A quote from Jacob Steinberg’s excellent piece on Pep Guardiola in this morning’s Guardian:
[Claudio] Bravo completed 84% of his passes last season. [Joe] Hart completed 53%. Hart gave possession to the opposition 352 times, Bravo 142.
This is the first time I’ve seen goalkeeper possession and pass completion statistics quoted in the newspaper and the conclusion of the data is stark, stunning: a difference of 30% in keeping possession; 200 more giveaways. Even coaches who aren’t gathering possession and passing stats would likely not choose a midfielder who gave the ball away 200 more times. But with goalies we are blind.
And this is interesting because to punt or to throw (or play on the ground), to build out of the back or boot it, is one of the few decisions that happen with almost no time pressure. Yet we choose low possession. We punt or boot long. Our goalies give the ball away over and over again, even on teams that try to value possession.
The result, in youth soccer, is far more important than whether you win. It’s fewer possessions and therefore fewer opportunities for player development. It’s less of your team’s play based on principles of movement and linking play (if the outside back is about to receive the ball; where should I go? How do I support? Create space?) and more based on a randomness– an event (the punt; the 60 yard kick) where what you do off the ball is far less relevant and instructive because what happens is far harder to predict or control for any player. Replacing predictable–or at least ‘according to principles’–with random replaces a high learning situation with a low learning situation for all 11 players and this applies to the hardest aspects of the game to master—what to do off the ball. (If you’re interested, I wrote a bit more about how building out of the back was important for development here)
Building out of the back, even under pressure, means losing the ball sometimes in the short run. At some point it will cost you. But over the long run you will build skill, poise and comfort with the ball among all of your players in a wider variety of high pressure settings. You will teach them to link play.
That’s why the most important quote I’ve seen from a coach this month was this one by from Luis Lewis, an Argentine coaching in Westchester who learned the game from Marcelo Bielsa.
This is a coach who has decided he is willing to lose a game now in order to teach his players to play correctly and to grow and learn more in the long run.
So… Want to make your players better faster? Then apply Michelangelo’s advice famous advice to his apprentice—“Draw, Antonio. Draw and do not waste time”– to your goalkeepers: “Throw*, Antonio. Throw and do not waste time [punting].”
(*or play on the ground)