Coaching The Cross

Last week, you put seven kids on the field, and three of them were your most experienced players, but the other team’s demoralizing attack overwhelmed your defense and scored at will. Chances are, the other team was coached to cross the ball to score, and they were coached on how to defeat the cross on the defensive end of the field.

This post covers how to use the flashcards to teach scoring via ‘the cross’, and how to defeat ‘the cross’. There are certainly other winning strategies, but this one is easy to teach and easy to execute.

To begin, your team will need to understand coverage area responsibility. Once everyone understands coverage area responsibility, coaching the cross (attacking with / defending against) is simply a matter of emphasizing the flashcards listed below.

Cross to score: In a competitive 7v7 match, even your strongest players will not be able to drive the ball up the middle and through multiple defenders. Instead, coach your team to score by crossing the ball in front of the opponent’s net. Use the following flashcards to emphasize that your team is a cross-to-score team first, and not a team of superheroes:

  • ATM - Avoid The Middle. When driving the ball toward the opponent’s end of the field, don't play through the middle (that’s where everyone will be). Drive the ball to the corners and cross it!
  • SGS - Superheroes Get Stuffed. Superheroes that try to drive the ball through multiple defenders always get stuffed. Don’t get stuffed. Play to the corners and cross the ball to your teammate.
  • AT! - Attack Together! Don’t be left behind! Every attacker should be moving forward as fast as the attacker with the ball.

As a point of emphasis, I ask the team: “Who’s faster, the player moving the ball up the field, or the player sprinting up the field without the ball?” Kids answer: “The player sprinting up the field.” My response (with a smile): “Then why are you all ten yards behind the player with ball? Attack Together Please!

Defeating the cross: Kids are hardwired to chase the ball (like cats chasing toys); defeating the cross involves deprogramming this behavior. Defenders have to be repeatedly reminded to stay on their side of the field. The Right Defender should NEVER be in the Left Defender’s area of responsibility, and vice-a-versa.

  • PYP - Play Your Position. Don’t run all over the field, you will be exhausted by halftime. Focus on dominating your portion of the field. Don’t be crossing from left to right, or right to left. Stay on your side of the field.
  • DTC - Defeat The Cross. Good teams know how to cross and score. The Left Defender must cover the left side of the box, and the Right Defender must cover the right side of the box. Stay on your side. PYP.

Related notes: Highly skilled players (the best players on the team) will try to play through the middle, they will get stuffed, and they will be reluctant to settle on an assist via a cross...especially when mom or dad is counting goals. Two bits of advice:

  • Inform parents that you are a cross-to-score team first; that playing through the middle, taking too many touches, and getting stuffed is frowned upon.
  • Inform your superstar scorers that if they take turns, work together, and cross-to-score, the Left Wing and the Right Wing will BOTH get a chance to score.

In some game situations (e.g.: when the score is lopsided), give maturing players opportunities to score by instructing advanced players to cross the ball to a maturing player. Coach maturing players to UTF (Use The Force) when receiving a crossing pass.

  • UTF - Use The Force. NO WILD KICKING. Settle, inhale, look, exhale, kick.

Practicing the cross: Use half of a 7v7 field to set up a drill where three attackers (left, center, right) challenge two defenders (left, right) and a goalie.

  • Use cones to divide the field vertically (between left and right).
  • Instruct the defenders to NEVER cross the dividing cone line.
  • Attackers begin at midfield.
  • Instruct the attackers that they can only score on a cross that comes from one side of the box or the other.
  • Set up two cones at midfield that the defenders can use as a small exit goal.
  • Scrimmage until a score, or until the ball goes out of bounds.
  • Cycle attackers and defenders until everyone has played both positions (attacker and defender) at least three times.  
  • Use the flashcards to remind defenders and attackers about key points of play. For example, DDI - Don’t Dive In for defenders.
Bruce Warila