As we reach the midpoint of the fall season here in the Midwest my training sessions are becoming more focused on small-sided games. Early in the year I spend a lot of time on technical training and individual skill development. This provides a foundation of understanding for dribbling, fakes, passing, receiving and shooting. The players have heard the coaching points from me over and over so we have a kind of short-hand that makes it easy for me to help them make corrections.
With this foundation in place, the players need to repeat these skills over and over again in game situations. Small-sided games provide a fun and realist environment for this repetition. The players enjoy playing games so it’s much easier to engage them. The sessions are fast paced and fun for me too.
Next week I’ll give you some examples of adjustments that I make to small-sided games to focus on the aspects that I want to improve.
This week I want to discuss a situation that all coaches face from time to time – the lopsided matchup. These games are no fun for either team but they do present an opportunity that can make your team stronger going forward.
I’ll talk about my own experience with these types of games and how you can get the most out of them no matter which side of the result that you’re on.
The Challenge of the Mismatch
If you’ve coached for any length of time you will have been involved in a game where one teams was MUCH stronger than the other. This is not a good situation for either team; no one enjoys getting outplayed and outscored but even the team that is doing the scoring doesn’t enjoy the game because it’s not challenging for them and there’s no fun in winning a game by a wide margin against an opponent that doesn’t have the skills to compete.
This is different than winning a game by four or five goals against a team when you’re just playing really well and they can’t seem to find a way to stop you.
I’m talking about the games where the two teams don’t belong on the same field. This can happen in a tournament where the teams are incorrectly seeded or in a league game where a newly promoted teams from division three plays a team that was just moved down from division one. They are both division 2 teams but the difference in talent and ability may HUGE.
I had a recent experience with mismatched games in a tournament that I talk about in detail on the podcast. I used some of the strategies I’ll discuss to keep the score down and make it more competitive.
As with most situations we face, you can choose to be negative and resentful or you can try to get the most out of it you can.
What to do When You’re MUCH Stronger Than the Other Team
- Begin by having the team play as usual
- Give your opponents the respect of playing your best
- Sometimes they’ll put up a great defense fight and make it hard to score
- May play especially defensive
- Just sitting back
- Don’t assume anything at the start
- Once the result is no longer in doubt
- Your players know it and the other team knows it
- This is when something needs to change
The First Adjustment I Make
- Rotate players into different positions
- Benefits your players
- They enjoy it
- Probably makes it harder to score
Rules for Your Players
- Depends on what you want to train
- A move or fake each time they get the ball
- Works well if the other team pressures the ball but you’ve been able to move it around them with passes
- A certain number of passes before you score
- If you are just running through them each time
- Everyone touches the ball before you score
- Gets everyone involved
- Switch the ball two or three times before you can score
- Requires the players to read the space and pressure
- Make them switch it in the attacking half
- Start with the goalkeeper for every attack
- Build from the back
- Difficult when you win the ball back near the opponents goal
- Very obvious
- Only score in a certain way
- One touch
- After a combination play
- Weak foot
- Like in basketball
- Drop back when the goalie has it
- Punt or goalkick
- Possession Only
- My least favorite
The Problem with Altering Your Play
- Some coaches take it as an insult
- I’ve had coaches say, ‘Just play, it’s our job to stop you.’
- I understand this and respect that perspective
- I’m not trying to belittle the other team
- I’m just trying to train mine
What to do When You’re the MUCH Weaker Team
- If I know going in
- Prepare the players
- Point to reasons
- No excuse for poor effort
- Give them things to focus on
- Number of moves each player uses
- Number of passes each player makes
- Consecutive passes
- Number of times in the other team’s half
- Or box
- Change the formation
- Help to keep it close
- Make it as hard for them as possible
- Teach the players a different way to play
- Leave the formation the same
- Challenge them to play the best they can
- Encourage them to measure their improvement not the result
- Build confidence for future games
Change Style of Play
- A BIT more direct
- Tough balance to strike
- No kick ball
- Don’t panic
- Look for longer options
- Play balls behind their defense
Attitude is everything
- Remain classy no matter what
- This is the best lesson your players can learn from you
- I’ve seen and heard some ridiculous things from coaches and parents
- Your kids see this and will model it in the future
- This is true whether you’re up by a lot or down by a lot
- The losing team aren’t the only ones that can act poorly
- The winning team can be graceful or rude
- Respectful or offensive
- Running up the score is obvious but being rude while not scoring can be worse
- I tell teams that there is always someone better than you
- You may be in their position one day so let’s respect them as we would want to be respected
Remember that regardless of the level we’re coaching we’re training kids to become good people not JUST good soccer players.
If you use some of these strategies when your next game gets out of hand you could be teaching your team something it would have taken much longer to do in any other way.
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In the Next Episode
Next week I’ll share how I use rules and restrictions to focus on certain skills or tactics when my teams are playing small-sided games during training.