August 1, 2017 marked the beginning of the mandatory implementation of US Soccer’s Player Development Initiatives, one of which is the “build-out line” at the U9 and U10 age groups. The build-out line is a designated distance to where the opponent (defending team) must retreat when the goalkeeper has the ball. The opponent cannot encroach the area behind the build-out line until the goalkeeper plays the ball.
However, once the ball is released from the goalkeeper, the defending team is free to charge at the ball if they please (and it turns out that many teams are choosing this tactic). It looks a lot like a medieval battle scene.
Over this past month, I have been reading and hearing complaints about the rule from many coaches and advocates of the game. They think that the rule is insufficient. They claim that the practical result of the rule does not match its intention. It is not easier for players to have more success controlling the ball out of the defensive third and into the middle third. Since the opponent waits at the edge of the build-out line like a track meet then charges the ball at full speed once the ball is released, players are not actually able to advance the ball forward without losing possession.
Many people are suggesting that the rule should state that the opponent be restricted until the ball is received or touched by the next attacking player. This would make it easier for teams to build out of the back.
And that’s just it. It would be easier. But since when does easier mean better or correct? The fact that something is easier doesn’t mean we should do it. In school, it is easier for kids to pass their classes if we just give everyone an A for showing up. But that’s not productive for the sake of their learning.
The same goes for the build-out line. The rule – as it stands – accomplishes its intention. There need not be an additional rule restricting the timing of the opponent’s pressure. All it takes is a bit of guidance and coaching to help kids learn how to problem solve and make the correct decisions.
But before I get into it, please keep in mind three things:
1. I am not necessarily advocating for the rule. Personally, I would prefer to just leave it so that players can stand anywhere (especially since the concepts described below would still apply). However, this is the rule, and we must follow it. Our job is now to teach players successful habits and decision-making practices within the rules.
2. These initiatives were announced two years ago. It seems many people chose not to introduce them in advance. Those that did are now in an advantageous position, as expected.
3. Most teams have only been practicing for a couple weeks now – of course the players don’t have the hang of things. Development and learning take time, so let’s not get too upset or frustrated yet. Keep working with the kids – they’ll get it.
The Two Keys to Success
There are two key concepts that allow success in this situation. In fact, if understood and implemented correctly, teams should be able to find success getting forward nearly every time the goalkeeper gets the ball. These two concepts are:
To be successful, we need to maximize our space (as is always the case when attacking). Perhaps the most important detail is our starting position. In fact, this is the primary reason why so many teams are struggling. See Figures 1a and 1b below.
These illustrate where players tend to start when the goalkeeper has the ball in the hands and for a goal kick, respectively. This is natural, as we want to get forward, so we stand in an area ahead of the goalkeeper. However, this hurts more than it helps, as it restricts our space and time once we get the ball. A better position is illustrated in Figures 2a and 2b below.
In these situations, the player receiving the ball (ideally #4, maybe #5) has a lot more space and time to control the ball, read the defense, and make a decision. So, no matter how many players are pressing, the player receiving the ball can make a smart decision and avoid the defense. That is, if the rest of the team are providing options.
We must do two key things in this situation regarding options:
We must provide ourselves with passing options
The defending team must be forced to choose between two primary options
Firstly, all the players not receiving the initial pass need to be in places spread out across the field, all potentially available to receive a controlled pass. Secondly, by maximizing the space, we force the opponent to make a choice between two options:
Stay back and mark players. This option gives the player on the ball more time and allows supporting players more time to find open space. Passing options are less obvious, but we have more time to figure it out, and we have a numerical advantage to give us short-term options until we find a penetrating pass.
And there you have it. It’s actually quite simple. We just need to provide this kind of guidance to our players and help them see the logic behind it. And of course, this will take time. Our players might not get it right away. But if we work on it in training and reinforce it in games, they will get the hang of it soon enough and will be penetrating into the middle third on a regular basis.
BONUS TIP: Teach players how to face/position their bodies when receiving. Players have a tendency to face the ball when receiving, when they should actually face where they want to go next. The player receiving the ball from the GK should face forward, and the rest of the team should face sideways to allow them to see most of the field while also being able to see the ball and turn forward quickly.