Elite Soccer Players - What are they?

Courtesy of 3four3.com.  This article hits the nail  on the nail on the definition of a true elite soccer player.  If you think about it, these concepts can apply to defining that elite player in other sports as well.

What’s an Elite Player?

This term “elite” is abused.  In conversations with players, parents, fans, coaches – the soccer community in general – I have heard many label this or that player elite.  And many times it actually is a decent player. But elite they are not!  Also, it’s amazing how many times the player that was referenced is in reality just one of the bunch.
The issue arises because people, specifically in the US, have the wrong idea of what constitutes elite.  Their metrics are just flat out wrong.  The most resounding error is focusing on physical attributes.  Is he big? Is he strong? Is he fast?
This does not make or break elite status!
What makes or breaks you are two and only two fundamental attributes: Technical Qualityand Soccer IQ.
The term elite should be reserved for those very few who’s technical quality and intelligence is in a completely different class as compared to others in their age group or league.  This is not always so easy to identify.  Here I present a “first cut” definition of what these terms mean.

Technical Quality

Some properties:
- First touch
- Short & long distribution (inside and outside foot)
- Shot (all types of strokes)
- Stepping on the ball
- How good is the weak foot.

To the well trained eye, those players that have supreme technical quality can be immediately identified by seeing how they “caress” – not kick – the ball.  There is a subtle, but very real difference.  The ball really does look like a natural extension of the body.  The body’s movement is fluid and the action of receiving and distributing the ball looks effortless.  The player is completely calm under all circumstances. They never really feel pressured, and it shows.
Unfortunately, what I’ve just described is not a measurable quantity.  So, to assist in the identification process, I’ll provide you with a simple measurement that can be made.  In general, look at the player’s turnover rate.
Those who have an elite first touch will retain possession much more upon receiving the ball.  This stat will become completely lopsided when looking at touches “under pressure”.  Those who don’t have quality will either turn the ball over, or get themselves into trouble.  By contrast, it is a virtual certainty the elite player will receive with no problem.
Those who have top notch short & long distribution, will have a higher passing completion.
Shots on frame and goal percentage should be higher.
Now, these measurements do not definitively tell you that a player with elite technical quality has been identified, but I believe it can help a bit to illuminate and guide those who don’t just “see it”.  It’s a start.

Soccer IQ

How deep is the player’s understanding of the game?  This comes down to decision making on the field.
Some properties:
- When to pass
- When to dribble
- When to go forward
- When to go back
- When to switch
- When to pause
- When to have a quick restart
- Defensive positioning
- Off the ball movement
… and the list goes on and on.

There are loads of possible decisions, and we will be covering lots of them in subsequent articles.
This time, I’ll focus on what is perhaps the most telling property.  If done correctly, it virtually ensures this player makes the right decisions for all the other situations.
That is, “When to Pause“!
This is not to be confused with a player just slowing down or stopping when confronted with a defender.  This is the deliberate stopping or slowing down of the entire game.  And it usually happens when the player is under no pressure whatsoever.  He is putting his team and the other team on “time out”.  His action brings everything to a screeching halt!  And everybody knows the difference!  You will feel it!
You may have rarely witnessed such a thing, and there’s a reason why.  Only players with elite level Soccer IQ’s know about this and know how to pull it off.
Why would someone ever want to stop the game like this?  Well, it is a very effective form of communication.  Depending on the game’s circumstances, he is in one action transmitting a very powerful message to his entire team, the other team, or both.
For example, the most common message that is sent to your team is:
“Relax! Stop playing so frantically, turning the ball over and forcing the issue!  Just take a breath, relax, and refocus …”
When done at the correct time, it is a sign of pure and total genius!
So there you have it.  Top notch Technical Quality and Soccer IQ are the two must-have attributes for a player to be considered elite.
Next time you watch a game, make a conscious effort and spotlight a player’s turnover ratealong with his decision making and that rare, but truly brilliant pause.  If he’s got it, you might be on to something special.


Spring 2013 - Game 8 FINAL RECAP

The season came to an end with a final showdown against the Chicago Magic at their home field.  It was extremely impressive how our boys came out to play considering the limited practice time over the past 4 weeks and on a field that they have not experienced before.  Playing on a turf not only is a ton of fun, but the speed of play picks up considerably.  These boys have a ton of speed.  I am not just saying that.  It has been told to me by a number of coaches we have faced all year. 

The Magic roster was made up of boys and girl from their other area teams.  They brought Andres Lemus (#50) and the girl had skills and speed that gave several of our boys fits to defend.

Let's recap the game.

First of all, it was cool to see how quickly the field was put together.  About 30 minutes prior to start, a crew came onto the field and taped down the lines, built the goals and were ready for kick-off right at the top of the hour.

The game started in the Magic's favor.  Being familiar with their field they applied immediate pressure on our defense and kept the ball on our side of the field for literally the first 5 minutes of the game.  At this point, the Hawks finally figured out the tempo of the game and turned the pressure up with good counters.  About 14 minutes into the first half, a sequence of passes created a good look for Aryan in the middle of the field, who made a nifty little cut move to his left and calmly finished the play with a goal.

The rest of the first half, all of the boys showed great effort, especially Tommy.  I laugh in amazement as to how awesome Tommy is at keeper.  (We will touch on that later).  His brilliance in goal once again kept the Hawks in the game.

Halftime score: Hawks 1 Magic 0

In half #2, it was more of the same.  The Magic continued to apply a ton of pressure with great technical ability.  The Hawks used their extreme athleticism to face the challenge and provide solid counters.  I counted at least six 3 touch sequences or better through the first 45 minutes of the game.  There was even a 7 touch sequence that the boys put together as well.  Tommy kept making highlight reel save after highlight reel save.  At about the 38th minute, the Magic pressure mounted enough that on one occasion they succeeded on a 5 touch sequence starting from a goal kick and culminated into a 1v1 between Tommy and Andres who nearly broke the goal with his blast into the side pocket.  For the rest of the game, it was technical ability vs athleticism.  Both sides played hard.  It was a fun game to coach.

Final score:  Hawks 1 Magic 1

Final record for the year:  14 wins, 2 losses, 2 ties.  Even more impressive is that the boys are 11-1-1 in the last 13 games.

I will be forthcoming in telling you all that our boys were outclassed technically.  You can tell where the Magic focus the majority of their time during practices.  However, did you all notice how our boys stayed in the game?  It was through athleticism, speed and  although limited, aggressive tactical play.  If they gain even some ball mastery, couple that with these other traits, our boys will be unstoppable.

Let's call out some boys:

Ace (Tommy): This nickname is based on your ability at keeper...all aces.  I struggle to find the words of amazement that define just how good you really are at keeper.  By chance, can we clone you?
Flash (Matthew):  By far your best game of the year.  You stepped up brilliantly on this day and delivered a strong presence both in transition and on defense.  You are going to be a GREAT center midfielder next year.
Silk (Tyler):  You were asked to step in for Dash (Graham) at wing midfield and you delivered in a way that far exceeded my expectations.  You came close to scoring on a couple of chances too.  I cannot believe how deceptively fast you are.  Like Flash, you saved your best for last.  You make a great midfielder young man.
Alex:  How can your nickname be Crash when your play is so smooth?  You make playing defense look so easy.  Your ball control is steady and you manage the game so well in the backfield.
Stallion (Marco):  You did an excellent job applying high pressure on the Magic defense.  Your ability to pass from the wing and athleticism is awesome to watch.
Mantis (Mateo):  Dude, when you are on, you are on.  Your fearlessness on defense is impressive.  You have fire.

Markie and Aryan:  Both of you...great finish to the year.  Your next endeavors takes you both to the Magic North in the Fall.  It has been great pleasure to have coached you both from the very seed in Park District soccer to where you are now.  I am going to miss both of you next year but will remain a fan of your progress for life.  While the front of your jersey will say Magic on it, your passion and love for the game is truly defined by the names on the back of your jerseys.  Good luck to you both next year. 

It is a team performance, which means that everyone should be called out.  Other clubs will boast that wins and losses do not matter.  I disagree.  I say that the scoreboard dictates who was the better team on that one given day.  The outcome of games is decided by the attitude of the team.  This takes self-confidence, which ALL of these boys have developed this year.

Do not confuse this with greatness, which is not always measured by the number of wins or the goals that one scores, it can be measured in the level of contribution on has in games.  That is why I love this game so much.  The boys can do so many different things in order to achieve greatness in the game of soccer.  Even better so, greatness does not have to be captured at 8 years old.  Every boy on this roster, now and moving forward, has a chance to be great starting at some point in his lives.  Why do I know this?  Because they have all had their moments in the sun at one point or another this past year.  As coaches and as parents we all participate in this program to find that greatness and bring it to the surface.  Feeling great, that is the ultimate victory for our sons.

Parents.  Thank you all for a great year.  It had some emotional challenges for me, but in all, I could not be more excited about the prospect of what these boys can become next year.  You are the reason for that.  You all have enabled a dream come true for me and I could not be more grateful for that.  I hope that you were not too bored with my drawn out emails (like this one), but I still hold that your education about this game is just as important as your son's.  Your input into the team has provided a tremendous amount of insight that it has allowed for us to make modifications, all of which were positive.  You all have been great friends.  Thank you for that. 

Steve and Edwin, thank you both for all of your help this year.  You two have been extremely valuable to managing the sideline during games and allowing the teachings to becoming three-dimensional.  You made it all work and also allow for the game plan to continue to evolve.  Again, thanks.

I am signing off for a while.  If I do not get a chance to talk to you in the Summer, have a great and safe one.  If you all want to remember the year in progress, please do not forget to check out the web page.  All of my game recaps have been posted and chronicled.

Thanks for everything.