Turn Technique to Skill: the Freedom to Fail

The last post referenced the need for small-sided games to include certain conditions to be effective.  Particularly at the younger ages, using small-sided games to enhance technique should be the focus.  The issue for many coaches, however, is the idea that repetition breeds technical proficiency.  It does – but training needs to be more than rote movements.  Training sessions need to foster the capacity to make decisions quickly and under pressure so that it is recognizable during a game.  You can train a technique ad nauseam and it may always look good in practice.  However it is pressure that creates the diamond.  It is one thing to master technique, it is another to execute it at the right time when needed – then it becomes skill.

Coaches can use small-sided games to foster conditions whereby players are required to utilize certain techniques at an ever increasing tempo.  Reducing the size of the playing area, or introducing defenders – at first passive but with gradual increases in pressure – are basic methods to help players develop mastery of a technique.  Playing a game with a time limit – and counting how many times a player can perform a technique – provides a level of competition that creates a sense of pressure.    As an example, I frequently use this typical passing and receiving drill.  Vocally encouraging players to play faster only gets you so far.  If I can set up two boxes at the same time, however, I can stage a race.  This significantly improves player focus as each group wants to win.  In addition, players figure out on their own that when they concentrate on the basic movements and coaching points, they stand a better chance of winning the race – and hopefully improving their overall speed of play in a real game.


Part of the beauty of the game is that it can be viewed or interpreted in many different ways.  Each player on the field has his own ideas about the next decision.  Coaches try to instill in players the correct movements in different scenarios, but all players need some freedom to make their own decisions.  This is why players learn a variety of techniques.  Using the passing drill example above, it’s a simple game with a number of variations, enabling the coach t focus on several techniques.  Players on the field may see things their coach doesn’t, and the decision-making component is paramount.  Mastering certain techniques provides a player with options; it’s up to the player to understand which option is best in a given situation.  The coach must not only teach the technique, but also offer that freedom to fail.  Players need to feel comfortable enough to try a skill, and if it doesn’t work, it’s still ok.  Without that freedom, young players will play with fear, always take the “safe” route – never try anything new, and consequently, never truly grow as soccer players.

It’s important to remember the influence that we as coaches have over children.  They look up to us for support and reinforcement.  Clearly, we want children to be brave and creative.  If we restrict their ability to make their own decisions on a soccer field, we severely limit their potential to act on their own in other endeavors as well.


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