By Bruce Brownlee
There are several match hazards that you will experience during the years ahead with your team. There are some coaching instructions you can give before kick-off that may help your team get a better tactical result, and there are some team management solutions to some of the other hazards. Only a few of the tactical suggestions following will help most teams at U8, for example, but at that age, coaches should not worry much about tactical adjustments, as long as the kids are getting to the fields, getting their playing time, and having fun on a safe field.
If you get choice of ends, play with the wind at your back in the first half. The wind could stop or change by the second half. When playing against the wind, keep passes on the ground, make clearances wide. If the wind is very strong, clear everything from the defending third of your field, not just from the penalty area, and sort out possession in the midfield or attacking thirds.
2. Bad Sun Angle
If it is clear that sun be an extreme problem at one end during the second half, take that end during the first half if you have a choice. Otherwise, ask your captain to take the end with the least sun in your keeper's eyes during the first half. Clouds may arrive before half-time.
Ask your keeper to get body and hands behind every ball to ensure that a wet ball won't slip through a grip or skip through legs. Player communications will have to be louder.
4. Wet Or Muddy Field
If standing water or mud stops instep passes, coach your players to loft their passes and to carry the ball in attack. In defense, don't play possession at the back. Keep a tight defending shape, and clear everything from the defending third into the midfield or attacking third first time. If standing water covers the center of the penalty area, play the ball wide and attack the goal by crossing or shoot from outside, rather than attacking by penetration on the dribble or with combination play.
5. Deep Grass
If deep grass makes long instep passing difficult, encourage your players to loft their passes to the wings and to space behind the last defenders, to play shorter combinations, and to carry the ball in attack. Instead of diagonal balls on the ground to the wings, play lofted diagonal passes. In defense, the deep grass will assist your defenders, so ask them to be patient and to keep the attackers in front of them, no diving in. Now, what's "deep grass" varies by your training conditions. Bermuda grass teams from Atlanta and Dallas find fescue fields in Cincinnati, Washington DC, or Pleasanton CA to be pretty slow going, but a team from St. Louis, Indianapolis, or Milwaukee would not notice any difference.
6. Hard Field With Clumpy Grass
If you are the home team, assess your team's skill with respect to the other team. If you are way ahead, select a game ball that is inflated to the legal maximum and let the other team struggle with a bouncing ball. If you are way behind, select a softer ball. Urge your players to keep the ball on the ground and to pass to feet. If the opposing team is a whack ball team, you'll want to coach your players to attack by combination play and dribbling, and to avoid passing the ball or crossing the ball into the space in front of the opposing defenders. Cross the ball or chip the ball into the space behind the central defenders instead, or play a through ball from midfield into this space. Ask one of your strikers to use the opposing sweeper as a starting position and to challenge for every ball so that the sweeper will not have the chance to clear cleanly. Ask your central defenders to keep more depth in their defending shape, and ensure that your wing mids and midfielders track runners on loss of possession. Despite all the rude things we say about whack ball teams, many of them are decent at transition to attack, and they get people forward.
7. Narrow Field
Persuade your wing players to get all the way out to the touch-line in attack to make the best of a bad situation. Keep your strikers pushed up to get as much back to front shape as possible, since you don't have much in width. Take advantage of the narrowness of the field and attack with crosses from the wings.
8. Short Field
Unless the opponents play flat at the back and push out a lot, there will not be much chance to play through balls or use the space at the back of the defense. Ask your players to keep the ball on the ground and to attack by dribbling, by combination play to penetrate the penalty area, and by crossing attack from the wings. In defense, clears should use the full width of the field. Wing mids will need to check back to provide feet visible to the ball. Likewise, your strikers should take turns checking back into midfield to provide feet visible to the ball, but, at any moment, one of your strikers should be playing off of the opposing central defenders to provide someone forward to receive the ball.
9. Under Inflated Ball
Experienced coaches, players, and referees can easily identify an under inflated ball by sound, but many referees are amazingly indifferent to under inflated balls. Most of these referees never played and don't touch the ball except to place it for kick off. Further, many referees do not realize that a properly inflated ball is amazingly hard. Ask the referee to check the ball when it goes in to touch. If you get no results, try again at half-time if you have a younger age team. Older boys teams routinely at the top level deliberately shank poor balls far into the woods where possible to force a change to a better ball.
10. Slippery Ball
Strangely enough, many balls issued at tournaments you attend in the future will be of "economy" quality or will have such a slick coating on the outside as to not be "keeper friendly". Prepare for this by roughing the surface of the ball before you play in case the field marshal requires you to use the bad ball. Take a full sheet of coarse grit sandpaper and a nail file to tournaments. Sand first, groove last.
Bruce Brownlee coached boys soccer from 1978 to 1988 in Marietta, Georgia. Coached girls teams from 1988 to 2003 for Tophat Soccer Club in Atlanta and AFC Lightning Soccer Club in Fayetteville, Georgia. Served as a staff ODP recruiter and coach in 2002-2003. Returned in 2010-2011 to help coach his granddaughter’s U11 team. Won 4 state cup championships at Tophat. Proud of his four children who played top-level club soccer and amateur and college soccer later. His site Soccer Coaching Notes.com is a terrific resource for club and amateur soccer coaches.