Last time, I described some of the physical demands of soccer (10,000 meters for college/adult men, 8500 meters for college/adult women, mostly at a walk or jog with lots of short sprints and a change of speed or direction every five or so seconds).
This demands a player better have a good aerobic system so they can recover quickly after each sprint so they can sprint again.
The physical demands have some differences due to age, gender, cultures, level of competition, etc. But the game is fairly similar wherever it's played and there are some common tactical characteristics that can be included in training, so the player learns both physically and tactically in the same activity.
Over 30 years ago, a couple of English mathematicians observed hundreds of games, from pickup games in the park to World Cup matches. The main thing they counted was passing combinations and found that over 90% of all possessions were of 3 or fewer passes and nearly 40% of all possessions began and ended without a completed pass.
Lots of work has been done since that first study. Here are some facts about shooting possessions that you may have known intuitively, but these are from research of both sexes, different levels and cultures of play:
So, what does this tell us about training?
First, it tells us that soccer is not an 11 v 11 game, but lots of little 4 v 4 games. What should be stressed in training then, is recognizing when a chance for a shot exists.
Coaching points should include aggressive defense that mostly likely leads to an errant pass, especially in the opponents defensive end of the field; the first run and pass of that possession should be penetrating to get both players and ball past defenders and practice 1-time shooting. If limitations are put on a 4 v 4 game, both fitness and tactics can be trained.
Many coaches have taken these kinds of data in support of 'direct play,' which is practiced by the Norwegians and Irish. However, possession soccer is an important factor in the game to force the defense to chase the ball and tire, so that when the opportunity does present itself, an attack can be recognized and be successful on a tired defense.
Need new boots? Shop for them in the Active Sports Mecca
Dr. Don Kirkendall is one of the foremost soccer doctors in the country. He is a professor at the University of North Carolina and works extensively with its women's soccer program. He is a member of the US Soccer Federation sports medicine committee and is currently working with the WUSA, the new women's pro league.