A Coach Asks

Our team has become strong defensively, and our mid-field is pretty good.   But we can't seem to score. We've had 6 ties out of our 13 league games, and only 3 wins and I'm wondering if you have any suggestions about what to do to teach "finishing" inside the 18. We get the ball down the field quite well, but we are having real trouble inside the penalty area. I've been practicing lots of crossing stuff and doing a lot of 3v3 inside the box, with free players out of the box on each side.

Partly its a function of the kids getting too excited when they are attacking and making bad decisions, partly it is less than adequate shooting, and partly it is a tendency to think "pass" first then shoot, rather than the other way around (a major problem for us). But, we just can't seem to find the net.

Does Your Team Play Well But Struggle in Scoring?

You get a new team and get to know them. Technically you improve, and you start to get some team shape tactically and stop giving up so many goals.  Pretty soon, you have some decent midfield play and get the ball into the wings, and your team starts to get up and down the field. You win a few games and the parents are happy.  However, after a while, there is some frustration because you don't seem to get a break.  The lucky goal doesn't happen and the team doesn't get the reward it should have.

You start to realize that your team can play great out of the back, doesn't give up too many goals, and gets up and down the field with opponent.  Despite this, your team doesn't score enough to win your fair share.

The Diagnostic Checklist

Knowing what training to use depends on recognizing the real problems that might be holding your team back.  Compare your team's play against this checklist of common problems to help identify the problems.  Which of these statements describes your team?

  1. Play too Slow    We play too slowly.  We are fast enough running up and down the field, but are slow at changing the point of attack.  This happens a lot when we are attacking the goal where we should be able to move the ball quickly to the feet of an open shooter or isolate an attacker 1v1 against an opposing defender.
  2. Not Getting Numbers Up    Although we get up to the final third often, we have lost our willingness to get numbers up near the ball. Instead of having 6 players in the penalty area,
    especially near the ball, we have one or two, then a few stragglers further behind.
  3. Not Taking on Defenders 1v1    Our attacker with the ball often turns away from chances to take on defenders 1v1 when the chance is there to penetrate into space behind the last defender to get a 1v1 with the keeper.  Our attackers look to be afraid of losing the ball.
  4. Play Ball Wide Instead of Through    Our team gets a lot of good counter attack chances, but, in going to goal, we often kill our chances by playing a ball to the wing, allowing the other team time to recover and build a shape as the ball followed a lengthy course out to the wing and back to the center.
  5. Not Using Enough Space in the Final Third    When we attack, our players in the opponent's penalty area with pressure on their back make dinky little passes to our other players who then do not have enough space to strike a goal before being closed down by defenders chasing the pass.
  6. Strikers Not Working Together    Our strikers do little to help each other score. Many times one striker runs away from the ball and shows nothing but tail lights, yet demands the ball, as if there would be some way for the other striker to play a long chip over the top.  Strikers are not making runs at defenders or space behind defenders to help the first attacker.
  7. Avoiding Taking a Shot    In the box, our players do everything possible to avoid shooting.  We are getting as many as 10 passes in or nearly in the penalty area with no shot.
  8. Shooting at the Keeper    When our players find a good shooting chance, they often shoot right at the keeper, chest high.
  9. Not Shooting at the Far Post    Our players try to shoot near post when the far post was more open and a deflection might stay on the field in front of the goal for a nifty follow-up shot.
  10. Shooting High and Wide    We shoot a lot of balls over the bar or wide.  Many of our volleys and strikes on the ball are shanked off to the side.
  11. Taking Too Long to Shoot    Inside the area, we take a long slow wind-up that is often easily blocked.  We don't seem to use a quick toe poke that would make the ball jump into the net, and we don't use the outside of the foot.

Some Ideas to Try

If you can answer "yes" to one or a few of these, than there is hope that you can train away from the problems and start scoring more goals.  Here are a few ideas that you may find helpful.

  1. Steal Training for Each Problem     Seek out, steal, design, and assemble training to deal with each one of these problems.
  2. Shoot Against Pressure in Training    From day one, start work on shooting technique in all types of situations.  At the beginning, focus on very fundamental work, but practice shooting against pressure in every practice, every day.
  3. Work 1v1 to Goal     Each day, work 1v1 to goal with keeper.  Keep score and rating players on their ability to attack and
    defend 1v1.
  4. Focus on the Final Third     Change your seasonal plan.  Spend 75% of your training time on the topics above, with most of your time spent in the final third.  Make your players confident in finishing.
  5. Make Defenders Attack     In addition to the topics above, start getting defenders into attacking roles often.  Push them up and make them responsible for joining in all attacking in practice and encourage it in matches.
  6. Use Realistic Pressure    It is never possible to have defenders pressure "50%". Kids play 100% until they are tired.  Instead, practice attacking situations against only a keeper, then a keeper with one defender, then more defenders.  Make sure that the attacking side has numbers up for much of the way to get success, but let defenders play at full pace and full pressure.
  7. Use a Keeper    Play a lot of soccer to Coerver walls on a short field, but also play a lot of soccer related games that require shooting to a full-size goals against keepers.  Use a keeper in goal for every dinky drill that goes to full-size goals, and even many exercises that go to half-size goals.
  8. All Types of Shooting   Practice pure shooting technique in situations of all types, including free kicks and penalties.  Keep track of all penalties practiced, and this can pay off big later.  Top practice shooters are often top PK shooters in the match.  
  9. Shooting Partners    Have your kids buy or borrow extra balls and team up with  partners to come out to your training facility or to any space with goals on their own to shoot extra.  Have the kids shoot in many different situations, and give them a checklist of shooting exercises.
  10. Anticipate Success    Tell your players that you are sure the team will start to score more goals.  Then before this happens, and before there was much improvement, tell the team during a game that they are starting to look good and that it is obvious are on the edge of really scoring a lot of goals.  As you start to get some success, hard work will fulfill your prophesy and your team will gain confidence and score more goals.