By Lawrence Fine
Most players don’t think about what kind of pass they are making : is it safe or creative? That lack of consideration is apparent by the total lack of regard players have for the safety of some of the simplest passes. When this concept was first explained to me a long time ago, I thought it was so simple and basic that it wasn’t worth the time to talk about. The longer I am involved in coaching, the more I realize how important this belief is in terms of the overall quality of play.
To begin, let’s define the two terms. A safe pass is any pass that simply is designed to maintain possession. This might be a pass back to a sweeper to get the ball out of pressure in the middle of the field, or perhaps a square ball from the outside midfielder to a center midfielder to switch the ball through the midfield — anything of this type. A creative pass is one where the player has chosen to take a chance with the idea that if the pass is successful, it will result in an extremely positive situation. An example of the creative pass might be an attempted through ball to an overlapping runner on the far side of the field.
In talking about these two types of passes, a key factor is weighing the risk against the rewards of each. The safe back pass to the sweeper can be a valuable pass. However, it will almost never directly result in a goal-scoring opportunity, so while it might be valuable, the minimal probability of rewards (goals) does not justify any type of risk at all. On the other hand, if this pass fails (goes to the other team), there is a great chance of the other team getting a goal-scoring opportunity. Since you can’t take a chance on failure with this pass, it must be hit perfectly every time. No mistakes can be tolerated with this type of pass. It must be hit to the correct foot at the correct time with the correct amount of pace on the ball at all times — no exceptions. This is where perfection must be demanded.
On the through ball to the overlapping runner, if this pass is successful, it has a great chance of resulting in a goal scoring opportunity. If the pass is unsuccessful, there is not a great chance of a goal-scoring opportunity being created for the opposing team and therefore is worth taking a chance.
Am I saying that no passes should be hit backwards and everything should be played forward and long with the idea being that the long ball is always safer then the short pass? Of course not. The point is that when a shorter pass is played, it must be successful every time.
At some point someone decided it was acceptable to make a mistake on a soccer field if it was followed by the term “my bad” or something of that sort from the offending player. Coaches should demand that players take some responsibility and know when chances are appropriate and when the situation dictates safe passes. In the same way that I demand perfection and success for all safe passes, I also am extremely tolerant of creative passes that are not successful. Too many youth players are hesitant about taking chances because of the coach or parent on the sideline who yells at them for taking an unsuccessful chance when the risk was minimal and the potential reward was huge.
Encourage risk-taking in the proper situation and you will start to see the game of soccer played at a much higher level.