TO: U10/U11/U12 Coaches
FROM: Art Miller, DYAA President
Recently, I convened a meeting of several members of the DYAA Board to discuss a matter that was brought to my attention by 3 coaches, 1 ref and the parent of 1 player. Each had either participated in or observed a game the day before (in the U10/U11/U12 league) where the coaching and playing strategy of one team was questioned by the opposing team’s coaches.
The DYAA U10/U11/U12 rule in question reads in part: “coaches may not position their players for the purpose of either running up a score or unfairly preventing the opponent from scoring.”
The one team/coach in question had elected to push their defenders up to mid field to apply pressure on the opponent…playing an aggressive style of offense. To some, this strategy makes it seemingly difficult for the opposing team to clear the ball beyond mid field and transition from defense to offense.
The question raised by the opposing coaches was this: is that an “unfair” display of sportsmanship because it prevents a team from scoring. In other words, is that strategy in violation of the Rule?
The board members and I discussed the matter and unanimously agreed that it was neither “unfair” nor unsportsmanlike. It’s actually a rather common offensive strategy used at many levels of both recreational and competitive soccer…a strategy taught at introductory coaching clinics and some licensing classes…a strategy observed by some coaches at even the 2nd/3rd grade recreational levels…a strategy discussed at on-line training web-sites…a strategy known to be appropriate by the ref…and a strategy quite easily combated (overcome) by an choosing to make their own strategic/tactical adjustment with their team.
Let me digress for a minute and grab this “teaching moment.” The common way of countering a team whose defenders (fullbacks, sweepers and/or stoppers) are “pushed up” to mid field is to place 1 or 2 faster players (forwards/strikers) on line with the opponent’s pushed-up defenders.
Having done this, the midfielders and defenders then “chip” or kick the ball to the many open spaces that are created when a team pushes their defenders all the way up to mid-field. Midfielders and defenders “chip” or kick the ball a) to the side of, b) through, or c) over the heads of the pushed-up defenders.
One doesn’t even have to have a strong kicker(s) to accomplish this…middies and backs can work the ball up the sidelines or center if not congested (one touch/pass at a time) until they are able to kick it through or over the pushed-up defenders to an open space.
Remember, your 1 or 2 strikers are still on-line with their pushed-up defenders (thus not off-sides)…and it’s then a “horse race” to the ball which is now in the open space beyond mid-field. All of a sudden you have the offensive advantage because the speed of your forwards (strategically placed on line with the opponent’s pushed-up fullbacks) is typically equal to or greater than the speed of the defenders…leaving the forwards with open space to the goal (often creating a one-on-one situation with the keeper).
This is often referred to as a “chip and run” counter attack…and the pushed-up defenders won’t stay there long when this counter attack is implemented. The opposing coach, recognizing your strategy, will typically reposition their defenders back towards their own penalty box line…or at least play a sweeper back (as a safety valve) to better control your break-aways.
Similarly, another strategy often implemented by teams (which an opponent might also think to be “unfair”) is when a coach/team “packs it in” on defense. This occurs when a team places as many as 75% of its field players back in their own penalty box area.
This is a defensive strategy often used in an effort to make it more difficult for the opponent to score on them…a strategy often seen when a coach/team is trying to preserve a one goal lead with only a few minutes left in the contest. Again, this is not viewed by DYAA as being “unfair,” rather a common and legitimate strategy. I could go into an explanation of how to break apart that strategy but I’m not trying to turn this into a coaching clinic!
In short, when a coach adopts a strategy based on his or her observation of how his/her opponent is playing, then the board does not see that as being “unfair.” Rather, it’s a display of a strategy that young players can both understand and implement with a modest degree of training.
By the same token, one of the great features of soccer is that it invites all sorts of strategies and counter-strategies…and teaching players to play tactically is one of the fun (yes, challenging) parts of the game.
We feel that it’s actually rather exciting when teams with one style of play compete against teams with other styles of play. For example, it’s why we include teams from Marysville on your schedules…so players and coaches can experience an even greater variety of coaching and playing styles.
As our youth players experience a variety of styles and strategies, we (as coaches) have opportunities to strategize, teach and further develop both our player’s knowledge of the game as well as their individual and team skills.
I hasten to say that the score of the game in question was 2 to 1…no doubt a very exciting, intense and competitive contest. We feel that these are opportunities for coaches, players and fans to learn a great deal…about strategies, sportsmanship in the heat of battle, winning and losing in the face of good competition, etc.
Furthermore, we do not feel that the “heat of the battle” is justification for poor sportsmanship, blaming officials, name-calling and/or setting poor examples for our players (by either sharing our frustration with our kids or by verbally criticizing and/or blaming opposing coaches, their players or the ref)
We all come to DYAA bringing varying degrees of playing and coaching experience…yet we all come to DYAA bringing similar love and dedication to kids. On behalf of the Board, therefore, I would like to sum it up this way…
One of the greatest things about the game of soccer is that it’s a seemingly simple game (to most), yet it’s actually incredibly complex. As such, we can always improve in our understanding of a) the game, b) the kids we coach, and c) our opponents. Bottom line - our players, parents and we, ourselves, can always learn a great deal from each other.
In this particular instance, we hope everyone involved will agree to chalk it up as another learning experience, such that our insights into the game might be heightened, our emotions might be better controlled and our sensitivity and respect for all players, coaches and refs might always be demonstrated in our words and deeds. Thanks for listening.