By Matt Settles
Coach Settles recently completely his 11th season as a high school coach in Indiana. The former collegiate player at the University of Southern Indiana is also a regular contributor to the Soccer Toolbox.
I see it every year during the high school soccer season. Our opponent gets a corner kick and as I watch my players cover the goal posts, mark defenders, and make sure we are prepared defensively…one player on the other team walks to get the ball to take the corner kick, the other players walk to the box, and no one seems to know what is going on. The same thing happens with free kicks all over the field. There is no organization, communication, or any kind of urgency to score. I’m always amazed how players, coaches, and teams don’t see the importance of being organized and capitalizing on set pieces. These plays can ultimately determine the difference between winning and losing a game.
My teams are not perfect and I fight these battles often with a new team and program. I would like to think my players and teams are more organized that a lot of other teams. It’s not hard or difficult and if these plays can determine winning or losing, I will take the winning option every time.
There are a few important steps as a coach that can help prepare your team and capitalize on set piece plays:
Prepare and practice for everything. Who will take the corner kicks? Who will take the free kicks? Who is making the runs in the box? Where should the runs be covering? What happens if the play breaks down? These are all questions that need to be addressed and answered before playing a game. The goal should be to get all players and the team on the same page and prepared for all types of situations. The ref calls for a corner or free kick and your players should immediately know where to go and what to do.
Find your player and hopefully players on your team that can provide good service on set pieces. Who can hit a corner kick to the spots and areas you want? Who can shoot or serve a ball (depending on the distance) on free kicks? If your player is serving corner kicks behind the goal or takes free kicks that get blocked every time, there are bigger problems to focus on first. The organization part does not matter if you don’t get good service and allow goal scoring opportunities to happen.
Most goals are not scored by sitting back or waiting for the defense to make a mistake. Good teams and winning teams take chances and are aggressive on set pieces. Send an extra player or two up for a corner kick. Make sure the service is quick and fast. I always cringe when I see a corner kick or free kick chipped or floated into the box. This may work against some teams, but it won’t work against the better teams and goalkeepers. Drive balls in at pace and challenge the defenders to not make mistakes. Don’t wait for opportunities, create your own.