What tactics should soccer coaches be using to generate more scoring chances in soccer? As I have mentioned in previous posts on this blog, each “soccer action” while in possession of the ball — meaning each dribble and each pass a player attempts — will have some chance the action will succeed and some chance it will be turned over. You commonly hear people refer to “50/50 balls” in this manner, but you can extrapolate from that common example percentages that might be applied to every other type of play, too. Whether it’s a midfield player dribbling in an open field without a defender near, a forward making a back pass, or a defender booting the ball upfield to get it out of danger, you can come up with some percentage figure for how likely each and every action is to succeed.
The interesting thing about thinking about soccer tactics this way is how these percentages of success for each and every play interact with one another. Keep in mind, your team’s objective is to move the ball down the field into scoring position near the opposing goal so your team can get a shot on goal and hopefully score. Starting with an overall chance of success of 100%, by taking the percent chances of success for each soccer action in your offensive build-up and MULTIPLYING them as a decimal, you will see that only one soccer action into your build-up (a pass or a dribble), even with a very high-percentage, safe play with a 95% chance of success, your overall chances of successfully taking the ball downfield into scoring position drop by 5% immediately, and will continue to drop by at least around 5-10% with each soccer action that extends the build-up.
- 100% to start with multiplied by 90% equals 90%.
- 90% multiplied by another 90% equals 81%.
- 81% multiplied by another 90% equals 72.9%.
- 72.9% multiplied by another 90% equals 65.6%.
That’s two high-percentage passes and two series of high-percentage dribbles, and already your team’s chances of success of completing those four actions, even with little to no defensive pressure (which is what the high-percentage of success should mean), and still your team only has an overall chance of success of barely 65%! If your team is starting out of the back, two passes and two dribbles may not even get them to half field, yet even taking only high-percentage, safe chances, your team still has barely better than 50/50 chance of retaining possession.
Next, let’s look at a series of more risky, yet still high-percentage chances of 80% chance of success:
- 100% to start with multiplied by 80% equals 80%.
- 80% multiplied by another 80% equals 64%.
- 64% multiplied by another 80% equals 51.2%.
- 51.2% multiplied by another 80% equals 41%.
Make four high-percentage passes in a row and still you have less than 50% chance of retaining possession! Amazing, huh?
So what can your team do to improve their overall chances of success in moving the ball downfield into scoring position?
- Take care of the ball and don’t turn it over cheaply. Even high-percentage plays can lead to turn-overs and your team will likely need 10 to 20 soccer actions (combinations of dribbles and passes) to move the ball the length of the field.
- Try to get turnovers as far up the field as possible because that reduces the distance your team needs to cover in order to get into a position to score.
- Your team has to balance the urgency to move the ball forward with the need to make extremely high-percentage plays in order to retain possession and keep moving into a scoring position.
- Don’t turn the ball over anywhere near your goal because that makes it much easier for your opposition to get the ball into scoring position.
- Do not make ANY low-percentage plays because even just a single low-percentage play during your team’s build-up, and that build-up will likely fail.