St. Croix Soccer Club looks at the 4 pillars of soccer and these are what we look in for your players to do and for us to try to accomplish these goals throughout their years in the club.
Quality of First Touch
A player needs to have the technical ability to receive any type of service (pass) from their teammates and even the opposition for that matter and be able to handle it cleanly. The first touch can either take you out of a pressure situation or it puts you back into pressure from an opponent or space.
The ability to strike a ball cleanly
A player should be able to drive a ball over various distances to the intended target with the proper pace, height, and bend.
The ability to dribble to penetrate and to maintain possession
The player should be comfortable dribbling with all four surfaces of the foot, the sole, inside of the foot, instep and the outside of the foot. The player has to be comfortable in their ability to move at speed with the ball and to avoid challenges from opponents while still maintaining control/possession of the ball. Players at this level have some tactical understanding of when to hold the ball up/shield and wait for supporting players to combine with. They also have some tactical understanding of when to take a player(s) on in an attempt to beat the opposition.
The ability to head the ball in attack and defense
A player should be able to effectively clear an incoming high ball with their head when defending and pass and shoot with their head when on attack.
The ability to finish with their first touch
Of the five technical qualities mentioned, this may be the most difficult skill to master. The player has to possess the ability to solve problems technically under intense pressure when receiving the ball close to their opponent’s goal. There are many variables a player encounters in this situation, such as the position of the goalkeeper, the flight and pace of the pass they are about to receive, the position of defending players, etc., which forces the player to immediately choose the appropriate technique with which to strike the ball.
Understanding of transition play on both sides of the ball
Transitioning from Defense to Offense
The player needs to understand their role when their team has just won the ball back. Their team may be looking to possess the ball and wait for more support, or they could be looking for quick penetration of their opponent’s defense. Players need to recognize when to make runs forward or when to provide width to give additional support to an attac
Transitioning from Offense to Defense
Players must understand the principles of defending. The first principal of defending upon losing possession of the ball is immediate chase. The player who lost the ball should track down the player who dispossessed him/her and try to win it back. Players should have the ability to recognize situations where they must decide whether to help win the ball back immediately or delay and drop back towards their own goal.
Speed of Play / Rhythm of Play
Players need to have an understanding of how to move the ball around the field while their team is in possession. Sometimes the ball movements must be quicker than other time. Sometimes the ball needs to move to the left of the field in order to create an attacking opportunity down the right flank. Sometimes the play has to be moved backwards into the team’s defending third before the ball can be successfully played into the team’s attacking third of the field.
To be successful, players need to be able to make quick tactical runs to support effective short passing. Players must also understand how and when to make long passes to maintain possession and allow the team to open up the game. Players need to know when to pass instead of dribble. Players should also understand when to apply pressure, how to compact during defense, and be able to assist their team in controlling the pace of the game.
Ability to read the game
Players both on the ball and those who are off the ball are faced with making split-second tactical decisions in an environment that is constantly changing over the course of the game. A player can “read the game” when they are able to consistently make the right decisions whether they are on the attack or on the defense.
When attacking, players should be able to understand: (1) when to hold the ball; (2) when and how to combine with other players; (3) when to change position on the field either with the ball or in support of the attack; (4) when to go for the quick counter-attack or when to build up slowly; (5) the importance of knowing what type of pass and at what pace the pass is needed; (6) when to change the point of attack
When defending, players should understand: (1) the importance of communication during critical moments of the game, such as transitioning from attacking to defense; (2) when and how to close down an opposing player’s space; (3) how and when to delay penetration or disrupting play of the opponent and being aware of the consequences of making poor decisions during the game.
A player who can read the game well does not have to be the fastest or the fittest player on the field. This player usually has a solid technical base, is one who is comfortable on the ball and handles the pressure of time, space and opponents consistently well.
Understanding the importance of restart situations
Almost a third of all goals scored are a direct result of restart situations or set pieces. Players need to understand what their responsibilities are during various set pieces (free kicks, corner kicks, throw-ins, etc.). In game situations, player need to understand: (1) how to stop short corner kicks attempted by opponents; (2) covering near and far posts while defending corner kicks; (3) how to fold a defensive line on a free kick and who in responsible for this when the situation occurs; (4) how to be disciplined enough to carry out their responsibilities in defending restarts, such as setting up a wall and communicating with the goalkeeper, being the first player in the wall, tracking players, attacking the ball, etc.; (5) how to be aware of where and how to clear a ball when defending set plays; and (6) that committing unnecessary fouls in or around your defensive third can cost your team the match (this includes the ability to withstand being baited by their opponent into any action that can cause a mental lapse).
Players should develop and possess speed or pace, as well as a high work rate and endurance. The merits of the physical component in soccer certainly do not outweigh the importance of a solid technical base and thorough tactical understanding for the player. Players must possess some physical ability, which works to enhance their technical ability and allow for tactical decisions to be executed with greater speed of play.
Player endurance / Work rate
A real player does not play soccer to get fit; she must be fit to play soccer. The one aspect of a player’s development that they have absolute control over without anyone’s help, is their own fitness level. When evaluating players, coaches will either notice that a player is fit, or they are not. It is that simple.
One way to improve a player’s conditions is through Speed Endurance Training. There are generally two types of Speed Endurance Training: (1) Production training; and (2) Maintenance training.
Production training involves training exercises that are for short periods of time (20 to 40 seconds). The rest periods range from 2-4 minutes, and the players are always working at a high level of intensity. Maintenance training involves training exercises that are for longer periods of time (30 to 120 seconds). The rest intervals should be as long as the exercise period that was used and the player will become progressively more fatigued as the work-to-rest ratio cycles continue.
Agility consists of a player’s balance, coordination, reflexes, speed and strength. A player needs to possess all of these traits in order to successfully: (1) change direction with or without the ball; (2) execute technical skills on the ball; (3) quickly move forward to close down an opponent; (4) move sideways or backwards during transitional moments; (5) react after losing balance or being knocked to the ground.
Players with quick starting speeds create significant advantages for themselves. These players have the necessary explosiveness to chase down or overtake an opponent. The first 3 to 4 steps that a player takes in the various competitive soccer situations are generally more crucial than the later steps.
The first person to get to the ball is not always the faster player. Players need to have a combination of good starting speed (explosiveness) as well as speed of thought (tactical speed and the ability to anticipate).
Essential Training Habits
Players must have a good understanding of hydration and nutrition, proper warm-up and cool-down and knowledge of prevention and care of common soccer injuries. Proper hydration and nutrition is vital given the constant physical demands of soccer. Players must begin each training session or game properly hydrated as well as maintaining hydration throughout the session.
Players must also understand how important proper nutritional habits are to enhancing their performance. Players should have pre-workout high-carbohydrate meals two to three hours before training sessions or game and a carbohydrate rich snack within 30 minutes of finishing the training or game.
Properly warming up before training sessions and games is crucial to ensuring quality performance and avoiding injury. Players should have knowledge of dynamic stretching exercises, and how to move the body from light jogging to short sprints just prior to beginning a game or session. Players should also understand the importance of properly cooling down after training or games. A proper cool down is critical to a faster recovery time.
Many psychological qualities that people often think of when determining this aspect of a player’s development include mental toughness, drive, passions, motivation, dedication, and work ethic. But each of these traits is determined ultimately by the players’ attitude.
When evaluating a player’s attitude consider the following questions:
1. Does the player understand the importance of self-analysis and possess the desire to improve his or her performance?
2. Can the player take criticism and praise from coaches, teammates and spectators?
3. Does the player have the proper attitude at training (always training at 100%) and does the player possess positive training habits (nutrition, care and prevention of injuries, etc.)
4. Does the player possess the attitude to accept leadership responsibilities when needed and to follow another teammate’s leadership when necessary?
5. Does the player understand the importance of following the game plan for the match?
6. Can the player make choices that are good for the wellbeing of the team (tracking players, making runs without the balls, etc.)?
7. Can a player turn a weakness in their game into a strength?
8. Can the player enjoy soccer, both as a participant and a spectator?
9. Can the player the exhibit the proper sportsmanship regardless of the final outcome of the match?
Players with the right attitude, regardless of their level of technical, tactical or physical development, are already half way to becoming a successful soccer player.