REAL Pressure On The Ball: Have A Purpose

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"Pressure on the ball has to be done with a purpose."

When most youth coaches exclaim, "put pressure on the ball!" they throw it out there as a general term with no detail or explanation as to what that really means. It's become synonymous with "get closer to the player with the ball" or "get his/her head down." While these are accurate descriptions as to the positioning and intent of pressure, they only scratch the surface as to WHY and HOW we want a player to put pressure on the ball. 

Pressure on the ball has to be done with a purpose. The angle of approach, the speed to which it's done and the intent of the pressure put on the player with the ball all have to be considered. Applying pressure is not only getting "tight" to the player on the ball but it should apply pressure in the player's mind and make them rush a decision. Getting a player's head down on the ball is synonymous with forcing that player to exhaust their visual options while pressing them to make a rushed decision. This is WHY we put pressure on the ball. It's commonly said if you give a good player three yards of space and allow them to pick their head up, they become a great player. Rush that "good" player and close that space to one yard and they become an average player. 

Intention and thought need to go into when a player should put pressure on the ball. It's all well and good to get a player's head down and close the space between defender/attacker to one yard but if the defender pressures alone then one simple pass relieves the team in possession while the rest of the defending team is sitting back and idle. 

Once the decision to apply pressure on the ball is made, a concerted effort by everyone on the defending team must be in sync and supported. A simple shout, "I go ball!" with others on the team energetically and emphatically showing commitment to hunt the ball as a pack will force most teams in possession to rush decisions and ultimately make mistakes. 

Vocalization from the player pressuring the ball and others around him/her creates uneasiness amongst players in possession at most skill levels. World class players are world class because their high-level composure isn't dictated or phased by the energy or commitment of defenders. At the youth level, however, this proactive energy is often more than enough to shake even the most talented players because composure combined with a high-level technique in tight spaces is often one of the last things to develop in young players. 

Most youth teams don't yet understand that they can, more often than not, dictate what the attacking team can and can't do with the ball (and when they can do it). What we often see is one player press the ball, then another arrives after the next pass and then another... passivelly shadowing the movements of the attackers. This is NOT applying true pressure. 

Applying pressure to the ball should do at least one, if not ALL of these things: 

-Make the action of the player on the ball predictable.

-Rush the player on the ball to make a rushed decision and/or mistake.

-Dictate where the team in possession can/can't play the ball. 

-Force the play backwards or better yet, create a turnover. 

-Disrupt the tempo and speed of play of the team in possession. 

Footy Tip: Coach your players to take initiative and pick the RIGHT moments to pressure the ball. Anticipate the moments to put pressure on the ball and think about not letting the team in possession get comfortable and find a rhythm. Pep Guardiola, for instance, wanted his Barcelona team to win the ball back within 6 seconds of losing it. This is a simple yet effective reminder to players to immediately apply pressure on the ball after losing it and for the team to collectively hunt as a group to get it back. Even the best teams in the world had a difficult time getting comfortable on the ball against Barcelona because of the sheer commitment and energy level from all the players to win the ball back in a high-tempo, organized fashion. 

Have a purpose and take action. Get on the front foot and dictate the actions of the opposing team when they are in possession. Remember that the team you are playing is simply borrowing the ball from you when they have it and it is your job to get it back as quickly and swiftly as possible. 

Influence The Game