By Alex Kos
A friend reminded me the other day of an old soccer saying. It goes something like, “Good forwards make the best defenders and good defenders make the best forwards.” There is a lot of truth to this saying.
Any good forward is always trying to figure out how to get the upper-hand on the defense. Over time, forwards have learned plenty of tricks to help them beat defenders. Now imagine that same forward playing defense. He or she, knowing many of the offensive strategies and tricks, will instinctively know how to deal with them.
For example, he or she is unlikely to get caught directly behind a forward where an accidental bump or a dreaded phantom touch will send the forward crashing to the ground, resulting in a free kick, penalty, and possible expulsion.
The same is true of defenders. Deficiencies a defensive player may have are most likely shared by other defenders. In addition, a good defender should know how certain defensive formations can be exploited. Equipped with this knowledge will give a defender playing forward a tremendous advantage over the other team. Who is best equipped to beat an offside trap than a player who has been employing the trap for years?
Players, you should view "playing out-of-position" as a great opportunity.
First of all, you will surprise yourself at how well you do, I promise. Secondly, by playing other positions, you will become a better, more well-rounded soccer player. Also, you will develop an appreciation for other positions, especially when you have to play keeper. If your coach has not offered you this opportunity, ask.
At some point in your career, perhaps during a tryout with another team, you are going to be asked to play other positions. That I can also promise.
Coaches, how often have you surprised yourself when a player exceeds all expectations at a position you knew he or she would not and could not play? It happens all the time.
As a youth coach, I strongly encourage you to play your kids in all positions. The worst thing a coach can do to a young player is pigeon-hole him or her to one position. With older players who may be labeled as a good forward, defender, or goalkeeper, or who have stated that they only play one position, switch them around.
Although you are likely to hear plenty of complaints and even receive a few parent phone calls, give it a shot. It will make those players and your team better.
(Alex Kos' experiences as a player, coach, referee, parent and fan are shared in his blog, Improving Soccer in the United States, where this article first appeared.)