This week as I watched my daughters Classic Competitive Soccer game I noticed something. The girls who have been playing basketball in the off season started "guarding" people instead of "marking" them and guarding the ball. This led to a problem in the transition from defense to offense. When on defense our player would mark the player very well, sticking close to them even though the ball wasn't anywhere near them. That's fine but then I noticed that they kept marking them even when we regained possession. That creates a problem. When the play transitions to offense they are still stuck to the player on the other team.
My thought here was that the defensive training we have been doing is making them forget what offense is about. On offense you want to be away from the traffic and finding space to move and penetrate. On Defense you want to be the wall or anticipate the passes coming in. You need to stay close in order to insure that the player cannot do what they want or to make them do what you want. Controlling the offensive player by what you do is as much a part of the game as good footwork is on offense. The idea is to control the offensive players movements by making movements that force or lead them in a direction they do not want to go. Good defensive positioning is essential.But that isn't the issue here. The issue here is when a player does not realize their team is transitioning into the attack. This leaves your team with one less person to utilize in the attack because you are not open for a pass, shot, or screen. You are already covered and cannot help out the offense. This gives the upper hand to the defense, thus it is essential to get away from that mark as soon as the ball transitions to the offense.
On our team I feel basketball has been the perpetrator of this focus on marking a person. The two games are very similar but a striking difference is that Basketball is a much more offensive game. Most of the rules are geared toward punishing the defensive player as opposed to creating a balanced game. At the youth level heavy emphasis on the marking of an opponent leads to kids being stuck to their mark like glue even if they are on offense.
Instead of teaching them to "Mark" a person I would prefer them to mark the ball. Or pay more attention to who has it. You still have to mark the person but the ball is what you want and it should be your focus.Marking the ball still means you must be aware of the transitions. Once the ball is transitioned to the opposite team every player should flex to the correct position.
To combat this I feel that youth soccer coaches need to emphasize focus on the ball, then on the player movement, and then on tactical awareness. Many of us talk about utilizing the open spaces but what may be confusing them is the transition from defending close to getting away from that person ASAP. This next season I will set up at least one or two sessions devised around developing this transition awareness. These are drills that can be done as a progression in between warm up and free play or cool down.
The first is an exercise that is for transitioning in restricted space. It’s keep away with teams. You start with three teams. In order for the defending team to switch they must gain possession of the ball. If the ball goes out the team that sent it out is in the middle.
The second is a divided field 3 goal game. You need to split them up into 3 teams. The team in the middle is the attacker. The attacker can move into either of the goal ends. If one of the defending teams obtains possession of the ball that team becomes the offense. The middle zone is neutral thus the team that loses the ball on offense must try to win it back before the other teams gets it to the middle.