The Finishing Mentality in Youth Soccer

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Finishing in the game of soccer is a string of a complex series of actions and thoughts that end with a net rattle. The finishing mentality follows a flow, from the goalkeeper and defenders through the midfield, to the player taking the shot. Each player in the chain processes a three-part Do loop over and over again in the course of a single attack. As coaches and parents, we can strengthen our player's ability to process the game and bring an effective finishing mentality to the game.

The Finishing Mentality Extends Well Beyond the Opponent's Third

Soccer players show a finishing mentality as they plough through the mud and rain to compete in the final games of the Pee Wee League Saturday. Children interested in playing Youth Sports basketball can now register at the Youth Center.

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Danielle Johnson)

Some might say that a good finish starts in the back field. In the context of game day, I would agree with this. A good finish is a flow that's built up from the back field - payers reading cues in their environment, making decisions about those cues, and acting on them based on how they interpret those cues and how they judge their own abilities.  

I would take it one step further back from the game day field though and say that a good finishing mentality starts well before game day. It's something that is made of interpretation skills, confidence (or lack of confidence), and abilities as developed in family and player units both on the pitch and off. 

Every player carries whatever they have with them - both good and bad - into a game. If they believe it's okay to make mistakes, to be the person who doesn't score, and that they can be creative without judgment in front of their family and friends, they are much more likely to to the right thing or attempt seemingly impossible acts of creativity and courage. If, on the other hand, they are judged as not being worthy unless they sink an asteroid ball into the back of the net, dribble through 5 defenders, or take an over-the-head bicycle kick shot into the upper corner off the cross bar, they're not likely to rise to the occasion. 

What we do and say in practice, how players interact with one another and come to learn one another's cues, and what we say to players at home - they all make a difference when it comes to that game day shot on goal. Get the first part right, and kids can be kids. Get it wrong and they can choke on pressure or fail to find their own confidence. 

The Finishing Mentality is About More than Kicking a Ball in the Net

A great finishing play requires a string of thoughts and activities pulled together in concert. Capturing the ball, supporting ball movement, re-capturing the ball, timing pressure and runs, creating space for teammates to run the ball through - all of it is part of the finishing play. Every player - on the ball or off the ball - is contributing in some way to a good finish or a miss

Assuming you accept this to be true, the question becomes: what can we do before game day to support the finishing mentality? It's not all on the coach, on the player, or on the parents. It's on all of us in the player's ecosystem. Think I'm zooming out too far? Consider how a player might play in light of a recent family crisis. Don't think coaches notice that stuff? Of COURSE we do.

Finishing also includes reading cues from the environment, interpreting and making decisions about those cues, and acting on those cues in a way that either contributes to the finish or detracts from it. Teaching players to read cues, to make good decisions, and to frame the context of their actions is something that takes time and practice. It also takes support from home. 

A Lesson from EVOC Class

EVOC stands for Emergency Vehicle Operator's Course. I used to teach this to police, fire fighters and EMS personnel when I was int he military. It may seem like an odd thing to talk about in the context of a finishing play in soccer, but it has relevance. 

While teaching professionals how to drive in high pressure / high adrenaline environments, collision avoidance is a big deal. We don't want to hit anything or anyone in front of an emergency vehicle while it's driving over the speed limit and violating traffic rules. Drivers need extra training in handling and performance as well as how to direct their vehicle out of danger when it appears. 

The body goes where the eyes go. We taught this in EVOC and we learned it in motorcycle safety. If an obstacle suddenly appears in front of you and you fixate on that object, you're more likely to hit it than if you fixate on the space to the left or right of it. Look to the space and your body is more likely to go to space. Look at an obstacle and your body is more likely to go into that obstacle. 

In the context of soccer, the goalkeeper is the obstacle. Fixate on the keeper and a player is likely to kick the ball right at the keeper. Fixate instead on an empty net to the right or left of a keeper, and the ball is more likely to go into the net. Makes sense, right? It's human nature. 

In Summary

The training environment at home and on the pitch needs to be supportive of player confidence, player decision making, and player action. It needs to be forgiving (welcoming even) of mistakes, of failures to score, and it needs to be ready to celebrate wins and good decisions - regardless of the outcome.

Players who become too focused on the image they think others will have of them when they score will miss out of valuable opportunities to actually score.

Remember that the finishing play starts in the back of the field. The finishing mentality starts before a player even takes the field. Players who work together, read each other's cues, anticipate the run of play, and act to support one another in movement of the ball are going to give themselves finishing opportunities. Players who don't come to practice, don't become familiar with their team mates cues, and don't exercise their decision making abilities before the game are not likely to be effective on the field on game day.

Giving players a chance to develop the right level of fitness, mental skills, and allowing them to be confident in their own head space is something we all - coaches and parents alike, can contribute to.

Good finishes start well in advance of the actual shot on goal and fortunately, there is a lot we can do to make archiving our player's goals possible. 


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The Soccer Sidelines

Soccer Dad, Coach, and Club President who is devoted to developing kids and their families. With a diverse background in leadership in other settings, David is focused on empowering parents, players, and coaches to focus on the stuff that really matters in youth sports.