Encouraging a Competitive Attitude

Coming out of a long winter of indoor practices and Futsal games, I'm always anxious to play our first outdoor league game of the spring. I was looking forward to it even more than usual this year because it had been more than a month since my U12 girls team had played their last Futsal game. Practices had gone well but it's often hard to judge how the players are developing without the test of an opponent.

The girls played well from the beginning of the game. We possessed the ball well and created scoring chances but didn't take any of them. Gradually the other team began to win more tackles and put some pressure on our defense. We hadn't slowed down or stopped making good decisions but as the half wore on we had less and less of the ball.

The difference was that we were PLAYING soccer and the other team was COMPETING. They were defending aggressively, fighting harder for the 50/50 balls, playing stronger to keep possession and really going for it in the final third. We discussed this at half-time and I challenged the players to match the intensity of their opponent so that we could play our game rather than constantly chasing them.

The girls worked hard in the second half but each time we would find some success the other team 'up the ante' and increase their speed and intensity of play. Some of the girls were able match their 'Want To' but we couldn't do it consistently as a team. Playing against this relentless attitude was something that the girls were not prepared to do on this day.

At our next practice we played a series of games that focused on creating a competitive attitude. We began with a game of Wembley where the first two teams to score three goal would then play in the final. The game is a common one but there are many different ways to play it. We play it in pairs with two balls constantly in play. All of the teams are attacking the same goal which is defended by our goalkeeper. The girls enjoy this game and the competition set the tone for the practice to come.

The next game was one I call 'American Gladiators'. Two teams of six players are in their own 15 x 15-yard grid. One player from each team acts as a defender and enters the other team's grid where the remaining five players are dribbling a ball. When a player's ball is kicked out of the grid they are out of the game. The first defender to kick all of the balls out of the other teams grid, wins for point for their team. This is played six times so that everyone has a chance to act as the defender. This game promotes hard work from the defender and being strong on the ball for the girls who are trying to keep the ball.

After that, we played a number of 1 v 1 games where all of the players are competing at the same time on a field that is 25 yards long. The girls are encouraged to be creative and score goals but the emphasis is on tenacious defending and hard work. The last 1 v 1 game that we played was one in which the girls are divided into two teams. Each team is lined up on one of the posts of the goal. They are organized biggest to smallest. The first two players in line come to the middle of the goal and lock arms at the elbow. I stand behind them as they look out away from the goal. I throw a ball over their heads and they run onto the field and chase the ball. They keep their arms linked and push shoulder-to-shoulder as they approach the ball. When one player gains possession of the ball she tries to turn, beat the other player and score. The player that scores earns one point for their team.

For the last game we played 10 v 2. Pairs of players take turns trying to win the ball from the 10 attackers as many times as possible in 2 minutes. The defensive pairs that touches the ball the most times wins. This game shows the girls how hard they are capable of working if they really focus on it. It also encourages them to work as a team to win the ball.

The practice ended with a scrimmage where the winning team would only have to do two sprints and the losing team would have to complete five. Having a consequence to the game gives the girls something to play for and emphasizes the idea of not just PLAYING but COMPETING.

We compete in a tournament this weekend so I'm looking forward to seeing how this practice carries over into our games.

Have you had a similar issue with your team in the past? How have you dealt with it?

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