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Only One Piece of Advice
by Lawrence Fine
A sprint after a pass is an invaluable element
Without a doubt, if I were restricted to teaching a team only one thing regarding tactics, it would be the importance of making a sprint after every pass.
Not only is this the most important thing you can learn as a soccer player, it also is one of the easiest to teach. To stress the importance of the run, however, is much more difficult.
The way I do this is to ask players why they ever pass the ball. Surprisingly, not many have a good answer. I then explain that the only reason to ever pass the ball in the game of soccer is if one of their teammates is in a better position than they are. This could mean being in a more offensive position, a safer position or simply one that is under less pressure. Regardless of their reason for determining that the player is in a better
position, they should never pass the ball to a person who is not in a better position. Once the ball has been passed, the passer only really knows one thing: the person who now has the ball is in a better position than he or she is. Because of this, the logical thing for the passer to do is to move to a better position so he or she can receive the ball back. Since every person should be working to get into a better position after every pass, it would be
beneficial to get to that space as quickly as possible. The way to do this would be by sprinting into the space you want to get to next. Once explained it this way, players seem to understand why it is important to sprint after every pass.
The way to practice getting a sprint after every pass is actually quite simple. Start with a game of keep-away in a grid that is broken into 10 x 10 squares. If the whole grid is 40 x 30 this is any ideal size for a team of 18 players or so. The game begins with a player passing the ball to another player in a different box. The passer then must sprint into a different box as well. This forces the players to get their heads up to find someone beyond the area a
few feet around. It also gets them into the habit of sprinting after every pass. In the beginning it will seem a bit hectic, but once they get used to it, things will go smoothly. Once the team gets comfortable with this, the level can be raised by requiring the sprint be into two different squares after each pass.
This game can be turned into a competition where the teams get a point for each box the ball travels through on a pass (if it is passed through two squares into a third, the team receives three points). Points are only awarded if the pass was completed and the sprint was done properly. The first team to 50 points wins -- this game actually goes quite quickly if done properly.
Another drill to help establish the habit of sprinting after every pass is to play a small-sided game (with goals) where the only restriction is a 10-yard sprint after every pass. This 10-yard requirement is a minimum, not a maximum. Any pass that is not followed by a 10-yard sprint results in a loss of possession. If players consistently are not sprinting after a pass, other types of punishment can be built in to encourage them to get the run in each time.
Players typically find this "restriction" makes their play much better, so although they don't enjoy the added running, they will continue it simply because it allows them to play at a higher level.
The great thing about these two games is that, done properly, they are very intense games that typically result in good soccer and excellent fitness as well. They also will help develop the habit of sprinting after every pass, which will allow the entire team to raise its level of play. .
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.