the mid-range high school leagues) one can win without doing this boring and challenging work on technique.

My opening rant of the fall season is thus connected to the overlooked technical element of the game and how the really good high school teams--the national-class teams--use technique to push themselves to the next level. My particular concern is to show how technique helps develop the appropriate playing style  for a team that has been blessed with foot speed. Speed is a marvelous and somewhat uncommon attribute, and it is an utter shame when a team squanders an advantage in this area. The Lady Comets, for instance, have been blessed with some speedy teams in recent years--last season's team was fast and the 2011 side was very fast.

However, if you wish to maximize your speed advantage, you need to have players who are technical enough to keep the ball on the ground when necessary. There are certainly times in any match where we need to put the ball in the air. We might want to put some loft on very long serves, for example, simply because the air usually provides less resistence than the ground--except, of course, on blustery NEPA days. There are also free kicks, goal kicks, flank-to-flank switches, early serves, corner kicks, and crosses into the box that have to be hit in the air.

However, I believe that fleet-footed teams still need to keep the majority of their passes on the deck, whether they are playing the ball to feet or to space, because useless bouncing balls slow down the game.

There is a marked difference, by the way, between playing a solid flighted serve (which has a function in the game) and simply "popping the ball up" or "hitting a pass high when we do not need to" or "undercutting the ball on an attempted pass" due to poor timing and deficient technique. Even technically gifted players, who can bring down these poorly-struck balls, still lose valuable time by having to take an extra touch to control the ball, or by having to wait on the ball and adjust. In other words, even if you have an advantage in the speed department, you surrender much of that edge when your technique is poor. If your speed player, for example, beats an opponent to a spot, this does your team little good if the defender catches up to your sprinter because your player has to pause to "clean up" a poorly played ball. 

Here is, for instance, a nightmare scenario in which a slow team can "hang with" a faster team:

the opposing defender pops the ball straight up into the air, then another player (from either team, it does not matter) gets under it and pops it up again; and then it drops down and takes a high bounce off of the ground before someone foreheads the ball up into the stratosphere again, then, BANG--it is again knocked up into the clouds off the shoulder of a spinning and twisting player who runs under it, but this time the helium ball shoots across the field where a lone player rushes beneath it and hits it with her thigh into the sky while an opposing player comes on from the opposite direction and line-drives it off the side of her foot and straight into the scorer's table  . . .  well, you get the picture. 

In the above scenario, there is no chance for the faster team to truly utilize its speed. . .plus, if the slow, awkward team happens to be the taller side, they actually gain an advantage over the faster team if they can keep playing the ball up into the air. 

Just for fun, next time you are at a game count how many times between the two teams the ball is unwittingly punched up into the air due to poor technique; then count (and see if you can determine a record) how many times the ball is played airborne byconsecutive touches before it is finally brought under control. You might be surprised at how high your count will sometimes go. So, if I am indeed, as some people say. a raving maniac, it is only because this type of play has driven me batty.

Again, a fast team has an advantage to begin with--but if that fast team could learn to play with decent technique, it could double the impact of its speed. Technique is important for all types of teams, but it is most important for fast teams who want to maximize their edge--proper technique keeps the game moving, flowing, and allows the racehorses the chance to run. 

I realize that I am hoping against the impossible, as there are manycollege coaches who also prefer athleticism and size to technique.

Nevertheless, soccer is not volleyball, it is not baseball--it is not even tennis.