5 Ways to Avoid Playing Down to Your Opponents' Level
Quite often teams will come across a situation when they play an opponent who is not as developed, not as strong, and probably not up to the standard of the division your team competes in.
This occurs at all levels of the game, just think of a cup competition where the mighty Premier League teams play lower league minnows, everywhere you look dramatic mismatches can occur.
If your team finds itself in a situation where you are playing a lesser opponent, here are 5 ways to avoid playing down to your opponents' level.
1. Don't Try to Do Too Much
The tendency for players playing against weaker opponents is to try and do too much, like trying to dribble 4-5 players instead of focusing on good ball circulation, or taking risks in the defensive third that your normally well-disciplined defenders would never consider.
This is commonplace, and happens all too often, but should not be allowed to occur.
If your team finds itself in this environment, remind your players not to over-elaborate or alter the way they've been working on playing, remind them that just because they are playing weaker opponents, it doesn't mean that team tactics or principles should go out the window.
2. Give Minutes to Players on The Periphery
If your opponents' record, or an initial passage of play indicates that you are going to stroll to a victory, don't run up the score and beat down your opponents just because the option is on the table.
Make plans to incorporate the players on the periphery of your team into your match day, or second-half lineup, so that they can gain the valuable game-time experience they need to develop their abilities.
Giving big minutes to the players that are typically your substitutes, and allowing players to try new positions, is a great way to avoid playing down to your opponents' level.
3. Work on Concepts from Practice
When you come face-to-face with a lesser-developed, less tactical, or technically astute team, use it as an opportunity to reinforce and put into application the concepts and ideas you've been working on with your team in practice.
Work on playing out of the back, switching the point of attack, creating overloads, whatever it may be, use the game as one big teachable moment wherein you focus on the ideas and methodology you're trying to implement in training.
4. Set Conditions for Your Team
Depending on how big of a mismatch your team finds itself in, you can manipulate the conditions you set to create better soccer.
Ask you players to connect a certain amount of passes before attacking your opponents' goal, require them to play with a limited touch count, don't allow them to score again, or even consider removing a players so that your team can experience what it might be like to compete with a player sent off.
There are a multitude of different tweaks and changes you can enforce to make the game more exciting and competitive, it all comes down to getting creative and asking your players to work hard to get better.
5. Remember the Big Picture
Remind your players to remember the big picture, if you're up against a team that you can easily dominate, remember to share with your players that there will be games coming down the pike that will require the team to be at their physical, mental, technical, and tactical peak.
Don't let anyone switch off, force the players to incorporate some of the ideas above to turn a potentially nonproductive scenario into something meaningful for the team.