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A pillar of soccer: playing POSSESSION!

My soccer mind visualizes a team like a building. A beautiful building. A temple held up by pillars.

When I work with a new team, whatever the age of the players, I often make this example and ask a question:

Imagine playing against the strongest teams in the world. Manchester United, Barcelona, A.C. Milan, Chelsea and so on. What can we have that, if they donít have it, they canít score against us?

This question always provokes astonishment among the players. They look at me, as if lost! After a while they begin to regain their composure and think: Ēthis guy is out of his mind!Ē

Then, just to be polite, they enumerate a few soccer strengths: playing as a team, having a great defense, a great keeper, playing hard, etc., etc., without going more in depth. I underline that these are good characteristics but, at our level, they will never forbid Shevchenko, Ronaldinho, Rooney and company, to score against us!

There is something else, much more important! At this point I begin to give hints like, ďwhat do they need to score?Ē They get closer and closer until, one of the smarter players begins to give me the benefit of the doubt and comes out with the right answer:

THE BALL!!!!!!!

Of course. The ball!

You can be the best team in the world, with the greatest scorers, but how can they score, without having the magic object to do that? The ball!

This brings us to todayĎs topic: POSSESSION. If we have the ball, and we keep it, all the Ronaldinhos in the world, canít score against us!

When we play for fun, everything is O.K. But when we get serious, itís time to play seriously. Playing possession is not easy and takes a lot of simulations in practice to get the concept right.

Almost all youth teams, have a bad habit. They continue trying to go forward, no matter what happens. Result? They immediately loose the ball and now the opposing team is in the perfect condition to score, by having the ball!

Just recently I went to the field to see a very important game at the highest level of youth soccer. A mom in the stands, who for sure is used to seeing her son play at this high level, said very loudly, ďwrong direction!Ē, when a player finally correctly passed the ball back.

Playing possession, is strictly connected with the concept of keeping the right shape. This means that our players, besides being surrounded by the opponent players, have to be surrounded by OUR PLAYERS too. So, if we leave a teammate by himself, totally alone, itís clear that he or she will loose the ball. So, letís keep the right shape by staying close to each other in defending and counter attacking. I call this: SHORT TEAM. Not because we donít have enough players, but because we donít stay spread out in 70/80 yards between the 2 goals!

To play possession you need to accept these 3 concepts:

-We donít have to constantly GO FORWARD!
-We need to learn to PASS BACK!!!!!

What is the meaning of continuing to try to go forward, like continuing to hit oneís head against the wall, without looking for a door, that is in that wall?

The door, is ALWAYS there. You just donít see it! Pass back, switch field, push to the other side of the field, and youíll find empty prairies, not only open doors!

Accept this principle:

The only way to score is to give one of our players, not necessarily the forwards, a good assist that will permit him or her, to shoot on goal, possibly from an open position.

So, try to imagine this. Divide the field in 3 sectors. #1 Defense, #2 middle-field, #3 attack.

The ball has to travel from #1 to #2 and from there, to #3. If the ball canít go safely from #1 to #2, the ball SHOULD STAY in #1. The 4 defenders, or backs (thanks Koach Karl!) continue to play, passing horizontally side to side, maybe involving the keeper, until they can safely pass the ball to the #2 zone.

When the ball is in the #2 sector, it will be sent forward to #3 if there is a safe corridor to be sent forward in, otherwise it STAYS in #2 and moves horizontally, until the Ďcorridorí is found. If, in doing this, the players in sector #2 see a risk of loosing the ball, they immediately PASS BACK to sector #1, and restart the action as was done before.


Possession, possession and possession again. The game lasts 90 minutes. That is 1 hour and a half. There is all the time in the world to score the 1 or 2 goals that will Ďmake our dayĎ!

We donít need to score NOW!

In doing what I underlined above, we reach these goals:

We donít run. The ball travels from #1, 2 and 3.
The other team runs, in trying to win the ball back.
We donít get tired. They get tired. And nervous, too!
We have the ball so, we can score.
They donít have the ball so, they canít score.
Does this seem good or what?

Try to do this. Be patient and donít throw away the ball. We kill ourselves to have it back. Why not keep it instead of giving it to the other team and putting them in the perfect situation to score? Who are you playing for? Us or them?

To be honest, in youth soccer, I constantly see players, sometimes entire teams, that play for them! The opponents!

So, if when they have the ball they score and when we have it we give it to them, when will we score?

Play possession, be organized, be disciplined, be patience. This way youíll own the field. Pass back and restart on the other wings and, if you get trapped there, pass back and restart again. #1, #2, #3.

This way, youíll use another great soccer weapon. Youíll change the timing of the play. Slow down or accelerate, by sometimes playing horizontal, waiting for the right deep corridor, playing vertical, reaching a teammate totally unmarked at the border of the penalty box.

Try. Youíll thank me.

Coach Gianni

Posted on 04 Feb 2007 by coachgianni
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