The Libre
Many teams have them, the player they call “the one”. The kid, probably on the front, that for one reason or another (athletisism and a deep desire to please his mom’s overly bearing boyfriend, Ricky), knows how to run the ball better than most kids know how to breath or eat with a spoon. When the rest of the team is learning to read and tie their shoe, this kid is perfecting their rainbow or studying advanced offensive set-piece techniques.
I get it.
I was fortunate to have two sons that knew how to score. During their first seasons of rec ball, they would average five goals a game. I saw the frustration on the teams that we encountered. That look of hopelessness. They didn’t know what to do.
Then I became a coach and got to live through the experience myself. It made it even worse that my eight-year-old goal scorer wasn’t able to keep the score competitive during our first three games.
When your go-to guy isn’t performing…
It’s embarrassing.
Super frustrating.
It’s a disorienting occasion. It gives the coach emotional feelings that he hasn’t unpacked since his dog died when he was 13.
In our hometown, the fall season is unforgivable. Every game counts towards who gets into the end of the season championship. One loss could knock your team below the minimum points needed to take home the trophy.
My second season I had a defensively soft team. This brought along some serious soul searching. In the beginning of the season, we had two weeks to prepare the team for a double header against two teams with strong runners that could easily score 16 points on a weak defense. We needed a battle plan. We won one of those games and tied the other. Let’s talk about how we did it.
I used to tell my teams this simple statement, it’s a play on the teaching of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. It’s also more inspiring to say it like Morgan Freeman. Here it is:
“If they can’t score, they can’t win.”
This would eventually become the team strategy of my first U12 team, and would take them to the top three of the 25 team league, even without a strong defense.
So how’d they do it.

It Starts at Practice
Simple problems have simple solutions. Let’s define what a simple problem is:

A problem that can be resolved in one step.
Problem: A team that wins because of one talented goal-scorer.

Step 1: Stop the goal-scorer.
If the other coach has put their hope in a team hero, then your focus should be on the libre (athletically-talented person). Odds are, the team’s other players and parents are relying on this one kid too. You can judge this by how many times you hear this kid’s name chanted, yelled, or screamed during a normal game.
So how do we neutralize this kid?
There’s a few options:

  • Get him addicted to mind altering drugs. (Too illegal)
  • “I’ll break his feaking legs.” (No thanks, cousin Eddie.)
  • Tell him his parents refer to him as a mistake and wish they had never had him.

Good Lord, no. Let’s do something simpler.

Steps to Beating the Runner

What you’ll need: At least one fast runner/dribbler. We used to use our strikers and the neighborhood kids.

Step 1: Line up your team in their standard formation

Step 2. Run the ball handler from one goal to the other against your whole team.
If you have more than one runner to use. As soon as one runner is shut down, start the next one.

Step 3. Rinse and Repeat.
It’s that simple. Strengths are built through repetitions. We ran this drill for multiple practices and made it a focus for at least two. If you can train your team to shut down the super star. Then coaches that rely on this player will be forced to look elsewhere, and sometimes they have nowhere else to go.

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Nate Ballew

Father of four boys, married to one wife, coaching enthusiast, and fiction/non-fiction author.

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