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Young Soccer Players: Forget The Tricks & Flicks!

So many young players these days have a seriously distorted view of how to train for soccer. We are constantly bombarded on social media by eye catching videos showing players doing outrageous flicks over somebody’s head, or the mesmerizing dancing feet of a winger dribbling at a fullback. Few young kids even watch full games anymore, just the highlights. This is where they see players scoring from 25 or 30 yards out, which of course, looks amazing. But it is important to think: what has that same player who scored that wonder goal done for the other 99% of the game?

First of all, almost as a disclaimer: I’m not saying never to practice long range shooting or fancy dribbling moves. It is important to develop all parts of your game, and it is also fun to practice these skills! However, you need to walk before you can run.

Let me explain.

Often as a 1o1 soccer coach when it comes to shooting, players want to start with the 30 yard ‘worldie’ shots. I have no problem with this if the player in question can finish accurately, into the corners, 10 shots out of 10. However, if a player is only hitting the target (not even the corners) maybe 4/5 times out of 10, why would you move onto something more difficult? Similarly, I’m not going to spend a large portion of the session on teaching players to hit a diagonal 40 yard long pass, when they can’t even pass a ball accurately from 10 yards into a mini-goal.

It makes no sense.

If you think of it from a lifting point of view: it would be like taking a gym novice, with poor form, no strength foundations, and asking them to squat 250lbs. Instead, you would make sure their technique and form is correct, and start light and progress.

In a game, you might a diagonal cross field pass, maybe a handful of times at most. However, how many 10 yard passes are you going to make?

That is why for young players, start focusing on the basics. Train the movements and skills you will do most of the time in a game and be consistent. Like I always say to the players I work with, be consistent with the simple things, then have 2-3 special skills that make you stand out from the rest.

6 Tips To Master The Fundamentals

1. Passing

Unless you can pass the ball in soccer, you are not going to get far. And I’m not just talking about 10 yard pass with the inside of your foot. You need to be able to execute a variety of passes such as:

· Inside of your foot

· Outside of your foot

· Driven with the laces

· Long passes

· Short passes

· Curved passes

· All of these with BOTH feet

This is a fantastic quote from soccer coach, Lucien Favre:

“ Whether you are 22 or 30, you can always do something to improve. Can you hit a diagonal 50 yard pass with your weak foot?”

You need to become comfortable with passing a variety of situations. This all comes down to repetition and practicing the skill over and over.

There are no secrets.

2. Control

This is a huge one. You should comfortable controlling the ball with all parts of your body, both stationary and directional. You should be comfortable at not only controlling a ball that has been driven at you 40 yards in the air, but using your first touch to take the ball in the direction you want (if space allows).

Again, control is a fundamental skill of the game that you will do over and over. The way you can tell and great player from an average one is the ease at which they control the ball. For average players, all of their focus goes into controlling the ball. However, great players are so comfortable at controlling the ball, they are already scanning the field and deciding on that next step before they even receive the ball.

How can you improve your control?

A ball and a wall.

Find a wall and get your soccer ball. Just hit the ball against it at different speeds and heights and practice controlling with all parts of your body. Simply does this over and over and over again…

3. Master Turns

Being able to turn effectively with the ball will get you out of trouble in many situations. That is why for younger players, master 3-4 turns that you are comfortable with. Could be a Cruyff Turn, drag back, outside or inside cut, take your pick.

A good turn can open the field up. Imagine a situation whereby you are facing into a crowded area with the ball. If you can do a nice sharp turn away from pressure, this opens up space to pass or dribble into.

Again, this is all about practice, practice, practice!

4. Work On Movement And Being Aware

It is always the small things that make a difference. Such as that little check away from a defender before getting the ball. Or at a corner kick, evading your marker with one or two steps.

Movement is key in soccer. You’ll often hear that soccer is a game of pass and move, and this is true. As a soccer player, you need to get into the habit of moving, and into the right spaces. Look for areas where you can receive the ball. Look for a defender’s blind spot.

Once you work on your movement, then it is about being aware of what is happening around you. As your teammate shapes up to pass you the ball, have a quick scan over your shoulder. In this mental picture, you should note where your teammates are, where the opposition players are, and where the space is. Over time, you will get better at this and it will become second nature.

5. Decision Making

Young players are often indecisive. They second guess when they should tackle, when they should pass, or when they should shoot. Decision making skills are developed from experience and being in different situations. It also comes from watching soccer.

Especially in the United States, kids don’t watch enough soccer. When I work with players 1on1, I ask them if they have a favorite team or a favorite player. More often than not, some players have never even watched a game of soccer before!

By watching games, you see different situations. For example, a player running through on goal at a tight angle has a choice whether to shoot or cut the ball back for a teammate to run onto. If you’ve never seen this situation before, you might think the only option once you are close to goal is to shoot.

For young players: watch more full games. Take note of the decisions players make and try to analyze the best you can. It will make a huge difference to your game!

6. Be Consistent!

Have you ever seen a professional player who appears pretty average? They never do anything spectacular, they are not a physical specimen, and they are rarely in the spotlight. There are thousands of these types of players who have made 10-15 year careers from the game.

How is it that these players have maintained their place as a professional? They are consistent! They have great positioning, rarely misplace a pass, have excellent control, they read the game well, good communication skills, and don’t miss many games due to injury.

To sum them up: they are consistent.

This is the most important thing in soccer. You need to be consistent with the basics, and then have 2-3 things that set you apart from the rest.

Do your job, and do it well, often.

In Conclusion

There you have it. It’s often said that football is a simple game, but it is hard to play simple. Don’t make things more complicated than they are. As a young player, master the basic skills and work on them repeatedly. Practice them so much that there is no doubt in your mind that when it comes to a game situation, you are confident in your ability to execute the simple things under pressure.

Once you truly master the basics, the rest will come.

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