Making risk assessments

I had a very interesting chat with a group of coaches last week, discussing risk taking in the final third of the pitch and how to get young players to try different skills, taking risks that can open up defences.

Some coaches are surprised that I advocate encouraging young players to take risks in all areas of the pitch, from the very first ball out from the keeper to the final shot at goal. There should be no limits to where on the pitch the players can take risks.

It isn’t easy. With my Under 14s last season there was a lot of pressure from parents to cut out mistakes. I had to educate the mums and dads so they understood that making mistakes are key to the player’s learning curve – as long as they do learn from it.

Encouraging risk taking

The team was very good at creating goals and playing a fast attacking game but I also encouraged risk taking with the ball at the back. It helps to show players the importance of keeping the ball all over the pitch – lose it in front of goal and you could be punished.

This idea met with a fair amount of opposition. So, why allow players to use skills in front of goal? I’ve seen some brilliant games where my players have played one-twos or accelerated away from pressing attackers right in front of their own goal and not only does it give the player confidence, it advances the team up the pitch in control of the ball and in control of the game.

The Di Maria factor

When Argentina played Switzerland in the first knockout stage of the World Cup in Brazil way back in 2014, Angel Di Maria lost the ball 50 times. The watching pundits on TV were outraged – how could a player of such quality lose the ball so often? Then he scored and won the game.

Di Maria is a player who tries things all over the pitch. He is fast and very effective in what he does, but he does try lots of things that no-one else would dare attempt. Which is why, of course, he scored and no-one else did. It ended 1-0, goal to Di Maria, game over.

This is the freedom that players are given when they play for me, but I wont let mistakes hinder players. If it happens more than a handful of times, then it’s time to step in and make corrections.

It is your coaching instinct that tells you the player hasn’t learned from doing it wrong. Try coaching this way and watch how much more your players enjoy the game and how quicker they develop their soccer understanding.

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