Making risk assessments to develop players

It was interesting last week when i turned up pitch-side to watch a game played by our Under 13s team against a tough local rival.

Mo Salah Liverpool

Mo Salah scores against Roma in the Champions League

Before the game kicked off we were discussing the goals that had been scored in the Champions League and the Premier League.

We were all marvelling at the outrageous skills on show and how on earth those players could do that.

Five minutes later the same coaches were screaming at their Under 13 players to “GET RID OF IT!” and “PASS IT, PASS IT” when the players were running skilfully with the ball.

And that is why we marvel at players with skill because when our young players try to show skill we invariably tell them not to do it.

Risk taking in the final third

I had a very interesting chat with a different group of coaches last season, 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.

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.

One-twos to accelerate away

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.

When Argentina played Switzerland in the first knockout stage of the last World Cup in Brazil, former Real Madrid and Manchester United star – now at PSG – 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.
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 much quicker they develop their soccer understanding.

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