3 Soccer Blogs You’re Probably Not Reading … But MUST!

I’m really enjoying these blogs and thought you’d like them to. THe links go back a few months because I had a delay in publishing this, but I’m still reading and enjoying them, so found some more recent stuff to share on that point.

First site: The Vipers’ Nest

If you’re a fan of the Red Bulls, Matt Conroy’s site covers them extensively, including games, players etc. They’re also generous with embedding videos, which is great :). Here are a couple of posts I enjoyed on the teams’ past seasons.

http://www.thevipersnest.com/2014/03/rbny-vs-rapids-were-back.html

This post covers the start of the Red Bulls’ 2014 season, as the team and fans prepare for the home opener. After reviewing the team’s first game, a loss on the road to Vancouver, the author takes a look at lineup changes likely to improve its performance. The post finishes by offering a pair of other writers’ thoughts on the season to-date, as well as the author’s own enthusiastic prediction for a win in the Red Bulls’ first home game this season.

http://www.thevipersnest.com/2013/11/and-winners-are.html

This post serves as a review of the Red Bulls’ 2013 season, focusing on individual performances. Three writers each give their picks for Team MVP, Best Newcomer, Biggest Surprise, Question Mark, and $#!+ List, highlighting the best – and worst – of the Red Bulls’ roster. The discussions on each of these selections provides an interesting diversity of opinion on many of the elements that contributed to the team’s Supporters’ Shield-winning 2013 campaign.

Related site I like: SeeingRedNY podcast on the Bulls.

FutFanatico is another great one. It’s written from the perspective of Elliott Turner, a parent/fan/footie journalist, and is a fresh look that is often missing from our focus on pro leagues. See e.g. his mockery of the repetitive journalism during the World Cup. It doesn’t hurt to have some humor:
“These patterns then help a coach to change his approach or a defender to smartly play a forward in key situations. Why did teams hack Shaq? Field goal percentage. Why do defenders flaunt their fleshy shoulders near the mouth of Luis Suarez? Devouring bite mark percentage.” Here are a few others I’ve liked:

http://www.futfanatico.com/2014/03/06/junito-unexpected-abrupt/

Taking a break from providing commentary on the world of professional soccer, the author uses this post to explain why he will no longer be covering the athletic career of his seven year old son, Junito as he enters the early stages of youth soccer competition. The writer discusses his own mentality using some of the same analysis usually reserved for seasoned pros, mixed with the patient observation of a parent and the mild paranoia of a sports fan. This gives readers a refreshing and humorous look at one way the sport has come to have a very personal meaning, and one with which many readers can no doubt identify.

http://www.futfanatico.com/2014/03/12/pedro-barcelona-steve-kerr-feel-free-disagree-wrong/

This post evaluates Spanish footballer Pedro Rodriguez by drawing a parallel between his play style and that of Steve Kerr, a professional basketball player on the championship teams of the 90s most closely associated with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Likewise, Rodriguez is not the star of his team, but the author asserts that he manages to make an important contribution, like Kerr, through a combination of positioning, timing, and luck, helping both role players put themselves in position to best leverage the presence of the bona fide star athletes playing alongside them. Video is provided to further support the idea that these two men, different in many ways, nonetheless share some fundamental and important similarities. The comparison is thought-provoking and underscores some of the athletic merits universal to success at the professional level, regardless of the specific sport being played.

Ashley Handelaar writes this international, entertaining blog. I especially liked this interview with former player Neil ‘Razor” Ruddock, as well as the following.

http://blogonsoccer.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/plight7/

This post is part seven in a series on the rise and fall of previously top-rated soccer prospects. Unlike the typical article covering the current crop of rising stars, this post takes a look at the players who never fulfilled their potential, with this installment of the series focusing on Andy Van Der Meyde. His early career is covered, including his rise to professional competition, but the writing focuses on his continual inability to rise above mediocrity and become an integral part of his team. The post covers his eventual decline, both professionally and personally, referencing his 2012 biography, ending this in-depth look at a player few are likely to have given much thought to in many years.

http://blogonsoccer.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/the-state-of-us-soccer-in-2014-part-1-of-2/

The first post in this series on the status of professional soccer in the United States covers the most visible organization, Major League Soccer (MLS). With a focus on the future of the league, the author discusses changes in store for the league in 2014, including roster changes for Toronto FC, and the addition of two new teams for 2015. The piece ends with some deliberations on the future of league star Thierry Henry, and how the addition of a new franchise in New York may impact his career.

Twenty26Six Shares How To Balance Fun With Skill Development And More

Twenty26Six has 10 years of soccer coaching experienceBigSoccer forum member Twenty26Six provides really valuable insight in forum discussions, and was recommended to me by other BigSoccer forum members as someone worth interviewing. He didn’t dissapoint, as you can read in this wide ranging interview, which features great advice for parents (and coaches and players) who are concerned that their child isn’t improving at a particular skill, but are concerned that if they push too hard or criticize, their child won’t have fun anymore.

1) Can you introduce yourself to readers – how did you get into coaching, how much coaching you’ve done, etc?

I’m 30+ years old. I’ve been coaching year-round for about a decade. I got into coaching by taking my licenses and meeting some representatives from a local club that educates and develops coaches. I volunteered for their club early on and was lucky enough to work with and learn from some fantastic people.

2) Parents often say that they get really upset that their kid isn’t doing [important thing x] yet are concerned that criticizing their kids will take the fun out of soccer. How can parents strike the right balance between helping their kids improve yet keep the game fun?

Children start out having a very fixed mindset (ie. – I am good or I am not.), and they need to transition into a “growth” mindset (ie. – I am only as good as the work I put in to improve.) as early as they can. Unfortunately, parents tend to nurture the fixed mindset by getting too excited (positively or negatively) by a player’s performance.

Most coaches would like parents to be less emotional about specific situations and more analytical/reflective when speaking to the kids.

[To strike the right balance between fun and improvement,] Parents should be asking guided questions of the children:

  • What do you think you did well or not so well?
  • Did you like your effort?
  • What questions do you want to ask coach?
  • What did you learn today?
  • etc.

This way, the child learns that there is positive and negative in every performance. [Ed: I wasn’t sure what the implication is of kids seeing that there is positive/negative in every performance, but I think the point is for kids to learn the right mindset. They should not conclude that they’re good/bad players, but instead focus on improving from where they are today.]

To help young soccer players develop skills AND have fun, help them find solutions on their own with guided questions, says coach Twenty26Six.

To help young soccer players develop skills AND have fun, help them find solutions on their own with guided questions, says coach Twenty26Six. Pic by Steven DePolo

3) What can players / families who can’t afford expensive soccer camps do in order to get training and improve?

Kids need to learn to train at home. Luckily, there’s a real wealth of information on the internet right now to help facilitate that. Any kid or parent with access to the internet can learn a great deal about
improving soccer technique and understanding through research and study.

4) What are your favourite online resources re: soccer training?

When I started, it was bettersoccermorefun.com. That was a great introduction to good coaching practices. Now, I’m not sure there is anything specific that I look to for help. I’m at a point where I’m hunting and pecking at small things from a number of different (sometimes non-soccer related) sources. As a general rule, I like for websites to have visual aids.

Valeriyfomekov.blogspot.com and nickcowellsoccer.com are a few websites I’ve visited frequently in the past 30 days. Slideshare and scribd are also good resources for finding professional documents.

5) Considering that 95% of a player’s game is spent without the ball, what should young players (ages 5-10, say), be taught to do when they don’t have the ball?

I don’t know that we should be so worried about off the ball work at such a young age. I’d like to think spatial awareness and game understanding comes from well-developed technical skills that allow the player to concentrate less on the ball (and controlling) and more on gathering information from the game around them.

6) What’s the best part of coaching, for you?

The best part of coaching for me is seeing the kids and team transform and grow over time. There’s a real satisfaction in being able to help build up an individual or a group of players to play at a higher level.

Kids having a ball - photo credit Steven Depolo

Kids having a ball. Kids’ skill development and growth as players is a coach’s greatest reward, per Twenty26Six – photo credit Steven Depolo

7) Can you suggest other BigSoccer members to interview?

I’d certainly speak to Nick, Elessar, RCA, equus, and a couple others. There are a lot of posters with good insight and valuable experiences to share on the forum.

What Motivates Youth Soccer Coach D. Cole And What He Teaches Players (Interview)

Interview with BigSoccer member Dcole

I joined BigSoccer’s forums and found D Cole making some great contributions, suggesting a brilliant coaching mind. He’s kindly agreed to give me the following interview.

1) What motivates you to coach youth soccer?

I have three sons (10, 7 and 4). I started coaching my oldest when he turned five. He had participated in a local soccer program that had the kids play silly games involving throwing their balls in the air, pretending like they were monsters, etc., with little to no soccer being played. I got fed up with that and decided to put together a team of my son’s friends and coach them myself.

I’ve played soccer since I was five and still play now, so I have a strong enough soccer background. I had never coached before, but I’ve always been a smart player (much more so than a skilled player), so coaching came pretty naturally to me. I started off doing drills I found on the internet (most of which involved silly games kind of like my son was already doing).

I quickly decided that I didn’t like any of those drills, so I started making up my own. Almost everything I do in training is stuff I’ve made up myself, with the exception of Coerver style ball work and a few drills that I remember doing as a teenager. I think of the skills that the kids need and then come up with drills that let them use those drills in a realistic soccer setting. Most of my drills are simple, but effective.

Youth coach D Cole loves watching players develop and improve.

Youth coach D Cole loves watching players develop and improve. Photo: Steven Depolo

I started coaching my middle son when he turned four, while simultaneously coaching my oldest son. I gave up my oldest son’s team when they hit U10 and circled back to coach my youngest son when he turned three. I now coach my middle son’s U8 team and my youngest son’s U6 team. My plan is to coach each team through U9 and then decide what to do from there.

I doubt I’ll ever stop coaching at this point. I like developing soccer players. I enjoy seeing them improve, watching their confidence grow and helping develop a strong work ethic and good sportsmanship.

2) In what order would you teach the various soccer skills to someone new to the sport?

Ball mastery must come before anything else for children when they begin. I start with drills designed to improve close control dribbling. The U6 ages should focus on pretty much nothing but dribbling. Get them comfortable on the ball so they can lift their heads while they dribble. Until they get to that point, it makes little sense to teach them to do things they are not ready for.

3) What can players / families who can’t afford expensive soccer camps do in order to get training and improve?

Camps are not an important part of player development. There are decreasing marginal returns once you get over about 1.5 hours of soccer in a day. The most important thing is to find a coach who knows what he/she is doing and is focused on player development. If the player wants extra training, most local travel clubs will accommodate them by letting them attend training sessions with other teams and other age groups within the club.

4) Considering that any given player spends a majority of a match without the ball, what tips can you give players do train for when they lack the ball (both on offense and defense)?

Youth players at the youngest levels only need to be concerned about training with the ball. To develop general coordination, spend time playing outdoors and participating in multiple sports. Fitness training without a ball doesn’t come into the picture until around age 13. I don’t coach those age groups.

Ball skils are more important than off the ball movement for younger players, Cole says.

Ball skils are more important than off the ball movement for younger players, Cole says. For more interviews and tips, sign up to my newsletter (upper right). Photo: Steven Depolo

5) Can you share 4-5 blogs or online resources for coaches starting out?

YouTube. I don’t use much else. Attend some coaching classes, like the E or F courses.

6) Do you subscribe to any soccer newsletters? What benefit do you get out of them, if so? If you don’t subscribe, is anything holding you back?

I do not subscribe to any newsletters. I design my own drills and haven’t found many resources that are helpful to me.

7) You’re put in charge of BigSoccer.com and have a magic wand to change anything – what improvements would you make?

Nothing.

8) Can you suggest 3-4 other members of BigSoccer that I should interview?

Monkey Boy

Thanks David!

If you like this interview, subscribe to my soccer newsletter in the right hand side form for more :).

5 Easy-To-Overlook Tactics For You To Score & Assist More, Rise In League Rankings And Increase Fun

I just read an excellent piece of statistical analysis on the most productive places to shoot in soccer, and below I’ve got some subtle tactical observations that will be useful to those who realize soccer is a game of odds.

The chart below indicates the conversion % of shots to a particular part of the net, seen from the attacker’s point of view.

Attacker's point of view, facing the goal - what areas see the most goals enter?

It won’t surprise you to learn that the center of the pitch is the most productive place to shoot from, but what’s remarkable is the dramatically higher scoring percentages for shots taken from the center than from either side. (Explainable statistically with the info here on Kickdex’s blog post.)

2 Takeaways for smart coaching / team play:

    • On defense, force the ball to the side of the pitch. Use defensive fundamentals for this such as body angles and curved runs. If you’re sneaky/confident in your abilities you might even mark the wings more loosely than central areas, encouraging passes to the sides.On offense, you’re generally better off in the center, and that’s where you want to move the ball in the attacking third.

 

  • If the opponent has the ball in the center of the pitch, use body angles and curved runs to guide them to their left (your right). If you have the ball in the center of midfield, build the play up the right.

Additionally, shooting from the right side is slightly more productive than from the left. Most people are right footed, so some number of players on the left hand side will inevitably be right-footed. Thus their ability to shoot will be hampered by the need to sometimes resort to their weaker foot. Not to mention that their left foot is opposite defenders’ right, which will be better at blocking shots.

This claim is supported by the relative lack of left-footed scoring, in comparison to right-footed scoring. Lefties tend to score with both feet (while favouring the left), but righties struggle to score with the left. See the illustration below showing shots taken with the head, left and right feet, by top 10 Premier League scorers (red is off target/blocked, orange is on target, saved, green are goals):

 

Right footed goals vs left footed goals vs headers - lefties can score with both feet but righties heavily favour the right

Right footed goals vs left footed goals vs headers – lefties can score with both feet but righties heavily favour the right

Let’s infer some more tactics

–> If you’re a rightie attacking down the left, your best option is to move the ball to your right foot and pass it to the center. If you can’t, at least drift in towards the center before shooting [to the far post].

The opposite also applies if you’re a leftie attacking down the right.

And if you’re defending someone who’s playing on the “wrong” side of the pitch (e.g. leftie on right, rightie on left), do your absolute best to force them to the weaker foot. Even if they beat you down the line, they need to cross with the weaker foot.

–> Instead of crossing the ball in the air from the wing, where the angles and distance increase chances of the play being broken up, work to get the ball into the near-side of the box then center it across goal. Kickdex indicates you’ve got a better chance of scoring from such short passes within the box, than from crossing from the wings.

Smart-but-Subtle Goal Differential Tactics Summary:

1) Force opponents to the side, especially their left side. It may even be worthwhile to bait them by marking tightly in the center and loosely on the wings (provided you then seal off the wing from forward penetration). Your body angle and curved runs will be of use here.

2) Center the ball into the middle of the 6 yard box (see Kickdex data), from within the box. This is the cash-in zone.

3) Conversely, there’s a great argument to double-team the passer and cut the pass off. Also worth testing is getting 4-5 defenders to stay in the middle of the 6 yard box until the ball is out of harm’s way.

Read the stats on where to shoot, and from where. Then…

4) Shoot with your right. (If you’re a rightie… But do try to emphasize to kids left-footed passing and finishing.) All else being equal, use players on their “natural” side.

5) Drift to the center, rather than cross/shoot the ball from the wings. You’re giving yourself better odds, regardless of whether you then choose to pass or shoot.

6) Sign up for our free newsletter (box in upper right) for more tips on becoming a smarter player and coach.

Striker Drifting – What It Is And How Strikers Are Using This To Beat The Defense

Before you can understand striker (aka attacker) drifting in soccer, you need to understand the three main possibilities for a soccer defense to be organized. If you understand that, then you can use drifting with lethal effect. (Note: This won’t work on narrow pitches like converted basketball courts for 4v4 play.)

One option for the defense to take is man-to-man marking. In other words, regardless of where a player moves laterally, the defender stays with him.
The second option for the soccer defense is zonal marking, in which a defender will follow an opponent within a zone, say the right wing.
The third option is play zonal defense, in which a defender doesn’t necessarily track the striker in his zone, but is focused on defending the space from incoming passes.

In each system, it’s important that any defender will continue to stay in between a striker in possession of the ball and the net. If that doesn’t happen, the striker is essentially free to do as he pleases in front of goal.

So instead of talking about the obvious, let’s talk about what happens when a striker is in the offensive third without the ball.

With man-to-man marking, a striker can easily weaken the defense by waiting for a pass on the right wing then drifting towards the center. As the defenceman follows him and leaves the right wing, another striker comes in behind and has space to receive a pass, to cross or to shoot.

Of course, if the defence doesn’t follow the striker in man-to-man marking, the striker will be open AND in the center of the pitch.

With zonal marking, a striker can drift, and one defender will continue tracking him where the other leaves off – i.e. when the striker shifts zones.

Where it gets fun is when the striker drifts into the border between two zones. The wing defense may have quit him to return to their zone, but the central defender may think he’s still the wingman’s responsibility. Or the central defender may be marking someone, without the wingman noticing. In either case, there’s a possibility for poor defensive communication that will give the striker an advantage.

As a result of being in a position that causes confusion for the defense, the striker has a greater chance of getting open and receiving the ball.

In zone defense, the defense are focused on their zone, but not necessarily marking players there. This means that drifting is least likely to pull the defense out of position, but this style is again vulnerable at the “seams” that border each zone. Who’s supposed to defend the line between right wing and center?

That said, zone defense is least vulnerable to drifting because the defense are focused on space, not a player.

How strikers can drift successfully

Next time you’re playing a match, watch the opposing defense’s movements and reactions to strikers’ movement. You should be able to understand which system they’re using to organize and decide if drifting is a good idea. Any form of personal marking is an excellent candidate to be exposed by drifting. Zonal defense is less vulnerable, but if that’s the case, you can double team the wing and confuse the defense as to who they should cover (if the central defense don’t help out), thus generating time and space.

Maximize Your Odds When Defending 1 v 1 by Mastering These 4 Subtle Tricks and Gain Confidence in Your Ability to Win the Ball Back

Skillz and Drillz produced an excellent video on soccer defending 1v1 situations. It’s remarkable how logical most of one on one defending is, but we mostly don’t think about these concepts and thus remain ignorant.

My comments explaining the reasons why these principles work follow the vid. If you like this post, share this post with friends on Reddit, Facebook, or Twitter, and/or sign up for our weekly training tips in the right hand form.

The 4 key fundamentals to defending 1 v 1 in soccer are as follows. (The video’s still definitely worth watching to understand what doing these well looks like, as opposed to doing them poorly.)

1) Get to the opponent fast.

One thing that’s not explicit in the video, but that more advanced coaches will teach you, is not to attack towards a player in control of the ball who is facing towards the flow of play. The reason is that they have all the time in the world to dribble or pass past you, and you’ve wasted time and space (there’s now a hole behind you) and energy.

In the video, the offensive player doesn’t start with the ball, but rather receives it. This is important – you want to run towards the receiving player as the pass is still coming to them. Once they have it in control and are facing towards the flow of play / upfield, you still want to prevent them moving comfortably with your positioning, but not by racing at them.

2) Curve your run to force the opponent towards their weaker side.

Generally people are right-footed, so you want to force them to their left. This means curving in from your left, which is their right.

Why do we curve? If we run straight at the player, it’s easier for them to  dribble in the opposite direction and beat us – the angle is more comfortable. So the defender curves and give the attacker a worse angle. Sometimes the defense adopting a curving run allows us to cut off a passing angle as well.

3) Position your body sideways as you get close.

The result is that the attacker is forced to go to the side that the back’s body faces, or else risk a tackle from our foot that is further forward.

Why do we want to choose what side the attacker goes to? There are many advantages:

  • It gives us certainty and thus saves us time and the risk of anticipating incorrectly. Remember the #1 rule of smart soccer is to increase your time and space advantage.
  • It forces them to use their weak foot, increasing their chances of making a mistake and our chances of tackling successfully.
  • And it gives us a space advantage – we force them away from the center of the field, away from the area where most goals are scored from.
  • Plus if this is close to the touch line, they may accidentally kick the ball out and we recover possession.
  • A different perspective and useful advice offered by Reddit member hcdangerfield211: “I have to disagree with the notion of playing the attacker to his weaker foot. To me, the better approach is to play the attacker to the sideline or better yet, to the sideline and towards a side that you have help defense.

4) If the opponent manages to dribble to the other side without the defence tackling him, we pivot and give them the other side.

This may seem to negate what I said about space advantage, and it’s true that this is a concession. But it’s the lesser of two evils, because it allows the defender to remain in front of the offense, and between the offence and the goal.

Either way, we always keep our ability to pivot and transition high by keeping our weight low. This means bending our knees a lot and leaning forward so that our weight rests on the balls of our feet.

Anyways, the video’s excellent and Skillz and Drillz have more where it came from, so consider subscribing to their Youtube channel! (No, I’m not associated with them. I think they have great videos, period.)

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Useful Tips On Smart Play & Anticipating The Ball’s Movement

I found this question on Yahoo Answers and thought it presented some good tricks for better anticipating where the soccer ball is moving, and what you can do in consequence.

“You need to know your team mates. I will explain in details because I am considered a smart soccer player , I dont have skills and flair but I am a smart defender ( people say that not me ) :

“1) If your teammate has bad dribbling skills, stand behind him about half a meter, because when the opponent does a standing tackle on him [and the ball gets knocked loose] the ball will come to you.

“2) If your team mate has the ball and he is facing the right center back, you make a run towards the right center back and make it 2 on 1.

[Coach David: Not literally at the right center back, but a diagonal or overlapping run in that direction.

[This has the added benefit of confusing inexperienced players as to what to do – stick with the ball carrier, the person open for the pass, somewhere in the middle, keep backing up but stay in front of the ball carrier etc.

[The last defender in this case should try to get in front of the ball carrier before such a run is made, and not back up too much, because any player behind you will be offside. NB: I’m stating this specifically in the case of the last defender before the keeper. The rules are different if you’re a right or left defense, and both the ball carrier and an overlapping run are on your wing. In that case, you back up with the overlapping run and let your midfielders return to cover the ball carrier.]

3) When making through balls its always best to make them diagonal for the left/right back

[Coach David: This means that if you’re the sweeper / central defense, you can anticipate that through balls will go to the far side away from you and the keeper.]

4) Pass to the player who has the best physical strengh or the best control.

[This is generally a good idea in the midfield, and in amateur play. The downside is that if you don’t pass to others, your opponents will figure it out and intercept your passes. Not to mention that you’ll upset teammates, and eventually reduce space/time for your team as you dribble trying to find a clear lane to pass to that stronger player.]

[…] read the rest at Yahoo.

The #1 Rule For Smart Soccer Play

Regardless of where you are on the soccer field, to play smart you need to ask yourself one question for anything you want to do:

“Does this increase my team’s space or time advantage?”

(If you’re playing defense, you can ask the same question. It may be easier to think of if you  phrase it as “Does this decrease the other team’s space or time?”)

It’s a simple notion but really fundamental, and explains loads of things, like why:

  • You shouldn’t dribble in the defensive third
  • We teach to pass into space
  • Teams place most players in the midfield
  • Passing the ball quickly from the left wing to right is such a strong attacking technique

Next time you play, try and keep this in mind and see what a difference it makes to your game!