Transition is the most important moment in soccer; the moment in the match when individual players switch their player role in the game from defense to attack or attack to defense. Transition is acquired first by an individual player, then a group of players, and then the team.
This moment of transition occurs first as mental recognition of the situation and then a decision that initiates physical action. The faster the recognition-decision-action connection is made the more impactful will be a player's performance. Only once individual players are quickly making the transition from one phase of play to the next, will it be possible for a team to execute quick and skillful transition from defense to attack or vice versa.
If transition does not happen fast enough for a player or team then they are always a step or two behind the action. The speed of a player's transition is based on his or her tactical awareness.
Tactical awareness is being mindful of where you are on the field, as well as the location of the ball, your teammates and opponents. It's the ability to read the game - to anticipate what will happen next and not merely reacting to what just happened. In some soccer circles this tactical awareness is called insight.
In American soccer, we refer to this level of mental focus and tactical awareness as being soccer savvy.
Your players have no chance of becoming soccer savvy players if they are simply cogs in the team wheel. Players who are over-coached in matches become robotic in their performance and cannot make tactical decisions fast enough.
Slow decision-making leads to reaction players instead of anticipation players. The over-coaching comes from not only coaches, but spectators too. They constantly yell out to the players what to do and when to do it. This further hinders a player's decision-making, as spectators are typically a step behind the action - the pace of the game is quicker than their words conveyed.
This environment of coaches and parents making soccer decisions for the players during a match has led to an American soccer weakness in transition. Too many of our players are not tactically aware, thereby being slow in transition. To become an anticipation player who is quick in transition requires a healthy soccer environment in which to grow. That environment requires less coaching during matches and better coaching during training sessions.
That training environment should lead to self-reliant players who think and communicate for themselves during a match.
The foundation to a good soccer environment in your club is a well-planned and consistently executed player development curriculum. From this foundation, you can build a club with a positive soccer culture.
(Sam Snow is the Director of Coaching Education of US Youth Soccer. This article is an excerpt from US Youth Soccer's soon-to-be-released "Player Development Model." It first appeared in U.S. Youth Soccer Blogs, which can be read at http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/Blog.asp.)