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Cal South E-News | October 2010 COACHING EDUCATION

October 22, 2010

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Critical Times

by Lawrence Fine

Taking advantage of these time frames could be the difference

The most dangerous times during a soccer game are the first five minutes of each half, the last five minutes of each half and the first two minutes after any goals are scored.

The reasons for why these time periods are important are well understood but not actually well utilized. The reason the first five minutes of the game are so important is that most teams are unprepared for the start of the game. They tend to use the first few minutes of game play essentially to finish up their warm-up and feel the other team out. It's quite similar to a boxing match. In most boxing matches, the fighters dance around for the first round or so to get a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their opponent.

Then Mike Tyson burst onto the scene. While the other boxer was trying to find his rhythm, Tyson would explode from his corner at the bell, attack and score a knockout. I'm not a boxing fan (and certainly not a fan of Mike Tyson), but the philosophy behind this strategy makes sense. While the other team is trying to break a sweat and get a feel for the game, a smart, well-prepared team can try to push forward aggressively and score quickly to set the pace right away. The team that comes out truly ready to play in the first five minutes can have a tremendous advantage.

The last five minutes of the first half also is an important period because it sets the tone for halftime. By pushing hard during this period, it can do a lot of psychological damage to the opponent. In order to do this, a team must be both physically and mentally fit.

The first five minutes of the second half are just as important. The opponent frequently has been sitting down during halftime and is not completely stretched out for the second half. Jumping on them early before they are ready to play can negate anything they have been told by their coach at halftime. I have always believed this period is one that can most be controlled by the coach. By talking to the team during the first part of the intermission, then getting them back up to stretch some and then actually run allows them to be ready to play when the second half whistle is blown.

The last five minutes are important for obvious reasons. The main way to prepare for this time period is through good conditioning.

The reason the period immediately after a goal is important is that the team who was scored on frequently will be down and may be engaging in finger-pointing to assign blame for the goal. Attacking when they are done will allow you to be on the offensive when they are most vulnerable. This is why it is so common to see a second goal scored immediately after the first. The team that scored the goal also is vulnerable because it sometimes still is reliving the goal and isn't always mentally ready to play immediately after the score.

Teams that both understand the important times of a game and can take advantage of them will be more successful than teams that don't. Keep in mind that while many people know some of these time periods are important, very few actually do anything about it. Making a concerted effort to step up play during these important time periods can make a difference.

Editor's Note: Lawrence Fine produces FineSoccer.com, an online resource for a variety of tips, ideas and newsletters related to soccer coaching. A member of the NSCAA Website Development Committee, Fine also serves as volunteer assistant coach for an NCAA Division I men's team.