Archive for the ‘loopball’ Category

2010 Soccer MVP: Inside-of-the-Foot … Structure

February 8, 2010

Author’s Note: This post is one in a series of posts that breaks down the 2010 Soccer MVP Tournament competition. Be sure to look at the final results to review how ‘Inside’ was crowned champion.

The first discipline that the four main parts-of-the-feet were evaluated on was its structure. Specifically I looked at the flatness of the surface as well as the forgiveness level. The forgiveness level is how forgiving a surface is when the ball does not make contact with each surfaces’ respective sweet spots when trying to receive, pass, or shoot the ball. ‘Bottom’ was crowned the ‘Structure’ winner with ‘Inside’ coming in a close second (see table below).

Flatness

Imagine playing billiards with cushions (bumpers) that were not flat/straight. You would have little idea how the balls would ricochet off the cushions.  However, since they are straight, you will always know how a ball will behave coming off a bumper (unless the ball has spin or English on it).

The same principle carries over to soccer. The flatter the surface, the easier it is to control a soccer ball. A flat surface eliminates a lot of unpredictability in terms of how a ball will respond when it is received, passed, or shot.

With that in mind, ‘Bottom’ won the ‘Flatness’ secondary discipline, ‘Inside’ and ‘Laces’ tied for second, and ‘Outside’ came in last (for this discipline, I measured flatness of the foot with the shoe on.)

  • Despite the studs/cleats, the undercarriage of a shoe is flat across the entire length of the shoe (represented by the lime green line in image ‘A’).
  • The flat surface of the inside-of-the-foot extends the full length of the foot’s arch, from the ball of the foot in front to the heel in back (represented by the blue lines in images ‘A’ and ‘B’). Note that this surface is slightly concave (it is more pronounced in image ‘A’). As it turns out, a concave structure has a significant advantage in controlling a soccer ball. Concave shapes have a way of drawing a ball in for better control. Some examples of concave shapes that are very effective are the position of a football receiver’s or soccer goalie’s hands when catching or receiving a ball. The shape of a baseball glove is also concave. In my Loopball curriculum, I like to refer to the inside-of-the-foot as a glove, especially with younger players.
  • The top-of-the-foot is also relatively flat. While it appears to be slightly concave (represented by the purple line in image ‘C’), the top of the bare foot is relatively flat). ‘Inside’ and Laces’ tied for second because ‘Inside’ had a slightly longer surface area but ‘Laces’ was straighter.

  • The opposite is true for ‘Outside’. Its shape is more convex (as shown by the yellow lines in images ‘A’ and ‘B’). This makes controlling a ball much more difficult.

Forgiveness

Everyone has heard of hand-eye coordination. A vast majority of sports as well as simple daily activities require and develop this coordination. Soccer, on the other hand, requires good eye-foot coordination. Since this is a skill that is extremely difficult to develop and there is not much opportunity to develop this skill other than on a soccer field, there is much value when a surface has a lot natural ‘forgiveness’ built into its structure. Each foot surface has a natural sweet spot. I measured forgiveness by the additional area around the sweet spot where ball control can still be achieved with some degree of success.

In this discipline, ‘Bottom’ and ‘Inside’ tied for first. ‘Laces’ came in a respectable third and ‘Outside’ a distant fourth.

  • The sweet spot for the bottom-of-the-foot is in the front-center portion of the foot (dark red spot in ‘image ‘A’). Its forgiveness area radiates out to the edges of the foot and down to the heel (red transparent area in image ‘A’).
  • There is a protrusion of the talus (ankle) bone near the top of the arch (red spot in image ‘C’). That is the main sweet spot for the inside-of-the-foot (red transparent area in image ‘C’). The forgiveness area is not quite as large as the bottom area. However, ‘Inside’ has a secondary sweet in the front of the foot (smaller red spot in image ‘C’). This spot is namely used for passing or shooting the ball with a curve (like ‘Bend It Like Beckham’). By virtue of this second sweet spot, ‘Inside’ earned a tie for first place.
  • ‘Laces’ has a great sweet spot (red spot in image ‘B’) but its area of forgiveness is smaller.
  • The sweet spot for ‘Outside’ (red spot in image ‘D’ below) is in the front of the foot. The area of forgiveness is the smallest of all the surfaces.

Conclusion

The ‘Structure’ competition was close but ‘Bottom’ pulled out a narrow victory.

The other disciplines evaluated in this competition were: receiving, dribbling, passing, shooting, popularity among professionals, and ease of learning.

2010 Soccer MVP: Inside-of-the-Foot

February 3, 2010

In the first annual Soccer MVP (most valuable part) Tournament, I am pleased to announce that the winner is … (drum roll please) … the INSIDE-OF-THE-FOOT (cheers and confetti please). The contest was not even close. ‘Inside’ won in a landslide.

The contestants for the inaugural tournament were:

  • Head
  • Chest
  • Thighs
  • The six surfaces of the foot

The head, chest, and thighs failed to make the finals. Many argued that ‘Head’, and more specifically the brain, should remain in the tournament because of its overall important function. However, when analyzing the head from a purely soccer standpoint, it along with ‘Chest’ and ‘Thighs’ were determined to play only a limited role in soccer. The same fate befell ‘Toe’ and ‘Heel’. While those parts of the foot are used on occasion, they are not used enough to be considered a potential MVP.

That left the following parts to battle it out for top prize:

  • Inside-of-the-foot (Inside)
  • Top-of-the-foot (Laces)
  • Outside-of-the-foot (Outside)
  • Bottom-of-the-foot (Bottom)

These parts were judged on the following 13 main and secondary disciplines:

Of these disciplines, ‘Inside’ was the clear winner with nine 1st-place finishes (see yellow cells in the table below). ‘Laces’ was declared the runner with its two 1st-place finishes even though ‘Bottom’ finished with three 1st-place finishes. In fact, ‘Bottom’ was relegated to last place because of its tournament-leading eight last-place finishes.

Follow-up posts will go into more detail in terms of how each discipline was played out. But based on the results, there are two points I would like to make now.

  • ‘Inside’ won all but two of the disciplines. Yet in many youth practices that I have observed and the many training DVDs I have watched, not enough emphasis is placed on this part of the foot. If soccer is to improve in the United States, our young players need to learn the importance of and be taught how to properly use the inside-of-the-foot.
  • Unless a player is abnormally bow-legged, learning to use the inside-of-the-foot is not easy or natural. It takes a tremendous amount of time, effort, and energy for a player just to feel comfortable using this part of the foot. The longer a youth player goes without learning how to use the inside-of-the-foot, the less likely he/she will be able to reach his/her full soccer-playing potential. Loopball is a great way to introduce and teach the importance of the inside-of-the-foot.

This will be the first of what I hope will be many MVP tournaments. In order to make next year’s event even better, I welcome all comments and feedback.

Author’s note: What do you call this part of the foot? Please vote.

Do Turf Soccer Fields Perpetuate Poor Soccer?

January 25, 2010

I remember the first time I ever touched a turf field. My first reaction was how incredibly soft it was. My next reaction was where was this technology 20 years ago when I missed two field goals against the University of Pennsylvania because I could not get ‘under the ball enough’ on the old artificial field? (Brown lost the game 17-14 and I lost my starting position … but really, I’m over it.)

In all seriousness though, despite some of its disadvantages (turf fields can get extremely hot and I hate seeing rubber pellets in someone’s open scab … that can’t be healthy), I think the modern turf fields are fantastic.

However, watching my daughter’s team play an away game on grass (her home field is turf) got me thinking. Are turf fields perhaps doing the sport of soccer a disservice? I know many people, especially soccer purists, would agree with me wholeheartedly (most likely though not for the same reason).

If you have visited my blog or have seen or used my soccer training device called Loopball, you know I am obsessed with ball control and the first-touch, specifically with the inside-of-the-foot. I believe that poor ball control and poor first-touches is the United States’ #1 problem in youth soccer today. Among other things, it results in a much more physical game as is evident in most high school and college games.

Where the turf fields may be doing soccer a disservice is that it may take the challenge out of learning how to receive the ball with the inside-of-the-foot. On turf fields, balls kicked on the ground always roll true. There will never be any unexpected bounces or blips. When the ball is kicked in the air and bounces, unless there is some weird spin on the ball, a player will always know how the ball will rebound off the turf. Essentially, turf fields make it easier to receive and control the ball. My concern is that since it is easier to learn to receive the ball, players and coaches will not spend the necessary time needed to become comfortable with this skill.

This is not a problem on natural grass fields (unless players should be lucky enough to have access to a professional team’s field). On grass fields, players are forced to learn and prepare for the unexpected bounces. As a result, they must spend more time on developing this skill and in all likelihood, will have a better first-touch.

What players and coaches don’t realize is that the skill of receiving a ball can never be mastered. Professional players work on ball control and the first-touch all the time. With the ever-increasing popularity of turf fields, I just hope that players and coaches realize that while it may be easier to control the ball on turf, this skill still needs to be worked on continuously, preferably on grass and preferably on a field that is not in pristine shape.

(Did I mention that the 8-hour bus ride back to school seemed like 8 days and that that loss probably cost us a shot at the Ivy League title … but really, I’ve gotten over it.)

Adopt-a-High-School-Soccer-Player Program

January 11, 2010

Parents, who would you rather have train your child’s U8 soccer team? A 40-year-old ex-professional soccer player (I wish that were me) or a Senior from the local high school soccer team? While you are thinking about your answer (do you really need to think about this one), who do you think your 7-year-old child would want to be trained by?

Ten years ago if you had asked me that question, I would have asked if you were serious about giving me a choice. Without a doubt I would have insisted on the ex-professional. Who in their right mind would turn down such on offer? Today, and still in my right mind (I think), I would side with the kids and insist on the Senior high school soccer player.

The biggest reason for this change of heart is that I have learned over the years that soccer, especially at this age, is all about having fun and instilling in these kids the love of the game. While the 40-year-old ex-professional would be able to teach a child to become a better soccer player, I’m pretty sure the kids would have more fun with the high school soccer player.

I used high school players to help me with my Loopball training program. I will be the first admit that I had my challenges. But the challenges were mostly brought about by my high expectations and a curriculum that was a bit too rigid and heavy on the teaching side. But if you look at the photo on the home page of Loopball, those players will remember the young woman long after they remember me.

While there are definite challenges to having a high school soccer player play an integral role on a youth soccer team, I strongly believe that the benefits far outweigh the challenges. If done well, I believe the ‘Adopt-a-High-School-Soccer-Player’ program can be a win-win-win-win-win-win situation for all involved.

Winner #1: Youth Soccer Player

Youth players will relate much better to the high school soccer player. They are closer in age. The youth players look more like the high schooler than the 40-year-old. This player also remembers what she did not like about her youth soccer coach and what in her mind would be a fun practice. Also it is one less adult figure who is telling them what to do. After all, haven’t you and their elementary school teacher already done enough instructing and teaching for one today. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz got it right. After a while, everything coming out of adult mouths is gibberish.

Winner #2: High School Student-Players

What an excellent opportunity for a student-player to experience what it is like to coach/teach young children in a discipline they enjoy. With proper guidance and mentoring, they will have a chance to make a real and memorable difference in these youngsters’ lives. Coaching experience is excellent to have on a resume and looks great on college applications. Who knows, maybe this will inspire some high school student-player to become a teacher.

Winner #3: High School Soccer Program

Assuming a strong bond is made between the high school player and most of her youth players, I’m pretty sure that many of the players will insist they go watch at least one of Sally’s games (at least where I live this would boost attendance quite a bit). If permitted, the high school would also have an unlimited number of ball-boys and ball-girls available for home games.

Winner #4: Adult Coaches

While a coach may be responsible for the well-being and care of another player, the practices should become much easier. Also, given that many coaches have never played soccer, the adult coach will learn a lot about soccer from the high school player. The only thing a coach may have a hard time dealing with is the bruised ego when the players ask, “Where is Sally!?” when she has too much school work or, “Why can’t you be more like Sally?”

Winner #5: Youth Soccer League or Club

If done properly, the League should have many more returning youth players year after year because of the fun factor. The League should also be able to attract more coaches since the workload will be easier and the excuse of not having any soccer experience will no longer work. Because the young players are having fun, I believe more of them will stick with soccer longer and therefore, become better soccer players.

As far as the 40-year old ex-professional goes, have him/her coach an older competitive team. That will also be a win-win situation.

Loopball™: Soccer Training Device that Works

December 26, 2009

As a youth soccer coach, my biggest surprise and a source of continuous frustration was the poor ball control (and poor first-touch) exhibited not just by my players but by nearly all players who I saw play. I remember thinking that this must just be a youth problem. As these player got older, they would certainly develop this skill, right? Much to my surprise, this was not the case. I found that a majority of high school varsity soccer players did not possess this critical and basic fundamental skill.

So I did something about it. I invented and patented a soccer training device called Loopball™. Loopball teaches and reinforces positively the art of stopping (and receiving) a soccer with the inside-of-the-foot. Most importantly,

  • Loopball works!
  • Loopball is FUN to use!

Visit the Loopball website to learn more about it.

There are many ways to improve soccer in the United States and a number of problems that need to be addressed. I am convinced that poor ball and a poor first-touch is the #1 problem in youth soccer today. What needs to happen is:

  • Players need to learn and understand the importance of ball control and the incredible power of the inside-of-the-foot.
  • Coaches and parents need to emphasize and reinforce the importance of ball control.
  • Proper form, mechanics, and technique need to be used and taught to control the ball with the inside-of-the-foot.

The Loopball training device and the companion Loopball curriculum will do this.

Stay tuned for many, many more posts on the subjects of Loopball, ball control, the first-touch, and inside-of-the-foot. Enjoy Loopball!


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.