The One Touch Pass
Clearing the ball is not passing it. Clearing is essentially changing the area of the field we are playing in by creating a 50/50 opportunity to win the ball. In other words, when we clear a ball out of the back, we have already accepted a 50% chance of losing it. To be sure, there are times when a clearance is the best decision. If you are numbers down defensively and need time to recover, clearing it may be the safest play. If an attacker is applying high pressure and you have no close support, clearing the ball may make sense. However, if a defender has time and space, our training should focus on developing the ability to control the ball and build the attack out of the back. Defenders should learn to play forward to midfielders showing back to the ball, or to change the point of attack by playing to the opposite back, linking through the central defender if necessary. Yet how often do we hear players told not to pass the ball across the goal? If we develop confident passers, passing across the goal should never be a concern. It should also be considered superior to putting the ball up for grabs in the midfield.
The One Touch Flick On
We see this most often when a ball is played to a forward or attacking midfielder who flicks it on to goal in hopes another attacker will run onto the ball. My completely unscientific observation of this decision tells me that this decision creates well less than a 50/50 chance of retaining possession. I’d put the percentage of successful flick ons at less than 10%. Yet this is a common, even expected, play on the ball. Moreover, we consistently see it done in the middle third of the field, where the reward is minimal. We see it done even when the player flicking the ball on has very little defensive pressure. Again, we need to ask where on the field this is appropriate, and when the outcome will be improved by attempting to possess the ball or play it back for possession.
The One Touch Shot
There is little in the game more thrilling than the attacker who volleys a cross into the upper 90, scoring with a one touch shot. It is incredibly thrilling because it is rare. It’s rarity alone should be an indicator that emphasizing one touch shooting is probably not statistically the best way to score more. Certainly, crosses played into the box, balls slotted back from the end line, and through balls being challenged by closing defenders or goalkeepers may need to be played first time. However, I have seen players being trained to shoot first time from 30+ yards with no defenders around them. Again, the decision to shoot first time is a time and space decision. (In fairness, a goalkeeper grossly out of position may also call for a first time shot). Particularly with youth players who are still mastering shooting technique, our training should focus on giving the attacker the best chance to properly take a shot. That will often require a second or third touch. With time and space, we will see greater success if our attackers advance toward the goal, rather than shooting from 30 yards out. From a broader perspective, we will statistically score more by focusing on establishing penetration and numbers forward in hopes of creating close range finishing opportunities.
Practical One Touch Training
As coaches, we should not ban one touch play. However, particularly with younger players with developing skills, neither should it be our focus. Instead, we should focus on teaching the situations which call for one touch play. Teach clearances as what they are: emergency defending. Teach one touch passing as on option when a second touch is not possible AND the player can face his target and strike a quality ball. Do not encourage the hopeful redirections or flick ons as passing decisions. They aren’t; and players should not develop the belief that those are good possession decisions. Encourage more risk taking in the attacking third, where reward rises and risk stemming from loss of possession is minimal. Finally, train the right time and place to shoot first time; but couple that training with an attacking philosophy that encourages penetration and transition to positive attacking numbers.