Three steps Forward, Two Steps Back

A great night of Hammer soccer under the lights of Crocker Amazon last night. There’s something about the light in winter that makes the experience special, maybe it’s the same light of other spectator sports and reminds me of seeing professional teams. Recapping the game with the boys, we decided that we’d played about 25 back-passes and our opponents had played approximately none. We drew 2-2 so it wasn’t a testimonial for either style of play, but feel like the two teams have taken different forks in the road, and that we’ll continue to progress differently over the next 18 months, and I’m happy with our direction.

We are working a lot on possession, keeping the ball by passing it from player to player instead of going straight for goal all the time. Here’s the problem: in soccer after you pass it to an attacker, all his teammates are behind him or sideways. He has to play the ball backwards as part of the possession game and that is a very uncomfortable thing to do. Especially in America.

American Sports don’t tolerate going backwards. In baseball, a player is out if he returns from one base to a previous one. In basketball it’s a foul to go back over mid-court once you move across it. In football, going backwards is frowned upon. When it happens, it’s a usually a disaster. Or the most “amazing, sensational, dramatic, heartrending, exciting, thrilling play” in history. But usually it’s bad.

If all the other mainstream sports frown upon reversing your progress, what about others? Consider cricket, for example. In the diagram, we can see that a batsman can hit the ball in any direction, even “a foul ball behind home plate” is in play.  (From: I wonder whether this opens an athlete’s thinking to other possibilities in soccer. Knowing the English style of play, I would say not.

The S curve

Even if other sports don’t accept the idea of moving back in order to move forward, technology knows it. Sometimes you have to abandon a strategy or technology and change to something new, even if it means a drop-off at first. For example, going from a Walkman to an iPod, or wired to a wireless network:

Everyone was surprised when Tiger Woods stopped playing golf in 2002 in order to change coaches and re-tool his swing. He had to accept poorer results and lose money from the tournaments he wasn’t able to play in. He thought it was worthwhile because he wanted to make an improvement that his old style wasn’t capable of delivering for him. While the verdicts are mixed on how effective it was, the thinking was classic S-curve.

The period of poorer performance that happens while getting accustomed to the new technology, process, or style of play is called “discontinuity.”The critics will have other words for it . It is the darkness before dawn, and coaches have to do a lot of selling to buy enough time for the improvements to arrive. I think the Hammer players are starting to buy in, and their parents seem to be as well. We’re going backward in order to go forward. It takes some guts to try it, but the payoff is big.

To see Arsenal’s indirect style, click here.

Barcelona is leading the world at this. One example is here.

I think the Obama administration understands this as well but W did not. But that’s for another post.

In America, when we want to say that something is not going especially well, we might say “it’s three steps forward, two steps back” to indicate that progress is slow. But it is progress. And to expect to be able to move forward with no slowdowns, reversals or losses is counter to the laws of nature, finance, and systems thinking. As coaches, sport parents and players, our ability to see the long view and to patiently await the buildup is key to creating an environment where creative play can flourish.


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One Response to Three steps Forward, Two Steps Back

  1. Pingback: The Audacity of Hoop | Jim's a keeper

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