1. Player Development for Girls’ and Women’s Soccer
Head Coach ’96 Olympic Gold Medallist; ’99 World Champions
Let’s review Part I in this series, I addressed how important it is for a
player and a player’s team to attend a professional (WUSA) or an international
(WNT) game to enhance player development. If we do that regularly with an
analytical eye we, as a soccer country, become a soccer culture and our players
develop soccer savvy…what I call sophistication.
Every team should make it an objective to attend a professional or
international game at least once per season and also to, when it is impossible to
attend live, watch or tape these games on TV.
In Part II, I want to address some of the technical and tactical issues that
our players, coaches and administrators need to consider.
We all agree that we cannot sit and watch other nations catch us as they
put more resources into their female select and national teams. As a nation, we
must continue to evolve our player development ideas, scheme and follow
So where are we technically and tactically and what areas do we need to
emphasize in player development?
Defensively, we need to become better individual defenders. Top
defenders prevent service out of their zone or from their mark and they can put
pressure on a player to neutralize their ability to find dangerous options while still
containing this player from penetrating with her dribble.
Our players need to close space while the ball is traveling from one
attacking opponent to another so that as the 1st
attacker receives the ball, she
feel the pressure of an arriving but patient defender. As the female game
evolves, defenders and defenses have to keep pace because, in the modern
game, the transition from winning the ball defensively and organizing the attack
quickly to create goal-scoring opportunities grows in importance.
As team defensive units, we have to understand defending in groups, the
spacing between defenders, being able to defend in a delayed high-pressure
scenario. By delaying high-pressure, we can guide opponents that are building
their attack out of their defensive zone, allowing us to trap and then counterattack
before they can organize numbers behind the ball.
Our players need to understand the nuances of pressuring opponent
players into wide spaces or towards the touchlines or why a team defensive
concept may be to pressure centrally into packed midfields or towards covering
2. defenders. The more our players understand, the more they will be able to read
the game from a defensive shape standpoint and make solid tactical decisions.
1. Overall our attacking flank play needs to improve. We are not
proficient enough at crossing the ball with balls that are whipped in that either
find the attacking space or are put on players’ heads or feet. Currently, our flank
service and crosses have too much fluff (hit too high) that allows defenders time
to recover to compete and goalkeeper added range to control their penalty area.
How much do teams train technical flank service? I think most teams pass on
this specific training and game results indicate such. However, players have a
responsibility here also. How many flank players, at the end of training, ask a
goalkeeper and a striker to jump into the goal area so that they can practice
effective crossing of the ball?
In the modern game, center of midfields are more concentrated with
players. Virtually all the systems of play move their midfielders more centrally to
clog up that portion of the field; therefore, flank defenders must be better soccer
players. Too many of our flank defenders are good destructive players but are
not comfortable in the middle third or attacking third with offensive
responsibilities. This must change, as these players must take on larger play-
2. Range of play must improve. All players are comfortable with seeing
and making 10 yard decisions, but when it comes to seeing options offensively
and then having the technical ability to make plays over 20 or 30 or even 40
yards, we are very limited. The players that can read the sweeper from 40 yards
or where our weak side players are and then be able to deliver balls to benefit
the team are very rare. Our training needs to incorporate the ability to see the
“big picture” before, while and after receiving the ball and also, then, the technical
ability to strike a 40 yard pass that can break apart a cohesive defense.
I remember in 1996, the first time that the WNT had the confidence and
the ability to skip-pass from one outside back to the other over the midfield. This
doesn’t come quickly and involves both technical and psychological adjustments.
3. Possession continues to improve especially in the defensive third of the
field. However, we also need to improve possession and preparation of attack in
the middle third and then use probing possession in the attacking third. What we
are after is possession with the element of “speed of play”. I define speed of play
by ball movement; player movement and team movement. The ball movement
can be part of the recognition of early penetrative options and then effective
passing to take advantage of those options. Speed of ball movement can also
be impacted by 1 and 2 touch passes before looking for the final pass that
creates a shot on goal.
Speed of player movement is the speed of support players to arrive to
receive a ball or provide options for the 1st
attacker. It is also the speed of player
movement to get in advance of the ball, which drags defenders off 1st
and allows the ball handler more options to tear a defense apart. Team
movements are the recognition by more than 1 or 2 players but by a large group
3. of the team as they all move together and read the game as to the immediate
needs when they arrive in a part of the field. Team movements also mean that
as they move together in attack, they maintain a balance so if the ball turns over,
there is sufficient shape to prevent a counterattack.
Possession also refers to changing the point of attack. By using effective
range of play and appropriate technical and tactical ability, the attacking team
can change the point and, maybe, double change the point of attack to start to
breakdown the cohesiveness of the defending team. Sometimes, you must play
East-West to go North-South.
These are just some of the key areas of player development that we need to
concentrate on as a country. Again, these should be part of the overall plan and
directives from April Heinrichs, our National Team Coach.
Thanks for being part of the YES – WUSA initiative this year. See games and
become a better player. Good luck and I hope to see you at a WUSA Game!
In Part III, I will discuss the psychological areas of player development as well as