Soccer, Made EASY, for the Typical American

soccer47

 

 

I coach kids soccer and have for a few years now.   I LOVE my teams and for the most part love my parents that are piled along the sidelines screaming and cheering for their kids.  

Last season I had more than a few parents that assured me they just didn’t understand the game. I will often hear the parents (on the far sideline from me) instructing their kids to do the wrong technique or skill.   They are missing a key element of the sport and it is keeping them from enjoying sports at a higher level.

 

First off, Your kids love soccer and it may the #1 BEST sport for kids.   “You kids get out there and run after the ball for an hour, that’ll tire you out.”

 

A bit of understanding speeds the advancement of the kids skills as well as enjoyment of a beautiful game (soccer is actually known as “the Beautiful Game”.)   Often this enjoyment is handicapped by a mis-understanding of the sport itself.

Add to it hyper-excited parents wearing “parent goggles” demanding that there kid gets a fair shake at life.

This leads to terrible advice from the sidelines and a confused look on the kid’s faces as well as way too many prematurely balding coaches throwing clipboards.

 

This is not unique to soccer guys, my kids also play baseball, softball, football, surf and do Ninja warrior stuff plus a hundred other things and even I am guilty of being that dad that will sometimes, in the heat of excitement, shout out, “GO!” at the exact time he should have stopped while I’m out there cheering for my kid.

 

The problem is, there are often times in all sports where “GO” is a terrible idea and sabotages the plan.

example:   Just last night I was at my daughter’s softball game and every single parent, one coach and even a kid hyped up on caffeine on the adjacent field yelled “Go!” when a third baseman bobbled a ball.  My daughter had just stolen third and the catcher gunned it to the third baseman who dropped the ball as the slide came in.

Everyone yelled, “GO, GO, GO HOME!”

Are you not sure of my point?

Exactly.  The point is, that’s really terrible advice…all the kid at third had to do was pick up the ball and throw it home.  Science has proven a thrown ball travels much faster than a running kid.  Thus an Easy out and bad play.   

The teaching of poor techniques and poor understanding.

 

Nowhere is this more obvious than soccer.  I guess being born in the US just predetermines us to being oblivious to how the sport works.  That multiplied by, “I’m not really sure what’s going on out there..”

 

So leave it to me to fix this…just like I do for my kid’s teams and the parents each and every fall and every single spring all over again.

 

And I can fix this, easily – as soccer is the easiest sport in the world to understand.  Indeed, Because of this seemingly inexplicable lack of understanding – last season I put together a little “Soccer for Parents” handbook to make it a little easier to understand and digest.

 

In addition to being able to annoy your friends at work with your professed soccer knowledge, it will make you better soccer parents.   As now, you will actually be yelling out correct things to your kids.

Making better soccer parents is actually my #2 Bolded headline at the beginning of the season.    I grew up a coach’s kid and I’m a long time sports practitioner, nothing is more embarrassing and sad than the sports mom that doesn’t have a clue as to what her kids have been doing the last 9 years.

 

Don’t be that mom that just stands and claps and yells and then whispers to the person on her left, “what just happened?”

 

Don’t be that dad that says, “back in junior high I played soccer for a week in PE…here’s what I think they should do.”

 

So here goes…I’ve added a bit to my preseason handout and with the Women’s World Cup and Champion’s League Final just around the corner thought I’d share and in our own way, bring ‘Merica back up to speed.

 

Concept #1  – soccer really is one of the easiest sports in the world to understand.  As of the completion of today’s article you can no longer say, “I just don’t understand soccer.”

The rules go like this:

Ball goes in a goal it’s a point.   That’s all.

Well ok, there’s this…The team in blue goes this way, the team in red goes that way.

If the ball goes out of bounds you throw back in.

 

2) Now here’s where it gets a little crazy.   So stay with me here.

There are positions.

Now this isn’t unique.   In fact, every team sport I can think of has positions.  I’m not sure why this is so difficult for soccer parents but it’s the most obvious mistake I see while watching parents when I should be watching their kids.

 

You see, there are players that should be trying to move the ball towards the opponent’s goal and score and there are ALSO POSITIONS that are set up to keep the other team from scoring.  There’s also positions, specifically made to play a kind of in-between. A “do-it-all” pass it here or there and help out on defense and just sort of figure out what’s happening and make it work type spot.

As in most sports they can collectively be broken down into offense and defense.

AND…The go between guy I was speaking about is called “mid-field.”

 

So please quit telling your kid to “take the ball and score” when that’s not his position.

 

I tell my 8 year olds, “there are two ways to win at soccer.  

  1. Score more goals.
  2. Don’t let the other team score.   Both are equally important.

 

Allow me to share a concept that really helped clear this up this season.  Especially to the parents!

 

We know football here in Texas so we’ll start with that.  I am going to use the the Superbowl champion New England Patriots and start making comparisons.

 

The kids liked this analogy as football is bigtime in Texas.  They just “got it” and they all laughed and the parents nodded in a “lightbulb above the head eureka moment” of comprehension.

 

For instance – are you aware that Tom Brady doesn’t actually “catch” most of his own touchdowns?     It’s true -and yet, despite having like only 2 or 3 catches for TD’s IN HIS LIFETIME, he is still quite famous AND financially stable.     It seems that the majority of what has made him the most popular football player in history, on the planet, is his ability to pass the ball.    To see the entire field and pass the ball where it should go.

 

In soccer, it’s the same thing – the ability to pass is just an under taught, underappreciated and often neglected skill. Not because coaches don’t know, but because parents don’t know.    You’re not trying to sabotage the game, you’re just looking at it wrong.

Have you Ever told your kid you’ll give them $5 if they score?

I tell my players, “Tell your parents you’ll take $3 every time you set up a score – you’ll make a lot more cash.”

 

I hear my parents often shout, “take the ball and score.” and all kinds of shouts of “shoot!  Shoot it!” despite being on wrong part of the field and no matter how many opponents are running directly at them or guarding them.

But hardly ever do I hear shouts of, “Pass it to that poor kid standing all alone in front of a goal the size of the garage door that has upwards of a 99% percent chance of scoring even if he totally whiffs and the ball just bounces off any body part!”    

But that’s what we say as coaches.    All the time.

 

If you get this concept down, This “passing wins every single game EVER concept” – as a parent or youngster playing the game you immediately move up to the upper eschelon.  

  I see an insanely high amount of time spent on ball handling and skills and moves and cool YouTube tricks of amazing foot skills but really don’t see much time spent just watching the game.  Play the odds. Kids are like labradors, they run to the ball. If 7 players are running after you because you have the ball, you did a great job – that means there’s someone unguarded right. Over. There.    Get the ball to her!

 

The best players aren’t the winners of the “golden boot” – (the kid that scored the most goals during the season.)  No, the best players are the guys that get that kid the ball. That player is typically called the MVP.

 

Concept #2.

 

Soccer isn’t boring because it is low scoring.

 

Soccer is tough.  There’s a goalie right there than can use his hands.  A goal is unbelievable. But there is much more beauty and skill happening without goals being scored.

 

As football fans, we go nuts over a huge pass where a receiver jumps 11 feet in the air and makes a one handed catch!  Even when it wasn’t for a touchdown but for, let’s say, a 5 year gain. Additionally, when a running back jukes the heck out of a monster trying to tackle him in a classic ankle breaker and leaves that poor sap grasping air and is gone in a poof, the entire WINGS-N-MORE goes crazy like they just collectively hit the lottery.

  Basketball has it’s behind the back passes and baseball has the diving catch for a foul ball. All are equally, crazy exciting and often has not much bearing on the game’s score.

 

Heck, my kids scream like it’s the fourth of July if they get a plastic water bottle to flip in the air and land on it’s bottom.  Dude Perfect has made million of dollars flipping bottles to land on their cap! “AHHH DUDE…DIDYOUSEETHAT!!??? AHHH!!

 

Soccer has the exact same things happening.    Ankle breaker moves, fake out passes, stop and goes and long bombs down the sideline leaving the defenders scrambling like it’s the Chicago Fire and the goalie quite possibly peeing in his pants a little.  It’s all right there happening and yet, we as American soccer watchers…we miss it. It’s nothing if it’s not a goal.  We call It boring.

 

OH COME ON!

 

Get a little FE (false enthusiasm) up in there and get excited already.   Make you kids want to try a stop and go 360 Burn. As a fan, Stand up in slow motion replay excitement when a big arching pass goes high in the air with a huge curvy bend and your little girl catches the ball, WITH HER FOOT…HER FREAKING FOOT, like Odell with a sticky glove.   That’s excitement y’all!!

It’s up to you to create it and feel it.

 

I’m 100% sure most of my parents look at each other with confused eyes when, as a coach, I lose my mind in excitement and cheering and run down the sideline when one of my kids does some cool soccer concept -like a backwards (negative) pass or a 1-2  (like a give and go in basketball) even when it doesn’t score.

 -side note on the negative pass.  This is a huge development for soccer kids, it’s a tough concept.   In essence it is no different than a center in Basketball passing the ball back outside to a guard at the three point line because the inside is congested.  It’s simply a reset, it’s.. “let’s take another look at the field with less pressure and work our way in again.”

My friend Joe Casey relates that when he started reffing and a team would drop a ball back, Parents would inevitably start screaming, “NO!   THAT’S THE WRONG WAY, WRONG WAY!”

It drove him nuts.  Parents…Don’t be such a noob, that’s how you play the game!

 

The new techniques and developments are what is fun about the game.  It’s the same as a no look pass in hoops or a sack in football. It IS THE COOL PART of the game.  It takes a lifetime to get down. Even the world’s best pro’s will never master it all!

 

#3   speaking of basketball.  

Let me get this out there.   If you know hoops, you know soccer.

 

We already spoke about the negative pass but I’m telling you – everything matches.  It’s nearly an identical sport and this concept really helps parents and kids “get it.”

 

Bring the ball down the court.  Sometimes slow and controlled with one main guy taking his time, running predetermined “plays” and changing positions based on that play.  Sometimes, fast break big passes down the sideline trying to catch the other team being lazy or caught out of position.

 

In both sports, the main “play” is to attack from the outside to the inside where the biggest tallest kid  (or the kid with the best developed skills) will put in in the hoop. But occasionally, you may pass in from the top of the key to the inside.  You have to work your way in there.

To get there you might set screens, or run two or three passes, pick and roll or give and go.  

 

Sometimes your going to set up outside and pop the long range ball.  A three pointer in hoops is a 40 footer in soccer.

 

The big mistake I see in youth soccer is in front of the goal.  It gets too crowded and too congested. My wife has 100 pictures of 5 of our team’s kids all lined up in front of the other team’s goal with 7 of the other team’s kids right up in there with them trying to keep it out.  Every parent and coach screaming, “kick it in”/ “kick it out” and there is ¾ of all the players from both teams standing so close together I could put a hula hoop around them.

 

Last night on the NBA game I heard the announcer’s point out the same concept.   6 players in the paint = no baskets.

 

Same game.  Same concept.

 

In the younger kid’s game there are less three pointers and long balls because their skills have not got to that point yet.   SO yeah, the stuff yousee on TV doesn’t wont work for the kid’s game.

 

In both sports, actually, most sports -especially during the younger years, often it’s just the best kid on the team taking it all and doing it all on his own.   

 

On my soccer team there are kids that are just a bit more developed and “into the game.”    On my kid’s basketball team there is that one kid that is a standout and scores half the teams points.    So yeah, get that kid the ball. But by no means think that is how we want to coach it or view it as the game develops and they get older and obtain more skills.   At first just getting a kid to pass the ball when the other team is running a press is a HUGE accomplishment.

The ability to dribble with both feet and then look up and then kind of develop a strategy based on things that happen takes experience and time – These concepts “go forward” in all sports.  But by high school there should be some quick one two three passing, some three pointers and some kids ripping the ball when left unguarded.

 

If you know hoops you know soccer.  

 

See?  I Told you you knew this sport.

 

Concept #4  Soccer has a secret code.

 

Because the powerhouses of soccer are not here in the good ole USA but rather in Europe and South America you need to speak the code.   Soccer coaches and OH GOD, hardcore soccer fans, are just a little peculiar and love the shroud of mystery and intrigue.  They love,  more than anything else, to annoy their non-soccer understanding friends and colleagues.   

 

I equate this to my mexican speaking friends, specifically Steve Tijerina, whom, when I ask “how do you say ___ in spanish?”  Immediately put on an incredibly hard accent and verbalizes in lightning speed, “cuuumpleasnos?”

Me:  what was that?

Steve: Esteban Tiene cumpleaaaaaannnnnyyyooos” (but crazy fast)

Me:  uh..again?   

Steve:  “capl”

Me:  c’mon Steve, help me here….bah, just write it down.”

Steve, “I’m busy, gotta run… sucka!!”

 

Agh!!!     I’m pretty positive Steve has just been making up stuff for 2 decades around me.

 

Anyway, sorry…Soccer fans are weird, and they like to be.  Even American soccer fans take on the European soccer terminology because well…they’re soccer fans, they love to be different.

 

Here’s a few trade secrets.  Remember, mostly European. Down here in Texas we have WAAAY more terms to learn because of our connection to the Mexican League, but this article is draggin’ on long enough already, let’s stick to the basics.

 

Shoes are often called boots.  “Tie your shoes” would thus be translated, “lace your boots.”

The score zero = nil.

Sidelines = touch lines

The field is called the pitch

Refs are often called officials

Teams are clubs

Tournaments are called cups

The rest of the world calls soccer football.  As in FC after a lot of teams names. Football Club

 

Often times there is no championship game – you just play everyone and keep track of wins and losses and at the end of the season the team with the best record wins….unless .. they are tied in wins and losses after an entire 50 game season.

And it ALWAYS ends in a tie due to some crazy contract with the soccer gods of antiquity.

So when it inevitably does end in a tie,  then you go by a tie breaker that soccer weirdo’s call a “goal differential”  basically- how many goals did you score vs how many did you let in.

 

Ahhhh, so that’s why the coach is so crazy about only getting beat 0-2 vs 0-4 or why when your kid’s team is up 6-0 the crazy coach loses his mind when he gives up a goal in the last 30 seconds AND why the weakest kid on the team NEVER gets to try goalie even when it’s a blow out.

See?  It all makes sense now.    It’s easy.

 

OK – I’m done with part 1 – everything I’ve just gone over was for the parents.  That’s all you need to know.  You can stop now.  

 

Part 2 is for the intrigued.   So, If you want a bit more, by all means…. proceed.

 

Part 2 is about the GAME.  The professionals, the big time, the million dollar athletes.

 

World cup.  Premier. Champions.

 

World cup is easy.   Basically, it’s like the Olympics.   All the teams are from a certain country so it’s incredibly easy to understand.  The Nigerians are playing the Italians. The Russians play the Koreans. Schools and business stop because their country is playing.  The political parties and different ethnics and rich and poor all cheer together and sing fight songs against a common enemy for the next 2 hours and the Earth is Perfect.   National pride, anthems, flags – go USA. We ALL get THAT!.

World Cup is my favorite.

 

Now the sticky icky, and full disclosure here, I JUST figured this out last week.

The pro leagues….

 

There’s a ton of pro leagues, Turkish, Mexican, American…basically every country has its own pro leagues.    So Let’s just take Europe on for our example today. The European Leagues are the best the Earth has to offer. The BIG DOGS.

 

Take the Brits for example:  The English League is extremely popular and is big time top level professional soccer.  Teams like Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool – you’ve heard of before even if you’ve never watched them.   This is the NFL, NBA & MLB of soccer.

 

The ENGLISH league is called the Premier League and just like every pro sport they get their players from anywhere and everywhere and pay top dollar for it.

 

The players are not actually from their respective team’s cities.  That’s just the home team. No different than the Houston Astros.  They are not all from Houston. There are guys from New York and Cali and the Dominican and Japan.   Yet they are all on the Astros and the city of Houston loves them.

 

So all these English pro teams play each other.  There are 20 teams that are in the Premier League.    But here’s what’s cool. There are way more than 20 teams vying for those 20 spots.  You have to qualify for the premier league the year prior. The top 20 teams in all of England make the big time based on how they finished the year before.  The Premier League is the TOP TIER and everyone wants to be in it!

 

I’d put it like this.   It would be like If every major city in the US had a pro baseball team and the MLB only took the top 30 teams from the year before.    

So of course you’d always have your Yankees and Dodgers and Red Sox but how cool would it be if the “Corpus Christi Nachos” made it to the MLB one year or the “Toledo Spitfires?”  How cool would it be if the Cubs played so crappy they were kicked out for a season? It’s just really really cool.

 

So there is your Premier League season.   Pick your favourite team and go for it. I picked Liverpool based solely on their giant chicken like bird on their jerseys.  The LIVERBIRD!

 

But wait, there’s more –

Soccer is worldwide, not just in England.

Other countries are at least as good as the Brit’s and most of the planet would argue…better.

 

So there is also the Champions Cup

(the term “Cup” is often substituted for League as well as for Tournament)

 

The Champion’s CUP – The best teams in the entirety of Europe!   100’s of years of kings and queens and wars and land disputes and the feudal system and generations of bragging rights.  

 

These players are also from everywhere and are ALL the big time pros from all over the globe.

Much like only the top 20 teams make the English big time, Only the top four teams of the Premier cup we just discussed make the Champions Cup.  Every country sends it’s best couple teams. Some countries get 4, some get two just based on how competitive their own country’s pro leagues are -only the best make it to the CHAMPIONS.

It’s a HUGE accomplishment just to qualify and to win it all is to be the best the world has to offer.

 

This is HUGE.  WOLRDWIDE crazy fans and screaming babies huge!  Because now, your city, one of the top teams in your country can take on other teams from other cities and other countries.   (THE NACHOS WIN THE SERIES, THE NACHOS WIN. THE. SERIES!!!)

 

And that…Ladies and Gentlemen is how you get from kids soccer where it looks like landmines are going off and kids are exploding and falling down with no one around them to Lamborgini driving gazillion dollar athletes and crazy face painted streakers.

 

OK now brace yourself…  The Premier League and the Champions League are happening at the same time!!

 

I know crazy yes, but it’s simple in its concept.

 

My very own (newfound team) Liverpool ..ugh Birds, could compete on a Wednesday in the Premier League and on a Saturday in the Champions cup.    

How they do on Wednesday (Premier cup) effects if they make the top 4 and subsequently get to play in the Champion’s cup the next season.     I (and you) know they made the top 4 last year because they actually are, indeed, playing Saturday against a European powerhouse in the Champion’s league.

 

That was my hangup.  What. The. what????

 

My wife, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, has a knack for summaries.    Her response is bulls eye genius and perfect…

 

“Your son played in 5th grade basketball this year for his school.   At the same time he played 5th grade basketball in the parochial league.  2 leagues, different day, same time of the year. Not that hard to digest Doctor Peters.”

 

Anyway.  Liverpool plays for the Champions League title on June 1.  They just happen in all the strange coincidences that make soccer unnecessarily confusing to be playing another of the top 4 English team for the Championship of the world.  Much to the dismay of the rest of Europe and guys like us who are just trying to figure this stuff out.

(4 teams made it from the English Premier league and 2 of those 4 just so happen to make it all the way to the championship of the Big Leagues.   Sort of like when the Yankees and Mets played in the subway series and the rest of the US hated on New York for hogging baseball.)

 

That’s all..  In summary: Cheer right, Cheer often.  Know your game, Talk strategy stolen from other sports and know your Premier league and Champions League like a boss and you’ve just caught up with every other country on the third planet from the sun in their love for the round ball.

 

Cheers Mate!  Fancy a pint?

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