Have you ever heard a coach, player, or parent after a match say “We dominated possession but just couldn’t score?” Have you ever found yourself saying this after a game?
There’s a reason this happens. Especially for those who find themselves saying this on a regular basis. How many of us, after experiencing this situation multiple times, change our coaching methods? The sad truth is that very few of us do. But the harsh reality is that the reason our teams cannot score is because we are developing our players in a way that does not promote a scoring mentality.
More and more coaches these days are attempting to teach their players how to build from the back, control the ball, and possess. This is a wonderful trend. However, with this trend often comes the inability to capitalize on our teams’ possession. As coaches, we often place so much emphasis on the possession and building aspect of playing, that we neglect the scoring part. This is a major problem. After all, what’s the point of keeping the ball if we aren’t going to actually score?
Developing a Scoring Mentality
Many people talk about players who have a knack for scoring. They often say that it is a natural-born instinct, a God-given gift. In some cases, this might be right. However, the reason most players don’t have such an instinct is because we, as coaches, have not helped them develop a scoring mentality.
If you’ve ever read or are familiar with Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, you’ll know that abilities and attitudes can be learned. This means that scoring mentalities can be learned and are not only instinctual and reserved for the select few. It means that we, as coaches, need to help our players develop this mentality. All of our players need it – not just the ones who we’ve deemed to be forwards or strikers.
How do we go about helping our players develop this mentality? Here are three minimum criteria we must follow in EVERY practice session.
1. Scoring must be included in (almost) every activity
If our players are going to learn to score, they need to practice the act of scoring on a regular basis. This means that we need to include a method of scoring in as many activities as possible. Ideally, we should have some sort of scoring method beginning in the warmup all the way through the scrimmage. However, if there is no scoring in the warmup, the session can still be effective.
Scoring does not have to be putting a ball in a net. In the warmup, for instance, it can simply be a set task or competition – a certain number of technical repetitions equals a point. Or in a small sided game, it can be dribbling past an end line or passing through a gate. Ideally, our scoring methods should include some sort of direction. This means that the ball must travel to a certain area of the field (which is likely not where our players start) in order to score. The reason that direction is important is that it replicates a game – simply passing five times in a row is not realistic – our players need to get used to the idea of getting the ball to a specific place.
By including scoring as often as possible in practice, our players will get more and more used to the idea of looking to score, and it will consistently be on the forefront of their minds. It also creates purpose and relevance to our activities – the same purpose and relevance of scoring in a competitive match.
2. Players must know that scoring is the first priority
Soccer is a game of decisions. At every moment, every player has some sort of decision to make. As an attacker, the player with the ball must constantly be cycling through the basic decision-making priorities. The priorities are, in order: Shoot, dribble, pass.
Our players must know that every time they touch the ball, their first inclination and thought should be “can I score?” If scoring is not possible (maybe they are under pressure or on their own defensive half), they must move to the second priority: “Can I dribble to put myself in position to score?” If they cannot dribble to get in position to score (maybe there is too much pressure or they are too far from the goal), they go to the third priority: pass to a teammate who is in a better position to create a scoring chance.
Every time an action is taken, this thought process recycles instantaneously. For instance, if a player decides that scoring is not possible and decides to dribble to get into scoring position, immediately after the first touch, he should recycle back to the first thought of “can I score?” and continue cycling through with every change in the situation. This keeps the idea of scoring always as the top priority and consistently on our players’ minds.
Certainly, as our players get older and/or more experienced, the decision-making process becomes more complex and less straightforward, but these three priorities are at the core of all that we do and must be emphasized early on and often.
3. Create the right conditions
The activities we conduct in practice have a tremendous effect on how our players think and play. Most of us know that our activities should bring out the topic of our session – if we want to work on scoring from crosses, we might make channels on the flanks to allow players a free opportunity to cross. But many coaches do not consider the effect of such conditions on the mentality of their players.
Not only must activity conditions cause our players to replicate the topic we want to teach, but they must also allow the first two criteria to occur. When creating conditions, we must keep in mind that we want players to be able to score directionally, as well as prioritize scoring right away. For instance, using channels to create crosses can be effective, but simply crossing cannot be worth points (it violates the first criteria). Also, scoring from crosses cannot be the only way to score (it violates the second criteria).
Think about some of the conditions commonly used to bring out topics, and consider whether or not they deny the existence of either or both of the first two criteria… It happens more often than not. Below is a list of many common activity conditions, with alternatives to better cultivate a scoring mentality:
So as we go forth planning and conducting our practice sessions, we must keep in mind how the things we say and conditions we create affect the way our players think and the way they play. Let’s stop dominating possession yet failing to score. Let’s develop players with a scoring mentality who love to put the ball in the net.