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Basic Principles of Individual Attacking

In general, attacking is much harder than defending. Why? Because attacking usually requires more advance (and advanced) thinking. In other words, a defender reacts - while an attacker has to have a plan if he is going to have a good chance of success. In addition, attacking requires better ball control than defending, because it is difficult to keep possession long enough to get within scoring range by just whacking at the ball. As a result, the coach must spend a lot of time in developing the ball control skills of his players, and in training them in the various elements of individual attacking.

Individual attacking has 3 basic phases. The first phase is what is commonly known as the First Touch phase. The quality of the First Touch, and the planning which goes into this First Touch, often will be the key difference between a successful attacker and one who constantly bombs out. The second phase is the actions required to beat any field defenders, so that you are 1v1 with the keeper (called "field attacking"). The final phase is the actions required to beat the keeper and/or last field defender blocking the ability of the ball to "see" the goal so that you can put the ball in the net. This final phase will be called Finishing (although it is important to bear in mind that the other phases may be compressed into this single phase, with a ball received in a way which allows the very first touch to be a shot on goal).

Indeed, any time that an attacker realizes that the ball is going to come to him, his first decision should be "do I have a decent chance at scoring a goal with my first touch?" If the answer is "yes", then he must always make the attempt to score. As noted later, a player misses 100% of the shots which he does not take, and it is critical to educate young players early in the notion of thinking about a shot first.

If no shot is "on" with the first touch, then the player must get the ball under control and take another look to see if a shot is now available (because defenders move around - so a momentary opening may have arisen). If a shot is still not "on", then he must figure out the best route to take to get into a good scoring position, then look once more for the chance for a shot. In other words, he needs to remember that his ultimate objective is to score goals.

  1. First Touch phase
  2. If at all possible, the attacker wants to receive the ball so that he will be facing in the direction where he wants to go. However, he also wants to know what is going on behind him - so that he can anticipate the kinds of pressure which he will be getting from the back once he turns. And, of course, he wants to keep an eye on the ball itself, so that he can receive the ball well. How can he accomplish all of these objectives?

    By adopting an initial stance which is open to the entire field, then turning as he receives the ball so that his eyes can sweep over as much of the field as possible to assess any obstacles to the attack. Commonly, the player will start with his back very close to one touchline and his body turned to be parallel to the touchline (which gives him a clear view of the entire field). Sometimes, of course, a player will be in the middle of the field. In this case, it usually is more advantageous to be facing somewhat towards the opposing goal, then to turn in at least a 180 degree arc as the ball is being received, so that the player can view as much of the field as possible prior to receiving the ball.

    After checking out the obstacles in his path, the player must decide where the best space will be to receive and control the ball. It is imperative that the player know where the best space is BEFORE the ball arrives, so that he can use the best receiving option to put the ball into this space. In deciding what space is the "best space", the attacker must consider two things:

    1. What are my chances of scoring if I keep possession here;
    2. What are my opponent's chances of scoring if I lose possession here?

    If not too risky, an attacker always wants to hang onto the ball or to help a teammate to do so, and will follow the ancient maxim "If we have the ball, the other side can't score." However, if the slightest goof on his part will turn the ball over to an opponent right in front of his own goal, then it is too risky to keep possession - and his job turns into one of finding the least dangerous parts of the field in which to turn over possession. Thus, when close to his own goal, the attacker will quickly move the ball to safe spaces to the sides of field (or will send the ball far upfield to a teammate) if this can be done safely, but will boot the ball upfield or over the endlines or touchline before considering turning over possession right in front of his own goal.

    When near the opposing goal, however, there is no immediate risk if he loses possession of the ball, so he can afford to take risks. In this situation, the best space into which to put the ball is the space where he can take a shot which has a reasonable chance of going in. Usually, the space to the side of and slightly behind the defenders is normally the "best" space in which to direct the ball - even though the defender or goalkeeper may have a 50% chance of getting there first. Why? Because, even if you score a goal only 50% of the time that you take a shot, these are great odds - and it is foolish to pass up the chance when there is no real downside to taking the shot. Young players may not instinctively understand this - especially if they are naturally cautious - so the coach must train them to understand when it is a good idea to take a shot; when it is a good idea to try to retain possession; and when it is a good idea to cut your losses and dump the ball out of bounds.

    Once the player has pre-selected the "best" space into which to play the ball, he will turn his attention to the actual reception of the ball. This requires that he pre-select the body surface which will allow him to best control the ball and redirect it to the intended space. The player then will get his body into position to permit proper reception of the ball with this body surface, so that the ball can be put into the intended space with precision.

    As the player gains more experience, and as his opponents become quicker at making decisions themselves, he will discover that it is essential that he anticipate several moves in advance and pre-decide what he is going to do next. Just like in a match of chess or checkers, where it requires several moves to finally lay the trap to capture a piece, soccer requires smart players who use their brains as much or more than their bodies if they wish to be successful at higher levels.

    Initially, however, the young player has more than enough to worry about in deciding what is the "best" space. Ordinarily, the coach will preselect the body surface to use (normally starting with passes on the ground) - and will try to make the job of the attacker as easy as possible by giving the new attacker plenty of room or by placing restrictions on the defender which will allow the attacker to develop confidence in stages. It may take a number of practice sessions before beginners can control the ball very well on the ground. Plenty of time should be spent to allow the players to become comfortable with the ball, and to develop a good first touch so that they can accurately move the ball into the chosen space to get away from pressure.

  3. Field Attacking phase
  4. Once your player has taken his crucial first touch and has gotten the ball under control in a less-pressured area where he can have time to look up, his next step is to see how many defenders are between the player and the goal, and to develop a plan to get around them. Why? Because the player wants to get the ball away from his own goal (to keep his opponent from scoring) and to get the ball fairly close to the opposing goal (to improve his chances of scoring).

    When the player receives the ball, and is not yet in shooting distance of goal, what he wants to do is to get within scoring range of the goal in a way which is best calculated to allow him to "beat" the opposing defenders. By the same token, one of the most dangerous defenders to an attacker is a defender coming up from behind him at speed, so the attacker does not want to get around the defender too early if there is any chance that the defender will be able to catch up with the attacker before he gets to goal.

    If the attacker is blessed with unusually high speed, and can outrun any opponent, he has the luxury of being able to race towards the opposing goal at top speed. It is very difficult for a defender to slow down an attacker who is moving at top speed without committing a foul, and it is relatively easy for the attacker to move around any stationary defender with a simple touch to one side. As a result, this can be an excellent technique for a very fast attacker to use on some occasions. However, a wise coach will not overuse such attacks, because this makes the attacks (and the likely attacker) too predictable for the defense; the team wastes valuable learning time by using single attacking option instead of learning various styles of attacking; and the fast player wastes too much time on emphasizing a style of play which likely won't benefit him in the long run, while failing to learn how to participate in group attacking or how to handle opponents who are as fast as he is (as speed differences tend to diminish significantly after adolescence). Instead, the wise coach will try to train his players in how to attack individually, and as a group, when the opponents are as fast as they are.

    How does an individual attacker make a successful attack against one or more defenders when he does not have any true speed advantage? The answer is that he learns how to use the element of surprise to create momentary speed advantages, and use these momentary speed advantages to get past the defender and to quickly cut back into the anticipated path of the defender to reduce the ability of the defender to catch him. There are several ways to obtain these momentary speed advantages. One way is to "take-on" the defender by going right at him, and then using fakes to get around him. This technique is discussed in more detail below.

    Another way to get around the defender is through moves involving rapid changes of speed/direction. For example, as the defender is starting to bottle up the attacker on the touchline, the attacker can sprint forward and force the defender to sprint with him, then the attacker can quickly cut the ball back so that the defender keeps going for a few steps, while the attacker rapidly takes the ball around the back of the defender. This same option can be used in a variety of ways. For instance, the attacker can start this same move, fake a cutback, then keep accelerating down the same path when the defender starts to reverse direction. Once around the defender, the attacker immediately cuts onto the defender's path towards goal in order to force the defender to have to loop around to try to win the ball back.

    An option which is useful in the middle of the field when a defender is closing from the side is to slow the run so that the defender adjusts his angle of approach (point of intersection), then accelerate when it is too late from him to recalculate and readjust. While this may be a bit sophisticated for very young players, it is easily within the grasp of players who are 9 and above.

    To "take-on" a defender, an attacker wants to aim his attack almost straight at the first defender who is between him and the goal. Why? By coming directly at the defender, the attacker forces the defender to commit to him and, once committed, the defender automatically must start falling back as the attacker approaches. By causing the defender to fall back, this brings the attacker closer to the opposing goal (which is his objective). Nonetheless, the attacker knows that, at some point, the defender will stop falling back and will be forced to try to steal the ball, because the defender otherwise will end up dropping into the goal itself (and even off the field) which will make it easy to score.

    So, the attacker wants to keep a close eye on the defender and try to keep him distracted by making some little foot-fakes (basically, small waves of the foot around the ball to pretend that he is thinking of spurting in one direction or the other), in order to worry the defender enough to focus his attention - but also make him scared to dive in to try to win the ball. The attacker wants to pick the time when he will try to beat the defender so that he can be in control of what is going to happen.

    When the attacker is getting ready to take-on the defender, the attacker will want to bring the ball under close control and start to take smaller mincing steps (almost like he is prancing). The attacker will then use a fake or cut (or a series of these) to try to get the defender to make lunge towards the ball. As the defender lunges in the direction of the fake, he is said to "bite" on the move - and the act of lunging is called "diving in". By diving in, the defender will have shifted all of his weight to one leg (usually the front foot). This momentarily renders the defender powerless to use the leg on which he has put all of his weight. This is called having gone "dead-leg" on this leg - which means that he cannot lift this leg or use it until he shifts his body weight back to the other leg.

    When the defender has cooperated by going dead-leg, it is usually a simple matter for the attacker to use this mistake to go around the defender. However, a defender obviously will not leave this "window" open for long - so it is very important that the player learn to explode through this window. Some young children grasp the idea more readily if you explain to them that, when the opportunity comes, you want them to EXPLODE (or jump) through the window just like they had a bunch of robbers chasing them. Once they have gotten through the window, they must then learn to SLAM THE DOOR on the defender by cutting back into his path to make it harder for the defender to catch up.

    For beginning attackers, the most critical skills are to get their heads up and watch the defender for mistakes - then to try to explode around the defender when he dives. However, as the players become familiar with the basics of these techniques (and become more skilled in using the ball), they will need instruction in how to use dead-leg opportunities to their maximum advantage.

    In the most common type of dead leg situation, the attacker dives forward from a sideways-on stance, so that his momentum is coming forward. In this situation, the player is completely "dead" on the front foot - and essentially is dead on the back foot, so the attacker has the lovely choice of going by him on the inside or outside of his lunging leg. If the attacker can go around the outside of this leg (bringing him around the defender's back), this is almost always the better option because it is much more awkward for the defender to turn outside than inside (so it takes longer to make this turn). Nonetheless, especially with new attackers who lack much skill in feinting and who take a long time to change direction themselves, it may be more workable to fake to one side and then immediately cut to the opposite side when the defender bites - and introduce this concept at a later date.

    Another common dead-leg situation arises when the defender has lunged to the side (stabbed at the ball or "dived") in response to a fake. At the moment of this dive, the defender is also "dead" on both legs. Once again, because of the awkwardness of the turn, the outside option is better - but the inside option works too.

    Dead-leg situations also arise when a defender is backpedaling rapidly. When the defender is running backwards , he has to move his weight from leg to leg - and his backward momentum can be used against him. Normally, the best time to take advantage of this situation is when the defender is just reaching back to put his weight on the inside leg (so that he has no choice with his momentum but to land on this leg). At this moment, if the attacker cuts and explodes sharply to the inside, the same dead-leg advantage will arise as if the attacker had gotten the defender to dive at the ball. These same principles also apply in deciding when to cut back behind a defender who is running alongside the attacker (i.e., the cutback should be timed for when the defender is reaching forward with the inside foot, as his momentum will require him to continue forward and put his weight on that foot, allowing the defender to cut over his back and head to goal - and forcing the defender to do an awkward turn to try to get back around to follow).

    Obviously, the coach will not introduce all of these concepts at once. However, the coach needs to be aware of these various options, as well as the underlying theory, so that he can gradually find ways to introduce these concepts and allow the players to experiment to see "if this stuff works". Children often learn best when given some exploratory time to verify that something really does work or really is true. Thus, the lesson may sink in better if they are given the chance to try these ideas out and do some quick scientific experimentation to see if coach knows anything.

  5. The Finishing phase
  6. Before the attacker gets into shooting range, his main job is to hang onto the ball. As long as he has possession of the ball, the other team cannot score, so it is to his benefit to do what needs to be done to keep possession of the ball - but only until he gets into scoring distance of the opposing goal. Once in a good shooting position, there is little risk in taking a shot - and a lot of potential benefit to be gained.

    While this is obvious to adults, it is not always obvious to children. Many children are very literal-minded. If the coach tells them to make sure to always try to hold onto possession by passing the ball around to open teammates, it is not uncommon to see them pass the ball around in front of the goal - and never attempt to put it in the net. Furthermore, if the coach spends lots of time on drills which have them carefully placing their balls on the ground, then backing up to take a net-breaking shot on goal, they will often pass up open chances to simply roll the ball into the goal in favor of trying to score "the way that coach taught us". As a result, it is very important to explain to young players when it is okay to take risks, and when it is better to play safe. It is also important to give them permission to score (which also means giving permission to miss, because the easiest way for a new player to avoid getting yelled at if he misses is to never take a shot).

    The first thing to teach the attackers is that very little actual space is needed to get the ball around a defender or goalkeeper so that it can roll into the net. The ball just needs to clear the legs of the defender by an inch or less on either side. It is important to illustrate this idea to young players, so that they understand that it is possible to score goals in very tight quarters - and that they should try to do this.

    The second thing to teach young players is that, to score goals, the best place to send the ball is to the place where it will be hardest for the defenders to get to it. Usually, this means that the safest place to send the ball is to the corners of the goal. However, if the middle of the goal is wide open, it is fine to send the ball there.

    The third thing to teach young players is that you want them to score a lot of goals - and the very best way to do this is to pass the ball into the net as soon as they see an opening to do this, because passes are more accurate than shots and are easier to get off quickly. As a result, players should be encouraged to score goals using simple passes with the inside or outside to put a MOVING ball into the net. The coach should strive to create game-like situations in practice. As a practical matter, no defender or goalkeeper is going to allow your attackers to put a ball down in front of the goal, back up, and then run at it to blast it into the net. Scoring drills which involve long lines and stationary balls do a poor job of duplicating game conditions, and do not tend to create players who are comfortable in scoring goals with a moving ball by putting it around the feet of vigilant defenders.

    The fourth thing to teach young players is when and where to take a shot. In other words, to introduce them to the concept of when they have entered "scoring range" - and should start to think about taking a shot.

    Understanding Finishing Angles

    For players and keepers to understand shooting angles, one of the easiest things to do is to purchase two long pieces of brightly-colored plastic rope. Yellow ski rope is perfect. Tie one end of one rope to a goalpost, and one end of the other rope to the other goalpost (if you only have one rope, tie both ends to the posts). Then, put an attacker on the field in front of the goal and intersect the ropes so that the attacker is standing on the intersection. Now, take the goalkeeper and put him between the ropes so that he can touch the rope on either side if he dives to that side. Show the players out in the field that they can get a pretty good idea of whether the goalkeeper is in proper position by just holding out their arms so that their hands are pointed at each goal post - and seeing whether they think that the keeper is centered on the angle and is out far enough. Initially, put all of the players behind the attacker, so that they get an idea of what you are doing.

    Next, divide the players so that half are behind the keeper and the other half are behind the attacker. Set up sample angles, starting at the middle of the goal and working towards one side. Put a cone where the keeper needed to stand to be positioned properly. Once you get to very narrow angles towards the sides, have the groups change places to see things from a different point of view.

    From this angle-mapping exercise, the players will see quite easily that the best approach on goal is dead-on towards the center of the goal. This approach makes the job of the keeper more difficult, because he must come very far off of the goalline in order to be able to cut down the shooting angle of the player. Because he is so far out, if he misses, the attacker has an easy shot on goal. Once attackers have learned to accurately chip the ball, it becomes even easier to punish a keeper who comes off his line - by simply lifting the ball over his head so that it can roll into the net behind him. Although you probably won't work on chips until later, it can be fun to point this out to the players to get them started thinking on scoring opportunities. Another thing that the players will learn from this exercise is that, once the ball can clear the inside of the near post (even if they are coming in from an angle), the keeper has so much territory to cover that it becomes much easier to slot the ball around him.

    With this basic information on angles, they are ready to start to learn how to finish. This is a life-long process which involves some rapid processing of information, so miscalculations are inevitable (even among pros). Even the very best strikers in the world, who are playing at the highest levels, score only about once out of every six tries - which is one of the reasons that it is so important to encourage players not to get discouraged if the first few do not go in. There are 3 basic finishing options which they will need to learn. These are central finishing, and angle finishing to the near and far posts.

    Central finishing

    When coming in centrally, it is usually best for the attacker to come in at speed. Indeed, in general, it is a good idea to teach players to finish at speed, as there always will be breakaways in games and it is a pity to see a player who cannot capitalize on these chances.

    To finish at speed is really quite easy - but, like anything, there is a knack to doing it. Because the player is going at speed, and his momentum will transfer to the ball, a "pass" at speed will be as hard as many shots. This pass also will keep the ball on the ground, which will force the keeper to make a difficult save (ground balls are harder to save than air balls).

    There are three things that the player must do as he approaches goal at speed. The first is to get the ball under close control, which means that he is going to need to pull/drag the ball along with his dribbling foot to keep it right in front of him (see practice plan on straight-ahead dribbling for more details). The second is to pick the corner of the net where he wants the ball to go. The third is to turn the dribble foot at the proper angle to put the ball there - and to keep running as his foot strikes the ball so that he arrives at the net just a bit behind the ball.

    While working on this technique, the best approach is to make a bunch of cone goals and let the kids experiment with making scoring runs. It is fine to let them just make hard passes thru the goal; keep on running; then turn around and come back the other way.

    Until they get the technique down, there is no point in working with the opposition of a keeper. However, once they have the basic idea down, it is time to add a keeper. Of course, the easiest keeper to finish on is a keeper who freezes in goal. At younger ages, this is quite common (and sometimes happens for various reasons, even at higher levels). So, this is a good place to start.

    Make several goals so that only 3 players are working on finishing at any one goal - which permits you to have one who is getting his ball, one who is getting ready to go, and one who is heading back to set up for another run) - and put a parent in goal with instructions to stay in the goal, but to move to make the save if the player send the ball early. Players will soon learn that, if they shoot too early on a stationary keeper, they will give him too much time to get over for the save. As a result, they will learn to hold the ball until they feel certain that they can get a shot/pass into the chosen corner before the keeper can get there. As players gain experience, they will want to start experimenting with fakes (and keepers also will want to try some fakes of their own to try to get the player to shoot with a non-favored foot or otherwise disrupt the shot).

    After learning to shoot on a stationary keeper when coming in centrally at speed, the players will need to learn to finish on a keeper who is coming off his line. This is harder to learn, but is an essential part of their finishing tools. There are three basic ways to beat a keeper who is coming off of his line with the intent of diving at the ball. The first is to shoot early (taking the shot as soon as you see that he is coming out). The second is to shoot just before he arrives (by using a quick sidestep to get space just as he dives at the ball). The third is to use a feint to cause him to dive to the wrong side, then pass the ball around him for an easy finish. Most players will opt for the first and third options, as the chances of being taken out by the keeper are fairly high in the second option (although courageous older players may use this to try to draw a PK in situations where they held the ball a bit too long and seemed likely to lose the ball anyway). This is NOT something to teach younger players, however. Besides, they will have plenty to do in working on the first and third options - particularly since the coach will insist that they alternate using their dominant and non-dominant foot for finishing (as there is nothing worse than to see a player miss an obvious scoring chance as he wasted time trying to use the favored foot for a shot).

    Now, in all of these scenarios, the situation was set up so that the player had plenty of time to go 1v1 with the keeper. While this often occurs in games, the most frequent situation is that a defender will be rapidly closing from the side or the back, so that there will be a smaller "window" of opportunity in which to shoot. Thus, the next thing which the coach will want to do is to add a defender who has instructions to run at a steady pace about 6 feet behind the attacker. If the attacker slows down, the defender will gain on him (and this is exactly what you want to have happen in order for realistic pressure to be applied). The attacker has to learn to be aware of the defender - but to leave his real focus on the keeper.

    The next phase is to work on situations where a defender is coming in from the near side. Before the defender gets within slide tackling range of the ball (10-15 feet), it is important to move the ball to the far foot - which is the foot farthest from the incoming defender. This is one of the reasons why it is essential that players learn to dribble with both feet - as defenders have an aggravating habit of coming in from different sides, so attackers have to be prepared for this. Indeed, as defenders become more skilled, they will quickly figure out when an attacker is one-footed and will take advantage of this information by heavily guarding the favored side.

    Once the ball is on his far foot, the attacker effectively has ruled out the slide tackle as an immediate option. However, the slide tackle is still an option to clear away a shot. Given the incoming angle of the defender, a near post shot is usually not available. Furthermore, as soon as the defender gets his body inside the posts and can help to cut down the near post angle, there is a high likelihood that the keeper will charge the attacker - with pretty good confidence that the attacker will be trying to put the ball in the far corner. So, what are the options? One option is to go for the far post early. Another option is to look for timing errors on the charge and split the defenders with a neat pass to the central/near area. An additional option (for more advanced players) is to fake a shot at the far post, then chip the keeper or slot the ball towards the near side as he dives towards the far post.

    From this discussion of the multiple options just for central finishing with one or no defenders, it should be clear to newer coaches why attacking is harder to teach new players than defending. Likewise, it is obvious that training attackers takes considerable amounts of time, observation and encouragement. These factors often cause youth coaches to decide to focus their efforts on just 2-3 attackers who show some natural talent/affinity for goal scoring. However, all players need to be introduced to these basic concepts - and it is not as hard as it might seem to provide this training to all of them.

    Angle Finishing To Near/Far Posts

    Of course, there are going to be times when the player is not able to come at the goal from a central position, and will be forced to come in from the side. Until the ball clears the inside of the nearest goal post, the far post is likely to be the only real shooting option. However, once the ball clears the first goal post, either option is available - and, in most instances, a shot should be made on the near post as soon as the ball clears the post. Why? Because the goalkeeper typically is moving backwards towards the central area of the goal so that his body will cover more of the goal - and the near post is most often wide open (unless an alert defender has moved in to block shots to that post).

    When coming in at an angle, with the ball not yet clear of the near post, the goalkeeper knows that there is only one area of the goal which is available - which is the far post area. In order to try to block this option, the keeper often will station himself somewhat more centrally, so that he can block both high and low shots on the far post. However, against an attacker with good take-on skills who seems to be penetrating well, the keeper may prefer to stand just off the near post - expecting to charge the attacker if he gets close enough to goal that there seems to be a risk of the ball clearing the near post side.

    The attacker should watch carefully to see which option is chosen by the goalkeeper. If the keeper is already cheating towards the back post (in soccer, the term "cheating" simply means to be moving more in one direction - it does not carry moral overtones), then it may prove to be productive to fake a kick towards the back post to cause the keeper to rapidly backpedal when you are a few feet from clearing the near post, then to quickly accelerate and slot the ball to the open near post area. with the outside of the foot nearest the goal or with the inside of the other foot.

    Another option is to fake a high shot, then to shoot low and hard at the keeper's ankles. In general, low hard shots near the ankles are some of the most difficult balls to save. It is almost impossible to get down in time, so the only real option is to kick the ball away. However, if you have gone dead-leg on kicking leg, or have shifted your weight backwards, it usually is impossible to get to these balls at all. On the other hand, if the keeper is standing even with the near post, this means that he is vulnerable to shots on the far post, as well as in the central area if the attacker can get the ball inside the posts. For younger players who have inaccurate high shots, this keeper strategy is often successful - as the window which is open for the high shot is rather small. Moreover, a taller keeper often can jump and deflect the shot. So, what should the attacker do in this situation?

    In general, the attacker should try to bring the ball as central as he can, and should take the keeper on in much the same fashion as a field player. Because most keepers expect a far post shot, they will tend to hold their charges on the ball until the attacker is right on them. This works to the advantage of a patient attacker, as he can often induce the keeper to go dead-leg on his near post leg by a feinted attempt at the far post (then slip the ball between the ankle and the near post); or get close enough to the keeper that he can "nutmeg" him (the ultimate gotcha of an attacker); or fake a pass to the near post, then pass the ball to himself centrally and do an off-balance pass to the far post; or, by being patient, end up with an open teammate on the far post who can accept an easy drop pass which can be slotted into the far post netting.

    Once again, encourage creativity in this finishing. Some players develop all sorts of tactical feints and "smooth moves" to handle these situations - including back-heeling balls into the net, or doing behind the heel tucks, and so forth. These moves are exciting to players, and are fun to watch for the crowd, so let the players spend occasional time on perfecting their "moves." Usually, it takes considerable experimentation in practice before a player will find the courage to try new moves in games, so do not be surprised if a player will not use a move in a game which he has done well in practice. Especially in early adolescence, where "coolness" is highly important, it is fairly common for many players to wait on showing their new moves until they are CERTAIN that they will not make fools of themselves in the process. Contests sometimes can help to break this fear - but the best cure is time.

    During training on angle finishing, you will need to add a defender who is coming in from various angles, so that the attacker will be exposed to realistic game situations and learn the best ways to adjust to these additional obstacles. Encourage players to learn to pounce on scoring chances and take the half-shot. There is an old saying in soccer that "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." As a coach, you want to make sure that you don't inadvertently punish players for taking the risk of shooting by criticizing their failure to pass the ball to a teammate. It is very easy to inadvertently train players to never shoot (so that the entire team is passing the responsibility and the ball around an open net).

    In the next section, we will discuss group attacking, starting with basic 2v1 attacking. However, coaches are well-advised to spend most of their time with new players on development of take-on skills and on development of individual finishing skills, for two reasons. First, young children are inherently "me" focused. As a result, until around age 9, many will not want to share the ball with somebody else or even give much thought to the needs/positioning of other members of their own team. Therefore, during this self-centered developmental stage, kids are ripe for learning individual skills. Secondly, in order to be ready to use a teammate well, players need to understand the basic angles involved in finishing.

    For example, in a situation with the keeper standing on the near post to stop an angled scoring run, one of the options available to an individual attacker who is fairly close to the inside of the near post is to pass the ball to himself towards the central area of the goal, then quickly try to slot the ball to the far corner. When a second attacker is added into this equation, this supporting player needs to realize what the positioning of the on-ball player and the keeper is telling him, so that he gets into position to accept the pass; holds his run so that he connects with the pass at the right moment; and then finishes the pass for the on-ball attacker.

    This example illustrates why players who well-trained in individual scoring options already will have many of the tools needed to work in combination with other players, and underscores the importance which the coach must place on the acquisition of these skills.

    Updated 12 March 1999
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