Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Mathematics Found in Soccer – Part Deux

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By Scott Martin

As a segue from my last post, youth players best understand group play in shapes such as diamonds, squares, and triangles and see formations like a 3-4-3 as linear objects.

Players learn in different ways. These include visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social, and solitary. Quite the mix for a soccer coach to consider. I’ve found great success when players are included in the learning process rather than through speeches. In fact, I tend to ask my players more questions to check their knowledge than to tell them what to do.

When presenting tactical schemes, the traditional method is using X’s and O’s on a board using either a marker or magnets. I use discs on the ground, usually with the discs that represent the midfielders turned upside down to separate the backs and forwards for those players that need distinguishing shapes to further simplify my presentation.

As coaches, we plot formations such as 3-4-3, 4-4-2, and 4-3-3. But these are linear. To the player, they are two dimensional. As coaches, we can change how we pitch these systems. If you layout a 3-2-3-2 on your whiteboard, describe smaller groups as shapes. In the below example, I’ve plotted two triangles and a diamond — both are strong shapes. Let your mind picture the others. Your players will. Expect players to hold these shapes during match play but, of course, allow for change based on situations. After all, soccer is a free-flowing game.

In an earlier post, I wrote that I left coaching college soccer to raise what turned out to be five children and returned a couple of years ago at the youth select level. This past fall, I hooked on as an assistant with a boy’s high school program to develop the defense and overall tactics.

Technically, my last youth select team was ahead of this high school group. By the end of summer training and tournament play, my U13 boys were able to successfully play five systems as we entered state league play where they went undefeated. The high school team was able to reach four systems. But, after falling behind 3-0 during a regional final, I rolled the dice and threw the below 3-4-3 system at the high schoolers while the first half was in progress — no easy feat. What shapes do you see?

The opponent tended to attack up the middle so a square with the backs tucked in fit the bill. Their backline was spread much too thin so we adjusted and looked to quickly play behind them. We lost 4-2 but with a backline consisting of four freshmen I see that as progress. We now have a firm base from which to move forward.

Let’s simplify the game.

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