By Tony Earp
I am Tall or I am Short
Unlike other areas of the game, there is no way to train a player to be taller. If there was, I would have found it by now. Being tall gives a player a clear advantage winning a ball out of the air. A shorter player would have trouble winning a “50-50” ball out of the air against a taller opponent. Does that mean the smaller players does not even challenge for the ball? Are there ways that the shorter player can be effective against the taller players?
For one thing, a smaller player may be able to position themselves better by being able to read the flight of the ball getting to the ball faster than the taller player. Also, the smaller player can use their body to off-balance the taller player to make it much more difficult for the taller player to get a clean shot at the ball.
If you are a taller player and great in the air, that will not help you much when the ball is on the ground. If you are playing a team who is smart enough to know that they are not going to win many balls in the air so they keep the ball on the ground, then how does the tall player contribute to the game? The tall player still needs to be excellent at positioning themselves to intercept passes and be first to the ball. A tall player cannot just rely on their ability to play out of the air, but will also need to be very effective with their feet and when the ball is on the ground.
I am Strong or I am Weak
Physically strong players may try to dominate and push through players on the dribble or physically remove a player from the ball when defending, but what about when their opponent is stronger? Now how does that player beat a player on the dribble or win a defensive battle? The player will need to rely more on their skill with the ball and their defensive positioning and timing of tackling the ball to have success. Without the physical advantage to rely on, the player will struggle to be effective against a physically equal or better opponent.
Now if you are the smaller player and not as physically strong player, you need to be able to play in a way to take some the physical battles out of the game. For example, a smaller player will need to be better with their first touch to move into space and away from defenders to avoid being pushed off the ball. If the player can be mobile and deceptive with their first touch, it is much harder for a physically dominate defender to make contact with the body to move the smaller player off the ball. Defensively, a smaller player is not going to push many players off the ball, so the player needs to anticipate the game very well to step into passing lanes and be patient to look for good opportunities to tackle the ball and poke it away from an attacking player.
I can Dribble or I can Pass
Some players are exceptional at dribbling the ball and taking on players 1v1. Although if that is the only thing they do, their actions become very predictable and defensively it becomes easier to anticipate what the player will do with the ball each time they get it. With little chance the player will pass the ball, defensively, a team can pressure the ball with multiple players without worrying about the player passing the ball into the space being exposed by the pressing defenders.
If a team is not giving a player time to turn and dribble to be dangerous offensively, then the player needs to be an attacking threat through distribution. As mentioned above, if a team is committing more players to try to defend one player, it leaves space exposed that the player being pressed could pass into to beat the pressure. Without the ability to pass accurately and with pace, or the tactical knowledge to recognize those opportunities, the player will quickly become ineffective.
This is also true for players who ONLY look to pass the ball. They get it and quickly pass it away no matter what is going on around them on the field. If a team picks up on the fact that a player poses no threat attacking forward with the ball, when the player is in possession, the team can drop off and take away passing lanes forcing the player on the ball to force a pass into a player who is marked or into smaller gaps on the field that are hard to play through.
If a player is being given space, and the team is challenging that player to move with the ball. The player must be able and confident enough to move with the ball to pull defenders out of position to create space to pass into or free a teammate up to pass to. Again, if a player is unconfident moving with the ball or attacking space, it becomes easier for the other team to anticipate what the player will do with the ball each time it comes to him. Now, do not get me wrong, playing quick one and two touch passes is great, but it can become predictable if players do not know or are not able to move with the ball at their feet and attack space when they are the person with the most space and time.
Most players are not great at everything, but players through good coaching and experience playing the game should be able to play away from their strengths when necessary and compensate for their weaknesses on the field (while trying to improve those areas of their game). A player cannot become too reliant on just one area of their game, and cannot allow a hole in their game to completely make them ineffective on the field. Both limit a player’s ability to play at consistently high level in any type of game and against all levels of opponents. There are always players who are bigger, faster, stronger, and technically and tactically superior. Based on the opponent, great players recognize when they can use their strengths to their advantage, when they cannot, and how to limit someone else’s ability to take advantage of weaker areas of their game. Being a very self-aware player, and having a great understanding of how to play the game, are two of the most important qualities of a high level soccer player.