Monthly Archives: April 2017

Teach Defenders to Close Down Space

When an opponent has the ball, a defender, at least, must prevent the ball from moving forward.

For a defender, it’s all about control. What can a defender actually control and how can it be coached? The only thing a defender can control is to prevent an offensive player from moving forward. A defender can’t control, most of the time, an offensive player passing backwards or to the side.

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So, as a youth coach, concentrating on having your defenders deal with only one part of the situation, and that’s preventing the ball from moving forward. The key is to get close to the attacker as quickly as possible and then assessing the situation from there. The attacker must not be given room to move or have much time to think about options. This is referred to as “pressing” which basically means closing down space.

Great defenders can assess a scenario before it happens and quickly close down space in an instant.

A lot of youth players try to do too much defensively. They want to close down the space and then completely strip the offensive player of the ball. This often results in the offensive player simply dribbling around the defensive player and running towards the net. Teaching your kids to simply close down space and then prevent the ball from moving forward is a great soccer coaching tip. This might mean never touching the ball at all and only acting as a barrier so the offensive player is forced to use other options.

Containing is the next step. Once defensive players close the space on an offensive player, they will then want to contain that player. This means that the defender will provide a barrier so the offensive player can’t move forward. The defensive player doesn’t have to make an attempt at the ball and often shouldn’t at first. Coach your kids to be patient and allow the offensive player to make a possible mistake.

How should a defensive player actually contain? The player should be in a crouched position facing the offensive player with as much body surface area as possible. The defender should be ready to spring to action, but is not lunging for the ball. The defender is applying pressure but waiting and watching closely for the offensive player to make a move. The pressure alone usually causes the offensive player to mistakenly give up the ball to the defensive player.

Lunging for the ball or “throwing the leg” is very dangerous for defensive players. It usually results in offensive players dribbling around them and moving forward. Youth players need to develop the patience to not necessarily throw their leg unless they are 100 percent sure they’ll gain possession.

The fewer responsibilities you can place on a youth defender the better they’ll be–and the defense of your team will improve dramatically. Once defenders learn to have patience and contain an offensive player, they’ll have a lot more fun playing soccer.

Learn More About Passing Tips From Julie Foudy

I receive a lot of questions on teamwork and passing. In other words, how to get your teams to string more passes together.

One of my favorite exercises, both as a player and a coach, is a possession game we do with the national team. It is really simple and you all probably use it in some form already. But it’s the simplicity of this drill that makes it perfect for all ages.

Set up a grid that gives enough space for possession, but is not too big so that the kids have no pressure on them when they receive the ball (the size depends on the number of players, the age of the kids, etc).

Create two teams of five, plus two permanent attackers that only play for the team with the ball.

The two permanent attackers create “numbers up” for the offensive team, which hopefully creates success in possession. If the players are still having a hard time with possession, add more permanent attackers (maybe go to 4 v. 4, plus four permanent attackers).

The team that can successfully string 10 consecutive passes together gets one “goal.”

Time them and get the score at the end. They must play lines and keep score. Competition is crucial for success at all levels of soccer.

The reason I love this simple drill is there are so many great opportunities for coaching points, for all levels:

  • Demonstrating basic support angles
  • Movement off the ball
  • Balance of support runs (some must go short to ball and other staying out for long ball option)
  • Communication
  • Body shape
  • Seeing the whole field

If you have a young team, this drill is a great way to show support angles, and the necessity of movement to get into those support angles.

Also, you can demonstrate proper body positioning. Many younger players (and older, I get caught doing this all the time myself!) forget to open their body up to see the field BEFORE they receive the ball.

It is so critical to adjust your body so you can see the whole field every time you receive the ball, no matter where it is played.

Most important for coaches: tweak the game to create success (for example, bigger grid, more permanent attackers, smaller number of passes that equals one goal).

If the players are doing really well, challenge them. Decrease the size of the grid, limit their touches, decrease the number of permanent attackers, make it directional, increase number of consecutive passes that equal one goal, etc.

Eat Right Before a Soccer Game

OK, I’ll admit it. I’ve put this article off for almost two years. It’s a complex issue and I wanted to make it easy to understand, but not over simplified. What triggered my urge to get it done? A good intentioned, but poorly informed, flyer put out by a grocery chain about eating right. (Targeted towards youth soccer families.)

In this flyer they were discussing the recent negative press high carb / refined / processed foods were getting. They were stressing that eating only low carb food and complex carb foods was a “good replacement” for healthy eating. After my head exploded and I put the pieces back together, I sat down to write this.

First, if your child is obese, overweight, diabetic, or has other eating / health issues, this is not for you. I am talking about the healthy competitive soccer player that trains hard several times a week. Their body is a processing machine and needs the right fuel at the right time. (Just doing the touch stations we show in the SoccerU series can burn 350 calories in 30 minutes.) I have trained soccer players at all levels of play and ages; from young 7 year olds to professional players training six days a week, twice a day. Getting this right is more important than most people know.

Next, I will not be giving you a “lifetime eating chart”. I am focusing on the 24-48 hours prior to competing. REMEMBER… Long-term body development, health and growth are different from pre-game preparations.

Important Note–Kids are Weird!

Get this straight. This is not a nutrition article from the USDA. It’s a real world guide for youth soccer players. While much of the same information is used for adult players, we have to understand the “mind of the child” in this formula.

One of the key issues with youth players is that they often can’t overcome eating habits/tastes/phobias, for the sake of health and nutrition.

The greatest food not eaten? What if I told you about a top secret soccer drink? OK, put raw oysters, broccoli, and mushrooms into a blender, then add chicken broth and puree. Now set it in front of you child and see what happens…nothing. It might be the secret to becoming a star player but guess what? It’s not going down. We have to face the reality. Younger athletes will generally eat a limited range of foods. Something simple as color, texture or smell can make them say, “No way.”

Also, youth players will generally fill up faster. Making sure that they get the proper carb intake is very important since their volume of eating is generally lower. Whenever possible, eliminate all snacks just before meal time. They should come to the table hungry (after main meals, snacking is encouraged.) Also, avoid large consumptions of fluids before eating. They should drink while they eat and afterwards. Large amounts of fluids will take away hunger and fill the stomach with low-value volume.

Next, let’s figure out what to eat and when.


Step One

Learn the groups (these are simplified):

  • Carb –Level 1: Pure “hyper energy” in its simplest form. (Sugars)
  • Carb –Level 2: Fast energy available within 1 — 4 hours. (Processed foods – white flour — starches — etc)
  • Carb –Level 3: Slow energy available within 3 — 7 hours. (Complex carbs — whole grains — roughage veggies — etc)
  • Protein — (Meats — Poultry — Eggs — Etc)
  • Fats

Step Two

What do we use as fuel?

The body burns mostly carbohydrates as fuel. (Yes, fats and proteins are used but the body uses what is easiest first.) Excess fuel is first stored in many places including the red blood cells, muscles, and liver as Glycogen. Then once those reserves are full, it stores excess as body fat. Long distance runners and athletes that perform sports for long periods of time, actually start to burn fat for fuel. However, since most youth matches are limited to around an hour, we don’t see this much. Therefore, building reserves and refueling is critical.

The “stored fuel tank” will last different lengths in different players. Studies vary on this but most seem to indicate that somewhere around the 60-120 minute mark of continuous hard-paced exercise is when stored fuel, glycogen reserves, can start to be depleted. This is often referred to as hitting the wall.

Step Three

How are the fuels processed, stored and delivered?

This is almost too complex of an issue to deal with thoroughly, however we are dealing with pre-game eating so this makes it easier. Just keep this thought in mind: The body will store excess fuel for later use. So, as game time approaches we want to load or even overload. We want our diet to be switched from balanced to heavy with fuel (we cut down on fats and proteins, but not eliminate them, and focus on carbs). The percentages vary from expert to expert but the number goes as high as 75 percent in some studies for pre-loading.

Important Note on Slow Steady Fueling

We simply can’t shove large amounts of sugars or simple carbs into our body at the last minute, or close to game time. This may increase the release of insulin and actually hinder what we are trying to accomplish (as well as trigger low blood sugar levels). Therefore the best practice is a mixture of simple and complex carbs over a longer period of time. As game time approaches we run out of time for heavy digestion, so easier fuels are needed.

You will constantly hear that you should focus on “complex carbs” for long-term loading, but let’s be real. They’re kids. You can’t force them to eat what they won’t, and they can only eat so much. We cannot apply the same rules to adult athletes to kids. If your child is an eating machine then you probably can go with this premise. However, I have seen too many youth players eat very little and fill up fast, not getting enough carbs. This is why I prefer to see youth players switched over to level 2 carbs for the last 12 – 24 hours.