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Playing Simple Football is the Hardest Thing There is

Johan Cruyff, the godfather of modern soccer, once said that "playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is." While this may be classified as little more than a truism, I do think it is instructive and helpful in understanding youth development.

If you were to turn on a professional soccer match right now and compare the way they play to what you might see on a youth soccer field, you would obviously see many differences. Clearly, professional athletes are going to be more technical and precise but they also demonstrate a team-wide patience and cooperation. The best teams not only keep possession of the ball, but move the ball around the field methodically to disorganize the opponent, creating space near the goal to attack. Conversely, many youth teams simply get the ball to a skilled player and say "go score." This begs the question, at what point do players/teams change? How does that change occur, if at all?

At Flagstaff Revolution, we begin training our players to play together at a young age. Even the acquisition of basic skills such as passing, dribbling, shooting, etc. are taught in the context of the team game. As the players develop dominion of the ball, they are taught to scan the field for cues. Where is the opponent? Where is the ball? Where are my teammates? Where is there open space? This information helps players to make smarter decisions as a team. Players who grow up in this environment will be more capable of handling more advanced principles and tactics later in their playing careers because these skills will be well-honed by that time. As Cruyff noted, it is not easy to play simple football. It takes time for kids to develop the technical, tactical, and decision-making skills required for a team to play truly simple football. Thus, be patient as your player and their team develop.

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