How to Overcome 20 Soccer Match Hazards

Coaching Links Team Management Tournaments Vendors Home Coaching Navigation Buttons Technical Tactical Fitness Mental Gameday Navigation buttons

Match Hazards

There are several match hazards that you will experience during the years ahead with your team. There are some coaching instructions you can give before kick-off that may help your team get a better tactical result, and there are some team management solutions to some of the other hazards. Only a few of the tactical suggestions following will help most teams at U8, for example, but at that age, coaches should not worry much about tactical adjustments, as long as the kids are getting to the fields, getting their playing time, and having fun on a safe field.

1. Wind

If you get choice of ends, play with the wind at your back in the first half. The wind could stop or change by the second half. When playing against the wind, keep passes on the ground, make clearances wide. If the wind is very strong, clear everything from the defending third of your field, not just from the penalty area, and sort out possession in the midfield or attacking thirds.

2. Bad Sun Angle

If it is clear that sun be an extreme problem at one end during the second half, take that end during the first half if you have a choice. Otherwise, ask your captain to take the end with the least sun in your keeper's eyes during the first half. Clouds may arrive before half-time.

3. Rain

Ask your keeper to get body and hands behind every ball to ensure that a wet ball won't slip through a grip or skip through legs. Player communications will have to be louder.

4. Wet or Muddy Field

If standing water or mud stops instep passes, coach your players to loft their passes and to carry the ball in attack. In defense, don't play possession at the back. Keep a tight defending shape, and clear everything from the defending third into the midfield or attacking third first time. If standing water covers the center of the penalty area, play the ball wide and attack the goal by crossing or shoot from outside, rather than attacking by penetration on the dribble or with combination play.

5. Deep Grass

If deep grass makes long instep passing difficult, encourage your players to loft their passes to the wings and to space behind the last defenders, to play shorter combinations, and to carry the ball in attack. Instead of diagonal balls on the ground to the wings, play lofted diagonal passes. In defense, the deep grass will assist your defenders, so ask them to be patient and to keep the attackers in front of them, no diving in. Now, what's "deep grass" varies by your training conditions. Bermuda grass teams from Atlanta and Dallas find fescue fields in Cincinnati, Washington DC, or Pleasanton CA to be pretty slow going, but a team from St. Louis, Indianapolis, or Milwaukee would not notice any difference.

6. Hard Field With Clumpy Grass

If you are the home team, assess your team's skill with respect to the other team. If you are way ahead, select a game ball that is inflated to the legal maximum and let the other team struggle with a bouncing ball. If you are way behind, select a softer ball. Urge your players to keep the ball on the ground and to pass to feet. If the opposing team is a whack ball team, you'll want to coach your players to attack by combination play and dribbling, and to avoid passing the ball or crossing the ball into the space in front of the opposing defenders. Cross the ball or chip the ball into the space behind the central defenders instead, or play a through ball from midfield into this space. Ask one of your strikers to use the opposing sweeper as a starting position and to challenge for every ball so that the sweeper will not have the chance to clear cleanly. Ask your central defenders to keep more depth in their defending shape, and ensure that your wing mids and midfielders track runners on loss of possession. Despite all the rude things we say about whack ball teams, many of them are decent at transition to attack, and they get people forward.

7. Narrow Field

Persuade your wing players to get all the way out to the touch-line in attack to make the best of a bad situation. Keep your strikers pushed up to get as much back to front shape as possible, since you don't have much in width. Take advantage of the narrowness of the field and attack with crosses from the wings.

8. Short Field

Unless the opponents play flat at the back and push out a lot, there will not be much chance to play through balls or use the space at the back of the defense. Ask your players to keep the ball on the ground and to attack by dribbling, by combination play to penetrate the penalty area, and by crossing attack from the wings. In defense, clears should use the full width of the field. Wing mids will need to check back to provide feet visible to the ball. Likewise, your strikers should take turns checking back into midfield to provide feet visible to the ball, but, at any moment, one of your strikers should be playing off of the opposing central defenders to provide someone forward to receive the ball.

9. Under inflated Ball

Experienced coaches, players, and referees can easily identify an under inflated ball by sound, but many referees are amazingly indifferent to under inflated balls. Most of these referees never played and don't touch the ball except to place it for kick off. Further, many referees do not realize that a properly inflated ball is amazingly hard. Ask the referee to check the ball when it goes in to touch. If you get no results, try again at half-time if you have a younger age team. Older boys teams routinely at the top level deliberately shank poor balls far into the woods where possible to force a change to a better ball.

10. Slippery Ball

Strangely enough, many balls issued at tournaments you attend in the future will be of "economy" quality or will have such a slick coating on the outside as to not be "keeper friendly". Prepare for this by roughing the surface of the ball before you play in case the field marshal requires you to use the bad ball. Take a full sheet of coarse grit sandpaper and a nail file to tournaments. Sand first, groove last.

11. No Warm-up Space

Move two automobiles and warm up with aerobics, isometrics, jogging in place, jumping, stretching, and partner serve ball touches in the space left behind. Touches can be volley back to chest with inside, outside, and instep of foot, thigh pops, chest and foot, headers, and so on. Send your team manager to get an exact time remaining figure from the linesman. Complete your parking space warm-up and move your team and equipment into position behind one of the teams playing the preceding game. Be ready to begin your first on-field exercise at the final whistle.

12. Excessive Referee Procedure

There is nothing in the laws of the game that says the referee is required to make a long speech to your team before the game, nor is the referee instructed to belittle women players condescendingly by calling them "ladies" and making jokes about their jewelry or boyfriends, or to otherwise waste your warm-up time with jokes and trivia with your team. This often does happen and you can stop it by challenging the referee to complete the equipment inspection and check the player passes. "Please ref, we need to complete our warm-up" is all you should have to say. Referees usually don't argue, and most of them know that they should be expediting the match, not appearing as the star entertainer.

13. Color Conflicts

Players should pack an alternate top, shorts, and socks. Select your uniform parts for maximum contrast. Don't worry about style. Zip lock freezer bags are popular for packing uniforms, as they keep everything dry and clean until use.

14. Holes or Sprinkler Heads

Check the field before you start warm-ups. Bring it to the attention of the referee as soon as the referee arrives. If there's not fill dirt available to safely fill and cover these dangerous ankle breakers, don't play the match. Your medical kit should have a plastic spade for this purpose. (REI and other outfitters sell these as "sanitary shovels".) As your team gets older and you move toward state cup play and important tournaments, there is no way that you can afford to have a player out 4 to 6 weeks with a serious ligament tear.

15. Unsafe Goals or Torn Nets

Check the field before you start warm-ups. Bring unsafe goals or torn nets to the attention of the referee. If the either goal appears to be structurally unsafe or in danger of tipping and there is no solution, don't play the match.

16. Lightning

Leave the field immediately. Put the kids into automobiles or a building. Lightning can occur at the front edge of a storm from a clear blue sky, and it can also occur in the middle or end of an otherwise light rain shower. Lightning can strike 8 or 10 miles from the heart of the storm. Because of this, there is no scientific way to decide if or when to resume. At WAGS years ago, a heuristic rule was used. Visible lightning stopped play for 15 minutes. Every subsequent lightning strike reset the clock to 0. There is no league or tournament match so important it can't be abandoned. Ignore the wrath of the parents, the referee, the field marshal, and your players. Your obligation as a coach is not to any of these people. Your obligation is to the young people your players will become later in life.

17. Bad Referee

Until many of our experienced youth players can get off to college, graduate, get jobs, and return home to referee, there will be a shortage of excellent referees who can read the game as well as you might like, so you will get bad refereeing at times. (Referees are thinking that there won't be enough good coaches until some experienced youth players get back from college, and they are not wrong.) Meanwhile, you should not destroy or distract your team by losing your cool, it won't help. If the referee misinterprets a law of the game, does not keep up with play, or allows serious foul play, you can point this out at the time, contact the tournament committee, or write a short letter to the state youth referee administrator. If it's a league match at your field or an in-house club match, contact your club president, coaching director, and referee booker. Explain your complaint clearly, but don't beat them to death over it or they'll doubt your objectivity. If the referee says "red" when it should be "blue", you are out of luck.

18. Hostile Opposing Parents

Go through the referee, field marshal or the opposing coach and ask for help if there is abuse or profanity. Teach your players that hostile parents are just one of many distractions to be tuned out. Ensure that your team's parents understand that you would like them not to respond to the hostile opposing parents in any way, or to address any players on the field.

19. Your Abusive Team Parents

Let your assistant run the team. Walk around the field and speak privately with the offending parents, one at a time. Ask them to help you out by not talking to the players. Parents should say "nice shot", "great pass", and "well done", and that's about it. Well-meaning parents can undermine your teaching, and abusive parents can permanently wreck their own kid's psychology to the point their own player has less confidence and mental toughness than Barney Fife. This is ironic, because the same abusive parents would go to court to stop a teacher from abusing their player in the same way.

20. Bad Directions

Players getting lost on the way to fields contributes to poor warm-ups and bad match results. When playing away in league play, get directions from the opposing coach, check them with another coach in your club or with maps from your state office, and drive to the field on your own before your last practice before the match. Make sure that each of your players has a map, and take a copy of the map to your office to FAX to the dad of the player who did not attend your last practice. On the night before the game, update your hot line message to include the uniform of the day and directions to the field.