Thursday, February 11, 2010

Introduction into the Game of Soccer; Soccer for Kindergarten Age Children

There is a tremendous amount of literature on the shelves of libraries in many countries regarding soccer instruction and the game of soccer, in general. However, next to nothing has addressed kindergarteners, the 3 to 6 age group. It is as if this age group does not exist and is incapable of a cultivated, organized introduction to the game of soccer.

Most general texts and books dealing with specialized soccer instruction begin by telling their readers that the game of soccer should be introduced to children between the ages of 6 to 8. This is assumed to be the optimal age group for beginners. After the age of 8, the learning curve for soccer becomes too steep, and the chances for strong success are said to narrow. While this belief is correct in so far as this is a good age to commence soccer instruction in an organized way, it is only a half-truth that does not address kindergarteners. In Europe and South America, for example, kids play in an un-organized way all day long and at every age. It is this un-organized play that I am trying to transplant and introduce to American players at a much younger age and make it an organized, purposeful endeavor. This will improve the success these players experience as they move on to the next or first level of organized soccer.

Because it was such a great surprise to me that I could not easily find any books on the methodology of teaching soccer to this age group, I find I am constantly searching for new books and information on how to teach kindergarteners and how to understand their sports psychology. As a coach, I try to integrate the best principles I can find into the basic teaching methods of the Laureano Ruiz Soccer Academy. And it is the reaction of our young players, the joy on their face, the bounce in their step and the improvement in their game in just a very short time that tells me that I am on the right path.

How, then, is it done? Before discussing my method for teaching the game of soccer to the kindergarten age group, we have to first become familiar with their biology, psychological capacity, and the appropriate pedagogy. Naturally, there are a myriad of such qualities, but here I will only highlight and discuss those which are absolutely necessary when teaching the kindergarten age group. The path to instructional success can only be found by paying attention to these vital qualities.

Biological Characteristics: - Rapid Growth in Height and Weight
(2-3 inches and 4-5 pounds per year)

- Brain size is practically the size of an adult’s

- Corneal surface is almost completely developed

To me, it is the first biological characteristic I mentioned that we need to concentrate on. The rapid process of growth in this age group leads to enhanced physical capabilities; for example, the quickness in and of movements accelerates. What does this mean to the soccer coach? It means simply that there is significant improvement in the motor skills, coordination and accuracy in the physical ability of the children, allowing them to vastly expand their soccer skills. It should be very clear to the soccer coach instructing kindergarteners that these children should concentrate on developing individual dexterity, technical ability, and quickness. However, emphasis only on physical fitness, making children uselessly run, or do push-ups, for example, is harmful to the physical and psychological load this age group can bear. Increases in speed and/or repetition of drills should only be done in small increments and after many breaks. Improving stamina or physical endurance should be done at a measured pace, without the players noticing the increase in physical load, and with the understanding that this, above all, puts a tremendous stress on both the muscular, skeletal, circulatory and respiratory systems of the children. At this age, our foremost task as a coach is to advance and improve technical ability with the ball, improve coordination, and develop in each child a love for the game, as it is only in this way that we can work with them in the next phase of development.

Pedagogical Characteristics:
- Playful instruction (lesson content should match the age group).
- Skills/lessons must be explained and demonstrated.
- Constant repetition must be applied.
- Correcting mistakes.
- Systematic praising, awarding and rewarding.

Since play has the greatest positive effect on the development of children in this age group, games become a principle activity for instructing them in soccer. And because there are so many different games to choose from, and because different games involve various levels of complexity to play, it is important that a soccer coach 1.) carefully plan a practice by selecting age/skill appropriate games, 2.) pay attention to how the children will be instructed to play the selected games, and 3.) decide how best to coach the children while they are playing the games. Youngsters in this age group learn more quickly and more easily when instruction is given in a playful situation, since it is easier for them to develop in a lighthearted atmosphere. When a coach follows these simple steps, the children’s skills and enthusiasm for soccer will grow and grow, creating a virtuous circle that will lead to the accelerated development of their skills.

Returning to our knowledge of children in this age group, it is not enough to understand their biological or psychological qualities, a soccer coach should be aware of the youngsters’ talents and developments and put this awareness into practice. We will only be successful as coaches if our practice sessions and drills are geared toward their current abilities and capabilities. Just as we should not try to teach them to run before they can walk, we should respect the developmental steps of kindergarteners and take things step-by-step.

How a coach demonstrates drills and models skills during practice is of the utmost importance for kindergarteners. Children learn visually at this age and are especially responsive to visual stimuli. But this does not mean that the coach should ignore the verbal aspects of instruction, since this is how the children will learn the terminology of soccer, such as “full instep,” “laces,” “step over,” “outside of the foot,” “heel,” etc. So, in order to demonstrate a drill or technique to this age group, the coach should be aware that the children will first and foremost react to the visual presentation of skill, the bodily movements of the coach as a skill is demonstrated, and, secondarily, they will be aware of the verbal instruction accompanying the physical demonstration.

Teaching must be methodical in nature. Movements (such as swinging the leg) and skills (such as kicking the ball) should be repeated over and over. Even when children begin to develop a mastery of more advanced abilities by putting together a sequence of movements or skills, it is important to go back and revisit the basics once again. A player can be said to have learned a soccer movement or skill when the player is able to perform the skill or sequence of skills in a game while under pressure from other players. It is through repetition that a movement or skill becomes automated, meaning it happens and is carried out automatically, without hesitation or thought. It becomes second nature. When this level of mastery has been achieved and can be applied in a game situation, we say that a specific movement or sequence of movements has been learned.

Mistakes must be immediately corrected! My rule is as follows: Do not look past a mistake as it is much more difficult and tiresome for the child to correct a movement that is learned and automated the wrong way. Improper movements, I should add, can also lead to injuries. Movements need to be taught and learned correctly from the first. For example, children at this age need to learn how to run without dragging their feet and how to shoot the ball with locked ankle.

Constant praise and awards are crucial for kindergarteners. Encouragement and praise should occupy a very important place in each and every practice session. Because of their mental and emotional needs and development, young children respond especially well to positive reinforcement. Encouragement and praise leads to increased enthusiasm and rapid skill development, while increasing a child’s confidence and self-esteem.

And lastly, a few thoughts on planning practices: 1.) At the beginning of a session, we can transition the children into the practice by assigning them some “work” at hand, such as having them place cones, set-up the goals, and distribute pinnes. 2.) If at all possible, parents should be away from the children, waiting in the club house, but not on the bleachers or standing around the playing field. Remember: parents are not allowed into their children’s kindergarten classroom during instruction. Similarly, it is best to keep them away from practice. In this way, outside pressures and anxieties will not affect the children as they play. 3.) At this age, there should not be more than 12-15 players to a practice group. With groups this size the work at hand is transparent and more effective.

By putting all these factors on paper, and paying attention to them, a coach can learn to be aware and understand the qualities of the kindergarten age group. If a soccer coach lacks this knowledge and if practices are not tailored to an awareness of this method, then the soccer instruction will not be geared to this age group and the children and the sport of soccer will suffer.

In conclusion, I wish to all of my colleagues dealing with this age group all the patience in the world, delight in rich experiences and success in producing many happy young players who will love them and remember them fondly for the rest of their lives.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Daily Responsibilities of a Soccer Coach

A common trait in the world of soccer is its state of constant change. The presumptions of these constant changes are perpetual analysis, planning and prevalent decision making. Decision making is nothing more than perpetual action, which consists of organically related activity. These activities in turn are what we call part of the leadership role. In this train of thought, it is not the actions, and decisions of the game and typical playing situations that I want to focus on but on the contrary I would like to shed light on the responsibility and accountability of the decision made by coaches and club officials. I always live with the hope that all the directors, officials and coaches are very clear with the responsibilities entrusted to them either by fate or by their own volition when they agree to lead a team or a club. How does the Latin phrase put it? “Navigare necesse est” or “Everyone needs to decide!”

I would like to pepper my material with known and little known quotes by those who have influenced our universal thought process through the centuries.

“Success is nothing more than the result of a good decision.
It's in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped”

(Anthony Robbins)

These leadership functions are multi-layered and are all part and parcel to the development of the soccer institution.
A basic criterion for a successful decision is, for the deciding official/coach to anticipate and react to the constantly changing conditions expectations and opportunities. But in order to act and react there is a need for good, current and appropriate information. The peculiarity of good information is that it mirrors reality, it is defined in scope and it is timely and needed. On the contrary; erroneous information is useless to the venture and it can even worsen its state.

In order to carry out the various duties the officers/coaches are in need of two kinds of information. One is for the completion of the long term goals and its components they are in charge of and the other is for the effective operational duties of the venture; meaning the immediate short term goals, taking into consideration their constant volatility. Therefore; the long term orientation is strategic, as the short term orientation is operative.

There are three basic problems of the strategic orientation for leadership:

How to unearth all of the factors, which will only affect the venture in the future?

How to determine their existence and reality?

How to measure their future impending impact on the venture?

In order to come up with feasible answers to these questions the officials/coaches need to not only be well grounded in their preparation and schooling but they must have a high degree of openness in their thought process as well as a great degree of imagination as well. The organization of the orientation system demands a concurrent step by step method and that those involved in the information process have their functions and objectives in this realm clearly defined.

“Do not start anything of which you don’t decide the outcome”

(Hermann Kant –German Writer)

Operative and Strategic Orientation substantially differ from one another, as the source for both internal and external information necessary for orientation can be accurately defined. The ones in charge of running the operation are charged with the responsibility of unearthing and transmitting the information, in other words, those working around the officials and coaches/managers.

From the point of view of the coach who are these people?

The technical advisor
The Assistant Coach (goalkeeper coach, and other coaches)
The team physician (where available)
The masseuse
The players themselves!!!!
The office staff in charge of analyzing data

It should be mentioned that there is an inner trap or contradiction within Operative Orientation. All information seems to be in a matrix and appear objective. At the same time those preparing the information and those receiving and unearthing the information before them do not have the same goals and are not always on the same page, therefore; the objectivity of these reports and all information can at any time be brought into question. In other words, those dispensing with the information could be very subjective.

What type of situations demand a need for a decision?
Above all to solve the problem!

From the perspective of the officials/directors/coaches by forthcoming problems within the organization we mean just that, forthcoming or anticipated forthcoming problems, which were not taken into consideration at the time of initial planning of the club because none of these issues were even thought of!
Changes in our everyday life have become more cumbersome, and more numerous in occurrence, which demand immediate attention from the club/organization by the leadership of the front office and by all of the staff around them. In other words, we should immediately adept to the situation.
We could say that this demands that an organization is always in a state of “instant response” mode.
The real positive result of this adaptability depends upon the timeliness and the quality (the how) of the intervention on the forthcoming or current changes (problems) at hand.

Timely and correct reaction demands a lot of preparation time. The quicker the leaders can identify the development of the change (problem), the more time they will have to prepare for its resolution.

Let’s be honest, in our rapidly changing world of even amateur status soccer the problems amongst team members, parents, directors, legalities keep growing by the day. The reason for this is that the requirements for a great club, draw with it more and more tension and create a myriad of problems and added responsibilities.

Leadership qualities and attributes are necessary for identifying problems, potential problems, however; to estimate the real weight of such problems and to separate them from the pseudo problems and imagined ones, it is practical and expedient to resort to and use problem solving and fault finding methods, as an elementary technique in identifying problems.

Leaders must conduct their investigations from the event of the fault (problem) to the identification of the original problem which caused the change (problem) and need for action.
What kind of leader is a coach who makes a decision based on the quote below?

Men are cowards. In need of a decision they keep rethinking it several times in the hopes that the decision could be adjourned.

(Canetti, Austrian essayist and writer)

The fate of an organization depends on constant daily decisions and decision making and on following a step by step method in these decisions leading to a set goal. Those coaches who make these daily decisions clearly understand this responsibility. When a coach brings and makes a final decision he can only count on himself and of course on the instruments and vehicles he has on his disposal. Many times we hear in interviews and conversation that a fellow coach or official states that they had a feeling….. I have often wondered if there is a sixth sense when a coach listens to his feelings and intuitions.
Earlier we have described and touched on the fact as to how important it is to gather all the information and only than make a decision.

Conversely it is also true that there is such thing as overwhelming data, too much information which can only lead to a mental block and a delay in decision. If a coach/leader wants to take every information factor into consideration they become indecisive and this state is sure to bring the wrong decision. It is for this reason that it is imperative to sort through and only keep the important information. For the coach, selection and filtering of the information at hand is the most important aspect. For this reason it is very important that coaching staff is comprised of professionals who worked together for a long time and are familiar with each others whims.

We must admit it; to make a decision is easy!
It is the road leading to the decision is hard!

There a many responsible decisions to be brought in the daily operation of a team and many more in the club. These decisions are not only relevant to team personnel, team selection or the game at hand. It is in these cases when and where the emails, comments, concerns of all those who love and care about the team and the club and their own children within it surface – all respect to them – they view everything in laymen’s terms that the team, the line up should have been this and that and their kids is not playing because of politics or if they are playing and have a bad game it is do to an illness etc. But for the coach, the line-up and team personnel is not the foremost dilemma or problem.

How close are these terms to one another?

To Give – To Receive
To Gift – To Confiscate
To Respect – To Humiliate
To pay attention – To expect
To condone – To coerce
To forgive – To get angry
To trust – To suspect
To have sympathy – To be indifferent
To believe – To doubt….

The know choice is simple,
But real knowledge is making a decision.
A good man rarely errs.


The processes put in place around the club and teams are the primary responsibility the coach should focus on! In other words, since everything around the life of the club and organization is an organic process from trash removal to scholarship awards, the coach and directors need to be in constant “momentary” contact with all those in the leadership who are present and have a voice in the everyday operation of the entity. The coach, coaches officials must inform the leadership of the everyday problems because if this is not done, at a later time this can be used against them.

The basis of a successful decision is that the coach/officials recognize the problem.

The coach needs to compose the problem, not only to himself but project it outwards towards his environment.
This is very important!
The coach must not talk about his inner bouts and frustration before certain decisions are made. This info should only be divulged to the most trusted person in his inner circle, one whom he can trust unconditionally. But the fact is that it can not be more than one or two people.

After recognition and orientation as to the nature of the problem, the coach/official must resolve the problem, namely a decision has to be made.
In the majority of the cases the solution and/or resolution is unambiguous and the decision becomes routine.
At the same time, we must be careful that our outward communication does not seem routine as this would degrade the inner struggle the decision maker has undergone and the process making decision in general.

As for the quick reasonable decisions:

Coaches and officials must intimately know the workings of their club and within them their teams, their possibilities, our competitors and the whole environment surrounding the game of soccer and our entity.
It is important to analyze collected information not only to ourselves but in their context and correlation to the whole.

The secret of highly successful people is this;
They have certain habits not prevalent in the average folks and due to this they are capable of making better decisions.

Quality questions create a quality life. Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.

Success always sides with those who dare to innovate and are always ready to solve new problems created by the new situations.
In view of a great decision making process the coach must:

Be very clear in the hierarchy of the institution, he must know where and with whom he can turn to with any problem, without infringing on any personal interests within the organization (with the exception of the owners).

He must have a transparent view of the players under his charge, the inner structure, and public relations as well.

He must be familiar with the leaders of the players both positive as well as negative influences.

He must understand based on playing ability that are the gems of the organization.

Who are the players on whom he can always count on?

The coach must know the rules of the game, the playing system, the training method, the functionality and responsibility on each player for each role).

He must have perfect self control at all times.

He must be a good “coaching” Coach one who can read the game. One who can think ahead not only analyze after the fact.

The coach must be an individual a personality, who:

Can decide in a rational fashion in vocational questions, accepts responsibility thus helping the club.

Can also be emotional meaning that he uses that sixth sense in some aspect of his decision making, - bringing his feelings into the equation- for example when he is loyal to a player.

Can bring auxiliary decisions, meaning that he sheds light on all the opportunities and deficiencies thus bringing management to a position to face decision making

All in all coaching is not an easy vocation!

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Today on Friday, February 13, 2009 we have started our journey into understanding the concept of what it means to defend as a team mainly how to function and carry out our individual defensive duties in a team setting. Defending in this way as a team is referred to as collective defense. In today’s game, even heroic Individual defensive activities are not always enough to defeat an attack. The approach is generally made with several attackers participating in the attack (usually 5 attackers). Consequently, collective defensive efforts must be made to cope with the attack. It is specifically this teamwork of the forwards that must be countered with coordinated defensive activities.

The basis of collective defense is the exact and almost automatic application of individual defensive methods. A player who is not familiar with the means of individual defense, such as positioning, tackling, and so on, cannot fit into collective defensive tactics.

It is also obvious that even an adequate knowledge of the individual defensive methods alone does not enable the player to hold his own in a collective defense. It is the basis and nothing more.

In the following paragraphs the defensive methods that require cooperation between two or more defenders to achieve the tactical objective will be dealt with. We have practiced all of these schemes during practice and now it is up to you to master them and learn them as you follow my lines and pictures. I can guarantee to you, that if you do your homework, the job at hand on Monday will miraculously become much easier than anticipated and we will be able to triumph albeit under a lot of stress and very difficult opponents.


Remember, that I have said during practice that deception will always be built into our formation and our schemes. So, we will show at all times that we play with a flat line of defense and we will show this constantly, especially in the attacking phase of our game. But the surprise to all of our opponents is when we go into a staggered defense during the defensive phase of our game.

Except for the “sweeper” (the last man used by most teams) the defenders (the full backs and the other center back in a four man defense and a holding mid. in a three man defense) in the system of play adopted by us cover, as a rule the spearhead strikers of the opposing side, especially is most teams today play with only two forwards some even with just one up front. However, if we encounter another team playing a similar formation to ours with three forwards, than the two fullbacks and one of the center backs must mark the opposing teams wingers and their center forward. Each defender positions himself and performs his defensive duties in accordance with the general principals already understood by all of our team members, namely, ball side, goal side, do not be flat but approach at an angle, poke the ball and delay, etc. The sweeper is positioned some yards behind (5 to max 8 yards) behind the line formed by his three fellow defenders and has zonal defensive duties to perform. (This means that he does not mark man to man but defends the zone that he is in and the zone behind his fellow defenders).

As has been pointed out earlier the tactical objective of the defense is rarely achieved if individual defensive tactics are adopted. In today’s game and systems the backs must cooperate very accurately. The trio or quartet of defenders, as the case might be, can only be successful against the opponent’s attackers if, instead of playing independent of their own defensive teammates and of the positioning of their opponents, they position themselves individually as required by the given situation and to correspond to the interests of the collective effort. This is drilled into every session that we do.


The positioning of the backs depends in the first place on where the ball is being played, on the focus of the game! The positioning of the backs varies according to whether the ball is being played in front of the opponent’s goal or if the focus of the game has shifted to one of the touch lines. Obviously, they have to position themselves in a different manner if the opponent’s attackers constitute an immediate danger to their goal.

The backs should position themselves in the following manner if the ball is being played in the middle of the field and immediately in front of the opposing side’s goal:
The fullbacks (left back and right back) should stay in the vicinity of the opposing wingers if any or any players on the wings. Where the defenders have no previous experience of knowledge of the opposing forwards (you might know the guys you will play against as friends but might not know them as players) and are not yet in a position to know anything about the relative speed of their opponents, they are well advised not to position themselves too close to the men they must mark. That is why it is the wisest for a back to position himself slightly towards the middle and some 3 to 4 yards behind the man he must cover at least in the early stages of the game. This applies to all the backs except the “center back” or in our case on Monday one of the holding midfielders, who is allowed to position himself before the opposing forward because there is the safety measure of the sweeper lying behind the others as the reserve or free defender. The positioning of the defenders is illustrated in Figure 1. Please note that in our case #5 represents not the second center back but a holding midfielder as we have practiced.

There are several reasons for the backs positioning themselves in the manner shown in the figure and our practice session. If the two fullbacks were to position themselves very close to the opposing teams wide attackers, they could be caught by unexpected through balls from behind, as they would have to turn before pursuing the ball, while the attackers would have the advantage of sprinting for the ball before the defenders covering them. That is why it is correct for the two fullbacks to position themselves a little distance from the opposing forwards attacking on the wings. This method is known as I have mentioned on the field loose man-to-man marking.

The sweeper lies behind the line of his defensive teammates partly because in some respect his central position places on him the responsibility for the utmost care and dependability!!!! He must always have in mind the fact that the forward who breaks through in the middle is always the most dangerous. But if he lies fairly deep, he can, in most cases, easily intercept a pass from behind the opposing forward, however; fast that attacker may be.

The question that I ask and you should all ask is, whether this deep positioning of the defenders really does give greater security. There is no doubt about it that positioning of this kind makes it easier for the opposing forwards to receive the ball rapidly, but only if the pass is made from close range. In the event of the long pass (which most of our opponents will play) the distance to be covered by the ball allows enough time for the back to give CLOSE man-to-man marking, to intervene to a tackle when the attacker is in the act of receiving the ball.

The use of a sweeper is especially justified against fast attackers because by lying deeper than his defensive teammates he is in position to move easily to the aid of a fellow defender who has been outwitted by an opposing forward attacking on one of the wings.

Tactically inexperienced sweepers are inclined to make the mistake of following an opposing forward moving back towards his own half. In doing so the other center back moves in front of the line of his defensive colleagues and this leaves him at a disadvantage if he has to chase an opposing winger who has successfully evaded the fullback marking him. In general the attacker who has broken through by outwitting a fullback must be intercepted by the sweeper or perhaps the other fullback. As illustrated in Figure 2.

The fullback at the other end of the defensive line is at quite a distance and very often has a practically no chance of making a successful intervention. The sweeper is the most effective defender in the case described above but only if he has not moved too far ahead and holds his position behind the line of his defensive teammates.

It goes without saying that defenders can and must modify their positioning in a way when they are familiar with their opponents and know that they are inferior to them in respect of speed. In this case they can run the risk of tighter marking (closer to the opponents), a method which enables them to prevent development of an attack when it is about to be started; they can more easily intercept the ball or tackle (unfortunately not allowed indoors) while the opposing attacker is trying to take possession of the ball.

In some cases the defenders may position themselves in front of the attackers they must cover. This applies, in particular, to the left and right backs. I emphasize, however; that this method should only be adopted exceptionally, for in general a defender should not be allowed to position himself in front of the man he has to cover.

The defenders should change their positions in the following manner if the play (the ball) moves towards the touch line from the middle of the field:
Depending on the play and on the movements of the ball the backs can position themselves along a diagonal line. If, from the angle of the defenders, the ball goes to the left flank, the left back moves to give closer cover to the forward he is marking. The sweeper moves to his left to a position slightly in the direction of the ball and behind the fullback while the right back moves deeper and towards the middle sometimes as far as 10 to 15 yards from the man he is covering. (Figure 3)

If the ball is transferred to the other side of the field, the positioning of the defenders and the direction of the diagonal lines change accordingly. In each case the “marking center back” or with three defenders the “holding midfielder” should position himself close to the opposing spearhead forward.

The above described positioning of the backs is the most rational method of effectively placing the defenders to prevent an opposing attacker from breaking through. As we stated earlier, if the opposing right winger evades the marking by the left back, the “sweeper” is in a favorable position to challenge and stop him. At the same time extra safety is provided by the other fullbacks moving in towards the middle of the diagonal; if the ball is played near the touch line at the far end, he can safely move towards the center of the defense. In case the attacker on the right side should make a cross field pass to the unmarked attacker on the left side, it will not be difficult for the right back to move quickly and mark his attacker. (We have demonstrated this at our session) The fact that the ball must travel across the field from the other end allows him time to run into position.
The defenders should position themselves in the following manner when play is in the area of the goal they are defending:
When the ball is being played near our goal area, the defenders should adopt close man-to-man marking. Also this was explained and covered in our session) The nearer the ball moves to the goal the closer the backs must be behind or next to the opposing attackers. This kind of close man-to-man marking lessens the danger of a fast attacker breaking away from his marker, because he is not given room to take advantage of his superior speed. (Figure 4)

If the opponents do succeed in breaking through following a successful dribble, faint or fast pass combination, there is still the sweeper in reserve to block the path, the player who in principle is the final obstacle confronting the attacker in his trust and attempt at our goal.


Here I want to mainly concentrate on the two defensive or filtering midfielders. They are also referred to as wing halves!!!! The wing-halves or holding midfielders have the DUTY of keeping an eye on the opponent’s second line of attack, that is opposing midfield players. Wherever the opposing side is in possession of the ball, the midfield players must find and position themselves in the vicinity of their opposite numbers. While the team is on the defensive the midfield players must give close man-to-man marking to their respective opponents. It is important that they do so, because generally it is the midfield players who engineer attacks. The opposing midfield players must be constantly disturbed in their efforts to build up an attack. Close man-to –man marking involves little if any risk in the case of the wing-halves. They are the true, first line of defense after the good delaying work of their forwards; and if one of them is beaten there is still behind them another obstacle confronting the attackers, the second line of defense.

The positioning of the holding midfielders is very largely dependent on the MOMENTARY situation of the ball, the actual state of play. If the ball is in the position of their own attack, the midfielders are allowed to position themselves in front of their mark because in this case they are in a more favorable position to intercept a pass back by an opponent (Figure 5) or if necessary they can join in the offensive movement as the second wave of attack.

If the attack is being made down one side of the field, the holding midfielder on that side should move forward while his teammate at the other end should move towards the middle. (Figure 6) Again this is in ATTACK! We did not go over this but you can see where you need to be on the attack!

In these changes of position, the holding midfielder is required to position himself closer to his own goal and is never allowed to move too far out in front of the opponent he must cover, for he must be able to return to marking the abandoned opponent as soon as possible after his side’s attack has been stopped or foiled in any way.

The holding midfielders should NEVER rush at the man he is covering immediately after the opponent has managed to take possession of the ball. Instead, he should jockey or channel him until the time is right to win the ball (outdoors a tackle MUST be thrown) with the minimum risk. To rush at the opponent is a serious mistake especially if he is a good dribbler and feinter; a successful evasion of the tackle or attempt to win the ball puts the opposing midfielder in a position to quickly achieve numerical superiority in the attack.

When the holding midfielders are about to challenge, tackle or intervene, they must always bear in mind the great responsibility they carry for the whole team, but especially their responsibility to the defense.


Although I can not emphasize enough the importance of the tackle in the central zone or middle third of the game, during indoor season this is not possible as the rules do not allow it. Therefore, since it is impossible to tackle the midfield player is advised to retreat in the direction of his own goal but while doing so he should always challenge the man he is marking.

Inside what is called the “danger zone” (which begins some 20 to 25 yards from the goal line), the holding midfielder must offer MAXIMUM resistance to the attacking opponent. Failure to do so will allow the attacker to try a shot at goal. A quick forceful challenge can be made here with greater possibility of success: the defenders are much closer to one another and if the challenge does not succeed a covering defender can quickly follow with a second forceful challenge. (Again, outdoors here a tackle is a MUST)

A holding mid may often be beaten in midfield by the opponent’s attackers.
In this case the beaten midfielder has the following duties:
If he was beaten in the central zone he should run after the man he marks at full speed and challenge him again for possession of the ball. If he fails to catch up with him a change of position or marking involving the midfield players and fullbacks may prove necessary, depending on the extent of the danger.

When the opposing attacker is thrusting at goal he should if possible be challenged by one of the fullbacks (left or right) and only where absolutely necessary by a center back. It is more advantageous if the fullback makes the first challenge to the oncoming attacker because for the moment the man it is his duty to mark on or close to the touch line is now a lesser danger than the opponent bearing down on goal in the middle. So, it is imperative to go counter reflexes and leave the marked man on the sidelines momentarily unmarked. The center back should only move forward to challenge if the attacker has broken through in the middle and the outcome of the challenge by any of his defensive teammates on either side would be highly doubtful.
When a holding mid has been beaten and another defender comes to his aid, the beaten midfielder should take over the job of covering the opponent the other defender has been marking. (In figure 7 the holding mid moves into the position of the left back or more exactly, the holding mid moves to cover the opponent that the left back has marking.)

In general the holding mid who has been beaten and thereby left without an opponent to cover or challenge should always mark the attacker who, at that particular moment constitutes the lesser danger to goal. In that case the slight interval before the holding mid is in position to mark should not cause any serious trouble as we have demonstrated during our practice session.

When the center back moves to cover the opposing attacker thrusting at goal through the middle and so replaces the player originally marking that opponent (change of marking), the opposing forward should be covered by the sweeper whose position should be taken by the beaten holding mid as quickly as possible as in (Figure 8).

This situation is rather dangerous because a change of marking involving three players is necessary to solve the problem.

The success of these defensive activities will be even more hazardous if one of the defenders is somehow rendered ineffective either as a result of the opponent’s tactics or of an error committed by the defender himself. Again this was covered during our session and all questions and most possibilities of what can go wrong were demonstrated. A rapid change of marking may momentarily make it possible to avert immediate danger, but however smoothly the change is effected there must be moments during the movement when some attackers are unmarked. Please note that due to the narrow field it was the outside backs who in our session made the inside cut to pick up the dribbling opponent. However, on a wider and bigger field it is the job of the “second holding mid” to make the cut in and pick up the dribbler!!!! If the opposition is able to take advantage of these critical moments for the defenders, scoring opportunities are virtually bound to be created.

It is obvious that the even the most perfectly organized collective defensive move is vulnerable and has critical moments. From the point of view of positioning the biggest problem is in countering numerical superiority on the part of the opponent’s attackers. This is the point at which a change of positions or marking becomes necessary for the defenders and however smoothly this move is performed, a highly dangerous gap may open up in the wall of defense even if for a moment or two only. Where the defenders have a good understanding, they can reduce the danger to the minimum.

The examples we have practiced and discussed at the session of a few salient plays. It would not be possible for me or for anyone and it would also be unnecessary to describe all the possibilities in detail. The objective of these examples has been that of bringing to attention the FUNDAMENTAL principles governing collective defensive activities in our system of play.

Collective defensive activities are founded upon mixed defensive activities on the basis of the principle of mutual safety. Basic to this concept is that the opposing forward who offers the greatest threat to goal should always be marked by at least one but possibly two defenders. Close man-to-man marking should be maintained only for as long as no attacker moves clean into the vicinity of the goal, because such an opponent who is not covered is, therefore, comparatively more dangerous. In such cases the defenders should adopt the change of positions and marking while sticking to the principles of mixed defense. (Meaning zonal and man2man) The change of marking however can only avert the immediate danger temporarily. The numerical superiority of the attackers can only be countered if the beaten defender who is momentarily missing from the defense can again join in the collective defensive activities. (THIS IS ONE ASPECT OF OUR GAME THAT IS LACKING!!!!!)


In discussing the positioning of the defenders I referred to the fact that the defenders must position themselves so as to serve the success of defensive tactics exclusively.

At any moment of the game irrespective of whether the play is in the opponent’s half or in front of the defender’s own goal they should position themselves so that if necessary they can give quick and effective aid to the other defenders.

The best way in which one defender can aid another is through change of positioning or marking. The attacker who has beaten a defender should, as a rule, be challenged by the nearest defender. The defender who leaves an opponent unmarked temporarily to challenge an attacker who has evaded cover, has virtually switched his duty under the man2man marking system, he has changed position by running from one into another.

The question arises: when and in what manner a defender should change position?

A change of marking is necessary when one of the defenders has been beaten and an attacker is left free to thrust at goal. This is the VITAL moment at which the changing move has to be started.

The position changing move, however; must be started with utmost care. If the opponent’s attack develops at a fast pace and at a distance from goal and the defense is not yet ready to counter the offensive, the defender on whom the duty devolves to make the switch of marking should delay his move; in other words he should not leave the man he is marking immediately and run to challenge the attacker thrusting towards goal. His first duty is to make every effort to slow down the pace of the offensive, so that the other defenders or midfield players who have moved too far forward and into the opponent’s territory may have time to fall back into their own half and help in defense.

The change of positioning or marking, however, should be executed without delay when the ball is in front of the goal because in that case any unmarked opponent is an immediate potential danger to the goal. If the defenders are grouped in front of the goal area it is much easier to change the marking since the distances among the defenders and, for that matter, between the attackers and defenders are considerably reduced.

Let us examine through examples the ways in which the change of marking involving defenders takes place. Supposing that the opponent’s right-winger has beaten the left-back in the vicinity of the half-way mark and his path towards the goal is no longer blocked.

What should the nearest defender, the centre-back or the sweeper do in such a case? To rush immediately to challenge the right-winger would be a mistake, because both the beaten full-back and the holding midfielders who have moved far up in the field are absent from the defense. When an attacker has made a break-through the position is one of great danger and if the defenders want to counter the offensive with any hope of success, it is vitally important that they should reestablish at least numerical balance between the attacker and the defenders. The best way to achieve this objective is to delay the attack. This should be done by the centre-back or the sweeper by moving circumspectly towards the attacker who has broken clean while the other defenders fall back into position as rapidly as possible. Meanwhile the defenders should move so as to prevent a situation in which the winger can pass to the unmarked centre-forward in an open space. By jockeying, channeling and impeding the line of approach to goal the defenders make it difficult for the attack to make direct progress and the opponents are left with the possibility of square or diagonal passes. Meanwhile the right-back who is moving in towards the centre of defense and left back are given enough time to cover the forward; all the other defenders may be able to run back into position.

It must be remembered that the defenders should not be too hasty in making the change. If the centre-back leaves one of the forwards unmarked too early to run and challenge the oncoming right-winger, this involves the danger of the winger passing to the other forward before another defender has been able to move into a covering position. While affecting the position-changing move, the defenders must always have in mind which attacker momentarily represents the greatest danger to goal. But there is no time for consideration when the ball or the unmarked attacker has penetrated the danger zone. In this case the change must be instantly executed.

It is also necessary to switch marking when an attacker has beaten the centre-back in the middle. It is the duty of the nearest back to make the position-changing move and challenge the attacker. This duty may fall to either full-back, but most often it is the sweeper who has to challenge the forward who has broken through.

Danger is immediate consequence of unexpected central break-through by the centre-forward following midfield play. The goal is exposed to immediate danger if there is not complete harmony among the defenders, because the slightest lack of understanding or split-second delay can lead to a critical situation.

Naturally the beaten centre-back should not remain at the place where he was outwitted; he must join in the defensive activities as soon as he can to assist his teammates. If he has a chance of catching with the forward he should race after him. But it is rarely the case. That is why it is more rational to cover as soon as possible the attacker left unmarked, by the defender who has moved to challenge the centre-forward, or the outwitted defender can choose another unmarked attacker.

It is quite easy to carry out the position changing move if the defenders outnumber the attackers. In such a case defensive movement over a wide area of the field of play, which is what is required to be performed by the defenders of the three-back system, is rarely if ever necessary.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

“Intelligence is quickness in seeing things as they are”

George Santayana

Dedicated to Dr. James Merrell a true Historian


The system of play may be defined as the arrangement of the forces i.e. the team formation adopted in the field with a view to accomplishing tasks which have been set in advance and determined in general. I want to emphasize what are these duties which have been set in advance and defined in general. It goes without saying that the system of play alone is not enough to ensure the final objective of the game, all it can do is to help in achieving that purpose. The system of play cannot be relied on to deal with unexpected situations arising during a game. This falls into another sphere of strategy; that of tactics. So the system is only a frame which offers unlimited possibilities for the application of a wide variety of tactical ideas.
The system of play is in fact a relatively permanent form which dos not alter from time to time as tactics do. Similarly, the system adopted does not depend on the special characteristics of soccer in any country. The formation known as the 4-3-3 is now almost as much in use in the USA and the whole of the continent as it is in Europe and Latin America in general. As I have already mentioned, the system is the arrangement of forces in the area of play. In soccer, the line-up is much more flexible than say, in volleyball in which the position of each player is defined by rules. In soccer the formation gives the impression of being somewhat fixed only at the kick-off. Later, each player attempts to fulfill the tasks set by the system of play the team has adopted. Needless to say, the job of each individual player cannot be laid down in detail by any system of play. The wide variety of differences in individual styles, the balance of force as well as the unlimited possibilities offered by time and space make it impossible to describe fully what a player is expected to do. All that the team formation and system of play can do is to give a general direction; one player, for example, is required to act as a defender while another is entrusted with an attacking role.


And now let us look at the history of the game to see how the modern system of play and the team formation took shape.


The first traces of team formation arose when players began to realize the importance of team work in order to make economic use of their strength. They saw that it was more useful to kick the ball to teammates positioned at various parts of the field than to kick at random. This meant a considerable economy of time and effort since all the players were no longer required to run in pursuit of each movement of the ball.
The next stage in the process was the beginning of an understanding that a more rational approach was required to the purpose of the game: the scoring of goals and, on the other hand, the prevention of being scored on by the other team. It was at this stage that the first traces appeared, however vague, of what is now considered to be regular team formation. The members of the team were now divided into two groups with fairly clearly defined duties; one group of players attacked the opposing goal while the other group tried to hold off the attacks of the opponents.


In England, the country where modern soccer was born, the first team formation emerged and it consisted of nine attackers, one defender and a goal keeper. (Fig. 1)

Today this division appears to be extremely disproportionate, but this can be explained by the relatively poor technical standards and tactical knowledge of the day. It is unlikely that the players had developed even the most elementary form of team-play, and no doubt a two-man defense was successful against as many as nine attackers who tried to work the ball individually.

With the passage of time the development of players’ abilities and the supremacy of attacking tactics brought an imperative need to reorganize the defense through a more rational and proportionate disposition of the players. Since one defender and a goalkeeper were no longer capable of holding the attackers who not only outnumbered them but were efficient and modern by contemporary standards of play, team formation had to be altered. So, without considerably weakening the forward line, two of the nine forwards, the so called half-backs were drawn back to fill the gap between the single defender and goalkeeper and the line of attackers. (Fig. 2)

This formation was used for quite some time. The three man defense succeeded in withstanding the attack of seven forwards.
Then it was Scotland’s turn to introduce a new element into the formation. The forward line was reduced to six men while the defense was made up of two full backs and two halfbacks (today called midfielders) (Fig.3).

The Scots showed that withdrawing four men from the forward line strengthened the defense to a much greater extent than it weakened the attack.


The development of the team formations discussed do far all took place in Great Britain, especially in England. Nothing was known of soccer in other countries at this time. Soccer started to be exported and made its way to mainland Europe than South America in the eighteen nineties or by the end of the nineteenth century, at a time when the playing system was taking yet another step forward towards a formation based on a complete numerical balance between attackers and defenders. This formation based on what was then known as the Pyramid system, was in vogue for many years and as such was developed and evolved by the soccer team of Cambridge University in England in 1883. It was this system that was adopted and used throughout the world. In the pyramid system the forwards found themselves faced with a five man defense, two fullbacks and three halfbacks (midfielders) (Fig. 4.)

The five defenders constituted a double line of defense. The fullbacks took up positions within the penalty area or around it and in front of the six yard box to return the balls that had been “filtered” by the half backs.
The other line of defense was composed of three midfielders. As compared with the strictly defensive duties of the two fullbacks flanking them the center midfielder (#5) was allowed to move relatively freely. When the opponents pressed hard for a long spell, he would help in defense, but normally he acted as a sixth forward to help in attack and in occasional thrusts at goal.
The two outside midfielders #4 and #6 positioned themselves in a line running between the corresponding inside and outside forwards of the opposing team. While they were not required to mark any particular opponent, the outside midfielders had the task of keeping an eye on the wingers as well as the inside forwards (#7 and #8 as well as #10 and #11) of the opposing team. The chief schemer in the attack was the center forward (#9) who often played somewhat deep. At first the attacks were carried out with all the forwards moving in one line. Later inside forwards began to lie back to collect the ball sent forward by the defenders. Wingers moved along the touch line where they were generally given plenty of room to work in.
Although the Pyramid system was later modified by the Italians and Austrians it continued to be the basic formation for many years.


The Pyramid system was still flourishing when the Swiss (yes the Swiss) reorganized the defensive setup to provide greater safety.
The three spearhead forwards were now marked by the two outside midfielders and one of the fullbacks, with the other fullback patrolling the penalty area as a free or (reserve defender). The center midfielder and one of the inside forwards marked the opposing inside forwards and hampered them in building up attacks. (Fig. 5.)

The Bolt system was based on the reserve defender today called the sweeper. This extra man in the defense was ready to move back and forth in the penalty area ready to tackle an opponent who had slipped past the outer line of defense; while the extra defender went into action the player beaten by the opposing forward had to act as the reserve defender.


After seven years of debate and pooling of experiences, the International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) altered what came to be known as the second off-side rule in 1925.
This rule which was formulated in 1866 was extremely favorable to defenders. The old rule made it clear that “….when a player touches the ball or throws it in, a team-mate standing nearer to the opponent’s goal line at the moment contact is made with the ball or the throw in is taken, is off-side and is only allowed to touch the ball or obstruct an opponent if there are at least three players of the opposite side standing between him and the opponent’s goal line….” In figure 6, B is offside but A is not in terms of the old rule.

This rule made things very difficult for the forwards and as a result few goals were scored. Attackers found it virtually impossible to be in the vicinity of the opponent’s goal area without the ball since there had to be three defenders between them and the goal line. Under the Pyramid system the defenders made full use of this advantage as one of the fullbacks generally moved forward almost as far as the half-way line. In order to be onside, the opposing forwards were forced to withdraw within their own half of the field of play to start an attack.
In order to maintain and increase interest in the game, the international body modified the rule so that only two defenders were required to stand between the attacker and the goal line. This alteration opened up immense new possibilities for the forwards, and these have been to the advantage of the game as a whole. Forwards were now able to approach much closer to the opponent’s goal line, since, in principle, the whole forward line was allowed to take up position in front of the player acting as a reserve defender (sweeper) as in (Fig.7.)

For a time ascendancy passed to the forwards as a result of the alteration. The new rule put the defense in a highly unfavorable or, shall I say, dangerous position. So it was imperative to make drastic changes in the defensive line up. Instead of positioning in depth, the fullbacks lined up in length (horizontally). As the forwards usually outnumbered the defenders, the center-half (Center Midfielder) had to be withdrawn to strengthen the second line of defense.
The zonal defense of the Pyramid System was no longer capable of coping with fast spearhead forwards. The new situation required a much greater degree of safety in covering, and this led to fundamental changes in the defensive methods. Hand in hand with the modifications in positions in the position of the defenders, zonal defense was replaced to man-marking. Thus, the basic difference between the Pyramid system and the new formation lay in the different methods of the two kinds of defense. The alteration to the rules was followed by a series of experiments and attempts to find a formation capable of regaining the initiative for the defense. Five years later, under the guidance of the famous manager Herbert Chapman, the English club Arsenal evolved the new three-back-defense. The new system was an enormous success, and Arsenal won the English Football League title 5 times in 8 years and the F.A. Cup twice. This unrivalled record was so convincing a proof of effectiveness of the new formation that it spread rapidly to all the European countries.
Since this formation of defense and attack is shaped like a WM when seen from above, the three-back formation has become known as the WM system. The five forwards play in a formation which resembled a W, while the fullbacks and the wingback play in a shape of a shallow and elongated letter M. (Fig. 8.)


Again for the students of the game it is imperative to understand where and how the game evolved and the more it evolved the more it stayed the same with regards to the role of some players. It is interesting to watch today as many managers dip into the pages of “old school” formation do develop so called new systems yet for those who know the history of the game it is easy to see that these new systems are only derivatives of the old ones. So, with that in mind, let’s examine the duties of the players in the aforementioned system and I would like both the Demons and the Devils to ponder upon these roles and realize how close theirs is to this “ancient” system.

When we defined the system of play, we emphasized that the individual duties of each player determined by the system of play adopted by the team in advance, can only be regarded as general indications of what can be expected from the players during the game, while tactical considerations and unforeseeable situations and solutions will arise during the game. For this reason we can only give an outline of the tasks which confront the players in the defensive centre-half game.
In essence, the goalkeeper’s duties are the same in the WM formation as in any other system.
The defensive line in front of the goal is composed of three backs. The right and left backs mark the opponent’s left and right wingers, respectively the centre-half or the “policeman” as it was called according to popular terminology, must cover the opponent’s center forward.
The two wing-halves (midfielders #6 and #5) form the other defensive line running parallel with the backs. Their task is to mark the opposing inside- forwards. Their role is primarily defensive since their foremost duty is to help the backs. They were only allowed to take an active part in the attack if this is not at the expense of their defensive duties.
The forwards also position themselves in two parallel lines with the inside-forwards securing the line in the rear. Their main role is the preparing and building up of attacks, but they are also required to help in defense.
The first line is made up of three spearhead forwards, the wingers and the center forward who are nearest to the opponent’s goal. They were as today in our system assigned to an exclusively attacking role.


Hungarian soccer initiated changes in the defensive centre-half game which gradually modified it in the early 1950’s. The first signs of these modifications were reflected by changes in the positions of the forwards, and this was a logical development since it was the attackers’ turn to adjust themselves to the new conditions in order to counter balance the supremacy of the defenders.

At first it was a revolutionary change that the center forward was withdrawn to be a deep lying engineer of attacks instead of acting as a spearhead forward. In the memorable game (also dubbed the game of the century, the 20th century that is) Hungary defeated England 6-3 at Wembley Stadium in 1953 (were England was up to that very day undefeated) and the experts were surprised to see the Hungarian wingers moving into attack from behind their inside forwards.
More and more modifications were made to the formation until all parts of the system were affected. For some time, however, the rearguard formation of the defensive center-half game was not affected by these changes, although the growing the distinction between the offensive and defensive roles of the wing-halves showed that something new was evolving.
Despite many tactical variations adopted, it appeared for a time that the basic formation of the defensive center-half game had remained intact.
The 1958 World Cup in Sweden, however, revealed that a new stage of development had been reached in the formation – they called it 4-2-4- system. As the name suggests, the line-up was; four defenders, and four attackers, with a midfield comprised of two players whose role was that of building and initiating attacks. (Fig.9)

This Brazilian system was the outcome of a process in which Hungarian soccer had played a major role between 1950 and 1956. Here it must be mentioned that with the outbreak of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 many Hungarian soccer experts, players as coaches decided either to leave or not to return to Hungary. Amongst these notables were as players, Puskas, Kocsis, Czibor amongst the most famous and Bela Guttmann one of the major architects of the Hungarian success of the 1950’s. Guttmann ended up as coach of Sao Paulo (Santos) in Brazil as well as the technical advisor to the Brazilian National team. Not only Santos but also Brazil as a national team started on their path of 5 World Cup Victories whereas only four years earlier they were ousted by the Hungarians at the 1954 World Cup.
In the rear line of the 4-2-4 system, the two defenders on the flanks have the duty of marking opposite wingers while the two man in the middle of the line cover the spearhead forwards. In contrast to the modified version of the defensive center-half game adopted by the all conquering Hungarian eleven in the early fifties, the four Brazilian defenders stood almost in line and did not venture over the half way line even when their forwards were besieging the other goal.
The greater security of the four man defense of their own goal gave the two middle line men much greater freedom to take part in attacks than was the case with the wing-halves of the defensive center-half game. This role was played by what would once have been described as an attacking centre-half and a forward drawn back from the attack.
The two forwards on the flanks generally moved along the touch line while the pair inside positioned themselves in line with the wingers.

What came next was again a variation on the Brazilian system as even though they have won the title in 1958 and than went on to defend the title in 1962 other footballing nations did not automatically adopt their system and continually experimented with other formations such as the 3-3-4 formation until the 1970’s again the most admirable system the 4-3-4 was introduced and from that moment on it was always the backbone of every system whishing to play a free-flowing beautiful attacking game. It is this 4-3-3 that I also use in my methodology in rearing young players and it is the 4-3-3 that is still being refined and modified. However, the numerical placement of lines will not change, on the other hand the roles of the players within the system at times can and it is my feeling that will continue to change.
To sum up, the constant struggle between defense and attack always gives rise to new tactics. After a time these variations begin to form a standard pattern and so new systems will still emerge.
It would be difficult to forecast the shape of the future in terms of systems of play. In my view it is the experience of the players and the standard of play rather than the team formation which ensure supremacy in soccer. For example with the Demos using a 4-3-3 we have handily beaten teams playing a 3-5-2 which clearly put our 3 midfielders at a disadvantage against the five lined up by the opponent, but do to the discipline and technical as well as tactical superiority of our team we have prevailed. Thus, players capable of taking the frame of the playing system and filling it out with the activity and initiative, imagination and “soccer magic” to give it life are the all important thing.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Alternate Ways for Player Development; The case for Creating the Laureano Ruiz Soccer Academy


One of the many reasons behind soccer’s popularity is the high level of excitement found in televised games from Europe and South America where the attainment of victory promotes continual development in the sport. If we in the US would like to partake in these loud successes, then we too need to learn the process of how to turn a talented player into a professional player. It is known in the countries belonging to the elite of soccer that it is not enough to be born a talented player in order to become a professional in the sport. There are a number of developmental prerequisites that must be met. Meeting these developmental needs requires financial backing, extended periods of training, and a high level of qualification and knowledge.

Slowly, the development of soccer players is becoming an “intellectual industry” since it requires that a high degree of knowledge be transferred not only into the feet, body, and mind of the players, but “hearts” as well. Due to these necessities, we must pay a greater degree of attention to the learning process as well as work to improve the results and efficiency of this learning.

Highly trained professionals must play a large role in training beginning with the youngest age groups. Players need to learn not only the “who, what, when, and where,” but also how—a critical and oft-forgotten part of soccer development.

We can be sure that the development of soccer will not come to a halt since winning gives every professional player and their club increasing social and monetary compensation. To attain these end results, there is a need for specific skills which can only be acquired under quality supervision and over a long period of time.

There are a number of very talented players born in the USA every year who have the capacity to transform the US into a dominant soccer playing nation, and to allow us to evenly compete with the elite of the sport. If we are in fact serious and determined to create professional players out of the talent at hand, it is imperative that from the very earliest stage these players are placed in a protected environment and all of their needs are constantly provided under a program of intensive development. These needs, and our increased expectations, are only possible under the aegis of a soccer school–in our case the Laurenao Ruiz Soccer Academy.

This academy, however, cannot be an academy in name only, but in practice as well. It must provide the highest possible level of professionalism through a professional staff that would differentiate it from all other such entities. Our academy will function on two tiers: creating soccer players out of all those who love the game; and helping players created by the academy graduate into the elite level. Once at the elite level there will be another two steps: identifying players of the highest quality; and cultivating their development under meticulously prepared, professionally qualified, and pedagogically well versed coaches under cultivated superb conditions.

The operation of this type of Academy will entail a significantly higher financial investment than the ones operating in our area. These other Academies, working with a limited or non-existent capital flow, are unsuccessful in the long run because they are incapable of providing all the conditions necessary to the attainment of their stated goals. Because of this they are forced to reverse the process: they align their goals to their existing means. It is evident that their methodology does not produce high quality players. Furthermore, the lack of results turns off parents who have paid significant fees and pushes blame on real or imagined faults found in the players.

Financial constraints are one of the largest obstacles to professional player development. Lack of funding has prolonged the underdog status of American soccer academies and unintentionally impedes the development of talent in future generations. In my opinion, tomorrow’s top performer can not be brought up in the same way today’s professional was prepared yesterday. The coach-player relationship needs greater commitment, professionalism, and dynamism; goals which will require significantly greater expenditures. The profitability of soccer relies upon investment in, and creation of, quality players. The academy will profit handsomely from the development of players who are capable of reaching the elite level that has been coveted for so long in the United States.

It has to be clear that along with money there are several other factors that are needed for the creation of quality. Work based on invalid knowledge will only produce failure. But in order for our players to become well versed in every necessary department, we must shed the mentality and infrastructure shown in youth soccer today, since the task at hand is greater and more cumbersome, and the avenues of approach have changed significantly. It is these new methods that must be implemented in the hunt for newfound success. There needs to be a program in place and staff available to implement these methods and guide the youth on their road to professionalism. This staff must be comprised of enthusiastic, effective, and efficient professionals and should include: field coaches, goalkeeper coaches, a psychiatrist, a dietician, a physical-therapist, and public relations personnel.

We cannot be satisfied carrying on the status quo and facing the opponents of tomorrow with outdated methods of preparation. Such a situation will lead inevitably to failure. We must establish our own path with the new methods whose success I have demonstrated many times over.

It must be very clear from the get go that; our talented players will only become professionals if in the time allotted to us for their training they receive more, better, and deeper knowledge than their competitors. This might be a foregone conclusion, but many Academies lose sight of this tenet and focus instead on earning a profit from the tutelage of the player.

Studying is the basis for all attained knowledge, and this is as true about the game of soccer as anything else. In our Academy, great focus will be placed on improving the effectiveness of studying which in turn will propel our pupils to develop their talents and create excellence on and off the field. These successes will require a depth of knowledge that takes a long time to attain and master.

In order to achieve these high standards we must branch out with our aspects and use all possible means. Compared to other countries with elite soccer programs, it is clear that our current practices are out-of-date and failing to achieve the goals we all have. It is no longer enough to only teach and concentrate on the physical, physiological, and technical aspects. In addition, we need to develop the minds of our players.

Think about the confidence, emotional stability, inner motivation, concentration, and ability to cooperate required of athletes that perform at the highest levels. Player development that fails to include these factors as well will always fall short of its intended goals. It is only the simultaneous development and tutelage of these factors in addition to the physical which, in the end, allow for the talented player to develop into a professional.


The most important factor in achieving our desired level of development in our players is to develop their maturity levels and personalities to the fullest extent possible. Once these faculties are achieved they can greatly aid in the attainment of other means. Maturity, above all, means that the player respects and loves himself, has self-confidence, is reliable, can conquer his fears, accepts his mistakes, stays calm and confident under stressful situations, stays emotionally balanced, enjoys his duties, is a loving and understanding individual, and is happy.

The energy levels of a mature child cannot be sapped by anything which greatly enhances their capacity to learn. They can process and see more of the world in front of them as well as concentrate on the things at hand for longer periods of time. When they are motivated they are easy to work with. Mature children are also better able to overcome difficulties they may encounter as they have the internal drive to recognize their failures and will work to overcome them. It is much easier to teach and mold children with mature personalities because they can handle increased stress levels, are better able to integrate new ideas into their existing knowledge, and they also understand themselves and their emotions better than their less mature peers.

In order to develop the maturity of our players, we, their staff, must ensure that all our actions work to achieving this goal. This is not an easy task because it requires a different attitude and pedagogical approach than that which we, and our players, are used to.

These distances cannot simply be bridged by determination, instruction, nor learning as there are less tangible human qualities involved as well. There are many professionals instructing children who are in their own right thought to be excellent coaches, but who deep down cannot renounce their style of teaching based on authority. These same coaches will never be able to learn the language of cooperative communication and will remain incapable of developing professional players.

In order to develop players with mature personalities mature adults are needed. A mature coaching staff must be able to more deeply analyze the behavior of the players, to be able to react quickly to situation as they arise, and they must be able to provide a loving and secure environment for their players.

In order to become a great professional player it is not merely enough to be technically and tactically superior. We must identify a players’ most important identity assets, those qualities that make players great, and during the developmental stages help our players make these assets part of themselves. In the long run, this inner homogenization will give them added means to succeed.

This homogenization (convergence) will help them reach their stated goals. These types of children, from a very young age, consider soccer to be their preferred vocation, believe that they have all ability necessary to become one of the greats, and believe they are ready to do achieve their goals. This inner belief is performance oriented, active, and passionate, making it easier for them to recognize their own actions in molding their fate. With this type of student, there is little need for disciplinarian action because they are largely self-motivated and capable of resolving on their own many difficulties.

From this it is evident that the emotional state of our players greatly influences their perceptions and self image. Their learning capacity is strongly and directly affected by the impact of their emotional influences. Because of this fact we must help them to carry out their duties with joy and teach them to be able to be masters of their present emotional state, rather than becoming a slave to it.

We can effectively teach them how to handle painful and unjust situations, how to consciously channel their emotions, and how to place themselves in the most optimal emotional state and maintain it. Through this development we can guarantee that during soccer games they can stay in this “self-chosen” emotional state and in turn contribute maximal attention and concentration to their roles within the team.

The players in today’s game are required to make ever more decisions without having the time to consciously make them. It is in these instances that they are left to intuition and an unconscious state of decision making. If in these instances our players are not in the right emotional state, perhaps because they are afraid of the opponent, or are just upset, than these extraneous emotions will have a negative effect on the ability to make quality unconscious and intuitive decisions. The player must be in a state of total and secure presence in order to bring out the best available decisions within him. Without these introspective qualities and emotion control it is impossible to produce a professional performance, and at the developmental stage, to produce effective learning. Those players who do not learn how to consciously manipulate and control their inner emotions will continually fall behind those that do.

It is also important to keep in mind that fear leads to loss of self-confidence. Those performing out of fear, anger, or any other weakened emotional state will never be able to put forth their best performance and will always perform slower and more sluggishly than their counterparts.

The key then is recognizing that one must be able to identify one’s own emotions before learning to control them. It is only through conscious ‘work’ that we can teach our players how to do this, and thus control their emotions and open the door to elite performance.

The performance of our students will increase in direct relation to how they experience and how they process their role in the development of their emotional means. With gradual and positive results during practices and games they can further cement their presence and the players can gradually validate their sense of self-confidence which will result in a fortified ‘winning type’ personality.


Through the complexities of the developmental work in soccer there are a number of secondary aspects which must be kept in mind because of their affect on the players. One such aspect is attention span. As the attention span increases the player is better able to use their focus to increase their knowledge within a shorter time-frame. With this deeper knowledge they will be more able to apply it under pressure both on and off the field.

As the ability to make decisions quickly and intuitively increases, those decisions become more efficient and will allow the player to expend his energies elsewhere on the field. The pinnacle of the game, perhaps, is the point at which most decisions made on the field are less conscious decision and more intuitive response. This allows the restricted attention span mentioned earlier to be most efficiently used. In this fashion they will be able to mold and turn the outcome of the game according to the plan of the coach and their own design.

Learning and teaching in our country is widespread, but its efficiency needs to be reworked in such a way that both become based a cooperation and confidence and ultimately a partnership. Nearly every soccer academy today fails to establish a cooperative learning process. Instead, players associated learning as a directive from a top-down power structure, often leading to the desire to act out against it. To these unfortunate players, success is but a means to avoid punishment. Such an environment inevitably leads them to only put forth minimum effort. There is no more significant destroyer of motivation. Motivation and discipline are constant problems in such a relationship and it must be clear that knowledge attained only through the execution of orders will only produce limited knowledge and, ultimately, produce only dependent and timid players. The achievement of peak performance is simply not possible in such circumstances.

If we want to transfer the love of this game into our pupils and want them to be active and creative part of our practices than we are compelled to make the learning process enjoyable for all the players. We must draw our players into the learning process, maintain high expectations for them, and pay attention to their thoughts, views, and problems. In this process and at this stage it is very important what they think, where they stand in their own development, what kind of conclusions they can draw on their own, what they deem important to learn, etc. If, throughout their learning we encourage them to take an active role in being responsible, than after a certain time they will not only be able to define their own learning material, but they will also be capable to define the best way to learn this material. The greatest tool we can provide them with is the ability to process the actions of the game independently.

By using my method of teaching and learning through communication based on fairness and trust knowledge gathered by passively and following orders can be slowly replaced by a flexible and self-confident knowledge. The importance of this cannot be overstated because it is the exact mentality that is missing on our soccer fields today.

We must focus on the identification of the base values of real superior players which are unfortunately too often neglected in today’s developmental process. A truly great coach can always be spotted by his ability to be able to release the individual talent of his players to a maximal level and make these players subordinate themselves to the interest and service of the team by providing constant cooperation.

The purpose of this writing is not simply to expound upon unused teaching methods, but instead to channel attention towards these methods and ultimately to create an environment that embraces them and acknowledges their capacity for success. This challenge can begin, by understanding that a soccer player is made and not born. These methods have been proven by me over the past eight years at three different clubs, and I believe that the creation of the Laureano Ruiz Soccer Academy is not only a good idea, but a necessary step in the right direction in order to nurture, develop, and later profit from the hard work of all the professionals involved. It will be in this academy that professionals ascribing to the same mentality and teaching methods will find harmony and will be able to transfer all this knowledge to the children of the Hudson Valley and the surrounding localities. To this end, all the adults involved will have to work very hard for the attainment of great results, but I know from experience that this can be a passionate and enjoyable experience for all those involved. We adults are not much different from our students in this regard; once we experience success ourselves we become capable of continually raising the bar. I can think of no better goal in my life than to create and provide the best environment possible for the development of truly great soccer players.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I always enjoy conversations with parents and listening to what they think about the development of their sons in the sport of soccer. I often find that they have a fixed idea about what, when, why and how things should happen in the development of their children's sporting carrier. Furthermore, when asked where these ideas come from, at best the answer is ; well I heard it here or there, I have read it in articles relevant to sport, therefore; it could be said that their ideas are a collage of bits and pieces of often times erroneous information gathered from non-sport experts writing in the local or national papers and magazines.

After my conversation this weekend with a few of the moms, I started thinking and immediately immersed myself in the bibliography and my own experiences as to how young soccer players learn and why this is so. I hope that this will clarify most of the misconceptions I have heard at poolside in beautiful Cobleskill NY.

Mastering soccer is a difficult and complex task. What I am proposing here is the ONLY way to learn the game and is directed towards adults, professional or semi-professional players.

From the time they start until they reach a high level of performance, each player will have gone through (or should have gone through) various phases carrying out very different work in each. This long road requires the patient work of EXPERT coaches. They are consciously and constantly modifying the training methods and procedures. This fine tuning is necessary in order to speed up the learning process. Do not confuse good progress with going too quickly without taking into account the possible repercussions.

Unfortunately, when these training sessions are put into practice, I often find that the same content and training methods are being used by the professionals, amateurs, and youth teams. It seems reasonable to suggest that there should be some sort of training progression and continuity starting with beginners and going right through to when skills have been perfected. However; a great majority of the people seem to ignore the idea.

As youngsters grow and develop physically, their understanding and knowledge of the game also increases. A thorough and methodical program of repeated technical exercises, games and small-sided games is the best preparation. This constant and consistent training gradually produces "complete" and "well-grounded" soccer players.

However; what normally happens is that beginners immediately start playing games using the whole field, goals and regulation sized ball. If this does not happen, than they play small sided soccer on small fields 5 v 5, 4v4 etc., which is also a waste of time. This game is played in such a small playing area that the ball spends more time off the field than on it. Moreover; it is difficult to do much with the type of balls used and the best tactic is to use the classic "boot it" up field. The youngsters who stand out, "the good players", are picked to play in all competitions with a team built around them whenever possible in order to try and win matches. Unfortunately, these youngsters ultimately suffer as they fail to adapt to the two very different ways of playing these games.

On the one hand, youngsters love playing the game. They are motivated and impressed by the quality of the stars and want to emulate them. Unfortunately, even the highest level has its ugly side. Every player should have the opportunity to develop creativity and artistry in his play but the tremendous pressure and the obsession with winning does not allow this to happen. They are not even encouraged to try and produce quality technical moves that potentially could lead to lots of goals. Players only produce monotonous, ordinary, uninspired moves lacking in any creativity or vision because they are more interested in the result.

Even more serious is the psychological and educational damage this mentality instills in these players. There are some players who because of the pressure to win are unable to control their temperament. Instead of concentrating on the game they criticize the referee too much and they are unable to distinguish between playing hard and fast or dirty and violently. They are continually criticize their teammates without stopping to think that perhaps they are also guilty of making mistakes from time to time. They also react to the crowd and if what they hear is not to their liking than they often respond by making gestures and/or comments.

Youngsters are like sponges, eagerly absorbing all they see and hear around them. It is no surprise that they copy both the good and the bad behavior of top players. As professional soccer and soccer at grass roots level is very different, it seems only obvious that the style and objective of the training routines should also differ significantly. Youngsters should follow a well organized and well structured program that is right for their particular age group and ability in order not to hinder their development and progression.

Youngsters and adolescents have a natural physiological predisposition to be able to carry out aerobic and non-lactic anaerobic work. By contrast, lactic anaerobic work has a negative effect on their natural development. This is why they prefer playing games that involve a short but intense effort followed by a long active rest period. This type of activity involves non-lactic anaerobic effort and should last somewhere between seven and eight minutes. However, they are not so keen on the long, intense and very tyring types of activities.

During the first few years of learning, youngsters should carry out a variety of intensive and brief exercise routines that in the past formed the basis for all the physical learning. These exercises should go hand in hand with other longer but less intensive sessions. The potential lactic anaerobic ability is not fully developed as youngsters grow. They should avoid games and activities that involve a quick burst of energy as their reserves are more lactic.

Sports scientists have reached the following conclusions:

  1. The maximum aerobic potential is reached at 17 and then reduces progressively thereafter.
  2. The maximum oxygen production in relation to body weight is reached at the age of 16.
  3. The maximum non-lactic anaerobic potential is reached around the age of 15-16.
  4. The maximum potential for lactic anaerobic potential is reached from the age of 20 onward.

As fatigue is the principal enemy during learning, this type of intense activity is also inappropriate for youngsters as the elimination of lactic acid is achieved more slowly than with adults. Youngsters should take more time to recover and need longer breaks between activities.

Cardio-circulation and breathing functions are very important factors when doing any physical exercise but there is a big difference when doing any physical exercise but there is a big difference when comparing youngsters and adults. In youngsters this is not yet very efficient. The heart responds to every muscular effort by greatly increasing the heartbeat in order to be able to pump more blood around the body to meet the demand. This increased blood circulation provides the muscles with more oxygen and glycogen. Hollman says the following: "During a moderately paced two km. run a youngster will reach an average pulse rate of 137, whereas on average an adult will stay constant at 106. This is because the effort needed is much greater in youngsters because the size of the heart is much smaller than that of an adult. When heavy demands are placed on the heart the circulation and heartbeat has to increase as it takes time to fully establish the correct oxygen levels in the muscles after the effort." (This is one of the biological dangers I speak of when HS coaches run the youngsters to their deaths)


Although this should be very evident and respected by all, it seldom is. The majority of High School Coaches and many unskilled, unlicensed volunteer coaches are the main culprits in ignoring these differences and constantly placing the youngsters under their care in grave danger.

As there is a big build-up of lactic acid during a match the majority of soccer players should not perform high intensity speed and stamina work during training.

Only professional players should carry out this type of training activity and even then only once a week. However; youngsters should never carry out this type of training as it has a great effect on enzyme functions. This training causes the loss of vitamin B, C, E, plus the loss of minerals such as potassium, calcium and magnesium and it puts too much strain on the central nervous systems.

The main aim of the sport of soccer is to develop and not to destroy. The growing process burns up a lot of energy in youngsters and hey need plenty of rest. (This is another reason why the generalist approach is counter productive to players as they play the other sports during off days and never get the rest necessary for their recovery.) But moderate physical activity also helps to encourage this development and growth, outweighing the risk related to exercise.

On the other hand, if the physical activity is too demanding the benefits are lost and this can put the body under too much strain ad impede the natural growing process. Studies in the USA have shown that youngsters are put under too much strain when lifting weights and this can produce too much arterial pressure which in turn can cause serious damage.

The frequency of training should also be different for youngsters and adults. A professional trains taking into account the demands of the game, including the physical and mental effort. The amount of training will remain at similar levels during the off season and the period of competition. To make up for this continued effort, and to achieve adequate recovery, the training sessions must incorporate frequent but short breaks. If the breaks are too long then the impact of the physical and technical training will be greatly reduced. Of course the longer the break, the more chance of relaxing too much and the danger of muscle stiffness and the longer it will take the body to get back to optimum working levels. For this reason, breaks should never last more than three days during the season as when this happens there is a marked drop in the players fitness level. During the off season it is a good idea to have a well-deserved rest and relax but to continue light physical training. This total rest should last approximately eight days. The vacations should last a month as players need this amount of time to totally unwind and recover mentally.

Youngsters should always follow a training program that takes into account their biological and psychological requirements to avoid any negative effect on their natural development. This is another aspect that is overlooked by all the zealous winning at all cost mentality coaches. As far as the physical side of training is concerned (bearing that it is always linked to the psychological side), for best results and to overcome the negative aspects of excessive fatigue, youngsters should follow an alternating program of exercise. They should rest every other day and should perform a variety of sessions of ever increasing intensity and others with light and fun activities. This is why we have practice every other day and two days rest after games. No other "cross training" is needed!

Regarding the psychological side of training, youngsters have a different physical resistance to stress than adults. They also have inconsistent powers of concentrations and they are not always able to maintain motivation levels over long periods. For these reasons some youngsters do not find training very appealing; their state of mind is very changeable, although this is usually dominated by irritability, and they lose appetite and find it difficult to sleep. These and other factors are all symptoms that they are not adapting well to the training program. (It is becoming very redundant to mention which coaches do this and respect it and which do not).

To avoid this from happening (apart from hoping for slightly more maturity), it is important for the youngsters to be happy with the atmosphere during training. This will help give him a positive attitude and will allow him/her to produce better results. If the youngster trains close to home, has a good relationship with other trainees and coaching staff, if the weather conditions during the sessions are favorable and he has the help and support from family and friends, then there is a greater possibility that he will be happy and motivated.

A youngster with potential in other sports such as basketball, swimming or tennis knows that if he is to have any chance of reaching the top then he must train at least four hours a day. However; where soccer is concerned, youngsters and their families tend to think they can achieve success immediately without having to put in any hard work.

In most cases, children do not make the best use of the summer months which is the best time to practice their game. The weather is good, the days are long, and they have tremendous amount of free time but they often choose to give soccer a rest in order to take up other activities during this time.

It is very common in the US and now even Europe, that youngsters aged 14 or 15 only train for one and a half hours twice a week. Whatever their potential or aspiration, under these conditions they WILL NEVER make it in the game.

Unfortunately, others train too much, as far as the quantity and duration is concerned. Usually the ones deemed talented enough, with good potential are normally worked too hard. They follow training programs that I feel are excessive and potentially damaging, as youngsters are not designed to carry out intensive activity over long periods. For this reason, the intensity and length of the training should be reduced and more breaks should be incorporated to allow full and total recuperation. Frequently players are required to play 70-80 games a season and this has a tremendously damaging affect both physically and psychologically and also on their soccer.

Studies have shown that playing a game takes a lot out of youngsters and so they need a longer rest period between matches than adults. These are the recovery periods the different parts of the body need in order to get back to normal after a match: Heart-1 hour, muscles-12 hours, glands-24 hours, liver - 36 hours, and the brain-48 to 72 hours.

Perhaps this is the answer to the classic question as to; Why do 15-17 year olds' full of potential leave the game by the ages of 20? Or if they make it in the game an become professionals then why do they run out of mental and physical reserves when they approach the age of 30?

As far as soccer itself is concerned, playing so many matches, combined with the games and practices of "those other sports" means that there is little time to practice and perfect skills. As only light training can be carried out 48 hours before or after a match if they play 80 matches during a ten month period it is obvious that there are not many days left to practice and perfect the game.

It is important for youngsters to play matches in order to pit their skills against others and improve their knowledge and experience of the game. However, playing too many matches has a negative effect sooner or later. During a game a player may see a lot or little of the ball depending on his performance and ability of the opposition. Either way it will always be a lot less than he would be able to achieve during a well-planned training session. For example, during a game a striker may have 2-7 shots on goal, wheres during training session he may be required to practice 35,70 or even more times if the coach thinks it is appropriate. This is also true for heading, dribbling, passing and other skills.

Of course, the training session also allow players to practice and work on the team tactics and moves. This is the only way to work towards perfection and get an understanding, not during games. What future would an orchestra have if it only preformed concerts without ever practicing?

After reading this blog, please revisit the article on the Specialist or the Generalist as it ties perfectly as a continuation to the above blog.