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boys soccer

Team Information

Cut/No-Cut Sport? Cut sport
Levels: Varsity / Junior Varsity / Sophomore / Freshman A / Freshman B
Head Coach: TBA
Varsity Assistant Coaches: PepeJon Chavez, Shannon Mauro
JV Coaches: Sam Figueroa, Alden Zimlich
Sophomore Coach: Jim Dzialo
Freshman Coaches: Robert Weis (Freshman A), Clayton Duba (Freshman B)

Head Coach Bio

Head coach TBA

Tryout Information

2020 tryout information will be posted by mid-June 2020.


Stevenson Boys Soccer Team Championships

North Suburban Conference
1983, 1987, 1988, 1992, 1993, 1994, 2000, 2004

North Suburban Conference Lake Division
2000, 2004, 2009

IHSA Regional
1982, 1983, 1988, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2006, 2009, 2012

IHSA Sectional
1992, 1993, 2012

IHSA Super-sectional

IHSA State Qualifier
2012 (4th in state)

All-American Players
Mike Capre, 1988-89

All-State Players

Fred Senft    1980-81
Aldo Deluca    1986-87
Mike Capre    1987-88
J.T. Kellock    1987-88
Blake Rodgers    1989-90
David Deck    1989-90, 90-91, 92-93
Brian Downs    1992-93
Elliot Mathias    1992-93
Grant Guibourdanche    1993-94
Derek Gifford    1994-95
Paul Ruscheinski    1994-95
Tony Logan    1996-97
Matt Stawiarski    1997-98, 98-99
Giovanni Boccia    2000-01
Andrew Thut    2003-04
Alex Rowley    2004-05
Dan Lopez    2005-06
Stefan Antonijevic    2006-07
Ross Dickson    2007-08
Gordy Gurson    2009-10
Quentin Low    2012-13

SHS Boys Soccer Season Summaries
Season results as reported on the IHSA website

 Season   Won   Lost   Tied  Coach   Notes
1976-77 4 5    Steve Nesbitt  
1977-78 5 3  4  Tom Habley  
1978-79 6 7 1  Tom Habley  
1979-80 11 5 2  Tom Habley  
1980-81 14 5 1  Tom Habley  
1981-82 9 10 3  Tom Habley  
1982-83 8 8 1  Tom Habley  IHSA regional champion
1983-84 15 1 4  Aleks Mihailovic  IHSA regional champion; NSC champion
1984-85 12 3 6  Ed Kositski  
1985-86 12 8 2  Ed Kositski  
1986-87 8 9 4  Ed Kositski  
1987-88 20 1 1  Mark Schartner   NSC champion
1988-89 19  1 3  Mark Schartner   IHSA regional champion; NSC champion
1989-90 18 4 2  Mark Schartner  
1990-91 14 7 2  Mark Schartner  
1991-92 15 9 2  Mark Schartner  IHSA regional champion
1992-93 16 5 5  Mark Schartner  IHSA sectional and regional champion; NSC champion
1993-94 19 2 6  Mark Schartner  IHSA sectional and regional champion; NSC champion
1994-95 19 5 2  Mark Schartner  IHSA regional champion; NSC champion
1995-96 14 7 3  Mark Schartner  IHSA regional champion
1996-97 11 11 3  Mark Schartner  IHSA regional champion
1997-98 11 8 4  Mark Schartner  
1998-99 9 14  2   Mark Schartner   
1999-00 11 7 5  Mark Schartner  
2000-01 12 5  6  Mark Schartner   NSC champion
2001-02 13 7  3  Mark Schartner  
2002-03 11 9  3  Mark Schartner   
2003-04 11 10  2  Mark Schartner   
2004-05 11 5  5  Mark Schartner   NSC champion
2005-06 10 8  5  Mark Schartner   
2006-07 14 4  2  Mark Schartner   IHSA AA regional champion
2007-08 12 5  2  Mark Schartner   
2008-09 11 3  5  Mark Schartner   
2009-10 17 4    Mark Schartner   IHSA 3A regional champion; NSC Lake champion
2010-11 11 6  2  Mark Schartner   
2011-12 11 4  4  Mark Schartner   
2012-13 19 6  1  Mark Schartner   IHSA state finals - 4th place; regional, sectional and supersectional champion
2013-14 9 6  5  Mark Schartner  
2014-15 7 7  5  Mark Schartner  
2015-16 10  7  2  Mark Schartner  
2016-17 10 7 3  Mark Schartner  
2017-18 6 11 1  Mark Schartner  
2018-19 12 4 2  Mark Schartner  
2019-20 5 9 4  Mark Schartner  
All Time 530 272 130    

Coaching Records

Name    Seasons    Record
Steve Nesbitt 1  4-5
Tom Habley 6 53-38-12
Aleks Mihailovic 1 15-1-4
Ed Kositski 3  32-20-12
Mark Schartner 34 426-208-102 


Possession Soccer

2015 TSL Soccer Academy

  • Successful possession is all about the DETAILS.
    • It’s not merely about one player passing the ball to another.
    • It’s about all of the little things that give each player the very best chance to successfully receive and pass the ball.
    • Soccer fans rally around a team that can pass the ball.
    • It makes sense…
      • There is something intrinsically beautiful about a long run of passes culminating with a three-man combo to an overlapping outside back who puts her serve on the head of a teammate darting in at the near post.
      • It is soccer’s answer to the 6-4-3 double play or a basketball alley-oop pass/dunk.
    • But if you think that the value of possession is more form than function, you may be missing the boat.
      • Because every time you pass the ball…regardless of the direction your pass goes…you are making progress.
      • ***The problem is that your players might not realize it.
    • The legendary coach, Graham Ramsay, taught me to think of each pass like a “jab” punch in a heavyweight fight.
      • In the first few rounds, those jabs have no significant effect.
      • The boxers hardly seem to notice them.
      • But each one of those jabs is making a dent…and in the final three rounds, those jabs start to feel like cannonballs.
    • You see…it’s not about the effectiveness of a SINGLE punch…It’s about the damage done by the ACCUMULATION of those punches.
      • The same applies for passes in a game of soccer.
    • For many teams, as long as their team is matched up against an INFERIOR opponent, the players can showcase their ability to keep the ball.
      • But when an evenly matched opponent makes it difficult to possess the ball, the players will panic.
      • They will cave to the pressure, quickly abandon their style, and end up looking just like any other team.
    • Possession is a LONG-TERM investment and the market IS NOT always going to be kind to you.
      • You will have to weather some rough patches.
      • The other team will take the ball from you…that’s how soccer works.
    • BUT…If you are a possession team that refuses to abandon its style, you’ll see your investment start to grow and then snowball!
    • EXAMPLE---“Smothering defensive team/pressure is making it hard for your team to even string four passes together…
      • So when you cannot string four passes together, string three.
      • And if you can’t string three passes together, string two.
      • And even those brief runs of possession…if you can accumulate enough of them…will have an effect.
        • Before you know it, your 4-pass runs are becoming five, six, and seven-pass runs.
        • The more you pass the ball, the EASIER it becomes to pass the ball.
        • The easier it becomes to pass the ball, the more you will pass it.
        • The more you will pass it…the more they will chase.
        • These are the “jabs” that we spoke about earlier…not much at the start, but SO DEADLY later on!
      • These NOW longer strings of passes are the “knockout blow(s)”.
        • Your opponent is often shattered.
        • They will do so much chasing that they are now out of gas.
    • Every time you pass the ball, your opponent is going to chase it.
      • It is tiring.
      • It can be demoralizing.
      • It makes for a fatigued and frustrated opponent.
    • And when an opponent is tired and frustrated, that opponent will MAKE MISTAKES.
      • Players lose their patience and start taking gambles that pull apart their team’s defensive shape.
      • Teammates have to compensate for those gambles, but they’re too tired to do so effectively.
      • Their bodies fail them.
      • Seams open up and chances to score practically create themselves.
    • ***There are two parts to a soccer game…
      • 1) The part where your team has the ball.
      • 2) The part where their team has the ball.
        • It is my belief that when you ELONGATE the former and reduce the latter, you have a BETTER CHANCE OF WINNING THE GAME.
        • Simple…right?
    • If you’re going to have a possession team, EVERY PLAYER needs to buy into it.
      • This isn’t as easy as it sounds.
    • Possession soccer requires PATIENCE.
      • It involves making a lot of low-risk passes, and that means the ball is frequently going to move sideways and backwards.
      • The problem is that a lot of players are “programmed” to go forward at all costs.
        • They want to affect the scoreboard as quickly and as often as possible.
        • They don’t want to jab, jab, jab.
        • They want to throw the knockout punch every single time they have the ball.
        • They aren’t wired for patience, and that leads to a lot of high-risk passes which lead to a lot of turnovers.
      • If you’re going to be a possession team, then you need a TEAM FULL OF PLAYERS who are committed to possessing the ball.
        • All it takes is ONE IMPATIENT PLAYER to undo all the good work your team has been doing.
    • To combat this, you have to “SELL” your style…
      • The players need to know WHAT they’re doing and WHY they’re doing it.
      • That’s where your “sales pitch” matter.
      • It’s up to you to beat your players over the head with that information…morning, noon, and night.
    • Remember, making the opponent chase is a LONG-TERM investment.
      • Your players need to understand the LONG-TERM effects of being patient.
    • Possession soccer is more than WE HAVE THE BALL AND YOU DON’T.
      • It’s about how we “grind” you down BECAUSE we have the ball and you don’t.
      • It’s about all the PHYSICAL and EMOTIONAL energy you will burn trying to get the ball back, and how that will eventually come back to haunt you.
    • To establish a possession style in your team, you’ve got to hammer home the point of keeping the ball.
      • Until every player understands that you don’t have to “WIN THE GAME” every time YOU touch the ball, a possession style will never take root.
      • When it comes to possession soccer, one bad apple will spoil your bunch.
    • As you teach your players how to keep the ball, you need to “teach them to count”.
      • Your players all need the ability to look at a “snapshot” of the field and immediately identify good numbers or bad numbers.
        • “GOOD NUMBERS” means that your team has a numerical advantage [“overload”].
        • “BAD NUMBERS” means the opponent has you outnumbered.
    • Obviously, you are a lot more likely to keep the ball when you have “good” numbers and a lot less likely to keep it when the numbers are “bad”.
      • But because soccer is such a fluid game, the numbers are constantly in flux, and because the ball is a magnet for the opponent, good numbers will QUICKLY become bad ones.
      • This is the very reason why we coach our teams to switch the field of play.
        • It’s too crowded down the right side…so let’s try the left.
    • A player who is about to receive the ball needs to understand what the numerical situation is in her area of the field.
      • When the numbers around her are good, she’s likely going to pass the ball to a teammate in her immediate vicinity…No problem there.
    • The problems occur when the player receiving the ball is in an area of bad numbers.
      • Just because the numbers are bad doesn’t necessarily mean that she won’t have a short passing option; many times she will.
      • And when she plays that short option, that’s typically when the area gets too crowded and the ball is lost.
    • ***As coaches, we need to recognize that in this situation, it wasn’t the second player who is necessarily at fault for losing the ball…
      • It may have been the fault of the first player who put her teammate in an “unwinnable” situation.
    • The key for the player receiving the ball to know that the numbers around her are TURNING BAD BEFORE THE BALL IS EVER AT HER FEET, and then finding the pass that gets the ball to an area where the numbers are more favorable.
      • ***Often times, that pass is going to have to cover 25 yards or more and it may have to be in the air.
    • Keeping the ball involves a constant search for good numbers…
      • After two or three short passes, chances are the numbers are going to start turning bad.
      • When the numbers start turning bad, it’s time to look for a BIGGER BALL that is going to RELIEVE PRESSURE.
    • That is one way possession undoes the opponent…
      • You suck them in with a few short passes and then ELIMINATE THEM with a bigger one…
      • And then the process starts over again in another area of the field.
    • ***Coaches often run possession exercises in SMALL SPACES/AREAS…
      • The danger of this is that players become CONDITIONED to look for short passes, and their vision starts to MAX OUT at 15-20 yards…and they shy away from playing a ball in the air.
      • It is CRITICAL to mix in possession exercises that require a BIG SPACE, because often times it takes this BIGGER PASS to turn “bad” numbers into “good” numbers.
    • ***When you are running possession exercises, make sure your players are CONSTANTLY evaluating the numbers!
      • Make sure they understand when they can play short…
      • And make sure they know when they need to play the bigger ball.
    • When it comes to spacing, you will have to “flip the switch” a whole bunch of times before the bulb actually lights.
      • And you’re going to have to light “one bulb at a time”, MANY TIMES OVER.
    • When the opponent has the ball, you want to make the field small…you want to make the opponent play in a “crowded” field.
    • By that same token,  when your team has the ball, you want to make the opponent cover large expanses of land to pressure the ball.
    • Think of it like an egg on a table…
      • When the opponent has the ball, you want the field to look like that egg…nice and tight and compact.
      • Now…smash that egg on the table and see how much more are it covers.
        • That’s what you want it to look like when your team has the ball.
    • When it comes to possession, EVERY INCH MATTERS, and I mean that literally.
      • If you can make it so an opponent has to cover ten feet to tackle the ball, don’t “settle” for nine feet and eleven inches.
    • This is one of the most prominent mistakes players will make during possession exercises.
      • Instead of standing on the boundary line [or even a half-step wide of it], they will stand a step or two inside of it.
      • Every inch of space you waste is an inch you are CONCEDING to the opponent.
      • Every wasted inch is one less inch of work the opponent has to do to get the ball back.
    • Smart possession players are greedy about that one inch because they know that the further the opponent has to chase to get the ball, the less likely she is to actually get it.
    • Spacing also means keeping the field balanced with your numbers.
      • The ball is like a magnet…but not just for the opponent.
    • Think of all the players as if they were marbles on a table.
      • Wherever the ball is, the table tilts in that direction and all the marbles start rolling that way.
      • When your own marbles start rolling toward the ball, that’s where the field starts shrinking.
      • The inches you’re conceding soon become feet and the feet become yards and any way you slice it, your players are doing some of the opponents’ job for them and before you know it, you’re trying to keep the ball in a VERY CROWDED patch of land.
    • When the field gets crowded, you need an exit strategy to move the ball to a less congested area.
      • That requires discipline from some players to KEEP THEIR DISTANCE from the ball, or even MOVE FURTHER AWAY from it.
    • Remember…we such the opponents toward the ball, then we play past them.
      • To do that, we need players who won’t get hypnotized and start zombie-walking toward the ball.
      • Your players have to understand the value of keeping the field BIG when your team has the ball…otherwise, they’ll just zombie on over and shrink the field.
    • When teaching possession, DEMAND DISCIPLINE IN SPACING…
      • This is a lot easier when your players understand WHY it’s important.
      • So keep hitting them over the head with its significance.
    • Speed of Play is soccer’s “Holy Grail” because SOP is what wins games.
    • It is PARTICULARLY IMPORTANT for a team that wants to play possession soccer.
    • ***If you are a possession team and your speed of play is slow…YOU’RE GOING TO LOSE a lot of games.
    • If your team is going to be effective at keeping the ball, then speed of play has to become a MAJOR PRIORITY.
      • The faster you play, the more difficult it is for the opponent to get organized defensively.
      • The faster you play, the more difficult it becomes for the opponent to dispossess you.
      • In short…the faster you play, the better off you are!
    • Speed of play is another area where, as a coach, you have to SELL, SELL, SELL!
    • Remember, you are probably dealing with players who are pre-programmed to throw the “knockout punch”.
      • Those players tend to take longer on the ball as they consider all the magnificent ways THEY will “win the game”.
      • Until players understand and INTERNALIZE the value of speed of play, they will NEVER play as fast as you want them to play.
    • It is my categorical belief that to play fast, YOU HAVE TO WANT TO PLAY FAST.
      • If there’s a noticeable decrease in your team’s speed of play ONCE YOU ELIMINATE THE TOUCH RESTRICTIONS, it’s because your players HAVE NOT INTERNALIZED the intrinsic value of speed of play.
      • To play fast, your players have to WANT to play fast, and they won’t want to play fast UNTIL they FULLY COMPREHEND why it is important.
    • ***It’s easy to stop a two-touch possession exercise when a player takes three touches…
      • But what do you do when there are NO touch restrictions?
      • What do you do when a player takes two touches when he could’ve gotten the job done with one?
    • ***One of my coaching mantras is this…
    • I will stop ANY exercise at ANY point if a player is taking more touches than necessary.
      • ***My point is that you can’t just coach speed of play through touch restrictions.
        • You need to coach it and sell it ALL THE TIME!
        • You need your players to INTERNALIZE the value of playing fast if they are ever going to be successful at keeping the ball.
    • Incidentally, an oft-overlooked component of speed of play is simply the speed that THE BALL moves from one player to the next [“ping it”!].
      • Too many American players just DON’T KICK THE BALL HARD ENOUGH when they are passing to a teammate’s feet.
      • We under-hit our passes when we need to OVER-HIT them.
    • If you want a comparison, watch any EPL match…
      • Take a look at how hard the players smack the ball into their teammates when they are playing a 20-yard ball into feet.
      • That sucker is humming!
    • Too many of our players try to “KISS THE BALL” to their teammates and that’s just too darn slow.
    • If your objective is to become a team that’s good in possession, then you have to get the ball moving FASTER THAN AN OPPONENT CAN RUN---MUCH FASTER!
    • In all of your technical exercises, DEMAND that your players put enough zip on their passes.
      • If you play a pass along the ground into your teammate’s foot, she needs to be able to control it…I don’t care HOW FAST that ball is moving!
  • KISS
    • Keep it simple, SILLY.
    • As coaches, we are always trying to simplify the game for our players.
      • We are always looking for ways to make them successful by doing less.
      • This is the war of wills we wage against our players when it comes to possession soccer.
    • As far as pure possession exercises go, all a player can really do to be successful is CONNECT A PASS.
      • Now there are degrees to that success, but the bottom line is that in an exercise that is strictly possession-themed, there is no incentive for dribbling past an opponent and there are no goals to shoot at.
      • The VERY BEST a player can do is pass the ball to a teammate.
    • And yet we still have players who get themselves into all types of trouble because they REFUSE to take the SIMPLE SOLUTION.
      • Imagine how much more difficult those players become when there are actually goals on the field?!
    • To be successful at keeping the ball, your players have to be willing to do the SIMPLE things and do them QUICKLY.
      • They need to remember all those reasons why your team is trying to keep the ball and they need to understand that there’s no harm in connecting a five-yard pass even if it doesn’t put the ball directly in front of the opponent’s goal.
    • Possession soccer means a lot of low-risk passes…
      • That’s what KISS means.
      • It means taking the SAFER alternative.
      • It means saying “NO” to the home run ball…unless there’s a darn good chance of it being successful.
      • It means 11 players making it as difficult as possible for the opponent to win back the ball.
      • A lot of time, that means choosing a very “pedestrian” passing option instead of the ball for glory.
    • Smart Player/Approach = “The way I see it…the more touches I take, the more likely I am to lose the ball…So I just try to get it to a teammate as soon as possible.”
      • That’s not just great…that’s freaking profound!
      • The player knew she wasn’t a star.
      • She knew she was technically and athletically limited.
      • BUT…she had figured out that if she just kept passing the ball to OUR team, she’d stay on the field, so she chose to play the SIMPLEST possible soccer.
    • Every now and then, you need your “special” players to do something special to break pressure on their own, but for the most part, anyone can play simply if they just CHOOSE to do it.
      • Your battle as a coach is convincing your players that it’s okay to choose the SIMPLEST path.
      • There’s nothing wrong with connecting a simple pass…even if it does nothing more than keep possession.
      • All those simple passes are the “jabs” that wear down your opponent.
    • Possession soccer often breaks down when a player tries to do too much.
      • You’ve got to “rewire” your “knockout” punchers.
      • You’ve got to turn them into boxers.
      • You’ve got to re-program them to INTERNALIZE the big picture so they see the inherent value of keeping the ball.
    • To keep it simple, your players have to play fast.
    • To play fast, they have to know what’s next.
    • One of the main culprits behind a loss of possession is slow play, and a major cause of slow play is players who don’t make their decisions until AFTER THE BALL HAS ARRIVED AT THEIR FEET.
    • Because soccer is such a fluid game, the picture is always changing.
      • Passing seams appear, disappear and reappear.
      • “Good” numbers quickly become “bad” numbers.
      • All the pieces are in a constant state of flux, so what was a good idea a half-second ago might now be an awful idea.
    • It is very common for a player to receive the ball, focusing on controlling it, and then pick her head up and begin the decision-making process.
      • And that’s a big problem.
      • Every second it takes her to make a decision is another second that the opponent has to adjust, organize defensively, close ground, and pressure the ball.
    • It is impossible for a player to play quickly if she has to make her decisions AFTER she has the ball.
      • For your players to keep the ball, they need to know what options are available to them BEFORE the ball gets to their feet.
      • In short, they have to KNOW WHAT’S NEXT.
      • And that’s a question they should never stop asking.
    • ***The real value of one-touch exercises is that they force players to make decisions BEFORE they receive the ball.
      • To make these decisions, they have to constantly be “taking film of the field” and figuring out what they’re going to do if the ball finds them.
    • One-touch exercises force players to ask…”WHAT’S NEXT?”
    • Incidentally, this is a question they need to be asking EVEN WHEN the other team has the ball.
      • When the opposing team has the ball, a smart player is FORMULATING A PLAN…JUST IN CASE the ball finds him.
      • It is more important for my players to ask, “WHAT”S NEXT---WHAT IF THE BALL COMES TO ME?” than it is for the exercise to run without a hiccup.
      • If you’re running one-touch exercises, this is an IMPORTANT coaching point.
    • Not every exercise you do is going to have a one-touch restriction, and there certainly won’t be a one-touch restriction on match day, so you have to get your players to INTERNALIZE the question.
      • When the game is being played, you want all your players asking, “WHAT’S NEXT?”
      • The only way I know to do that is to hit them over the head with the question as often as possible, so that’s what I do.
      • I bombard them with it whenever possible because I know that if they don’t know what’s next BEFORE the ball is at their feet, our speed of play is going to suffer and that is going to hinder our ability to keep the ball.
    • To keep the ball, speed of play has to be A PRIORITY…
      • That can ONLY happen when your players know what’s next.
    • A HUGE percentage of turnovers are the result of a player trying to receive the ball from one direction and then turn and play it in the opposite direction…particularly if she is trying to advance the ball up the field.
      • Half the time, the player receiving the ball turns directly into a pressuring opponent and loses the ball.
      • Other times, the player is too off-balance to technically execute the pass, or the pass is too predictable, or the pass is just too darn difficult to be successful.
        • Any way you slice it, the ball now belongs to the OTHER team.
    • When it comes to keeping things simple, this is one where a lot of players “lose the plot” because they don’t understand RISK MANAGEMENT.
      • There is no easier way to pass the ball than the way you are facing.
      • You can see any obstacles in your way and you can usually execute with a single touch.
        • It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
    • The simple negative pass also gets the ball to a teammate who is facing forward, and that’s the direction you ULTIMATELY want to go.
    • So what the player who receives the initial pass can’t see, the player she drops the ball to CAN.
    • In essence, you’re “INVESTING” a ball back for a ball forward.
      • Players need to understand that the negative pass is an “investment” in the forward one that follows it.
    • When you are coaching your possession exercises, look for those moments when a player who could’ve played the way she was facing loses the ball because she chose a MORE DIFFICULT path.
      • Then, freeze the moment and restart the action from the player who passed her the ball, and have the offending player make a BETTER choice.
    • Again, the reason a lot of players won’t choose to play the way they face is that there is NO GLORY in a negative ball.
      • A “ball back for a ball forward” is a CORNERSTONE of possession soccer and your players need to EMBRACE IT!
    • When a player is taking bad risks instead of playing the way he faces, he doesn’t yet get it.
      • You need ELEVEN players on the field who get it.
      • Coach – SELL, SELL, SELL!!!
    • Possession is EVERYONE’S job…
      • The player on the ball is going to need a lot of help from her teammates if your team is going to keep the ball.
      • That help begins with passing angles and a healthy dose of empathy.
    • A passing angle is a seam that runs between players [usually opponents], or between players and boundaries, that the ball can travel through without being intercepted or deflected.
    • When a player receives the ball, there is always a seam [unless she is completely surrounded].
      • A teammate who wants the ball must work to receive the ball in one of these seams.
      • Because soccer is a fluid game, these seams are constantly moving---appearing, disappearing and reappearing.
      • A smart player can read the flow of bodies between her and the ball to identify the seams that give the ball carrier the BEST chance of passing her the ball.
        • She will WORK to get into one of those seams.
    • When it comes to possession, nothing ranks higher than speed of play.
      • The ability to move the ball faster than the opposition can run and organize itself is the surest way to keep the ball and carve up the opponent.
    • Moving the ball quickly depends on the player receiving the ball making QUICK DECISIONS.
      • The player’s ability to make quick decisions depends on the options available to her as the ball arrives.
      • Those options are entirely predicated upon her teammates’ ability to quickly identify and move into passing seams.
    • We frequently want our players to play with one touch.
      • A player cannot do that if she doesn’t have teammates giving her “USEFUL” options….particularly in the direction she is facing.
      • But if at least one teammate can get into a useful seam in that direction, the player can receive and pass the ball in a single touch.
      • And there is NO faster speed of play than one-touch passing.
    • Sounds simple…right?
      • Well, in theory it is.
    • But watch any possession exercise and you will see countless examples of players who get anchored in dead space instead of working to get into a seam.
      • And because of that, you will see countless examples of a team losing the ball when it absolutely did not have to lose it.
    • Identifying a seam should be easy…
      • It takes one solitary quality = “EMPATHY”
    • Players need to empathize with the teammate who is about to receive the ball.
      • They need to ask themselves, “If I was her, and I wanted to play with one touch, where would I want my teammate to be?”
        • Well…they wouldn’t want her hiding behind opponents.
        • They’d want her in a seam that ran between opponents.
      • Identifying that seam is Step # 1.
    • Step # 2 is actually moving their feet to get into that seam.
      • The only question they need to ask themselves now is whether or not they actually want the ball…because they’re not going to get it if they are hiding behind an opponent.
      • The ball cannot travel “through” opponents, but it sure as heck can travel through that seam.
      • To get the ball, make a teammate’s life easy and get into that seam.
    • Another problem you will encounter when a supporting player gives a bad passing angle is that the player on the ball will momentarily suspend rational thought and try to pass the ball to that teammate anyway.
      • Of course, the ball won’t get there.
    • Make sure that your players know that until the ball arrives at the target, it is the PASSER’S RESPONSIBILITY.
      • In other words, don’t pass a ball to a teammate who has given an unacceptable passing angle.
      • Either pass it to the proper angle and let the teammate go get it [assuming it is safe to do so] or find another option.
      • But don’t pretend that a bad passing angle is going to work.
    • Passing angles are absolutely critical to your team’s ability to keep the ball.
      • Don’t be afraid to stop your possession exercises every single time a player gives a passing angles that is less than perfect.
      • You’ve got to be willing to hammer away at this point day after day after day.
        • Just because a player understands where to go, it doesn’t automatically mean that she’ll go there.
        • You’ve got to drive this point home EVERY CHANCE you get!
    • Once a supporting player has identified and moved into the proper seam, the next part is making that tiny, little extra effort to make sure the ball comes to her proper foot…
      • Which is normally going to be the foot furthest from the opponent who will be pressuring the pass she’s about to receive.
    • For your team to keep the ball, merely getting into the proper seam isn’t enough.
      • Players must also understand what foot needs to be the one receiving the ball.
      • They need to have decisions made BEFORE THE BALL GETS TO THEM and those decisions will dictate which foot should be the one receiving the ball.
    • When deciding which foot to receive the ball with, a player must ask himself these questions:
      • Which foot will help me escape pressure?
      • Which foot will help me advance the ball?
      • Which foot will set up my next pass?
    • And by all means, don’t let a player take that first touch into pressure.
      • She needs to be prepared to receive the ball and immediately put her body between the ball and the pressuring opponent.
    • Regardless of which foot receives the ball, players need to remember that they DON’T always get to take two touches.
      • There’s no rule that says you’re entitled to settle every ball that comes to you.
    • Your players need to be prepared to play with a single touch because often times, that is ALL they’re going to get.
      • If they don’t have the necessary time and space to settle the ball, they can’t pretend that they do.
      • Hound them to make the adjustment and play with one-touch.
    • The ability to make these small adjustments can literally mean the margin of victory to your team.
    • Players who receive the ball with the wrong foot either don’t know what they’re doing wrong or they are just being lazy.
      • The only way to make this a habit is to DEMAND PERFECTION during training sessions.
    • A player’s ability to receive a ball across her standing leg is a critical little thing when it comes to keeping the ball as a team.
      • It is an ESSENTIAL building block to the whole concept of passing and receiving.
    • Receiving across my standing leg means that if a pass is arriving from my left side, I am going to let the ball roll across the front of my body, open up my hips, and receive it with the inside of my right foot.
      • This allows me to open up my body, which in turn opens up more of the field for me.
      • If I receive that pass with my left foot or I don’t open up my body when receiving it with my right, I will end up receiving it with my hips squared up to the teammate who passed me the ball.
    • This not only reduces my passing options, but it puts me under undo pressure if an opponent is chasing that pass…
      • And that is a pretty common occurrence.
    • Opening up my hips and letting that ball roll across my standing leg allows the ball to run for an extra yard or so…
      • And that’s another yard that a chasing opponent has to cover.
    • Plus, it puts me in a position to immediately get my body between the ball and the opponent who is chasing it.
    • This is not the world’s most difficult skill, but it gets a lot more difficult when a player is running one direction and then has to do a quick pirouette to open up and receive it.
      • “The Letter L” is a technical exercise to help improve this skill.
    • Players must always remember the value of speed of play.
    • A player has to set up her teammate so that she can play quickly or at the very least have a fighting chance of keeping possession of the ball.
      • And that means passing the ball to the proper foot.
    • Soccer is full of “little big things” and this is one of them…
      • It’s astonishing how many potentially great attacks are not stymied by the opponent, but rather by one of our own players passing the ball to the wrong foot.
    • The player on the ball has to empathize with the teammate who will receive it and has to give her the best chance to be successful.
    • Sometimes, it is so obvious that it’s literally painful.
      • If she passes the ball to a teammate’s left foot, that teammate can protect it from the opponent who is closing her down.
      • But if she plays it to her right foot, it becomes a 50-50 ball and the teammate gets clobbered by a thundering tackle.
    • To keep the ball at a high level, players must hold themselves to a higher standard.
      • Merely “getting the ball to a teammate” is no longer good enough.
      • They’ve got to put that teammate in the BEST POSSIBLE POSITION and that means delivering the PROPER BALL to her PROPER FOOT.
    • Here’s a really simply way to sell it…
      • Give a pass that YOU would like to receive.
        • Don’t bounce it into your teammate if you can just as easily keep the ball on the ground.
        • Don’t smash it at her abdomen when you can pass it to her feet.
        • And don’t pass it to her right foot if she NEEDS it on her left.
    • Hound your players about passing to the PROPER foot because it is an essential detail to keeping the ball.
      • If a player passes to the wrong foot in a possession game, LET HER KNOW ABOUT IT.
      • In possession exercises, make a rule that passing the ball to the wrong foot is an AUTOMATIVE FORFEITURE OF POSSESSION.
    • You’ve got to mind the DETAILS if you expect your team to keep the ball!
    • When it comes to passing angles and offering the proper foot, here’s how I introduce it to the players.
      • This is an extremely dull and static demonstration, and it’s going to sound even “duller” in print…but it makes the point very well.
    • When an opponent gets into your passing seam, imagine that player has a hockey stick.
      • The area on either side of her body that she can cover with that stick is her space.
      • The ball WON’T make it through her space.
    • Therefore, you have to provide an angle that is WIDE of that hockey stick’s reach.
    • You will demonstrate this with the help of two players…one who will be the passer and one who will be the defender.
      • Position them 10 yards apart.
    • You will also need some cones, plus two street-hockey sticks or brooms or mops…
      • Anything with a long handle will do.
      • Give those two hockey sticks to the defender.
    •  As you explain this exercise, start with the inactive players observing FROM THE END of the area nearest the ball.
    • Then, you will need them to move to the end OPPOSITE of the ball.
      • ***It’s very important that the players are observing from the ends of the area and not the sides of it.
    • Establish the reach of the hockey sticks on either side of the defender.
      • Make sure the defender stands upright.
      • Have her start with the hockey stick along her right leg…then slide it out to the side.
    • When she can no longer slide the stick along the ground without leaning, mark that spot with a cone.
      • Then do the same thing on her other side.
      • At this point, your defender should look something like the Eifel Tower…with the hockey sticks representing the reach of her legs if she stuck out a foot to intercept a pass.
    • Now, run a line of cones from the blades of the hockey sticks to the ball to form a “V”.
      • Everything inside the “V” is the defender’s space.
      • For a pass to be successful, the ball has to travel WIDE OF THE “V”.
        • Simple, yes???
    • Now, pick up all those cones and tell the players to replace them with an imaginary line.
      • It’s time to have the defender pull in those sticks and time to move all the observing players to the opposite end.
    • The first objective of this exercise is for the players to be able to tell you when you’ve given the passer and acceptable passing angle.
    • So, you are going to start in dead space…directly behind the defender.
      • Taking one sideways step at a time, ask the observing players if you are giving an acceptable angle.
      • Ask them after each step you take.
    • When you get close to an acceptable angle, some players will take the bait.
      • When one does, have the defender reach out that hockey stick.
      • If it breaks the line between your feet and the ball, the passing angle is UNACCEPTABLE.
    • And even if it doesn’t quite break that line, you may still have the chance to make an important point.
    • Remember…we said it’s no longer good enough to merely get the ball to a teammate…
      • Now, we need to get it to the PROPER FOOT.
    • The PROPER FOOT is going to be the “forward” foot…
      • The one FURTHEST from the ball.
    • For the passer to get the ball to the proper foot, that forward foot also needs to get WIDE of that imaginary line.
      • This is one of your big coaching moments in this demonstration, so DON’T MISS IT!
    • When you make the adjustment to receive the ball with the forward foot, that hockey stick might just break the line.
    • Ask all the players if they understand it…
      • They will say they do because they’ll be bored and want to move on to other things.
    • Now, have half of them form a line as the passer; while the other half forms a line to take your spot as the supporting player.
      • Have the supporting player quickly pop out of dead space and stop immediately when she’s give an acceptable passing angle.
    • When that player freezes, ask the passer if the angle is ACCEPTABLE.
      • Then have the defender hold out the hockey stick to see if they got it right.
      • If they did, have the passer play the ball into the supporting player’s forward foot.
    • Then it’s time for the next two players to go…
      • Have the players switch lines after their turn.
    • I have the players take only one turn in each role because like I said, this isn’t the most exciting thing they will ever do.
    • Incidentally, the hockey sticks give a little “too much credit” to the defender’s reach…
      • That’s not by accident.
      • I will take an angle that is slightly bigger than necessary over an angle that isn’t quite big enough.
      • There’s no harm in providing a little “CUSHION” with your passing angles.
    • A player cannot play the way they are facing if her teammates aren’t taking up proper supporting positions.
      • For a player to play the way he’s facing, he needs support “underneath” her.
      • The supporting teammate must choose an angle of support that makes the target’s life as easy as possible for a one-touch layoff.
    • Too often, the supporting player runs past the target player as the ball arrives at the target’s feet.
      • When she runs past the target player, there is no easy way [and often times no way at all] for the target to deliver her the ball with a single touch.
      • Common sense says that the ball can’t magically pass through the defender’s body, so barring some type of miraculous flick-on, the supporting teammate has run herself out of any useful position.
    • To provide a useful angle of support, supporting players can’t run past the player on the ball.
      • They have got to give him the opportunity to play the way he’s facing.
      • And just because they haven’t run completely past him, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve given him a good angle.
      • When the angle of support they give him requires a perfectly square lay-off, they haven’t made his life much easier.
    • Often times, when the ball arrives at the target’s feet, the supporting player has gone so high up the field that ONLY a square pass---an absolutely flawless square pass lay off---will do the trick.
      • This is better than running past the target, but only slightly.
      • The target can play the way she’s facing, but just barely, and she has no margin for error whatsoever.
      • She has to play a perfect ball that keeps her teammate perfectly in stride and that is an awful lot of perfection to ask of anyone.
      • If the lining of her layoff is skewed by even one millisecond, the supporting teammate will overrun her pass.
      • And once she’s overrun it, she’s not going to be able to stop, turn around, and retrieve it.
      • That play has died and the opponent has taken the ball.
    • Additionally, even if the target does play the perfect square pass, the pressuring defender may have an opportunity to stick a toe out and deflect it away.
    • The simple solution here is for supporting player to put on the brakes and give the target a bigger angle.
      • Instead of flying by the target and asking her to do something remarkable, the supporting player can just slow down and hold her run and support “UNDERNEATH” so the target can play the way she is facing.
      • That’s how to give an angle of support that is better than square.
    • If the supporting player stops underneath the target, her layoff doesn’t have to be perfect---it just has to be decent.
      • All she has to do is lay the ball down somewhere in front of her support.
      • The supporting player can always come forward to adjust to the pass.
    • Players often move between---AND IN FRONT OF---two opponents to offer support for the teammate on the ball.
      • The problem is that when she receives the pass, she is in front of those two opponents and they’ve seen the whole play develop, so it is easy for them to quickly close her down.
    • This will make it almost impossible for her to turn.
      • It will make it very difficult for her to do anything other than to pass the ball back to the teammate who initially passed it to her.
    • We can do better than that, and it’s a really simple fix.
    • Imagine that a “fence” runs between those two opponents…
      • When you receive it in front of them, you are “fenced in”.
    • But if you stay behind them and behind their line of vision, the ball can get to you “outside” of that fence.
    • If you receive it behind the fence, you’ve got an excellent chance of breaking pressure.
      • You will be in a much better position to turn and you will have many more options once you do.
    • Remember…Soccer has a bit of “hide-and-seek” in it.
      • It’s the defender’s job to find the attackers.
      • It’s not the attacker’s job to jump in front of them and say, “Hey Everynody---Here I am!!!”
    • We need to be a little sneakier than that.
      • If we can receive the ball behind the fence, our life is a lot easier.
    • This is a principle that ALL players need to understand, but it is PARTICULARLY CRUCIAL for your center midfielders.
      • They are the players who link your backs to your forwards and your left side to your right.
      • They are the one who often determine whether or not your team breaks pressure.
      • They need to put themselves in the best possible position to TURN THE BALL.
    • When you coach possession exercises, look for these moments…
      • Getting your central players to understand this concept will have a lot to do with how well your team keeps the ball.
    • If you are looking to play a forward pass and you can successfully deliver it to your closest teammate who is ten yards in front of you, or you can successfully deliver that pass to a teammate ten yards farther up the field, play the BIGGER pass.
    • Here’s why…
      • If you play the ball to the closest teammate and she has to play the way she is facing, you might be her only passing option.
      • If you play a ten-yard pass to her and she plays a ten-yard pass right back to you, you’ve gained no ground.
      • However, if you play the TWENTY-YARD PASS and the teammate who receives it plays the way she is facing, the bypassed teammate is already underneath the target and immediately becomes an option to receive that next ball.
        • So you play a 20-yard forward pass and your target plays a ten-yard negative pass, well then you’ve gained ten yards and the final player in that puzzle is facing the direction your team wants to go.
    • The ball is like a magnet, especially for opposing players…and they are going to gravitate toward the ball.
      • So beyond the simple territorial gain, the LONGER PASS is more likely to break the opponent’s pressure and the recipient of the longer pass is more likely to have a wider variety of options upon receiving the ball.
      • These are ALL good things.
    • This is a common issue for teams that play with TWO “LEVELS” OF MIDFIELDERS…such as an attacking center mid and a defensive center mid.
      • When a defender has possession of the ball, the defensive center mid is often the closest and therefore easiest option, so we tend to give her the ball.
    • But if we can “STRETCH OUR VISION” another fifteen yards up the field, we may find a clear path into the attacking center mid.
      • If we can get him the ball, then the defensive center mid becomes an option for that NEXT pass.
    • The key is making sure the lower player doesn’t get directly between the ball and the higher target.
      • If he moves onto that line, he clogs the ball’s path to the higher player and eliminates him as an option.
      • At that point, the lower player is, in effect, playing for the other team.
      • If he starts to clog that seam, the higher player has to tell him to get out!
  • MY SEAM!
    • Soccer is a pretty simple game, and this is one of the most advanced tactical issues that players encounter.
    • It is not uncommon for a player to provide a good supporting angle 20 yards away from the ball, only to have a teammate who is 10 yards away from the ball wander into that same seam.
    • A common example is when an outside back has the ball and the center forward moves into a viable passing seam.
      • Then a center midfielder slides into that same seam, effectively cutting out her teammate who is HIGHER up the field.
    • There are exceptions to what I am about to say, but as a good rule of thumb, the player who is farther away from the ball OWNS THE SEAM!
    • Why?
      • Because she can see a bigger picture.
      • In the above example, the center-midfielder ONLY sees what’s between her and the outside back.
      • She doesn’t see her forward teammate behind her.
      • The forward also sees what’s between her and the outside back, and that includes the midfielder.
      • The forward can see MORE pieces of the puzzle.
    • Now, when I say that forward “OWNS” the seam, I mean she has the right of “first refusal”.
      • If she thinks the midfielder is a better option in that seam, she can move herself into a different position.
      • But more often, the forward is going to be the better option if for no other reason than the bigger pass will eliminate more opponents and advance the ball further down the field.
    • This isn’t just for vertical passes…
      • It also applies to horizontal passes and even negative one.
      • The teammate FURTHEST from the ball almost always has the best field of vision, so it’s up to her to decide who gets to occupy that seam.
    • When that player decides that she is the best occupant of that seam, it is UP TO HER to get the intruding teammate out of the way.
    • How does she do that?
      • Simple…She just demands that her teammate, “GET OUT!”
    • This can be a tough topic for players to get the hang of, but it is VERY IMPORTANT, nonetheless.
      • The bigger pass is often the one that decisively breaks pressure.
      • You don’t want your players being their own worst enemies by clogging up perfectly good seams.
    • If you watch advances players, it’s not uncommon to hear them telling one another to “GET OUT” of a certain space.
      • And they don’t do it kindly.
      • It’s direct and loud and to the point.
    • An advanced player knows that when a teammate tells her to get out, she should vacate the space immediately.
    • Often times, the player who has the best chance to support the player receiving the ball is the player WHO JUST PASSED IT.
    • That means it’s extremely important for that player to quickly give a great angle of support.
    • Players must learn to INSTANTLY TRANSITION from being the passing player to being a supporting one.
      • That’s why it’s an excellent idea to teach your players the “three-step rule”.
    • The three-step rule simply means that as soon as the ball leaves her foot, the passing player must IMMEDIATELY TAKE THREE STEPS in whichever direction will make it possible for her to receive a return pass.
    • Normally, when you make a pass, a defender is going to chase the ball.
      • When she chases, she will move into the ball’s wake, as if the ball were pulling her along by a string.
      • Her movement into that path means that she has put herself between the passer of the ball and the person about to receive it, and that leaves the passer in dead space.
    • Thankfully, there’s an easy fix…
      • Normally, getting out of dead space is a matter of TAKING THREE STEPS to either side.
      • A player who takes these three steps quickly enough becomes a VIABLE PASSING OPTION for her teammate.
    • We run a lot of possession games with the “THREE-STEP RULE”.
      • Anytime a player passes the ball, she must IMMEDIATELY take at least three steps to give a better passing angle.
      • If she doesn’t, we stop the game and award possession of the ball to the opposing team.
    • For teams that value keeping the ball…
      • “THREE STEPS” [at least] is a VERY valuable habit!
    • One of the problems a player will run into when her angle of support isn’t quite good enough is that she will have to receive the pass with the wrong foot and will end up facing the sideline.
      • This puts her at an immediate DISADVANTAGE and makes her life harder than it should be.
      • You will see this ALL THE TIME in your possession games.
    • WHENEVER POSSIBLE, a player should try to receive the ball FACING the biggest part of the field, because that’s where he will have the most passing options.
      • That’s one more reason why it is so important for your players to understand the difference between an acceptable passing angle and an unacceptable one…
      • Often times, it is just a matter of taking one more step.
    • Don’t allow your players to settle for a passing angle that’s merely “good enough” to receive the ball when they can just as easily give an angle that will allow them to receive the ball with the PROPER FOOT.
    • By that same token, the passer of the ball has to play the proper foot when the opportunity presents itself…and yes, you’ve got to hammer home that point also.
    • So far, everything we’ve talked about has been playing the ball to a teammate’s feet…but sometimes we have to play INTO A SPACE where a teammate can go get it.
      • In your possession games, these games often lead to a player receiving the ball facing the boundary INSTEAD of facing the field…and a lot of times it doesn’t have to end up that way.
    • In these situations, A LOT of the responsibility rests with the passer’s ability to PROPERLY WEIGHT her pass.
      • Many times, the passer will put too much weight on her pass, and her teammate won’t have time to spin around and face the field when receiving it.
      • But if she hits that same pass with a bit less pace on it, her teammate can open up to the field BEFORE receiving it.
      • This gives her the chance to evaluate her options BEFORE she’s even touched the ball.
    • You will commonly encounter this scenario during a possession exercise where the players have crowded into one half of the grid, then one team wins the ball and tries to break out of it and exploit the empty space at the other end.
      • The player on the ball will have to lead her teammate with a pass into that space, and often times it ends up as we discussed…with the supporting player receiving the ball while facing the boundary.
    • Your players have to EMPATHIZE with their teammates.
      • They have to give a pass that they’d like to receive…and believe me, EVERYONE would rather receive the ball FACING THE FIELD than facing the sideline.
    • In moments like this, you need to FREEZE PLAY, recreate the event and ask the passer how it could have turned out better?
      • This is another “LITTLE BIG THING”.
    • Everyone’s life is easier when they can receive the ball facing the field.
    • The next pass is the pass that follows the one I am about to play.
    • BEFORE I pass the ball, I’ve got to evaluate the pass that should come after mine.
      • I’ve got to look at my target’s situation and assess where her pass SHOULD go.
      • I’ve got to ask myself, “Who should she pass to?”
      • Then, I’ve got to provide a pass that helps her execute.
    • It’s no longer about playing to the proper foot solely to protect the ball.
      • Now it is about playing to the proper foot regardless of whether or not my target is under pressure.
      • It is about giving her the BEST CHANCE to play her next pass quickly and successfully.
    • We’ve all heard about chess masters who are thinking THREE MOVES AHEAD…
      • This is the same concept.
    • The pass I give should  “talk”.
      • If I play it into your left side, it should be because I’ve assessed the situation and recognized that your next pass should be in that direction.
      • My pass is “telling you” that you need to go left.
    • For your team to keep the ball, the players need to understand that merely getting the ball to a teammate IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH!
      • They’ve got to get the ball to their teammates in a way that sets up the NEXT MOVEMENT, and doing that requires them to start processing the BIGGER PICTURE.
    • This concept isn’t the easiest thing in the world for a lot of players to understand…
      • But with repetition, they WILL improve.
    • One-touch exercises are excellent for developing this idea because the receiver of the pass doesn’t get a touch to clean up the ball.
      • That means it is the PASSER’S RESPONSIBILITY to put her teammate in a position to connect the next pass.
      • As we like to say, “Your pass is her first touch.”
    • Here’s the good news…
      • When the bulk of your players get the hang of this, you’re doing something right.
    • Factoring in the next pass will GREATLY improve your team’s speed of play and, in turn, help you keep the ball.