Some coaches frown upon the idea of using neutral players in practice sessions. Personally I believe that this is a ridiculous thought. Neutral players can be a highly effective way to add more punch to your practice sessions.
If you are looking to coach your players to play attacking, dynamic soccer then you need to have plenty of activities that involve neutrals. Neutral players give the attacking team a numbers up advantage.Having a player who is always unmarked trains your team to look for the open man. Your best opportunities for scoring occur when you can get into 2v1 and 3v1 situations. Playing with a neutral player helps your team to recognize these chances more readily as they will appear frequently in your sessions.
In addition to these benefits, neutral players help to facilitate possession. As your team reaches the U14 age group, it is critical that they learn to be patient and maintain possession for prolonged periods of time. Neutral players allow this to happen more easily.
There are positives for your team as it relates to defense as well. Because numbers up situations for the offense create more scoring chances, it is important that your players learn to defend when they are numbers down. Principles of support and contain have to come into play with neutral attackers on the field.
Because there is always an open player, your team can easily transition from defending to attacking. It is critical that your players be able to flip the switch on both sides of the ball. With a neutral player, transition will happen very quickly.
It is a good idea to rotate players through the neutral role. This will allow strikers, midfielders and defenders to all have a feel for what it is like to be the playmaker. If you have a player that is naturally lazy and doesn’t exert much effort toward defending, it is not a good idea to use him/her as the neutral player. This will just reinforce the bad habit. It is best to pick players that are natural hustlers already for this role.
Using a neutral player also solves a common issue that coaches run into where they have an odd number of players. Rather than unbalance one team by always having them be a man up, you can have one of the players be a neutral.
If you have even numbers, you as the coach can serve as the neutral. There are a couple of things to keep in mind if you do this. First, make sure that you have the skill and fitness to hang with the level of play. You will quickly lose the respect of your team if you give the ball away the first three times you touch it.
Second, you should be a facilitator of the game, not the focus. With younger players they will often try to just get the ball to you as they think it will please you. Encourage them to make the right pass, not just get it to you all the time.
Adding a neutral (or plus one) forces your players to execute on both sides of the ball in your soccer practice drills.
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