By: Dan Minutillo
This article focuses only on speed of play on offense. To speed up the women’s game, each principle must be emphasized at every training session and team meeting from the day the team first meets until the last game of the season and then must start again in pre-season work to the end of the next season. Teaching these principles to women should be the most important part of every training session and should be coached over and over again until a satisfactory level of speed of play is obtained; as it will be in short order if the principles are incorporated into a women’s program. Once players accept this vision, a coach then drills these principles into each player during every small-sided game or full field scrimmage, no matter what the theme may be for that practice. These seven principles must become intuitive to every player and part of their style of play.
Principle 1. Third and fourth player off-the-ball runs must happen before the ball gets to the feet of the intended receiver: This is really a visual cue issue. In all smallsided games, teach players that the third and fourth off-the-ball runner on offense should begin the run as the ball is moving from passer to the intended receiver. The cue to determine the direction of the run is the body position of the intended receiver as the ball rolls on the pitch. As soon as this body position is read, the third and fourth off-the-ball runners sprint to open space before receipt of the ball by the intended receiver. These off the ball runners are moving to good space as the ball is rolling to the intended receiver. Players should be taught not to wait for the ball to get to feet, but to begin the run when the ball is rolling and as soon as they feel that they know which way the ball will be trapped by the intended receiver. What if a defender tracks the third and fourth runner during this off the ball run? Continue the run and pull that defender away thereby creating space for a teammate to accept the pass. It’s a simple win-win situation for the team. The third and fourth players running are either getting to space to ready themselves to receive a pass or creating space so that their teammate can ready herself to receive a pass.
Principle 2. Third and fourth players’ runs must be made in a manner so that the passer can play the way she is facing: This principle is closely aligned with the first principle. The off the ball runs by the third and fourth runner must be made in a way so that the receiver can play the ball the way she is facing. Get to space or open space so this can happen during the run of play. Why? Turning with the ball and then passing it slows the game, giving more time for defenders to set up on attackers.
Principle 3. The receiver’s useful first touch must be in the direction of the next intended receiver: A useful first touch is a first touch on the ball that accomplishes the receiver’s purpose upon initial receipt of the ball. For example, if near goal, on offense, a useful first touch upon receipt of a pass from a teammate might be inside, toward the goalmouth, in space, to set up a hard shot on goal. A useful first touch is a trap of the ball in a way that allows you to accomplish what you intend to accomplish with the ball which is usually a shot, a pass, or a move to space with the ball. So, during the run of play, a receiver’s useful first touch should be to set up the pass, away from a defender, facing the receiver toward space, if possible.
Principle 4. Checking to, or away, must be crisp but with the intent of first opening space and then moving into that open space: Off the ball checking to, and away, must be two runs, first checking to open space and the second checking movement into the area cleared. You control the defender when you check. The defender must do something, i.e., follow you to mark, hand you off, or allow you to go freely to space. Force the defender to make choices. Clear space and then sprint into that cleared space to receive a pass from your teammate.
Principle 5. Emphasize curved and diagonal off-the-ball third and fourth runs: Curved and diagonal off-the-ball runs do two things to speed up play. First, this type of run by the third and fourth off-the-ball runner is much more difficult to defend against because the runner will provide more passing points to the passer. This means that the runner will be in space and open to receive a pass at more times during the run than if the run were straight because curved and diagonal runs are more difficult to defend against and because the runner is usually facing the passer for a longer period of time during the run. Secondly, because this type of run is more difficult to defend against, the third and fourth runner will be open and in space ready to accept a pass quicker than if the run were straight. More passing points during the period of the off the ball runs provides more open lanes to receive a pass, an opportunity for early passes, and therefore, greater speed of play.
Principle 6. Every pass must be attacked by the receiver: Attacked the ball, that is, came toward the pass as an intended receiver. Attacking the ball to receive a pass speeds up the game by shortening the distance of the pass and shortening the time expended for a completed pass to the intended receiver. Attacking the ball allows the receiver to get to the ball earlier so that she can make the next pass sooner than if she waited for the ball to come to her, therefore, speeding up play.
Principle 7. Passes to feet must be beyond crisp, they must be with great pace which means that trapping hard balls to feet must be practiced over and over again: Passes to feet with great pace ties directly into Principle 6. If the ball is passed hard to the intended receiver’s feet there is less chance of interception and the speed of the ball makes the game faster than if soft passes are made to feet. Passes to space, of course, should still be played with touch (soft) but passes to feet must be played hard and fast to shorten the time the ball moves from passer to receiver. This means that every player must work on trapping hard balls to feet until they are proficient at it. Each principle mentioned above ties into the next with one purpose, to speed up the game. Though the men’s game would benefit from a program emphasizing these principles, men’s physical characteristics will still provide a fast game even if these principles are not followed. The women’s game can be just as fast as the men’s game if, from the beginning of a season to the last game played, these seven principles are pounded into each player. Once these principles become part of the team’s style, the coach can sit back, enjoy the game, while watching players pound the ball to goal after a few, very quick, very hard, short, fast combos in the box

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