I would pass on this passing drill

Last week I found myself watching this team practice while my son’s team was training on the far side of the field. They did this warm-up passing drill for the first 20 or 25 minutes. I captured a few typical seconds of it here:

I’m not kidding that it went on, exactly like this, for at least 20 minutes. Note several things:

  • The kids don’t understand exactly what the passing sequence is supposed to be. I heard the coach explain it, but I also didn’t understand it (and I’m not that dumb). They spent most of their time being obviously frustrated and arguing with each other — not about how to make the passing work better (in some sense that is meaningfully related to the game of soccer), but rather about how to follow the coach’s confusing instructions.
  • The script may have been presented in an unclear way, but the passing sequence is supposed to be entirely scripted. There is no element of decision-making or problem-solving, just orders-following. In my opinion, occasionally drilling scripted passing sequences can be a useful way to develop certain aspects of passing and receiving technique, but here there was zero technical instruction or correction. And as you can see, the technique is incredibly sloppy. Do you think it makes you better, or worse, to do something wrong over and over and over again?
  • The passes in this drill are anything but game-realistic. More precisely, if players in a game tried to make these sorts of awkward wall-passes with a teammate they’re only one or two yards away from, the result would be a turnover almost every single time. (And if it doesn’t result in a turnover — because there are no defenders close enough to steal the ball — what in the world would be the point of making these sorts of passes?)

So basically this captures almost everything that is wrong with American youth soccer. This drill is worse than useless. It’s literally making the kids worse at soccer. Yet these kids’ parents are probably paying $2000 a year for the privilege of playing on this team. They would be far better off just letting their kids play pickup in the park.

My guess is that coaches who do this kind of thing have bought into the idea that all it takes to get good is to get a certain number of touches on the ball. So they have kids do things that involve touching the ball a lot. But that whole philosophy is terribly wrong-headed. Touches on the ball are great — if there is mental engagement involved that helps you learn to read the game, understand how to move, and make smarter decisions on the field. Too many American soccer coaches still don’t understand that soccer “is a game you play with your brain.”

If only there were a good book about this…


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