Thursday, December 5, 2013

The importance of the Quick, Early and Accurate pass

I've watched a lot of sports at various levels and I like to think I know which players are better than others.

My main experiences have been with soccer, hockey and basketball.  But over the last 3 years I've been introduced to and am enjoying field lacrosse.  This past fall, my son was a member of the University of Guelph Lacrosse team and I watched them play at least ten games plus their tournament on the way to winning a National Championship.  I used my old experiences to help me identify who the strong players were.

I always observe a player's athleticism, speed, "smarts", durability and body language.  But one thing I do appreciate about sports at a high level is how quickly the ball (or puck) moves. 

During my licensing courses with the CSA, our instructors used a term that has always stuck with me - "Quick/Early/Accurate" passing.  It's short enough to insert into your coaching and easy for players to
remember.  You know the ball has to move, but the quick catchphrase makes it easier to convey while coaching.

Quick: The speed of the ball.
Early: Execute the pass when the pass is there.  Now.
Accurate: On target.  Self explanatory I guess.

Watching higher level soccer, hockey or basketball, you can easily detect the difference by the quick/early/accurate passing that's happening.

Before you say "well, not every pass has to be quick and early", you're correct.  There are moments where the weight and timing of a pass is adjusted for the situation.  But, for the most part, a late, slow, inaccurate pass is a recipe for a turnover.  Just wanted to get that out of the way.

A few years ago, Welland hosted an American Hockey League pre-season game in our Main Arena.  Our ice surface is small.  The players were HUGE, and fast.  I was very impressed watching how quickly they were pinging the puck around the ice and still making things happen.

When my son made the jump from A to AAA hockey when he was 12, the first thing that struck me was the speed and quality of the passing.

Back to Field Lacrosse.

The better players and associated passing quality were obvious.  The better players did not cradle the ball the extra one or two times when a teammate was open.  The passes of the better players had less of a "lob" because of the ball speed.  The passes of the better players were on target, not requiring the receiver to lunge, jump, lose balance or leave their open position to bring the pass under control.

Watch for it when you coach:
  • Was a receiving player shut down because the pass arrived late because of the speed of the ball?
  • Was a receiving player shut down because the pass arrived late because the passer did not release it early enough?
  • Was a receiving player shut down because the pass was off target or low quality and they needed an extra touch to bring it under control? 
  • Was a team under pressure of a counter-attack because a slow/late pass was intercepted? 
  • And, my all-time favourite - how many times have we seen players called offside because a pass was late? (soccer and hockey)
To be able to expect this, you must coach/teach/facilitate:
  • Passing technique: in order to execute an accurate pass at proper pace, the ball must be struck properly, accurately and roll true.  Key factors in pass:  right part of the foot/ball, eye on ball, weight of the pass, direction, etc.  A bobbling or inaccurate ball adds stress for the receiver, taking away time and space and allows defenders to react.
  • More refined first touch: A good touch is a combination of coaching, repetition and just plain old having a ball on your foot - a lot.   This is a science all on its own.  We'll just leave it at that.  But a better first touch gives you more time to decide and recognize available passes earlier.
  • Game exposure:  more small sided game exposure to build more confidence to actually move the ball earlier and quicker.
  • Conditioned functional exercises/games: there are plenty of exercises and games that require quick/early/accurate passes to succeed, that are fun.  Make sure they're enjoyable.  Any game where you need to split defenders with a pass brings about what you want to teach on this topic.
  • Make sure it's a Key Factor when coaching the topics of penetrating passes, switching the field , working the ball across the back, using support players behind you, etc.
In every sport, the two most desired things when attacking are time and space.  Quick/early/accurate passing contribute to more time and space for the receiver.  Q/E/A passes make it easier to unlock a defense.  Q/E/A makes it difficult for opponents to re-organize quickly while defending.  Q/E/A passing makes your team's style of play more enjoyable.   Q/E/A passing makes most tactics easier/possible to implement.  Q/E/A passing makes your counter-attack more effective.  I could go on.

Watch for it in games.  Demand it when your team trains.