“One, two or three touch play.” This is not some abstract speculation. I’ve heard it; you have heard it. Commentators, and the technical directors [high level coaches] of our U.S soccer federation as well as the layman spectator on the sideline are all using these adages. It’s also in print and online in the most recent U.S. Soccer coaching curriculum.
The US soccer manual says this as a representation of the principles of play for an individual player. One, two or three touches maximum improves the speed of play because the touches are minimized. In the tenth point it says, “Players are encouraged to take risks in training session to increase the speed of play.” Confused yet? Well, read the manual for yourself.
In the ten point emphasis on the individual player, there is not one mention of the creative player but a conspicuous antagonism to over-dribbling.
In a recent Klinsmann team talk, the U.S. Soccer Men’s head coach talked about a proactive style that will incorporate good old “hard work” and stepping-it-up with speed of play and speed of thought, less contact and a lot of quick movement. Klinsmann says this path is necessary. To paraphrase, that’s how the best teams in the world play. Then in passing, he mentions Spain and Barcelona though not the German teams that he once coached.
The comments from these two sources bring me to this whole misconception of the limited touches on the ball being the process players should use to increase the speed of play. It’s true, we have all been thrilled and outright marveled at the way Barcelona has been playing this game for the last five to six years. Their possession style has become something to behold as many coaches and soccer analysts try their best to decipher what we all see game after game after game.
Barcelona has succeeded in harnessing exceptional individualism, cleverly I might add, within a team structure and they have done so without stifling creativity. They seamlessly control the ball with however many touches are necessary and impeccably donate the “gift” to a teammate who receives the gift, not like a hot potato, but as a delicate package and without a glitch, most times, flawlessly presents it to another teammate or the one who last presented it to him. They seem to be happy to receive and even happier to give. There are times when it seems like you are watching the play in slow motion and then others when it looks like you are watching in fast-forward.
Barcelona use the one, two or three touch play as a choice because of their exceeding talent. To them the ball is a familiar item not some foreign object. They do not use the “one, two or three touch” as a restriction from an ill-advised coaching manual that a “top-notch coach” will place on an American budding talent to the point of asphyxiating him/ her and destroying his/her creativity in the name of a misconstrued “speed of play.”
Intelligence of a team is expressed in how well the individual players adapt to circumstances presented to them and not constraining the player to a certain number of touches. What I mean by this is the Barca player is very capable of holding the ball in extremely tight spaces with exemplary ease. With no offense intended, let’s compare and contrast that with Michael Bradley, one of our principle midfielders. By the way, Bradley was in the U-17 Men’s National Team Residency Program in Bradenton, Florida as a youngster and supposedly practiced every day for over a year. The central midfielder seems to limit his play to one or two touches and in many instances just has to rebound the ball to whoever gave it him without rhyme or reason. He doesn’t do this because it’s the right thing to do; he does this because he lacks the knack and comfort on that ball. He does not have the skill and reassurance of a player with a mental picture of what’s the next best play.
So, was his foundation, hard work, speed of play and very quick movement in a 1, 2 and 3 touch playing environment, the recipe of a functional soccer player? Oh sorry, it’s the U.S coaching manual. This is hope that this in not what is being taught to our budding talents in Bradenton as we speak.
Barcelona and Spain are a good yardstick to measure, Klinsmann. There’s nothing wrong with that and yes, they do play the 1, 2, or 3 touch soccer. What differentiates them from what we are trying to do here is it is their exceptional individualism and creative vision that enables them to keep positive possession has been awing even to the Germans. Insisting or making compulsory the 1, 2, or 3 touch play in session after session takes away the realism of the game and narrows the player’s decision-making ability.
Practice time, if used unrealistically, is tantamount to time wasted. Formative or development years fly by too quickly. We should not waste them with poor and restrictive coaching methods because this will only produce poor players. Let’s not be hung up on speed of play. Controlled possession with players that have the guile and creativity is a far better than precision without responsibility.
Let’s develop players who make it an option to use the 1, 2 or 3 touch play and not make it a restriction.
Let’s develop players who know when to speed up the game or slow it down and play with a purpose.
Let’s develop players who can use their exceptional individualism to break the games open.
To summarize don’t make the good become the enemy of the best. Someone once said: knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.