Letter to a Leftie on the Opposing Team
I saw you on the opposing team as I coached my son’s team the other day. I wanted to share a couple of things with you. I felt an inner conflict regarding our relationship and didn’t know how to celebrate your success. It was odd to be the coach of the team playing against you, since I felt the conflict of interest as both the Head Coach of my team and the Academy Director of your “coaching relationship” at LeftFoot Coaching Academy. Our goals are mutually aligned to help you become a better player but how can we accomplish that goal when we’re competing against each other?
When I started LeftFoot, it was because I wanted to help other players get better in order to play on my team. I recognized that players were being “left” behind technically and that to get onto my team in the future, we needed a solution of how to teach players better technique at a younger age. So to see you against my son’s team was a weird, sort of dream-like state. Seeing you strike a high lofted ball was awesome — (noticing that your coach didn’t celebrate your mastery of technique in a game situation was disappointing, but hey … he probably didn’t know you have been working on that skill at LeftFoot.)
Now, I know you as part of my Academy and your parent and I have talked a couple of times — but I haven’t really coached you as much as I coach my own team or the coaches of the Academy. I find myself pulled in a lot of directions and as a coach and a father, I stepped into coaching at an established club for the sake of my son because I don’t want LeftFoot to ever be a competitive club environment.
But you’ve stirred the internal strife in me … how will you ever learn to put the techniques we’re teaching you into a competitive situation, if we don’t start teaching the tactical organization of these amazing skills?
I know this might sound odd for you to hear, but I was actually cheering for you internally. I wanted you to step it up a bit more and I was disappointed that your coach pulled you off the field after a bit. My team noticed immediately that you struck a high lofted ball across our goal. A couple of players noticed that it was a dangerous cross and we weren’t in our correct positions to defend it.
In that moment, I said, “He’s a Leftie.”
The kids on the bench asked, “then he knows what we know, right?”
“Yes,” I replied with a smile on my face, “we teach him the high lofted ball techniques that I’ve taught you.”
“Well then we better shut him down…” warned a player on the bench.
Another player immediately chimed in, “He’ll have footskills too.”
Almost in unison, they exclaimed, “Put us in coach,” and as a competitive coach, I obliged.
Competition is what makes us better, but I can’t say that it was a competitive game after the first few goals.
My team has had a bone to pick with your team since last spring when your coach played a 4-1 versus us and only punted the ball over our heads every time we lost the ball. (Yes, four defenders and one striker in a 6v6 game.) I will let you know that we always refer to that game to fan the flames of our focus to retain possession in the attacking third.
In fact, I used that example of direct soccer vs tikka takka soccer all winter and spring to keep the boys focused on working the ball around for the best shot.
We’re not great at it, but I’d encourage you to think about it.
While I’m not trying to brag about the win and the intent of this letter isn’t to rub it in — I wanted you to think about how to use your skills in a different way.
Think of this as advanced tactics … and a bit of a tip of how to use the technique in a more dangerous position based on what role you were playing as a defender in the formation that your coach was using.
The high lofted ball is not just to use across the goal, it’s a pass, a clearance and an opportunity for a corner kick. There’s also a reason for putting backspin on the ball! You might notice that the field seems smaller this year. At U9 the field was huge, but at U10 it gets a little smaller because you are getting bigger.
I never saw you send the ball to your forward when you were that wide defender in a 3-2-1. And while your coach might be discouraging “direct” soccer and trying to build up play, we have to be able to use a diagonal ball across the defense to keep them honest in their shape. A great ball to deliver is across the field at midfield and over the top of the defense. This is a extremely difficult ball to defend at the youth level. However, in order to use this — as a defender you have to set up your hips at just the right angle.
I drew up the idea below.
Now, you’re right footed, and while you are playing on the left side of the field, I wanted to make sure I gave you some coaching points on how to use the technique to attack the goal and maybe even score some goals!
Click on the video below….
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Okay, so you can see here an idea that we teach at LeftFoot in terms of “being prepared and thinking about what I want to do before I get the ball.” If I change my hips, I change my view, as well as changing the opportunities for striking the ball.
A lot of times I saw you on the field, you weren’t prepared for the next action by the use of your hips and “athletic” stance. Notice in the video, my knees are bent, I’m ready to act and I’m facing the direction I want to attack.
This is subtle stuff, but you have to be aware of it and be accountable for how this will impact your speed of play.
Yes, I am coaching my boys to attack using the diagonal ball and striking all three strikes we use at LeftFoot. Let’s break down one of the goals we scored and why it was an advanced play that works until U16 very well.
We attack in a 2-3-1, I’m not shy about how we attack and I don’t mind revealing our formation, since I’m all about players getting better and I welcome a good challenge. 😉
Our outside right wing struck a diagonal driven ball from the outside right of the field to our opposite wing. Because I’m really strict with our wings creating width — in this instance our left mid, held his width to create space to attack in the middle of field. Our wings have been given the instruction to attack both corners of the field. In this instance, we saw a perfect example of why.
1. Right midfielder identifies the space across the field to attack. A driven ball across the defense results in an out of balance defense.
2. Our left midfielder creates space to attack the inside of the field as the Center Defender marks the striker in the middle of the field. The 1v1 situation in the middle of field is a welcomed opportunity.
3. The Right Defender is beaten to the inside, leaving our left midfielder with a clear shot on goal.
4. Goal! Top shelf where grandma hides the cookies.
In both cases, you can see where Ball Striking and Finishing are related. These are passes in a tactical sense. What we teach you at LeftFoot is the opportunity to create skills that make others around you better. What I’m noticing is that we need to create opportunities for you to use your skills in a broader context of development.
Your team couldn’t maximize implementing your skills. And I’m at a loss for how to help you there. It’s only my task to teach you, the player, skills and techniques to have in your arsenal to use when you see fit. It’s for coaches to recognize these skills in their players and use them for the teams advantage.
It brings up the whole problem of whether or not LeftFoot would ever create our own club teams. For me, it’s not the question of could we? I think it’d be easy for us to create a club environment and create teams of our own. That’s not the problem. I’ve been asked to create a club and even got close to doing it.
I think the real problem is if we should…. If we did we wouldn’t be able to work with you. If we couldn’t work with you, how would you get better?
If we were working with clubs and coaches, we’d need to open the doors to a club to train and develop their coaches with our techniques and tactics. Maybe they could be a “LeftFoot Certified Club” and you would know that we teach how to blend the techniques and the tactics together.
But, then, where would you go to train outside of the pressures that come from team training? Where would you go to make mistakes while you are struggling to master a new skill? Where could you go to get better and fall in love with the game itself?
LeftFoot will always need to be a home for coaches and players to come together along the journey of youth soccer. I do believe we need to open up to the conversation of working with clubs and I’m more curious than afraid of the possibility if it’s done right. The question will be… if clubs are open minded enough to engage in the conversation.
And I’ve thought that I should not coach a club team anymore. There’s other ways I can spend time with my son. Coming out of “club coaching retirement” hasn’t been all fun, it’s awakened me to all of the issues that still remain in the club environment that I thought LeftFoot could address. While we’ve helped you, we haven’t addressed the environment that limits you from reaching your potential.
Until I see you again, I’ll be dedicated to your success in more ways than just coaching at LeftFoot,
Thanks for the game, and high elbows out!
See you on the pitch!