30 seconds – a youngster’s time with the ball during a typical youth game

A friend of mine who used to play and train with players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani at the famous youth academy at Sporting Lisbon in Portugal reminded me recently of how critical a player’s movement on the field is when he/she does NOT have the ball.

Consider that of the typical 7 miles covered by a pro player per game, only around 200 yards is run with the ball (~1.5% of the total distance covered). This translates to about 53 seconds of the match spent in possession of the ball (less than 1% of the time played).

So when we scale that down to typical youth games it is probably reasonable to estimate that the typical youngster only has the ball for, say, 30 seconds per game. A very short amount of time per game.

It is therefore critically important what youngsters do during the ~99% of the game when they do NOT have possession of the ball.

Watch carefully and you will most likely see many of the youngsters just watching the player with the ball unless they are very close to the action and/or simply running towards goal.

But what EVERY player should be doing is constantly assess their position and movement relative to the action on the field.

Move away from the ball or move closer, lose markers or draw them toward you to make space for your teammates, make yourself available to receive a pass, position yourself for sudden transitions from attack to defense, position yourself for a possible rebound during a corner kick. 

Determine where to run with the ball or pass to BEFORE receiving the ball from a teammate.

The list goes on.

Read every second of the game and anticipate. Be smart, keep thinking and moving.

“Our players had four reference points: the ball, the space, the opponent and his own teammates. Every movement had to happen in relation to these reference points. Each player had to decide which of these reference points should determine his movements.“

Arrigo Sacchi, former coach of AC Milan and Italy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrigo_Sacchi)

“Before Sacchi came to Milan, the clash between two opposing players was always the key, but with him it was all about movement off the ball, and that’s where we won our matches.”

Paolo Maldini, Captain of AC Milan and Italy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paolo_Maldini)

AC Milan under Sacchi and with Maldini won 26 trophies: the Champions League five times, seven Italian league titles, one Coppa Italia, five Supercoppa Italiana, five European Super Cups, two Intercontinental Cups, and one FIFA Club World Cup.

Lifelong player and student of the beautiful game in Germany, England, and USA. Volunteer futsal coach and USSF referee.

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