Dure: Coaches need to get a grip on goal-kick fever
We’ve seen it in Under-9 and U-10 games. Over and over.
A goalkeeper doesn’t have the leg strength or the accuracy to get a goal kick out to a teammate. The other team presses forward, intercepts the goal kick and shoots.
Wide. Another goal kick. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Eventually, the other team scores on one of these opportunities, and we can mercifully set the ball down at midfield.
Until the other team blasts the ball across the end line, realizing on a subconscious level that an opposing goal kick is the most effective set piece in U-9 soccer.
Can’t blame the kids. Scoring goals is exciting.
This is up to the alleged adults.
U.S. Soccer is stepping in through its Player Development Initiatives. In the future, U-9 and U-10 fields will have “build out lines.” (See p. 10 of the USSF presentation.)
Unfortunately, while this is one of the more sensible initiatives in this controversial set of mandates, it’s also one of the most difficult to implement. The mandates were written for a mythical world in which every soccer club has a sprawling soccer-specific complex, with unlimited capacity to put down new lines and roll mobile 4×6 and 6.5×18.5 goals (please note 6.5 feet, not 6 — someone must think U-9 goalkeepers are getting taller).
For some fortunate clubs in the exurbs, sure. The reality for most of us: school fields that already have a patchwork of lines for lacrosse, field hockey, possibly American football and maybe even the foul line for a baseball diamond tucked away in the corner. If you’re feeling masochistic, go to your local school board and demand more lines and other renovations because U.S. Soccer said so.
So the specifics are still under discussion. The nation’s youth soccer organizations have pooled together to offer a much-needed reality check, and it’s safe to say that process is ongoing.
In the meantime, it’s up to coaches. No, that thought doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. U-9 and U-10 soccer attracts its share of sadists for some reason.
We’re supposed to be emphasizing “development” over “winning,” especially at these ages in which most leagues don’t even publish scores and standings. Coaches should ask themselves what sort of “development” is taking place when a team is just bunching up around the penalty box to pick off a goal kick and shoot.
Encouraging every travel team to have a goal-kick specialist who can blast the ball over the opponents is no solution, especially now that we’ve banned heading in U-9 and U-10 soccer. We want goal kicks on the ground. (Also, just seeing the words “goal kick specialist” and “U-9” should make reasonable people shudder.)
Coaches frankly shouldn’t need guidance from U.S. Soccer here. If they haven’t learned the “development over winning” argument by now, they probably should consider a new career. If they don’t have the common sense to realize pressing goal kicks isn’t “development,” they’re probably not going to pass the revised “D” license, anyway.
You’re going to have the occasional mismatch in U-9 and U-10 soccer. Leagues aren’t promoting and relegating teams yet. One or two outstanding (or overmatched) players can provide a big swing in the score. How best to cope with such mismatches is a difficult debate — is it more insulting to run up the score or put in a “pass the ball 15 times and shoot only with your left foot” rule? A case could be made either way.
Goal kicks are simpler. Make your players string together a couple of passes or a great run with the ball before scoring, and you have something worth celebrating. All you get by picking off a goal kick and shooting it right back over an intimidated goalkeeper is another hash mark on the ref’s notebook, soon to be tossed aside with no lessons learned.
Beau Dure’s book, Single-Digit Soccer: Keeping Sanity in the Earliest Ages of the Beautiful Game, is now available in paperback at Amazon and in electronic form at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online booksellers. Read more about it at singledigitsoccer.com