Outdoor soccer is played on a large field with many players. Teams win the game by scoring more goals than their opponent, but for a vast majority of many games the ball is out of scoring range for either team as the opposing sides try to advance the soccer ball into scoring positions. Because of the generally long distances that need to be covered by the team in possession of the ball in order to get in position to make a good shot on goal, it is important that each member of the team make good decisions while in possession of the ball or else the team’s possession will end in an all-to-frequent turnover before the team is able to get to the offensive section of the field.
Further complicating the game is the fact that substitutions are extremely limited at competitive levels, making competitive games a true feat of endurance for the 90 minutes of a normal soccer game as it is common for players to run more than 10 kilometers during a game. Teams and their players must manage fatigue while engaged in offensive and defensive tactics throughout the duration of the game. Resting, or minimizing exertion, is most easily done while one’s own team is in possession of the ball in the offensive half or offensive third of the field. Resting on defense is inviting the opposing team to score. Dominating offensive possession also has the added bonus of not allowing the other team to score since they don’t have the ball.
Soccer players will also use possession of the ball the same way a boxer uses the jab and body blow. Taking the ball up and down, back and forth across the field wears the opponent out mentally as well as physically in much the same way as the jab and body blow weaken and fatigue the opponent in the ring. When your opponent on the pitch is weak and tired, they won’t be playing as intensely and a prone to making mistakes that can lead to scoring chances and hopefully goals.
Good soccer is played by players who are constantly evaluating risk vs. reward scenarios in their minds. Before making a 60 yard sprint down the field, diving in on a tackle, or making a pass, players have to make an evaluation that their actions are likely to be successful, and that the consequences of a successful action will be better than the consequences of failure. Even within the range of failed action, players hope to fail in a way that won’t negatively affect their team too much. For example, a player should understand that if they miss a tackle, they could end up still in position to make a play, or completely out of position. Or, if a player is going to miss a pass, it won’t hurt the team as much if you miss wide and down the field compared to missing a pass centrally and close to your own goal. On defense, a player also has to understand which player to mark in fluid, flowing play based on the chances they have to score.
With this in mind, a good soccer player understands accurately the percentage chances of their actions, their team’s actions, and their opponent’s actions. A great soccer player is able to skew those percentages in their favor with their skill — making 60% chances into 80% chances and 80% chances into 90% chances.