I’ll start with a story.

The first math class that I took in college was taught by an older lady with a thick German accent. Numbers were confusing enough, but not being able to fully understand my teacher made the class pretty tough.

(Side note: I was raised by a Croatian father who doesn’t speak very clear English.)

The teacher would write an equation on the board, solve it herself with her back to the class, and then turn around and ask us (in a thick German accent), “Do you understand? Yes or not?”

A friend of mine would laugh every time. He would frequently raise his hand and say, “Not!”

Since passing the class nearly ten years ago (shit, I’m getting old!!!), I’ve adopted her question and have continued to use it quite often. I use that question much more than the algebra that she taught me. Most people probably assume that I am imitating Borat, though. Which I suppose is fitting considering the context that I usually use it in.

Anyways, I thought I would it be fun to play a game called: “TACTICS: YES OR NOT?”

The majority of the American soccer community has a hard time understanding what tactics actually are. Let’s find out where you stand.

Common Situation #1: Blue team is down 2-1 at halftime. Coach makes a switch from their normal 4-3-3 formation to an unfamiliar 4-4-2 and quickly instructs his team to play a little more direct. Blue team battles back and wins the game 3-2. TACTICS: YES OR NOT?

Common Situation #2: Red team spends most of their training sessions working on ‘possession’. The coach comes up with a new type of keep away game each week to keep practices fun and interesting. The red team gets pretty good at keeping the ball away from their opponents during training and, more importantly, during games. It is safe to say that the red team is good at keeping possession. TACTICS: YES OR NOT?

Common Situation #3: Green team is getting ready to face one of the best forwards in the league. The forward leads his team in goal scoring and assists. Right before the game, the coach of the green team tells one of his players to ‘man mark’ this dangerous forward and shut him down. The coach says, “Don’t let him breathe! Stick to him like white on rice!” TACTICS: YES OR NOT?

So… are you ready for the answers?

Not. All three are NOT tactics. Why? Continue reading…

All three are examples of doing something in order to obtain a certain outcome. Sure. But, when it comes to soccer, what makes something an actual ‘tactic’ that these common situations lack? Well, to name a few…

Details, specifics, planning, understanding, training, rehearsing, perfecting, executing. And then repeating.

Switching to a new formation at half time is definitely a change that can effect the end result of a game, but making that change midway through without going over the details and coming up with a clear plan and having time to train and perfect everything makes it a guessing game. But hey- it might work!

And working on keeping the ball away from opponents is great. It is definitely worthy of a lot of time during training sessions. But is it a tactic? Is playing keep away in a 30×30 box really going to translate seamlessly into a game situation? Is that specific enough? Do you rehearse anything while playing keep away? Not really.

So here is what you take away from this:

Tactics are not spur of the moment changes. Tactics are detailed, well thought out plans of how you want to do something. Think of tactics as blueprints, road maps, or designs. Tactics are things that need to be meticulously taught by coaches and understood by players. Tactics need to be trained and rehearsed until players can do things blindfolded and backwards. In other words, the execution of something needs to be perfected. And once it is perfected, it needs to be repeated over and over and over again so that it is not forgotten.

Teaching actual tactics can be a grueling process. Especially if you’re just starting out and learning what is right and what is wrong (like I am). You and your players will love it when all of your hard work gets rewarded, though. Trust me.