Category Archives: Soccer Games

How Practicing the Simple Things Improves Your Soccer Team

What does soccer practice do for your team? A lot, if you practice doing the simple things correctly. In soccer, the basics consist of passing the ball, trapping the ball, and dribbling the ball. Shooting the ball is important as well, but a more advanced topic. Goalkeeping is also important, but goalkeepers are soccer players first, so they should be able to play with their feet just like a field player.

At all levels of skill, it is important to pass, trap, and dribble consistently well and under control without losing the ball. Let’s look at several scenarios describing players of different skill levels keeping in mind the general premises I have set up already in regards to soccer tactics and soccer stats — namely that effective offensive possession in soccer should be seen as a series of soccer actions like passes and dribbling attempts that each have a general percentage chance of success associated with them. We commonly refer to “50/50″ balls but there’s no reason we can’t speak of high percentage plays such as a simple pass or simple dribble in the same terms, more like “80/20″ or “90/10″ plays.

The interesting thing about a series of percentages like this is how quickly your overall chances of success deteriorate even while each individual action has a very high percentage chance of success.

Players of various skill levels are going to be able to perform soccer actions like passing, trapping, and dribbling at different rates of success, too. Beginning soccer players are not going to be able to do even the simplest basic soccer actions with any degree of repetition while professional soccer players will rarely make any mistakes over dozens of attempts. You can quantify these different skill levels with percentages of success as well, and this is where you see your soccer practice pay off for your team.

A beginning soccer player might not be able to keep control of the ball while doing simple soccer actions more than 10-20% of the time. We might imagine something along the lines of dribbling 10 yards, turning around, and dribbling another 10 yards back to the starting point. As simple as this task is, most beginners are going to be challenged not to lose control of the ball at some point. Even at a walking pace, many beginners are not going to be able to do this without getting yards away from the line they’re trying to dribble along. Simple passing and trapping are much the same story.

So how are teams to build up possession during a game in order to get a shot on goal and hopefully score when their players individually have a hard time controlling the ball, making passes, and dribbling? The short answer is, they’re not! If your players can’t achieve 50% rates of success while making simple soccer plays, your team is better off kicking the ball as deep as possible in the opponent’s field and hoping to be in the right place for a shot on goal when the inevitable turnover happens.

  • Beginning players who can successfully complete simple soccer skills 20% of the time only have a 4% chance of doing two skills correctly back-to-back.
  • Intermediate players who can do simple skills correctly and under control 50% of the time have only a 12.5% chance of doing three skills correctly back-to-back-to-back.
  • Advanced players who can do simple skills 80% of the time have a 64% chance of doing two skills successfully in succession and 51.2% chance of doing three skills successfully in a row. However, even advanced players only have a 32.7% chance of performing five skills in succession.

From these numbers, you can see the importance of practicing! When players can’t even do a short series of actions with any degree of certainty then there is no hope for team tactics. Team tactics shouldn’t even come into play for beginning players. Intermediate players might be aware of team tactics but overall their skill level is just not high enough to be able to do even the simplest series of soccer actions consistently. Only advanced players can keep control of the ball long enough doing even the simplest series of soccer actions so that tactics matter!

Now let’s look at several different levels of advanced players and how their chances of success increase as their skills get better.

  • Players able to complete 85% of basic skills correctly have a 44.3% chance of completing five skills in a row without losing possession. That is an improvement of more than 10% for a 5% improvement in individual skill over the 80% player.
  • Players able to complete 90% of basic skills correctly can complete a series of six skills with still a better than 50% chance of success.
  • Players able to complete 95% of basic skills correctly have better than 75% chance of completing five skills in succession and can consistently complete 13 skills in succession while still having a better than 50% chance of success. That is more than twice as many skills that can consistently be performed with a better than 50% chance of success over the 90% player.
  • Being able to put together a string of 10-20 passes during a game requires a great deal of skill from all players on the field.

If these numbers don’t show how important it is to do the small things correctly in soccer each and every time, what will convince you? As a beginning soccer player, gathering the basic skills of the game is extremely important for your progression in the game, and even as an advanced player, practicing basic skills pays enormous rewards. If you want to be a professional soccer player or on a winning competitive team at any level, you must be able to do the small things correctly each and every time because only by being that good is your team able to work together and execute tactics on the soccer field with any consistency.

How Does a Team Generate Scoring Chances in Soccer?

To generate a scoring chance in soccer, the team must first move the ball down the field to within about 25 yards of the opposing goal. From that range, the team then tries to get the ball in the ideal shooting position in front of a player that has some open space around them and a clear look at the goal. The focus of this post will be how the team can move the ball down the field to get a scoring opportunity. Teams spend much of the game trying to move the ball into scoring position, so understanding how to do it well will greatly contribute to the quality of soccer the team can play. Whether the team takes the ball directly down the field in a quick, counter-attacking style of play, or whether the team takes a slow buildup of passing, or whether the team has star ball-handlers that can dribble through defenders, or a combination of styles, analytically you might see a percentage chance of success associated with each pass or dribble in the buildup.

Lets look quickly at several typical soccer buildups to scoring chances.

First, a quick counterattack initiated by the goalie. Let’s say the goalie punts the ball past half field to a forward making a run towards the corner flag, who then dribbles the ball towards goal to create a scoring chance. Putting some percentages of successful completion to these actions, let’s say the goalie punt past half field in this instance has a 40% chance of success, while the dribble another 40 yards downfield has no more than a 15% chance of success. Multiply these chances together and you have .4 x .15 or an overall chance of 6% of success in creating a scoring chance.

Second, another scoring chance initiated by the goalie, but this time, the goalie rolls the ball out to a wide defender, who dribbles forward a bit, kicks it to the center mid, who kicks it to the center back, and so on, in a slow buildup of 15 passes and some dribbling to get into scoring position down the field. Analytically, you might assume chances of success between 70-95% for these passing and dribbling actions moving the ball around the field eventually ending in a scoring chance. Starting with the rollout from the goalie this might look like:

  • .95 x .95 x .85 x .9 x .9 x .95 x .8 x .85 x .7 x .9 x .85 x .9 x .85 x .9 x
    .8 x .75 x .9 x .8 x .9 x .85
  • an overall chance of success in creating a scoring chance of 4.89%

Next, let’s look at a midfield turnover where the center mid who gains possession kicks the ball out wide to another midfielder, who then dribbles forward and passes to a striker near the opposing penalty box. Statistically, this might be:

  • .85 x .9 x .7
  • an overall chance of success of 53.55%

Looking at these series of buildups that might result in a scoring chance in soccer, a few things become evident.

Where turnovers happen on the field is important because turnovers closer to one’s own goal are much easier for the opposing team to convert into legitimate scoring chances simply because they have less distance to move the ball to get into scoring position. Turnovers in one’s own penalty box or just outside result in an immediate scoring chance for the other team.

Each player making smart decisions when in possession of the ball can greatly increase the team’s overall chance of success. No matter how direct or slow the buildup the team is making, if a “50/50″ ball happens where your team has no better than a 50% chance of success in retaining possession, your team’s overall chances of success in creating a scoring chance from that possession will be cut in half. If your team’s players can choose to pass or dribble only when they have an 80% chance or better of successfully retaining possession, then overall your team can have a greater chance of success overall even if your team has to dribble and pass more to create the scoring chance.

When you consider teams may only be successful half the time at getting a shot off when in scoring position, and then only about 50% of shots may be on target, and only about 25% of shots on target may score, you can easily see why goals are so rare in soccer. If a team gains possession on a turnover already in scoring position, they still might only have .5 x .5 x .25 or only 6.25% chance of scoring even though they were in an immediate scoring chance. When teams have to move the ball 80 yards (which we have just analyzed at around a 5% chance of success) before they get into a scoring chance that only has around a 6% chance of success, then a team’s chances of taking the ball from the goalie’s hands into the opposing net become .05 x .06 or a microscopic .3%.

Having skilled players that not only consistently choose actions with high percentages of success but have the skills to skew percentages of success in their team’s favor become extremely important in increasing your team’s chances of successfully moving the ball down the field and scoring. When your team chooses higher percentage plays, unsuccessful buildups still are more likely to result in turnovers further down the field, meaning the other team statistically has more to do before they have a scoring chance. On defense, if your players are able to decrease the chances of success the other team has while on offense, statistically, they will cut the other teams scoring chances and are more likely to receive the ball in advanced positions.

A Discussion of the Objectives of a Soccer Team During a Match

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.