The other day I was watching a Champions League Match on TV between Benfica (Portugal Club) & Dortmund (German Club). The speed of play was so fast & intense. These world class pros are so much better than most people will ever know. If you as a player can get rid of the ball within 2 seconds, and complete your pass you are doing great. Yes, sometimes we need to dribble or hold on to the ball, but most of the time you receive & distribute consistently. Note: This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
Hard work is so impressive to watch
The first thing that impresses me in high level soccer is the 100% effort the whole game. If you see players on the ball you don’t see them being casual. Unless it’s one of your superstars like Neymar, Ronaldo, Mbappe who have the speed and skills to be able to slow a moment up if they want. This means they can actually slow down the speed of play, but the fact that they keep possession and create chances makes it OK.
Skill under pressure will set players apart
Second thing that impresses me is the skill that they perform under immense pressure. When a defender or midfielder has the ball in their defensive third, and players are able to keep composure with perfect passes. Anybody can just clear the ball and kick it far. To be able to have the vision & passing skills to get out of pressure, and of course, movement off the ball is impressive.
Speed of play from Arsenal FC Academy vs FCD
In this game below, you’ll see Arsenal FC U19’s in yellow possessing the ball before scoring a goal. After 20 seconds into the video Arsenal win the ball back. Out of the 12 passes – all except one are 1-2 touches. Each player is comfortable on the ball, not panicking, yet not keeping it more than 2 seconds.
The 1 touch passes are the hardest to defend because no matter how fast a defender is you can’t outrun the ball.
Players who are teachable (coachable)
To learn, I always am asking players questions to see what they know. This way I can teach them what they don’t know. Here’s the thing. They act like they know but they don’t know so I make sure I ask them to explain. They will often say “Yes, I know that.” So I will ask them to share their knowledge and oftentimes they say “Oh, well, never mind I don’t know.” Kids want to act like they know but they don’t know. We have to teach them to be teachable.We have to teach our youth to be teachable! Admitting they don't know the answer is not a character flaw - it's a character builder!Click To Tweet
What ‘Speed of Play’ is NOT
5 things select students often guess define ‘speed of play’ (Note: these things are not speed of play, but they help with speed of play):
- Touching the ball faster
- Up tempo – high energy
- Running faster
- Movement off the ball
- How fast a certain play is
How to explain speed of play to youth soccer players
Speed of play is a quick release time + the movement of the ball being passed from player to player, usually using 1 or 2 Touch passing to possess the ball, with players who can get rid of the ball within 2 seconds. When a team is playing with good speed of play you can actually hear, see & feel the tempo.
Whether it be a 1-Touch pass or a Trap then a pass, these will be what you want for speed of play. With 2-Touch you want to be comfortable with the time and steps between the first touch and the pass/shot. Most often there should only be a time of only 2 seconds on the ball.
Watching professional soccer is a great teacher
If you watch good soccer you will see there is 1 common thing going on, which is the time each player spend with the ball. When you see a team possessing the ball, you will notice that 80% of the time the player get rid of the ball within 2 seconds, sometimes faster. If they spend 3 seconds or more it slows up the speed of play and usually drives the coach crazy.
So people who dribble all the time they are slowing the tempo up, though there are times where a player needs to dribble/hold the ball. There are the times when a player is waiting for a window/space/gap to open up a deadly pass. Another good time a player needs to dribble is when a team cannot keep possession. You just need someone to make a play and open things up.
Playing 1-Touch Soccer is by far the hardest thing in soccer. Even Barcelona has to trap the ball after 2 or 3 passes. You just don’t see teams making 1 touch passes 4 times in a row and hardly even 3 passes.
Recap on good ‘speed of play’
1 or 2 Touch & Time of Release should be 2 seconds or less, but could be 3 touches or 3 seconds. It’s not like it’s that technical and it’s not like 1 second is better than 2. That all depends on the situation, which there are many. The 2 second deal goes for pro players all the way down to a young skillful youth level.
Young players ages 10 and under will have a hard time doing this because they have a hard time possessing the ball at a slow pace. That’s okay, they need to keep their focus on keeping the ball not necessarily how fast it is. They are still learning so much that you can’t expect greatness yet! 🙂 So for young players under 10 years old or even older players lacking skill, 3 seconds would be a fast release time.
Why kids don’t know ‘speed of play’
3 reasons kids don’t know what speed of play is in soccer:
- Most Coaches don’t know so how are the kids going to learn? Oh! they can read my blog :-), just like you!
- Coaches are talking about Speed of Play but they’re not Explaining it. Coaching is hard and there’s only so much time! Less than 1% of coaches have an “A” License and that will get lower. If your coach has an ‘A’ or ‘B’ license they have been through LOTS of hours of courses, teaching and demonstrating. One thing that ‘A’ or ‘B’ License coaches can usually do well is Explain Situations and Tactics. It’s not about teaching Skill or Technique. It’s about Tactics and how to communicate with high level players. But there are natural teachers who don’t have their A or B and do a fantastic job at coaching so it’s not about that. It’s about the fact that things need to be explained better not matter the license. My goal is to become a better coach/trainer every year. Study, take courses, know your strengths and weaknesses and improve.
- Kids/Players are not listening and hear is why I know: There have been several situation where I have clearly told players something specific and important and then a month later the same players don’t remember. So they are not listening. Maybe they are hearing but they are not listening! 🙂 Parents I know you know your kids don’t always listen. They forget to turn off their lights, clean their room, homework. Hey, I have 2 kids of my own and I have to tell them the same thing over and over. It’s the same thing with these athletes. We have to keep teaching them in different ways.
Why ball control matters
I don’t think our youth players today understand the difference and how intense the game needs to be played. I’m sure you can relate to this parents and coaches especially. To me I either see youth players (High School Level) playing fast & sloppy or slow & decent control. I think that’s how the game is though.
If a player has control he or she doesn’t have to move and react as fast because they don’t have to chase the loose balls. Also, players with control don’t have as much pressure because the defenders recognize that a controlled ball is harder to win than a loose ball.
Working with my Small Groups, I love to work on Speed of Play because it’s such a beautiful thing to watch and hear. I recently saw an interview with Pep Guardiola (World Class Manager). He said he wants the players to play a certain way because he wants to have fun too. Meaning he wants to see a certain style of futbol.
Pep also gives them freedom to do what they want to do, but only in certain parts of the field. When I heard him say that it made me smile inside because this is the way I feel too. I think every coach feels this. A coach wants a team or group to perform a certain way and when they do it’s so fun for the coach, players and fans/parents.
Hearing the tempo / speed of play
When you hear the speed of play, this means you can hear the sound of the ball hitting the boot/shoe of the players. If the player traps the ball then they have to pass, you hear those two sounds of the boot connecting with the ball.
If a player uses a 1-Touch Pass then you hear only that 1 Sound. So when you hear a combination of 1-Touch Passes over and over it’s such a beautiful thing to HEAR and SEE.
3 ways to practice ‘speed of play’
- Team Possession Drills (5v5, 7v7, 10v10): Larger number of players to make things complex forcing decision making. If it’s 1v1 or 2v2 you can’t work on speed of play. If you watch a real game 11v11 you only see about 2 or 3 players actually running and everyone else is walking. The only time you see most of the players all running at the same time is a counter attack.
- Small Groups of 2-5 players can work on precision passing in small space. The more players the better or else it’s not much in decision making with groups of 2-3 players. If you have 4 players then the coach can make 5 players which can make for a better session. At the end of the day you want the player to be as clean with both feet as possible and most players never get there unless they practice 4-6 times a week. Using a wall or racquet ball court is a great way to work on this.
- Private 1on1 training you can work on really fixing the root of most players problem. This means being able to pass with both feet different ways. Using the inside of the foot, bending inside, bending outside. But especially able to open up their body/hips and use both the left and right foot to make precise passes. Also you can get involved as a trainer and set up training sticks or cones that force both the trainer and players to work hard off the ball and making 5-6 passes to goal.
You will get there
Once your passing skills are sharp, you need to be put in a game like situation. You can have the best skill in the world but you also need fast-paced training. This way you deal with the feelings of pressure. Your brain will be up to speed for this. To learn more, read this article I wrote on opposed vs unopposed training.
Good news is you guys are going to get there! Most important part is the skill and then once you get put in the situation, you will get used to it within a few weeks/months.