The Impossible Pass

By Dan Blank

I’ve never been satisfied by the on-field communication of my players.  If I could ever get all of them to generously communicate useful information during the run of play, we would rise to a whole new and improved level.  But more about that later.  This article isn’t just about what to say; it’s about what not to say, and when not to say it.

Smart players that communicate well talk about what’s best for the ball.  They feed their teammates a concise stream of information that helps those teammates solve their soccer problems.  They are like chess-masters moving the pieces to orchestrate the attack, directing the ball from one teammate to the next.  That’s what smart players do.

What most players do is see the teammate who has the ball and then scream, “JENNY! JENNY! JENNY!”

And there’s poor Jenny at midfield, trying her best to evade two determined opponents and the only help she’s offered is ten teammates shouting her name from ten different directions.  Listen – Jenny already knows her name.  What Jenny needs is some useful information that will help her out of her current unpleasant predicament.  Jenny needs a teammate saying something like, “Drop it to Danielle.”  That’s the kind of information she can actually use.  Instead she gets, “JENNY! JENNY! JENNY!”

The communication habits of most players are poor for one of two reasons – they don’t talk enough or they don’t talk smart.  And players whose sole method of communication is shouting the name of the teammate with the ball are not smart talkers.

The most egregious of these offenses inspired me to create the term The Impossible Pass.

There’s Jenny on the ball again.  This time she’s pinned up against the sideline by an opponent who is absolutely hounding her.  The ball is between Jenny and the sideline.  Jenny is between the opponent and the ball.  And twenty yards to the other side of the opponent, there you are screaming, “JENNY! JENNY! JENNY!”

There you are, asking a teammate who is under pressure, who is not even facing you, to maneuver that ball so it can magically pass through her own body and then through that of the opponent and then carry the twenty yards to arrive at your waiting foot.

So here’s my question: How on earth do you expect her to do that?

Look, I don’t care how wide open you are.  I don’t care how you are guaranteed to score a goal when you receive that pass.  None of that matters because JENNY CAN’T GET THAT BALL TO YOU!  Get it?  You are asking for an IMPOSSIBLE PASS!  And the only thing your shouting will accomplish is to cloud the flow of useful information someone else might actually be trying to give her.

I understand you want the ball.  I really do.  But please apply some common sense to the problem.  Your team is much better served if you communicate to Jenny some information that will solve the problem at hand.  Maybe your useful communication will get the ball to a teammate who can then get it to you so you can go score that goal.  Doesn’t that make more sense?

When you talk to your teammates, speak in clear, concise words, phrases and sentences. Talk to the person on the ball as if she is blindfolded and is completely dependent upon you.  Jenny doesn’t know what you’re thinking when you scream her name, but she’ll know exactly what you mean when you say, “Man on!” or “Time” or “Turn.” If she’s about to cross the ball and you shout, “Near!”, she’ll know you want the ball served to the near post. All of these options provide Jenny with information that will help her solve her problem. Shouting Jenny’s name at her won’t do much good at all.

In short, don’t say stupid stuff.  And don’t ask for the Impossible Pass.  It’s not coming.

Note for Coaches: Demand useful communication from your players in every possible exercise.  It’s amazing how much easier soccer is when players are giving and receiving useful information.

Dan Blank has been coaching college soccer for over twenty years and currently serves as associate head coach at the University of Georgia. He has an ‘A’ License from the USSF and an Advanced National Diploma from the NSCAA.  He has also authored Every Thing Your Coach Never Told You Because You’re a Girl (available in 2014) and several children’s stories including Piper McThwacket’s Incredible Racket (2014).  You can buy his books and read his blog at www.soccerpoet.com.

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