by Brendan Donahue
On a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, the most common phrase you hear while watching any youth soccer game, regardless of age, is “Pass it”. This comment can be heard coming from both the coaching sideline and parents sideline and although well intended it lacks the necessary depth to aid the player on the ball.
We all share the same desire to watch a team that passes the ball well and respects teammates that are in a better position to do something with it, but the skill of passing has many variables.
Where do I pass it? Should I play it to the feet of my teammate to keep possession of the ball or do I play it into space for a teammate to run onto so we can progress as a unit?
When do I pass it? If I play it too early a defender may be able to close the space on the intended receiver. If I pass it too late, the initial value of playing that teammate may have lapsed.
Why do I pass it? Am I passing the ball to penetrate the defense? Am I passing it to eliminate lines of players (playing back to front may eliminate the midfield line)? Am I passing it to change the point of attack (switch the field)? Am I passing it just to pass it (keep the ball moving)?
How do I pass it? Do I drive the ball to a teammate to “pass the time on” http://lexingtonunited.org/pass-the-time-on/ or do I bend the ball with the outside or inside my foot to allow the ball to hold up and/or bait a defender into thinking they can reach it?
There are times to attack the space with the dribble, there are times to take space with the pass, and there are times to penetrate with the shot. There are times to pass it and there are times to put your foot on the ball and just keep it. There are times to play short, there are times to play long. There are times to play behind the opposition’s defense and there are times to play in front of them. There are times to play forward, times to play back, and times to play laterally.
There are decisions to be made each and every time you are in possession of the ball, but there is so much more to the decision than to “pass it”. Every pass should have a purpose! The younger the player, the more often they react to the phrase “pass it” by just kicking it. This phrase, although well intended, can become confusing and counter-productive since not only are the decision making opportunities lost for the player, but there is also no real information being given to the player that will make them a better passer of the ball.
Let’s provide our players with a game day environment where they become the decision makers and learn the various nuances of passing and receiving so that when they do “pass it” they do so with a purpose. Soccer is a players game and the more we provide them ownership of the game the better they will learn not only to “pass it”, but also the when, where and how to do so.