[If you got here by mistake, this page
is intended for Ernie's players on St.
Theresa's Varsity Soccer Team.]
January 6, 2006
Your first game is Monday. Sorry I can't be with you. I'll be back late Tuesday and with you for practice on Wednesday. But I wanted to pass along some thoughts for this first game and the rest of the season. Even if you're a veteran player, these ideas will make you a better one. And they'll virtually ensure that our team will be a winner. Please read them carefully and take a moment to reflect on each.
- Intensity. You need to play aggressive and give 110% at each moment of each game. Your teammates deserve nothing else. If you're not able to do that, tell the Coach so he can put someone else in for you.
- Play clean. Aggressive playing does not mean playing dirty. Our team will play in a sportsmanlike manner at all times, and dirty playing will not be condoned -- it's your easiest ticket for me to pull you out of the game. That and talking to the referee. Even if the other team plays dirty, we will not; tell your Coach if it gets out of hand and let him decide whether he wants to alert the ref.
- Play smart. I want one of our edges to be that we'll play smarter. Put differently, let's be really focused at all times. Know where your nearest teammates are. Figure out where you should be, what you should be doing. For instance, suppose you're a mid-fielder and the fullback behind you gets the ball and dribbles forward past your position. What should you do? It depends, of course, and you may need to run in formation with him so that he can pass to you when threatened. But if there are other of your teammates that he can pass to, your smart move may be to go back and take the fullback's position, to fill his slot while he advances.
- More on position. While on this subject of position, look at the sketch at right. An opponent with the ball (blue) is approaching from the left. None of his teammates are around. We have only two fullbacks in the area. Our left fullback is advancing towards the opponent. What should our right fullback do? Stay in his "normal" position, as shown? What good is he there? Can he make a play from there? Of course not. As a minimum he needs to move towards the goal, as shown on the sketch below (notice that he is still on his side of the field, to the right of the centerline), or he could abandon his side entirely and head towards the opponent. But he can't stay in his "normal" position. So, think "where should I be to a be a playmaker?"
- No Mistakes. At this play level, games are often lost because of silly mistakes. A handball foul inside the box can kill you. Even an illegal throw-in, which then gives the ball to the other team, may spell disaster. Keep the hands to yourself, make sure your throw-ins are legal, and avoid all other mistakes.
- Don't cross our "sweetspot". Speaking of mistakes, one of the most common is one of our players kicking the ball so it rolls across the area in front of our goal. I call that area the "sweetspot". We want our ball to be in the other goal's sweetspot, from where it's easy for us to score. And we try with every skill at our disposal to never, ever allow the ball to be in our goal's sweetspot. So you never kick across our sweetspot. If you're defending our goal on the right side of the field, you don't kick left. You kick straight forward with a bit of right angle. I call it kicking "radially out" from our goal.
- Go to where the ball is going to be. One of the keys to success is that you don't go to where the ball is. You go to where the ball is going to be. Ask yourself "where is the ball gonna be next". Head for there.
- High-five the defense. When one of our players scores a goal, it's not unusual to have a mini-celebration on the field and high-five the scorer. But it seldom happens when one of our fullbacks makes a daring play that stops a certain goal against us, or when our goalie makes a courageous dash towards an opponent and saves another goal. Know this: defense is just as important -- in my mind, even more important -- than offense. So, next time one of our defenders has a great play, maybe you can't go give him a high-five, but do it at the half or after the game. One other thing: all of you may be asked to play defense. Even our best forward may be asked to play defense, especially if we have a slim lead we're trying to preserve. So, if you're a forward or midfielder and skipped the "position" paragraph with the sketches, go back and read it.
- Mid-fielders can score. At the pro level the midfielders are often among the top scorers. In this age group they seldom are. But they can be. If you're a midfielder, you ought to be as much a threat as our forwards. I want you hungry for a goal. I'd like to see 1/3 of our goals to be scored by midfielders -- but without compromising their other critical responsibilities of controlling the ball and the midfield, and of helping the defense by getting quickly into our backfield when we're threatened.
- Ball control. You already know that we never, ever kick the ball forward before we're threatened. It's a typical mistake made mostly by fullbacks: they get the ball and just kick it. Even if no opponent is near. Hopefully, you now know that you should dribble forward. You then pass it when threatened. But why? It's for ball control. Ideally, we want to control the ball the whole game. Not allow the opponents to ever get it. I know we can't achieve that. But can we try? Let's make a determined effort to deny our opponents the ball.
- Only one team plays soccer. In a game, it seems that two teams are playing soccer. But it just seems that way. Take snapshots -- momentary pictures of the game -- and you see that only one team is playing soccer. The one with the ball. The other team is running, trying to get the ball. So, what do you want to be doing on the field, playing soccer or running track? I know it's soccer. And you achieve that by trying to never give up the ball.
Oh, one last thing. It has nothing to do with winning: have fun out there.
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