By Tim Bradbury
Director of Coaching, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association

A wonderfully strange holiday period has been made such by the fact that we are, for the first time, watching a winter World Cup.

No one is quite sure how Qatar got to host or how it got the permission to interrupt professional leagues all over the world. Some of which, like the EPL, have never had a winter break.

FIFA claimed to make the decision based on a philosophy of growing the game and taking the world’s game to new areas. The decision to allow them to host has quite rightly been questioned based on the atrocities associated with slave-like conditions for the thousands of immigrant workers who built the stadium.

The pure soccer piece promised to present many dilemmas for coaches and players alike. How would the heat, humidity and air-conditioned stadiums impact the players? How would the fact that many of the elite players joining their national teams with little or no rest coming directly from league play impact their team’s performance and results? How would teams attempt to deal with having some very tired players in their squads – would more teams drop deep to defend and look to save energy to construct a counterattacking approach?

Would more coaches look to truly use a squad of players more than the idea of a core 11? What would the aftermath be to the players in teams going deep into the event when they returned to play in their competitive club teams? The questions and intrigue were widely discussed.

Now on Dec. 7, some of the questions seem to have been answered. We have seen more shock results than ever. The likes of Germany and Belgium have already been sent home. Our men’s national team managed to get to the Round of 16 and lost 3-1 to the Netherlands. Surrounding any World Cup exit is always a gruesome postmortem and although questions over tactical awareness are being asked, the genuine promise and potential of the group should be cause to celebrate. The quarterfinal games scheduled to start this weekend promise to be real treat.

One of the most enjoyable and frustrating things as a youth coach and soccer educator is after every World Cup, trying to figure out how take the results, the performances and the masses of technical reports produced and become a more effective coach. It really is one enormous conundrum. I am sure by the time we get to the end of the event and have a freshly crowned World Cup winning squad, more and more reports will be available and perhaps I will share them in some future blog.

For now, I offer the following skill acquisition points for youth coaches to ponder over:

1. The three types of first touch – preparation, beat immediate pressure and a touch that protects it are key fundamental skills

2. The ability to play back to pressure, know when to receive on the half turn and penetrate with a dribble or a pass is a vital skill for any high-level player

3. Scanning and gazing, the two crucial skills that help players pick up key visual signals should be taught frequently and to all players

4. The ability to deliver a quality pass from a wide area and pick out the attacker in space while running at speed is becoming a rare skill

Best wishes to all coaches, referees, parents and players this holiday season and enjoy the remaining games.