Four main moments in soccer games

Current thinking in soccer divides games into four main moments; own team in possession, losing possession, opponents in possession and regaining possession.

This should not be confused with attack, defence and transition. It is larger than that. Thinking in the latter leads to isolated responsibilities and positions. Players become attackers or defenders in mind and action. This results in back players that do not support effectively when their midfield is in possession and top players that don’t contribute when the opponents have the ball. This limited view opens the way for a disconnect within the lines of the team.

From a practical point of view the majority of youth coaches will be concerned with own team in possession and opponents in possession while training. This results in most small sided games restarting with one team in possession and the other without. This offers a very clear picture for both teams and the coach to start from.

Thinking in terms of the main moments can help to bring structure for the player and the coach. For the player, they need to understand what their primary task is in each moment. Understanding their task leads to better positioning which helps technique. But possession in youth soccer changes rapidly, so rapidly that many young players cannot keep up with the game either physically or mentally. They either can’t get to the correct position or have no idea where it is. This creates a stressful situation for the player and is a major reason why team play breaks down.

Simplifying observations provides structure for the coach. So many things go wrong that a list of errors and mistakes would be endless. Too much information is as bad as not enough. When the focus is kept in one moment a clearer picture of a real problem will emerge. Since you cannot cover everything in a session, concentrate on the biggest problem you can find. This starts with defining which main moment contains the biggest problem.

After settling on the main moment comes the smaller moments. Example, own team in possession, our goalkeeper has the ball. Where should the outside backs be? How deep should the centre forward be? Or, the opponents have possession and their central midfielder has the ball. When does our central defender have to step up and assume responsibility? At what point can he stop conceding space and must commit to the ball? Seeing “moments” can aid in a better understanding of soccer situations and problems. A soccer game is an event, it is not a a thing. Events exist in time, things exist in space. Viewing soccer as a thing leaves out the very important temporal element. Opportunities and situations in soccer appear and vanish in a fraction of a second. Coaches need to consider this when reading the game and setting up their practices.