Playing Next to One Another vs With One AnotherIt takes human beings a few years to figure out that there are other humans in the universe. When kids are young - in the earliest years of soccer development - kids do what's called parallel play. We witness this phenomenon as kids playing next to one another as opposed to with one another. This happens with all soccer players in the beginning. They're head's down, searching for the ball, watching their foot make contact, seeing what happens to the ball, etc. I probably see this phenomenon the most among developing players and it's one that I'm most sensitive to.I'm sensitive to it because it isn't limited to 3-6 year olds. New players coming onto the pitch go through a period of individual play just like young kids do. If we don't deliberately make corrections to help players become aware of one another, bad habits can form. Parallel Play - Two young girls playing next to one anotherIt takes some evolution, some comfort on and around the ball for players to allow themselves the mental bandwidth to lift their head and see other players - let alone recognize how another player's movement is related to their own movement. Lifting player's heads is an early step towards connecting players together. A Few Ideas to Help Lift Player's HeadsCall out the number of fingers a player is holding up before passing the ballSurround the working player with 2-3 players wearing different colored vests. Pass a ball to a working player while simultaneously calling out a color they should pass to. Force the player to lift their head, identify the target color, and make the correct pass. Face two players against one another and give them a 40 yard runway. One runs backward while the other runs forward. The forward runner is the attacker. The backward runner is the defender. Instruct the defender to match the attackers movements while focusing on hips and shoulders. Add a check over the shoulder to a third player or a coach holding up a number of fingers. The defender must slow the attacker, mirror their movements, and be aware of the number of fingers being held up behind them. Lifting a player's head helps that player to see other players, but to truly realize the power that can be unlocked by playing with one another as a unit, players need to first establish good team (connecting) habits, then experience the benefits of working together to accomplish goals (pun intended). Once a few players start to see the value in the team approach, we hope they either have or can develop the leadership skills needed to bring the rest of the team onboard. Coach's ContributionBesides establishing an environment conducive for learning the power of the team approach, the coach's influence can extend onto the game pitch - for better and for worse! In a case where a coach deliberately seeks to recognize and reward good team dynamics, the team approach to soccer can be enhanced. But what does a counter productive strategy look like? I've seen coaches - many coaches - get focused on putting the ball in the net and not pay enough attention to how the ball gets put in the net. It's forgivable when parents do this, in my opinion. They are not expected to have the training or bigger picture. "Shoot!!... Shoot!!" coming from a parent sideline sounds much less destructive to the game to me than it does when it comes from the coach's bench - especially when the players are prepped for it. Don't think me too simple to realize that there is a time for shooting and often the window to get off a good shot is closed down quickly. Sometimes coaches need to to prompt a player to take advantage of the moment and not lose it. But there is a difference between yelling "Shoot!!... Shoot!!" to an attacking player inside the 6 who just beat a goalkeeper, two defenders are closing ranks, and the keeper is getting back to his or her feet; and "Shoot!!... Shoot!!" from the 40 yard line with two open attackers in the middle, no pressure,
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