Soccer physics

bend the ball

Physics is the branch of science that deals with (surprise!) the physical world and its properties. It attempts to explain in mathematical terms the behaviour of matter as we observe it.

To understand why soccer balls curve, how high they bounce, how the pressure in the ball affects the bounce and even what sort of boots to wear, we need to use things like Newton’s laws of motion, Bernoulli’s discoveries about fluid flow, Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetics, Einstein’s theories of gravitation and relativistic motion, and a lot of other complicated-but-cool stuff.

Why can’t I kick the ball HARD?

You might be taking a long, slow strike at the ball rather than a shorter, sharp strike. This is because a big windup doesn’t necessarily impart sufficient kinetic energy (mass x velocity squared divided by 2). This explains why short, stocky players can generate power on the ball–a short, fast strike contributes to kinetic energy as a square versus the linear increase of weight alone.

Also your head might be coming up on the strike – if you look up as the ball leaves your foot, you impart less mass and velocity, ergo less kinetic energy.

Forces acting on a curving soccer ball

bend the ballThis is a bird’s-eye view of a football spinning about an axis perpendicular to the flow of air across it. The air travels faster relative to the centre of the ball where the periphery of the ball is moving in the same direction as the airflow (left). This reduces the pressure, according to Bernoulli’s principle. The pressure increases on the other side of the ball, where the air travels slower relative to the centre of the ball (right). There is therefore an imbalance in the forces, and the ball deflects in the same sense as the spin – from bottom right to top left. This lift force is also known as the “Magnus force”, after the 19th-century German physicist Gustav Magnus.

Assuming that the velocity of the ball is 25-30 ms-1 (about 70 mph) and that the spin is about 8-10 revolutions per second, then the lift force turns out to be about 3.5 N. The regulations state that a professional football must have a mass of 410-450 g, which means that it accelerates by about 8 ms-2. And since the ball would be in flight for 1 s over its 30 m trajectory, the lift force could make the ball deviate by as much as 4 m from its normal straight-line course. Enough to trouble any goalkeeper!

Playing soccer on the Moon

soccer on the moonDuring an Apollo 17 Lunar landing mission, the astronauts took time out to play a game of soccer on the surface of the Moon with a 200 lb. moon rock.


The “weight” of an object on the Moon is 1/6th that on Earth. (its mass, of course, remains the same)


bouncing ballSuppose a soccer ball is dropped from rest at a height of 10 feet. And assume, on each successive bounce, the ball reaches half the previous height attained. How long will it take for the ball to finally come to rest?

Surprisingly, most people immediately and incorrectly guess that the time involved would be infinite. But, the time of each bounce shortens quickly, and using the simple expression d=½ × g × t² for the distance (d) travelled from rest during the time (t) under gravity (g=32 feet/sec/sec), an infinite series leads to a finite time of 4.61 seconds for the ball to come to rest.

Soccer academies – stepping stones or exploitation?

“I’ve seen the future and I’m scared”

by Matt Slater – BBC Sport

For the last month or so I have been speaking to people involved in youth football (soccer) development in England and to say that our conversations have been illuminating is an understatement. They have also been equal parts encouraging and depressing.

The starting point for my interest in the subject was Rafa Benitez, or more precisely his pre-Christmas rant that academies, which were set up in 1998, weren’t working.

My initial reaction was to dismiss his comments as a case of getting his excuses in early, or perhaps a not-very coded message to Liverpool academy boss Steve Heighway. That soon, however, gave way to indignant jingoism – “you cheeky Spanish git, how dare you suggest our lads aren’t as good as your lads etc etc”.

But with memories of last summer’s World Cup still fresh, I reconsidered. Rafa could be on to something here. After all, the entire academy system is currently under review. And wouldn’t I be annoyed if the only product of a £3m a year coaching complex was Stephen Warnock?

So I spoke to youth development experts at the Football Association, Football League, Premier League, a few clubs and even a few interested outside observers.

What they told me was that academies have been a great success…and a complete waste of time and money.

The quality of coaching is improving all the time…and no better than before.

Our clubs are producing better athletes with better techniques…and nowhere nearly enough players of Premiership quality.

English kids are coming through the system and the first real batch of the academy years are only now reaching maturity…under-pressure managers are still more likely to prefer a short-term fix from the transfer market than an unproven youngster from the academy.

And so it went on. Numbers of coaches and decent facilities, up. Actual time spent with a ball, down.

Some clubs struggling to turn expensively-nurtured potential into Premiership reality, while others can’t stop turning out first-teamers and internationals.

Some clubs eager to join the academy gang and unearth some Gareth Bales of their own, while others starting to wonder if that youth development money can’t be better spent somewhere else, namely abroad.

But what everybody agreed on was that youth development matters. And it will matter even more if we start to miss international tournaments again. What good is having the world’s most popular league if we can’t actually play the game ourselves?

Two of the most passionate people I spoke to were Football League development manager Graham Hawkins and Brazilian Soccer Schools founder Simon Clifford.

Hawkins is as football establishment as they come. He played for some of this country’s oldest and most storied clubs and went on to manage Wolves. He is now chief cheerleader for the Football League’s academies and centres of excellence.

Clifford is as far removed from the football establishment as it is probably possible to be whilst still making a living from the game in this country. A former teacher who turned to football coaching after meeting Juninho’s dad at Boro, Clifford has been upsetting FA suits for years with his radical plans and outspoken style.

Inside or outside the gang, both agreed on a few core issues that can no longer be brushed under “World’s best league/brand” carpet.

1) The money at the top is not filtering down (the Premier League, which will earn £1.7bn next season, gave Football League clubs just £4.2m to help fund their youth set-ups this season).

2) The top flight’s riches make getting there or staying there all important. This leads to short-termism, particularly in regard to signing players (65% of Premier League signings in January were not English) versus developing them.

3) Talented English youngsters are not playing enough football and the football they are playing is probably not the right kind. Teenagers at Brazilian clubs are practising, mostly on basic technique and conditioning, for 20 hours a week. On the continent, they get 10-12 hours. Our brightest prospects are getting five hours.

4) There is no scientific or social reason why English kids, with the right coaching and sufficient time, cannot be as good as kids from anywhere else. In fact, with the levels of interest, expertise and wealth here, they could be better.

So with that last point in mind here is my very short manifesto for saving English football from becoming English tennis.

1) Implement Uefa’s quotas for home-grown players. If Boro can field a team that has 15 of the 16 players from their own academy (as they did against Fulham at the end of last season) surely the others can field teams that have four of 25 (as Uefa has demanded and the Premier League has ignored). I know it is unrealistic to expect to see another team of local lads win the Champions League (as Celtic did in 1967) but it would be nice if at least one or two of them were more than just short-term contractors at the company.

2) Reduce the academies’ catchment areas. They can currently take under-14s from within a 60-minute travel time radius and older kids from within 90 minutes. Clifford wants to reduce that to 10 minutes. I think he has a point. Access to the players is a huge issue, and our climate, clogged roads and school timetable don’t help. But let’s work around that. Let’s get the kids into their LOCAL club before school. Or perhaps let them have their PE lessons there. Clifford has told Leeds chairman Ken Bates to forget recruiting academy kids in Liverpool and Newcastle. He thinks he could field a Leeds United side of locals in just 10 years. It won’t happen but it wouldn’t be any worse than what they have now and it would be considerably cheaper.

3) Stop competitive 11-a-side games for the youngest players. Most academies spend two thirds of their five-hour allotment with the kids on preparing for the upcoming weekend’s game. That leaves just one third of the time for work on technique, the very building blocks of young player’s career. Less focus on competition, with smaller games and more touches is the way forward. Who cares if their teams under-12s are top of the table if your under-18s can’t trap a ball?

I could go on (to more dangerously communist territory like salary caps) but I won’t.

What I will say is that I am fed up of waiting for England to win an international tournament and I am not convinced that the mega-bucks world league that is the Premiership is going to help that.

Setting goals

Courtesy of Kids First Soccer

Information presented here is based on the discussion by Gould, D. (1998). Goal setting for peak performance. In J.M. Williams (Ed.) Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (3rd ed.)


a pre-determined level of proficiency on a specific motor skill or fitness component(s)
specific time frame or deadline to reach goal
plan of action to achieve goal
baseline and deadline performance measurement procedures

McClements (1982) provides the following specific distinction between types of goals:

SUBJECTIVE GOALS : perform better or improve, try very hard, create and run interesting practices (goal for coach), be liked and appreciated, be happy…have fun…(note that the subjective goals listed here are very hard if not impossible to quantify and thus measure)

GENERAL OBJECTIVE GOALS: making friends, becoming popular among peers, making the team, improving win/loss record, making it to the finals, winning a tournament…etc. (note that the general objective goals listed here are very hard to control since its main concerns are outcomes rather than processes)

increasing the percentage of first possessions, decrease the number of throw-in foot errors (this is the negative version of “increase the percentage on correct throw-ins”), increase the number of times a player simply makes contact with the ball in soccer… (note that specific objective goals are simpler to evaluate and allow better control by the individual)

Similarly, Martens, Christina, Harvey and Sharkey (1981) contrasted outcome and performance goals.

OUTCOME GOALS: highlight the final result as it is contrasted with another person’s achievement

PERFORMANCE GOALS: The focus is on the process by which a result was achieved. Each most recent performance is contrasted with earlier efforts by same individual.

The distinction between the different types of goals is very crucial since the available empirical evidence has consistently demonstrated that specific objective goals, combined with performance goals, are the most efficient facilitators of behaviour modification and/or change.


The use of goals clearly outperforms a “play as you go” no goals approach. Still, bare in mind that not all goal-setting approaches are equally effective. Following is a summary of successful goal-setting procedures:

  • identify and record team and personal goals; outline a strategy for reaching the agreed upon set of goals
  • state goals using easy to measure motor skills or fitness components (i.e., state your goals in performance rather than outcome terms)
  • maintain the delicate balance between challenging yet attainable goals; be prepared to modify team and/or individual athlete goals to keep the balance
  • break long-term goals into several short-and intermediate term goals and apply a corresponding time frame and target dates to each goal
  • have specific goals for soccer practices, practice games, and regular season games (the goal in pre-season games may be to experiment with a variety of offensive and defensive formations, during a regular game the goal may shift to implementation and proper execution of a specific game plan…
  • use positive language when stating your goals (emphasis is on “what to do” as opposed to “what not to do.” For example, “Listen to and follow the referee’s instructions” versus “Do not argue with the referee.”
  • set special times for the development and evaluation of your goals
  • provide continuous performance feedback and positive reinforcement

Based on Botterill’s (1983) discussion, Gould (1986) proposed the following three- phase goal-setting system: (The following would be a lot to ask or expect of the coach to be achieved in a typical 10 week little league soccer season. The child’s parents can help by interviewing their child and submitting to the coach their and their child’s goals for the season. The head coach may now have something to work with. He/she may “collapse” all similar goals by team members and assign specific areas of practice to her/his assistants or parent volunteers).


Get in touch with your personal coaching philosophy (sincere goals are easier to stick to and thus you may avoid confusion on the team)

Identify individual and team needs (separate the kids that distract each other, allow the kids to be kids, allow for socialization time, provide “custom made” emotional support to team members, provide active fitness and on task skills opportunities, create environments in which team members would have a good chance to succeed [e.g., score goals during practice games,] in areas that otherwise would be an almost impossible task in a regular season match…)

Based on identified team and individual needs facilitate a goals discussion with players and parents (consider the feasibility of your planned goals)

Identify and implement strategies to achieve team and individual player goals


Present your ideas to parents and kids in a team meeting (provide parents with a “work sheet” with some leading questions that they could hand back to you with their and their child’s ideas and comments, e.g., “What do you like most about soccer practices? Games? What do you like ).

Plan a follow-up meeting in which parent and child are asked to reflect upon their personal and team expectations and goals (make sure you clarify with your parents and children their priorities, specific needs, and realistic expectations)

Discuss team and individual goals throughout the season with parents and individual players (You may consider developing goals of practice between official practice days.

On our 9-10 year-old boys’ soccer team we assign ball control (e.g., kicking against wall, throw-ins to wall, juggling, wall kicking, dribbling, etc…) drills to the kids. The less experienced and skilled child would greatly benefit from adult supervision and specific feedback since “Practice alone does not necessarily result in proper learning. Well planned and executed practice does.”


Collect an accurate “snape shot” of pre-and early season initial motor skills (Some of the available soccer skills tests include but are not limited to the Shuttle Run Test, the Dribbling Test, The Wall Kick Skills Test, the Punting Test the Passing/Trapping Test, the Target Shooting Test, the Juggling Test and more…). Diagrams and test procedures are now available at the above links.

Create methodical systems of providing feedback. Avoid using phrases such as “You missed…” or “Kick the ball to the corner of the goal…” or “When passing to a team-mate send a ground ball…” and stop at that. Instead tell and demonstrate to the child how to more effectively place her/his balancing foot, where should the balancing foot’s toe point to. Show the child how to properly drive the ball using the the kicking foot by pointing out where to contact the ball…Most kids see better than adults, and they know the ball went out, over, or too much to the left. That was quite obvious. They need us to tell them why it happened and what can they do to correct their actions.

Create team and individual evaluation charts. You may assign a motivated team parent to chart their child’s (or any child’s) field movements and contacts with the ball (prepare several field charts with the child’s name and the five minute observation interval (e.g., 00-5:00; 5:00-10:00; etc.). Chart movement without ball using a broken line, for contact with ball put down a number, e.g., #1, 2, 3, etc.,) where contact took place, draw uninterrupted line to describe passes and shots.


  • Setting too many goals too soon. You may jolt down as many goals as you wish. Just be sure to prioretise goals and work plans.
  • Stating most goals in general subjective terms. Be as specific and as precise as you can be when stating your goals.
  • Not appreciating individual differences. Some kids just can’t apply themselves as others to the team’s goals. What may seem as their 70% may in fact represent their 100% at this point in time. Kids grow and mature at a different pace. Some are where you’d like them to be at when you first meet them, and some will perform for the coach two seasons away. Kids may experience different learning curves, and may have a variety of preferences for lead-up games, drills, and feedback remarks. What may seem challenging to the coach and some kids on the team may appear as boring to others. So do not take it personally, for example, when a seven-year-old does not like your hard labored, wonderfully crafted practice plan…
  • Holding on too long to unrealistic goals. Let go and move on.
  • Omitting “performance Goals.” (e.g., “Team will execute three [or as many as you think is appropriate given your current level of team play] sets of three or more consecutive passes during a match by the fifth regular season game.”
  • Putting exessive emphasis on technique-related goals. (Behaviors that relate to sportsmanship, punctuality, hard work/effort, help with setting equipment, being supportive of teammates when they commit a mistake…etc…are just as important as proper trapping or passing to the child’s overall learning experience.
  • Not appreciating the time commitment needed to implement a proper goal-setting program. (Take the time to measure and discuss baseline performance, and set time aside for reevaluation and charting of progress.)
  • Not fostering a supportive goal-setting environment. (Create charts with baseline and consecutive evaluation interval results)




It’s playtime!

Taking the drilling and screaming out of youth football (soccer) will make the game more enjoyable and create better players.

By Mike Woitalla, Soccer America Magazine.

Let’s take the approach so many adults bring to youth soccer to other children’s activities.

Take a bunch of 6-year-olds to the playground, but don’t let them scamper off to explore the different structures. Make them all line up and wait patiently to take turns on the monkey bars. If one of them wanders off toward the swings, scream at him.

Be sure to tell them exactly how they should climb. Yell at the slow ones to go faster. While they’re hanging from a bar, shout at them to ”grab the next bar!”

At the sandbox, don’t just let them start digging around willy-nilly. No building mounds or castles until we teach them the proper way to hold the shovel. Line them up for the shovel drill and don’t forget to yell, ”Dig, dig, dig!”

After 50 minutes of instructions on the various aspects of proper playground usage, give the kids 10 minutes to play.

Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? So do these scenarios, but they’re real and all too common:

A 9-year-old dribbles downfield and comes to a screeching halt because his coach doesn’t let defenders past the halfway line.

In an 8 v 8 game of 7-year-olds, two players on each team are forced by their coach to remain planted in front of their own goal. Wouldn’t want to be vulnerable to a counterattack, would we?

A 6-year-old girl who started playing soccer a couple weeks earlier dribbles the ball toward the goal while her coach moves along the sideline screaming, ”Kick it into the goal! Kick it hard! Kick it into the goal! Kick it hard!”

And I’m wondering what it would be like to have someone four times as big as I am hollering at me while I try to perform a skill that is barely within my capabilities.

One of my favourites is the ”Spread out!” scream. I hear this from coaches, directed at 6-year-olds. Apparently they haven’t noticed that these kids can barely kick the ball more than five yards, so it’s a bit unlikely that they’ll be able to exploit the flanks and whip in a cross.

Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of youth soccer is the insistence on making young players do drills instead of just letting them play small-sided games, the way Pele, Diego Maradona and Ronaldo did when they were young.

In America, children start playing organized soccer three or four years before those guys did. That’s the way it is, because in today’s world they usually can’t just go outside and play pickup soccer for hours on end. But that doesn’t mean they should have to show up at a practice and be instructed as if they haven’t left the classroom.

Besides the fact that, after obeying adults all day at school while planted in a chair, children deserve and need playtime without overbearing adult interference, children learn soccer from playing and mimicking others, not from instructions.

The Brazilian and Argentine players who delight us so much developed their skills playing without adults looking over their shoulders stifling their creative impulses and critiquing their ”mistakes.”

Said Juergen Klinsmann recently about the decline of German talent: ”Today all the youth soccer is played in organized tournaments, we don’t have kids playing in the streets any more. But it’s in street soccer where the real talent appears.”

So it would make sense for coaches to replicate the kind of soccer the Ronaldinhos of the world played when they were under 10. But there are youth coaches – lots and lots, I fear – who feel they’re being generous if they devote a third of their practice to scrimmaging. I imagine a 6-year-old Maradona would have quit the sport if his introduction to it entailed doing the drills we make our kids do instead of letting him run around trying to score.

Of all the hundreds of successful American and international players I have interviewed or researched, they have had in common the fact that they played soccer as much as they could outside of their organized leagues – in their backyard, in their house, at the local park. They did so because they had fallen in love with the game.

The chances that children will develop a passion for the game are much greater if they have a good time playing it. And I can’t imagine anyone with a soccer background will disagree that the most fun part of soccer is playing a game, with goals to score on.

And when children play mini-games they should be allowed to play as they please – explore the game and not be talked to constantly by the coach.

Above all, young children shouldn’t be discouraged from dribbling.

Expecting an under-8 team to develop a passing game is like forcing little kids to figure out Rubik’s Cube instead of letting them play with Legos.

Young kids can comprehend the concept of dribbling and they like to do it.

So they should be encouraged. After all, a look at higher levels of the game reveals what a precious skill dribbling is. We have far more good passers than good dribblers. Moreover, dribbling develops ball skills that will help players become good passers.

Fortunately, the U.S. Soccer Federation is trying to send the message to youth coaches that ”the game is the best teacher,” a favorite phrase of Manfred Schellscheidt, who contributed to U.S. Soccer’s ”Player Development Guidelines: Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States.”

Schellscheidt, the head of U.S. Soccer’s U-14 boys development program, has won national titles at the pro, amateur and youth levels. Richie Williams, who played on Schellscheidt’s two McGuire Cup-winning teams before winning college and MLS titles, described Schellscheidt’s practices: ”Our training sessions were basically just playing.”

A key part of ”Guidelines” are recommendations for team sizes and goalkeeper-use at particular levels, and which rules to apply or not apply – for example, 3 v 3 games without keepers for children under-8.

”Guidelines” encourages coaches to create practice sessions that simulate pickup games, to organize less, to say less, to allow players to do more, to encourage the dribbler …

One hopes that ”Guidelines” will have an impact on the well-intentioned adults who run our youth leagues but sometimes forget that soccer for young children is playtime.

(This article originally appeared in the February 2006 issue of Soccer America Magazine.)

Push too hard, too young…

Intense training schedules. Pressure to win and be the best. Painful injuries.

Given all these factors, it’s not surprising that some athletes simply burn out on their sport. But what is shocking to many in the field are the young ages at which this is increasingly happening — sometimes as early as 9 or 10.

The scenario often goes something like this: Eager to nurture the next A-Rod or Michelle Kwan, parents enroll their 5- or 6-year-olds in a competitive sports league or program. Over the next few years, training intensifies and expands to the off-season, making practice essentially year-round. Youngsters may join more than one league or a traveling team. They may have to sacrifice other interests and give up most of the down time that allows them to just be kids.

Soon the stakes get higher because many parents and coaches play to win. Winning means recognition and that could lead to lucrative opportunities -– high school championships then college scholarships and perhaps a shot at the pros.

“Kids sports have become much more competitive,” says Dr. Jordan Metzl, medical director of the Sports Medicine Institute for Young Athletes at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

“And in general, high-level competition for young kids is not a great thing,” says Metzl, co-author of “The Young Athlete: A Sports Doctor’s Complete Guide for Parents.”

With more kids than ever in organized sports, an estimated 30 million of them up through high school, Metzl and other experts in sports medicine and youth athletics say they are increasingly concerned about the pressures put on some children to excel. Not only are these youngsters at risk for emotional burnout, they may also develop injuries that plague them for a lifetime. Some will turn to steroids or other performance-enhancing substances to try to gain an edge. And some may give up on sports -– and exercise — altogether.

‘It’s not fun anymore’
Kids with a strong internal drive may thrive on the competition. But the pressure can be too much for others, particularly grade-schoolers who aren’t as equipped to deal with the stress as older athletes.

And the goals of sports for young kids can differ dramatically from those of their parents and coaches, says youth fitness researcher Avery Faigenbaum, an associate professor of exercise science at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

“Most children would rather play on a losing team than sit on the bench of a winning team,” he says.

When Faigenbaum asks kids who’ve quit why they’re no longer interested in sports, their typical response: “It’s not fun anymore.” They wanted to have a good time, make friends and learn something new, he says. But make the game all about hard-core training and the final score, and many kids will sideline themselves.

“They’re getting turned off of sports at a young age -– and that’s a sad tale,” says Faigenbaum.

There’s ample evidence that sports participation can have important benefits for kids, including improved physical health and emotional well-being. Hopefully, they’ll also learn life lessons in teamwork, discipline, leadership and time management. But kids can’t profit from these benefits if they’re quitting sports early on.

A new ball game
While parents may have spent much of their early childhoods riding bikes around the neighborhood, playing pick-up games of baseball or basketball with the local kids and maybe joining Little League, today’s youngsters often fall into two disparate groups: those who sit inside playing video games and those who participate in organized competitive sports like soccer, ice hockey and basketball.

A big difference today is that kids involved in sports play harder and younger than ever, says Steve Marshall, an assistant professor of epidemiology and orthopedics at the Injury Prevention Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And with dreams of college scholarships and multi-million dollar professional contracts, the competition can get out of hand, he says.

Primary school football (soccer) – the rules of the game


Matches shall be played over three unequal periods:  two playtimes and a lunchtime. Each of these periods shall begin shortly after the ringing of a bell, and although a bell is also rung towards the end of these periods, play may continue for up to ten minutes afterwards, depending on the nihilism or “bottle” of the participants with regard to corporal punishment meted out to latecomers back to the classroom.

In practice there is a sliding scale of nihilism, from those who hasten to stand in line as soon as the bell rings, through those who will hang on until the time they estimate it takes the teachers to down the last of their G &T’s and journey from the staffroom, known as “chancers”, and finally to those who will hang on until a teacher actually has to physically retrieve them, known as “bampots”. This sliding scale is intended to radically alter the logistics of a match in progress, often having dramatic effects on the scoreline as the number of remaining participants drops. It is important, therefore, in picking the sides, to achieve a fair balance of poofs, chancers and bampots in order that the scoreline achieved over a sustained period of play – a lunchtime, for instance – is not totally nullified by a five-minute post-bell onslaught of five bampots against one. The scoreline, to be carried over from the previous period of the match, is in the trust of the last bampots to leave the field of play, and may be the matter of some debate. This must be resolved in one of the approved manners (see Adjudication).

The object is to force the ball between two large, unkempt piles of jackets, in lieu of goalposts. These piles may grow or shrink throughout the match, depending on the number of participants and the prevailing weather. As the number of players increases, so shall the piles. Each jacket added to the pile by a new addition to a side should be placed on the inside, nearest the goalkeeper, thus reducing the target area. It is also important that the sleeve of one of the jackets should jut out across the goalmouth, as it will often be claimed that the ball went “over the post” and it can henceforth be asserted that the outstretched sleeve denotes the innermost part of the pile and thus the inside of the post. The on-going reduction of the size of the goal is the responsibility of any respectable defence and should be undertaken conscientiously with resourcefulness and imagination. In the absence of a crossbar, the upper limit of the target area is observed as being slightly above head height, although when the height at which a ball passed between the jackets is in dispute, judgment shall lie with an arbitrary adjudicator from one of the sides. He is known as the “best fighter”; his decision is final and may be enforced with physical violence if anyone wants to stretch a point.

There are no pitch markings. Instead, physical objects denote the boundaries, ranging from the most common – walls and buildings – to roads or burns. Corners and throw-ins are redundant where bylines or touchlines are denoted by a two-storey building or a six-foot granite wall; instead, a scrum should be instigated to decide possession. This should begin with the ball trapped between the brickwork and two opposing players and should escalate to include as many team members as can get there before the now egg-shaped ball finally emerges, often with a dismembered foot and shin attached. At this point, goalkeepers should look out for the player who takes possession of the escaped ball and begins bearing down on goal, as most of those involved in the scrum will be unaware that the ball is no longer amidst their feet. The goalkeeper should also try not to be distracted by the inevitable fighting that has by this point broken out.

In games on large open spaces, the length of the pitch is obviously denoted by the jacket piles, but the width is a variable. In the absence of roads, water hazards etc, the width is determined by how far out the attacking winger has to meander before the pursuing defender gets fed up and heads back towards where the rest of the players are waiting, often as far as quarter of a mile away.

It is often observed that the playing area is “no’ a full-size pitch”. This can be invoked verbally to justify placing a wall of players eighteen inches from the ball at direct free kicks It is the formal response to “yards”, which the kick-taker will incant meaninglessly as he places the ball.

The Ball

There are a variety of types of ball approved for Primary School Football. The following three notable examples are described.

1. The plastic balloon. An extremely lightweight model, used primarily in the early part of the season and seldom after that due to having burst. Identifiable by blue pentagonal paneling and the names of that year’s Premier League sides printed all over it.

Advantages: low sting factor, low burst-nose probability, cheap, discourages a long-ball game.

Disadvantages:  over-susceptible to influence of the wind, difficult to control, almost magnetically drawn to flat school roofs whence never to return.

2. The rough-finish Mitre. Half football, half Portuguese Man o’ War. On the verge of a ban in the European Court of Human Rights, this model is not for sale to children. Used exclusively by teachers during gym classes as a kind of aversion therapy. Made from highly durable fibre-glass, stuffed with neutron star and coated with dead jellyfish.

Advantages: looks quite grown up, makes for high-scoring matches (keepers won’t even attempt to catch it).

Disadvantages: scars or maims anything it touches.

  1. The “Tubey”. Genuine leather ball, identifiable by brown all-over colouring. Was once black and white, before ravages of games on concrete, but owners can never remember when. Adored by everybody, especially keepers.

Advantages: feels good, easily controlled, makes a satisfying “whump” noise when you kick it.

Disadvantages: turns into medicine ball when wet, smells like a dead dog.


There is no offside, for two reasons: one, “it’s no’ a full-size pitch”, and two, none of the players actually know what offside is.

The lack of an offside rule gives rise to a unique sub-division of strikers. These players hang around the opposing goalmouth while play carries on at the other end, awaiting a long pass forward out of defence which they can help past the keeper before running the entire length of the pitch with their arms in the air to greet utterly imaginary adulation. These are known variously as “poachers”, “gloryhunters” and “fly wee bastards”. These players display a remarkable degree of self-security, seemingly happy in their own appraisals of their achievements, and caring little for their teammates’ failure to appreciate the contribution they have made. They know that it can be for nothing other than their enviable goal tallies that they are so bitterly despised.

The absence of a referee means that disputes must be resolved between the opposing teams rather than decided by an arbiter. There are two accepted ways of doing this.

1.Compromise. An arrangement is devised that is found acceptable by both sides. Sway is usually given to an action that is in accordance with the spirit of competition, ensuring that the game does not turn into “a pure skoosh”. For example, in the event of a dispute as to whether the ball in fact crossed the line, or whether the ball has gone inside or “over” the post, the attacking side may offer the ultimatum: “Penalty or goal.” It is not recorded whether any side has ever opted for the latter. It is on occasions that such arrangements or ultimatum do not prove acceptable to both sides that the second adjudicatory method comes into play.

2. Fighting. Those up on their ancient Hellenic politics will understand that the concept we know as “justice” rests in these circumstances with the hand of the strong. What the winner says, goes, and what the winner says is just, for who shall dispute him? It is by such noble philosophical principles that the supreme adjudicator, or Best Fighter, is effectively elected.

Team Selection

To ensure a fair and balanced contest, teams are selected democratically in a turns-about picking process, with either side beginning as a one-man selection committee and growing from there.

The initial selectors are usually the recognised two Best Players of the assembled group. Their first selections will be the two recognised Best Fighters, to ensure a fair balance in the adjudication process, and to ensure that they don’t have their own performances impaired throughout the match by profusely bleeding noses. They will then proceed to pick teammates in a roughly meritocratic order, selecting on grounds of skill and tactical awareness, but not forgetting that while there is a sliding scale of players’ ability, there is also a sliding scale of players’ brutality and propensities towards motiveless violence. A selecting captain might baffle a talented striker by picking the less nimble Big Jazza ahead of him, and may explain, perhaps in the words of Linden B Johnson upon his retention of J. Edgar Hoover as the head of the FBI, that he’d “rather have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in”.

Special consideration is also given during the selection process to the owner of the ball. It is tacitly knowledged to be “his gemme”, and he must be shown a degree of politeness for fear that he takes the huff at being picked late and withdraws his favours.

Another aspect of team selection that may confuse those only familiar with the game at senior level will be the choice of goalkeepers, who will inevitably be the last players to be picked. Unlike in the senior game, where the goalkeeper is often the tallest member of his team, in the playground, the goalkeeper is usually the smallest. Senior aficionados must appreciate that playground selectors have a different agenda and are looking for altogether different properties in a goalkeeper. These can be listed briefly as: compliance, poor fighting ability, meekness, fear and anything else that makes it easier for their team-mates to banish the wee bugger between the sticks while they go off in search of personal glory up the other end.


Playground football tactics are best explained in terms of team formation. Whereas senior sides tend to choose – according to circumstance – from among a number of standard options (e.g., 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 5-3-2), the playground side is usually more rigid in sticking to the all-purpose 1-1-17 formation. This formation is a sturdy basis for the unique style of play, ball-flow and territorial give-and-take that makes the playground game such a renowned and strategically engrossing spectacle. Just as the 5-3-2 formation is sometimes referred to in practice as “Cattenaccio”, the 1-1-17 formation gives rise to a style of play that is best described as “Nomadic”. All but perhaps four of the participants (see also Offside) migrate en masse from one area of the pitch to another, following the ball, and it is tactically vital that every last one of them remains within a ten-yard radius of it at all times.


Much stoppage time in the senior game is down to injured players requiring treatment on the field of play. The playground game flows freer having adopted the refereeing philosophy of “no Post-Mortem, no free-kick”, and play will continue around and even on top of a participant who has fallen in the course of his endeavours. However, the playground game is nonetheless subject to other interruptions, and some examples are listed below.

Ball on school roof or over school wall. The retrieval time itself is negligible in these cases. The stoppage is most prolonged by the argument to decide which player must risk life, limb or four of the belt to scale the drainpipe or negotiate the barbed wire in order to return the ball to play. Disputes usually arise between the player who actually struck the ball and any others he claims it may have struck before disappearing into forbidden territory. In the case of the Best Fighter having been adjudged responsible for such an incident, a volunteer is often required to go in his stead or the game may be abandoned, as the Best Fighter is entitled to observe that A: “Ye canny make me”; or B: “It’s no’ ma baw anyway”.

Stray dog on pitch. An interruption of unpredictable duration. The dog does not have to make off with the ball, it merely has to run around barking loudly, snarling and occasionally drooling or foaming at the mouth. This will ensure a dramatic reduction in the number of playing staff as 27 of them simultaneously volunteer to go indoors and inform the teacher of the threat. The length of the interruption can sometimes be gauged by the breed of dog. A deranged Irish Setter could take ten minutes to tire itself of running in circles, for instance, while a Jack Russell may take up to fifteen minutes to corner and force out through the gates. An Alsatian means instant abandonment.

Bigger boys steal ball. A highly irritating interruption, the length of which is determined by the players’ experience in dealing with this sort of thing. The intruders will seldom actually steal the ball, but will improvise their own kickabout amongst themselves, occasionally inviting the younger players to attempt to tackle them. Standing around looking bored and unimpressed usually results in a quick restart. Shows of frustration and engaging in attempts to win back the ball can prolong the stoppage indefinitely. Informing the intruders that one of the
players’ older brother is “Mad Chic Murphy” or some other noted local pugilist can also ensure minimum delay.

Menopausal old bag confiscates ball. More of a threat in the street or local green kickabout than within the school walls. Sad, blue-rinsed, ill-tempered, Tory-voting cat-owner transfers her anger about the array of failures that has been her life to nine-year-olds who have committed the heinous crime of letting their ball cross her privet Line of Death. Interruption (loss of ball) is predicted to last “until you learn how to play with it properly”, but instruction on how to achieve this without actually having the bloody thing is not usually forwarded. Tact is required in these circumstances, even when the return of the ball seems highly unlikely, as further irritation of woman may result in the more serious stoppage: Menopausal old bag calls police.


Goal-scorers are entitled to a maximum run of thirty yards with their hands in the air, making crowd noises and saluting imaginary packed terraces. Congratulation by teammates is in the measure appropriate to the importance of the goal in view of the current scoreline (for instance, making it 34-12 does not entitle the player to drop to his knees and make the sign of the cross), and the extent of the scorer’s contribution.

A fabulous solo dismantling of the defence or 25-yard* rocket shot will elicit applause and back-pats from the entire team and the more magnanimous of the opponents. However, a tap-in in the midst of a chaotic scramble will be heralded with the epithet “poachin’ wee bastard” from the opposing defence amidst mild acknowledgment from teammates. NOTE* – Actually eight yards, but calculated as relative distance because “it’s no’ a full-size pitch”.

Applying an unnecessary final touch when a ball is already rolling into the goal will elicit a burst nose from the original striker.

Kneeling down to head the ball over the line when defence and keeper are already beaten will elicit a thoroughly deserved kicking.

As a footnote, however, it should be stressed that any goal scored by the Best Fighter will be met with universal acclaim, even if it falls into any of the latter three categories.


At senior level, each side often has one appointed penalty-taker, who will defer to a team-mate in special circumstances, such as his requiring one more for a hat-trick. The playground side has two appointed penalty-takers: the Best Player and the Best Fighter. The arrangement is simple: the Best Player takes the penalties when his side is a retrievable margin behind, and the Best Fighter at all other times. If the side is comfortably in front, the ball-owner may be invited to take a penalty. Goalkeepers are often the subject of temporary substitutions at penalties, forced to give up their position to the Best Player or Best Fighter, who recognise the kudos attached to the heroic act of saving one of these kicks, and are buggered if “Wee Titch” is going to steal any of it.

Close Season

This is known also as the Summer Holidays, which the players usually spend dabbling briefly in other sports: tennis for a fortnight while Wimbledon is on the telly; pitch-and-putt for four days during the Open; and cricket for about an hour and a half until they discover that it really is as boring to play as it is to watch.

from Ohio Youth Soccer Association North

Parents and motivation in youth soccer

by Dr. Alan Goldberg, sports psychologist and consultant

Two weeks ago I was in the middle of a tennis match when I was distracted by a rather loud, incredibly annoying voice coming from 10 courts away. When I looked over, I saw a father giving his 12-year old son what looked to be a tennis lesson. The boy was up for a tennis camp for the entire week and it seems that Dad decided to also make the trip so he could spend some quality time with his son and give him a little extra “instruction.” I guess the 7 plus hours a day the boy was already getting at the camp wasn’t quite enough. Perhaps the boy wasn’t motivated enough.

As I listened and watched this father angrily gesture at his son, I wondered if he had any inkling of the damage that he was doing. His tone was impatient and abusive, as if he couldn’t understand why his son was unable to do exactly what he was asking. I wonder if somehow he thought his frustration would somehow motivate his boy to do better. A minor point here. As a teaching pro with 22 years experience what Dad was saying did not exactly constitute high quality instruction.  To put it quite bluntly, Dad did not know what he was talking about. But even if he did, it wouldn’t have mattered. The way that he was interacting with his boy was more of the issue. He was pushing, prodding, demeaning and bottom line, emotionally abusing his son. Is this motivation? The irony of all this is that dear old Dad probably had no awareness at all of the harm that he was doing. Here he had taken a whole week off from work to have a special bonding experience with little Johnny. He was being a good Dad. And I bet his heart was in the right place too. I’m sure he really wanted his young son to grow up happy, with a passionate love for the sport and some talent as a tennis player. Unfortunately he was going about this completely wrong! I’ve seen this scenario played out too many times before to not see the handwriting on the wall. Little Johnny is going to get so fed up with Dad’s “help” that he’s going to begin to hate both tennis and Dad. Soon he’ll quit tennis and have nothing to do with Dad.

Do you really want to motivate your child to reach his/her potential as an athlete? Do you really want them to go “all the way” or at least as far as possible? If your answer to these questions is a resounding “yes” and you’re truly serious about giving your child as big a motivational boost as possible, then read the following very carefully.

Pushing your child towards certain athletic goals that they may or may not have will backfire in your face! It is not your job to motivate your child-athlete. It is not your job to push or pressure them. Doing this will only kill their love for the sport and cause them to ultimately lose respect for you.

Your children’s motivation to participate and excel in a sport is something that should come from within them, not you. They should compete because they want to. They should practice because they want to. They should have their own reasons and own goals. They should pursue their own dreams. I don’t mean to be harsh here, but when it comes to your child’s sport, your dreams don’t count.

Over-coaching – resist the urge!

by Dave Simeone – NTSSA Director of Coaching, National Staff Coach – U.S. Soccer

Reproduced by permission of

Most of the sports that are currently predominant in our culture involve the coach as an active participant. Although the coach is along the touchline, in the coaching box or on the bench the opportunity for being overly involved with the players constantly exists. These opportunities are aside from the usual timeouts or substitutions. These typical stoppages in play already contribute to many sports being coach oriented rather than player oriented. Combine the standard loud encouragement( i.e.- screaming & yelling ) with animated cheerleading and you have an excess of over – coaching.

Soccer is different than most sports. The involvement of the coach is secondary to those participating in the game: the players. While coach oriented activities ( basketball, baseball, American football ) demand, and allow for, a high degree of involvement by the coach during competitive games, soccer is different. It would be more appropriate to contend that soccer coaches do their work and prepare their teams during the week. By the time it comes to the game on Saturday morning it is up to the participants to act, make decisions, and play! It is essential that the youth soccer coach understand their role. If continuous over – involvement during the game is not the best way to assist the players then the coach has a responsibility to alter their behavior and learn to take a different tact. Sports such as baseball and American football are what we would refer to as “set up” sports. Between pitches (baseball) or plays (American football) time and opportunity exists for diagrams to be drawn or the coach to reposition an outfielder. Soccer does not allow for similar stoppages since play is continuous and fairly uninterrupted. Players must be allowed, and ultimately able, to think and make decisions on their own. They must learn to solve problems during the game. This self – sufficient type of thinking necessitates that players learn from the game and utilize any and all information that they receive and process towards finding solutions to the problems they encounter.


  • Do you find that you are hoarse and your voice is strained following a game?
  • Is the information that you give your players during half – time emotional but non-specific in terms of assisting them solve the problems they encounter?
  • Do you utilize catch phrases such as “suck it up, boys” or “no pain, no gain” in attempting to motivate youngsters?
  • Do you find that you are sweating and running just as much during the game as the players?
  • Are your pre-game, half time or post-game speeches similar to the president’s state of the union address? In addressing the players do you ramble and cause the players to wonder “What’s his/her point”?
  • Are your remarks and instructions made during the game and to players repetitive and redundant?
  • Is this information general, non-specific jargon and cheerleading altering the player’s performance?
  • Are you reluctant to allow players to make their own decisions during a game? Are you constantly barraging players with instructions during the game?
  • Do you coach in absolutes such as always or never?
  • Do you choreograph and arrange players into strict positions with instructions such as “never go out of your zone” or “defenders never cross midfield”?
  • Have you instructed players to refrain from passing the ball to certain teammates because their present level of ability is, from your adult perspective, inadequate?
  • Do you spend an excessive amount of time in practice on throw-ins, kick-offs, corner kicks or penalty kicks?
  • Are you utilizing methods of training that do not allow for players to acquire and improve technical skill, tactical decision making, physical stamina and confidence? (i.e. – dribbling through cones, standing in lines awaiting a turn)
  • Do your practices resemble games or activities that produce the same degree of movement/stimulation as a soccer game?
  • Are you attempting to improve the team’s level of fitness by minimizing the time the players have contact with the ball?
  • Do you view the game as a contest based only on fitness that leads to a preoccupation with running?
  • Are you openly emotional or upset when addressing the players to the point that they stare at you while thinking “what is he/she so disturbed about”?
  • As the coach do you have difficulty accepting a realistic approach to winning and losing? Do you believe that winning is synonymous with player development?
  • Do enjoy and have fun coaching youngsters?
  • Are you consistently aggravated and apprehensive about coaching?
  • Do the players seem to enjoy playing because of the input and involvement of you, the coach?

The games that youngsters play on Saturday mornings in their local leagues and associations should be viewed as a vehicle for learning. The same is true concerning their one, or two, days a week in practice. The acquisition of playing ability is a long-term process that begins at the ages of 5 or 6. It is unrealistic to expect youngsters at 10 or 11 years of age, and younger, to have an adult perspective on the game. Because of their maturity level youngsters are learning about the broadest parameters of play. They are at a stage where development is the priority since the acquisition of skill, elementary decision making and an appreciation and passion for soccer are founded. Young players learn, and are a product of their experiences. They learn more from their experiences ( games, activities, and the environment ) than they do from the coach. The role of the coach is to then organize and set up games and activities that the players enjoy and learn from.

Unfortunately, the majority of over-coaching occurs with youngsters who are between the ages of 5 to 11. It occurs, in part, because of the “profile” of the average parent/coach. These parent/coaches bring little practical soccer experience with them. At the same time they are learning about soccer they are learning about coaching. The availability of coaching education throughout state associations, combined with the information that is presented in the courses, simplifies coaching. Once youth coaches are exposed to this information they can assume their role with greater effectiveness While coaches are somewhat responsible to educate the parents of their players parents, in turn, should evaluate the effectiveness of the coach: is my child learning to play soccer or is the coach preoccupied with drills that only permit the players to play at soccer?

Parents should evaluate the demeanour and approach the coach takes towards games: is the coach willing to allow youngsters to play the game for themselves or is he/she absorbed with their active, but unnecessary, participation? Is the coach most concerned with making decisions for the players rather than accepting that the players must make decisions on their own? Overall, there should be uniform agreement and understanding between the parents, coaches and league or association administrators on this matter. This shared responsibility helps ensure that play remains a leisure activity with a long-term interest of player development.

REMEMBER…..Play is a key word in player development!