What is football?

In earlier posts we have put things that the football coach does into the context of which the coach operates. For example, we have discussed that the way you coach should be decided by the context, the sport you are coaching and only thereafter the external factors in your specific situation. In this post we will look at the overarching context for everything on this blog, namely the game of football. The purpose of this post is to give you an objective description of the game, a frame of reference for your coaching.

First and foremost football is a game which is defined as a competitive activity played according to rules that are specific to the sport. Moreover, football is a team sport, meaning two or more players working together while competing with another team to win the game. Football is played with 11 players on each team with the consequence of a game that is extremely complex. Due to this complexity the game is simplified for younger players by reducing the number or players on both teams.

As previously noted, the objective of the team game football is to win the game. This is done by, within the rules of the game, score at least one more goal than the opponent. The ’within the rules of the game’ part is important to notice. Imagine that you were allowed to pick up the ball with your hands and run to the other side of the pitch and throw it into the opponents goal to score. It would be much easier to control the ball with your hands than trying to control a spherical object with your feet. However, the rules of the game states that you are not allowed to control the ball with your hands (except for the goalkeeper inside the penalty box) and that is only one rule that makes the game more difficult than it could be. Also, it should be noted that it can sometimes can be of a higher order for a team to not lose a game instead of winning if this point will help the team reaching a greater objective of winning the league or staying up at a certain level.

To summarize, the objective of football is not to ”play well”, ”keep possession” or ”have fun” even though these are common answers from coaches all over the world when asked what the objective of football is. No, the objective of football is to, within the rules of the game, score at least one more goal than the opponent and as a consequence win the game. Does this mean that the players shouldn’t have fun? Of course not. Playing a game and competing against others are what is fun. It doesn’t matter if it’s football or chess, the competitiveness of these different games and your autonomy as a player to execute decisions are what makes it fun. Imagine you are playing chess and you’re constantly getting told by the chess coach what move to execute next, would you want to keep playing over time? What if you where not allowed to play chess to win, but the way you moved the pieces was regarded as more important. Would you keep playing or would you eventually throw the chess board up in the air and walk away?

So players have fun if they are allowed to play the game without someone telling them what to do all the time, but they should ”keep possession” all the time, right? No. First it’s important to understand that keeping possession is not an objective by itself and that scoring one more goal than the opponent is of a higher order. When you score a goal you actually give away possession since the other team will start with the ball after you score. Therefore if you say that your highest objective is to keep possession, you are saying that you do not want to score a goal. Secondly, you cannot score a goal (by yourself, the other team can score an own goal) unless you are in possession so it is important to regain possession after you lost possession. Keeping possession for the sake of keeping possession makes no sense and is not football. However there are moments during the game where keeping possession might be very important, for example when you are 1-0 up and it’s 5 minutes left of the game and you can win by not giving the ball away.

Ok, the objective of the game of football is to, within the rules of the game, score at least one more goal than the opponent. But it’s equally important to ”play well”, right? What is ’playing well’? When you and you friend are watching a game you might think that team A is playing well but your friend doesn’t think so and says that team B is playing much better. Who is right, you or your friend? Both are of course right since ’playing well’ is a subjective interpretation by whoever is observing the game. What you as a coach might think is ’playing well’, your board might not agree with and as a consequence you have a problem. To ”play well” is a subjective interpretation of how the different team functions are being executed by your team and therefore of a lower order than the objective characteristics of the game.

Now you might be thinking ’what do you mean by team functions’? Well, in football there are three team functions; attacking, transition and defending which all have different objectives that are connected to the main objective of ’within the rules of the game, score at least one more goal than the opponent’.

When a player on your team has the ball under control (in possession) your team is per definition attacking. This means that all of your players are attacking when someone on your team has the ball. When the striker has the ball, your goalkeeper is also attacking and the other way around. The objective of attacking is to create opportunities to score that can be converted into goals by scoring. This is done by the team tasks of building up and scoring.

When your team is regaining or losing possession there is a short moment when you are in transition from the team function of defending to attacking or from attacking to defending. This short moment of a few seconds is when the defending team is unorganized.

When a player on the opposing team has the ball in possession your team is per definition defending. This means that all of your players are defending, not only the players that are closest to your goal. The objective of defending is to prevent the opponent to create scoring opportunities and above all prevent the opponent from scoring. This is done through the team tasks of disturbing the build up of the opponent and prevent scoring.

Within these team functions there is constant communication between team-mates (non-verbal and verbal) and opponents (non-verbal). Players have to make decisions based on their game insight to execute football actions within the different team functions. This is the context of football that you as a coach are working within to develop your players and improving your team.

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