Creating a Possession-Based Team: Philosophy
Pep Guardiola, using the methods of Johan Cruyff, created the greatest team the world has ever seen.
Pep's Barcelona, from 2009-2012, won 14 trophies in four seasons, making him the most successful coach in Barcelona's history. While this teams results were truly incredible, it was the style of their play that so drastically effected the world's game.
Pep employed a possession based style that dominated teams in every area of the field. Combined with their tenacity in counter pressing, Barcelona would routinely pin their opponent within their own area for the majority of the match. Their movement both off the ball and with the ball, gave the impression that this style of play is quite simple; Routinely passing the ball with such ease.
Yet this impression couldn't be further from the truth.
In order to be a possession-based team, it requires an incredible amount of work on various different facets of the game. Quite obviously, teams must work to become proficient on the ball. Players' first touch and passing must constantly be developed.
In addition, it is imperative to give players a framework of general ideas on how to execute the moves you are requiring from them. In the early stages of development, we will provide players with pattern play in order to execute in various different situations.
Many have described Pep's teams when building from goal kicks as almost “robotic,” executing with incredible precision and timing. While this term may carry a negative connotation to some, it is the ultimate compliment to a possession based team with the goal: To give our team a comfort level in any different situation-knowing exactly how to move the ball to maintain possession.
Why do we want to install a possession-based philosophy? Won't the players make mistakes and give away goals? How can I trust my goalkeeper to pass the ball with his/her feet? What if we lose a game while trying to build from the back?
These are common questions that many of you may be currently pondering. The answer to these prominent questions in youth soccer is quite simple:
What is your goal as a youth soccer coach? Or perhaps more accurately, what SHOULD your goal be as a youth soccer coach?
Your goal should be to develop and maximize every bit of potential for each individual player on your team. Players should advance prepared for the next level of play and if they have aspirations to play at a higher level, you should have set them on the path to achieve these goals.
The best possible way to prepare and develop them is through a possession-based style of play. Players don't become better on the ball or learn how to create and utilize space in teams that simply smash the ball forward and let their fastest players run after it. The thousands or perhaps millions of players raised their whol career to play this kick and run based style, inevitability run into other players that are athletically equal to them, yet technically and tactically far superior. This marks the end of the road for these players, all due to poor coaching throughout their youth careers.
Quite simply, you should be creating Intelligent players, who are technically and tactically well versed. This goal is not unique to an academy player, a competitive player, a rec player or a college player. In fact, most possession based style coaches have found that at lower levels of abilities, say a division 3 team, that the success levels have been much higher when installing this possession philosophy; given many reasons we will discuss in the future.
In addition to creating better players for the future, you are also empowering players. You are giving them confidence, showing them that you trust them to play the game the “right” way. You are giving them joy, by allowing them to constantly be on the ball. Every player would rather attack then defend, they play the game to touch the ball. Ultimately, you are giving them the best chance to be successful in the game-which is your JOB as a coach.
If you're still undecided on if this can really be effective at the youth level, here's a little teaser. This is from the U-13 Chivas boys team coached by Brian Kleiban. Brian is a huge proponent of possession-based soccer and very active in trying to further develop the landscape of US Soccer.
This is possible for any age and ability!
First Step: Installing your Philosophy
I hope that you are in agreement that for the good of the game and for the benefit of the player, a possession-based philosophy is the way to go.
Step 1 is to install this philosophy within your team. The hardest sell with undoubtedly be the parents. You see “little Johnny or Sally” will be excited to play a style that allows them more time on the ball. But their parents might not quite understand why we keep passing the ball between defenders, when if we lose it we get scored on.
They want you to kick it long and chase, because they don't have an understanding of the game. As a coach, it is our job to educate them as well. Lesson number 1: open, positive communication with parents will make your life much easier.
Here's the steps to take: Call a team meeting with the parents.
Explain the change in philosophy and what it entails.
Be very upfront with the parents about why you are installing this philosophy (ultimately it develops their kids more effectively and longer term gives them a better chance to be successful)
Sternly tell them there will be games where you give away goals trying to build from the back, but that is part of the process of learning-players can't be scared to fail.
Call for the parents support from the sidelines: reiterating to the players to play short and try to dominate possession.
Have some videos ready from some similar age kids, who have effectively employed this style. (I can help you in this department) Once the parents see the end product, they are very likely to get on board.
Reiterate that you are COMMITTED to this style for the good of the players, REGARDLESS of the results of matches.
Ask if the parents have any questions, as well as ask for confirmation that they are willing to support the teams vision. (If not, perhaps they should move on their way)
Whew!! Now that the hard part is done, we get to speak with the players!
You are going to repeat similar steps, outlining your philosophy; repeating the key points of why this is the most effective solution for them long term, as well as reiterating that you have faith in their ability to master this system and dominate play. It would help to show them a few clips of teams of similar ages, playing this style as well. Ensure that you are enthusiastic and clear that you want them all to embrace the thought of “dominating the ball.”
Now it's time to get to work! So where do we start? Look out for “Creating a Possession-Based Team: First Steps Forward” and let's get moving forward to change American soccer!