Stop Going Wide All The Time

One of the most typical ideas whenever teams are in possession, is to go wide.

“Play the ball wide!”

Watch any random game, and you’ll see players playing it out wide almost every time they receive the ball.  It’s been ingrained in us that going wide is a good thing.  Just like crossing the ball as often as possible is a good thing.

Of course, before you pull out your pitch-fork and start brandishing your knives, take a second to understand that I’m NOT saying it’s always bad to go wide… Rather, that the idea of going wide at all times without thought as to when, or why we go wide is bad…  And if you can’t handle that truth, then go waste someone else’s time.  I’m not interested in trying to teach people who fight anything that goes against their “norm.”

Take a gant at the picture below.

You’ll see how the team in possession has gone wide almost from the very beginning of build up.  Look closer, and you’ll notice that there really is no reason to go wide at that point in time.  Why?

Cause you’ll see that the team defending is NOT even forcing the team in possession to go wide.  There’s actually tons of space up the middle (the most valuable real estate on the field), yet, because of the ingrained thought in their brains that going wide is always good, and the fact their coach hasn’t taught them better, the team is going wide just cause “that’s what you do.”

What would have been better in this scenario?

How about penetrating lines through the middle first?

You’ll notice that there was space to be had up the middle.  Most good professional teams these days have understood that the middle of the park is the most valuable area of the field, and as such, they organize their defenses to take away this part of the field when they are defending. (I say this to simply further nail home the point that the middle of the field is what is most valued among good team’s.)

But let’s back-track for a second here.  It’s obviously not the player’s fault.  It’s the coach’s fault for not correcting this.  Players naturally assume it’s a good thing to always go wide if the option is there.

I mean why not?

That’s where the space is right?

That’s what is taught: “Going wide is good.”

Again, not necessarily.  Often, the space is actually up the middle.  It just depends on A: How good the other team is at defending, and B: whether they are intentionally taking away the middle or not.

Let’s analyze it for a second;

The issue isn’t going wide, it’s that nobody is taught when to go wide, why go wide, or where the most valuable parts of the field are.  If we just go wide like in the picture below:

you’ll notice that, the team in possession hasn’t penetrated the other team’s lines at all before going wide.  In fact, the player receiving the pass has his/her back against the sideline AND is deep in their own end, thus making it very hard to play out of.

Whereas, if they had looked to take advantage of the space up the middle, they could have penetrated the other team’s lines, AND THEN gone wide.  At this point, by going wide you would be putting the other team under way more pressure then if you would have gone wide simply at the beginning stages of build up.  Now, by going up the middle first, your wide players will have more space (due to the other team defending in the middle due to you playing the ball there), and will be able to inflict way more damage potentially.

Now, the skeptic will say that the inverse is true.  The inverse being that by going wide, you then create space in the middle.  And they are not wrong.  Often times you have to go wide to create space in the middle.  And this is completely fine. But many many teams who go wide at any chance aren’t doing this in order to create space in the middle, they’re simply doing it because they believe going wide at any opportunity is good.  And this is wrong.

Furthermore, going wide during the beginning stages of build up, is strategically one of the worst areas to play out of.  Many good pressing teams want you to go wide during early build up because they know they can get you there.

Just remember this: If you go up the middle during build up (if possible), you then have the option of going up the middle again (penetrating pass) to get to the net, you have the option of going to the right side, and you have the option of going to the left side.  This is a lot of good options. And having these kinds of options is what an offense wants while a defense tries everything to take away those options.  BUT… By going wide during build-up, you’re immediately left with tight angles and your back against a sideline which is often referred to as “another defender.”

Notice how the full back receiving the ball is about to be in a whole heck of a lot of trouble.  He/she will not have good angles to play out of.  This is where teams commonly lose possession.

However, if you can get it wide AFTER going up the middle, you’re still against the sideline with not as good of angles, but, you’re also within close distance of the other team’s net and can get there within a couple passes.  And even more importantly, the act of going up the middle will have attracted defenders which leaves more space out wide.  Whereas, if you go wide immediately during build up, there won’t be much space due to not drawing pressure away from the sidelines first.

Notice how first playing through the middle invited pressure from the reds thus opening up the sides?

Just remember this: take the middle whenever you can.  And learn how to manipulate the other team in order to create space in the middle.  By going wide too quickly when in possession, you become predictable.  Try to go wide AFTER inviting pressure to the middle.  Then you’ll have space out wide.

But what happens when you go up the middle and you still have space to continue going up the middle?

Then by all means go up the middle.  The middle is and forever will be more valuable than going wide.  Going wide is just a means to ultimately come back into the middle.  Never forget that.  ALL goals at some point or another have to come back to the middle before going into the net.

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