This is one of my favorite “instructions” to players during a game. I typically use it for goal kicks, free kicks, throw-ins – really any dead ball situation. Essentially, however, it is the guiding principle behind my coaching philosophy. Through repetition during training, over time players understand how we the coaches want them to play. However, the players also know they have the freedom to make their own decision, depending on how they view a given situation.
A simple example occurs on goal kicks. Two defenders split wide to the touchline. The goalkeeper knows the idea is to play a short pass out of the back, but he also has the freedom to play long if he sees an opportunity, or to simply “mix it up” and not do the same thing every time.
Another example is a throw-in in the attacking third. While normally our outside defender takes throw-ins, players should recognize if an opportunity exists to take advantage of a disorganized defense if a quick throw were taken by an attacking player. If all players are alert and recognize what is happening, then a seemingly minor adjustment by an alert individual can lead to a goal-scoring opportunity – if he knows he has the freedom to do so.
Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
Helping young players recognize and understand such situations is critical. Recognizing visual cues, or triggers – and understanding what they mean – are part of a player’s development process. It follows, then, that using verbal cues rather than specific instructions is a great coaching tool in this regard. Cues represent reminders; instructions are more like orders, which require compliance. Cues allow players to remember situations or scenarios but still allow individuals to come up with options and determine the solution themselves. Cues make players aware of possibilities, but still allow them to maintain their freedom of choice.
Compare what you hear at a typical youth soccer game, and consider whether the statement is a cue for the player to think and solve a problem – or an order solving the problem for them.
Kids spend all day in school, sitting in a classroom being instructed by a teacher. They certainly don’t come to soccer practice and games to stand in line and be told what to do. They need freedom…freedom to make mistakes and freedom to learn the game at their own pace.