I realize that relatively speaking an American soccer player is a little like an English baseball player or a Sudanese ice hockey player, but I did play soccer once long ago and so I figure the following might be of more interest to you guys than it is to the people who read my FB page. I spent most of the afternoon out of the house with a couple of books for company (one of them was Anthony Farrar-Hockley's Ypres 1914). On my way back to the house I passed by a high school soccer field. I stopped to watch, and after a while I wished that I hadn't. One team was getting absolutely creamed by the other and the disparity in the play made me uncomfortable. I suppose it made me more uncomfortable because most of the teams I played on were not very good and I know all too well what it feels like to be on that kind of team. I was pulling hard for the underdogs, but they gave up two goals in less than five minutes just after half time, both on re-starts, and I left soon after. I just couldn't bear to watch any more. I do have a coaching certificate somewhere, and observing this game made me think the following things. Yes, I know some of these things may seem obvious to you, but they weren't to the players and the coach on the losing team. 1. Games are really decided before the first ball is kicked. They are decided in training. The team which trains harder and smarter will win. 2. You must train until simple skills and tactics become automatic. Soccer is like the infantry, you can't stop in the middle of it to think it all out. 3. You must be aggressive. When in the last third of the field near the enemy's goal, you must be thinking SHOOT at all times. There is no such thing as the perfect shot; it you waste time looking for it you'll also waste opportunities. Shoot early and often. 4. You must apply defensive pressure at all times, even in the enemy's part of the field; even your forwards must press the enemy backs and their goalkeeper if they find them in possession. In your own half, the pressure must be even greater. NEVER give your opponent space and time. 5. There is no excuse for not knowing your defensive assignment, especially on corners and free kicks. Use a zone or man-to-man, but make the system clear. Does the enemy introduce a free player from their back? That's what your sweeper is for. Failing that, pull one of your own forwards back in to mark the free enemy player. 6. I may be guessing here, but my guess is that most goals are probably scored by means of centers from the flanks (the first two goals I saw) and by re-starts close to goal (the second two). Defenses must prepare accordingly. 7. Defense is the springboard for attack; winning the ball is only half the battle, you must use it constructively. 8. Close in fast on defense, then short-step when you get close; if you don't the man with the ball will turn or fake you out easily because you're going too fast to control your movements. 9. Don't play the whole game up the middle. Use the whole field, especially in attack. Push the ball out to the wingers to spread the defense and pull it apart, then center the ball for the shot. 10. There is no substitute for fitness. A team which doesn't have fitness doesn't have anything. 11. Eleven guys wearing same-color shirts do not make a team. Practice and solidarity do that, and it's the coaches' job to make sure of both. 12. Coaching from the bench is useless. A coach bellowing instructions in the obvious from the sideline will only confuse, demoralize, and anger his players. 13. Too much talking and shouting is counter-productive. Communication must be clear and short: man-on, square, support, etc. 14. Players must not blame one another for failures; they must shut up and play together instead of pointing fingers. It is up to the team captain (the coach's representative) to keep the rest focused. 15. A coach who is out of shape will not command the respect of his players. It all goes back to the coach, doesn't it? In football as in war, leadership and training are everything. This whole experience made me wish I had more understanding of the game when I was still young enough to play it. I might have been a better player.