Archive for the ‘ball control’ Category

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.)

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Improving Throw-ins: Hit the Feet (part 3 of 4)

January 4, 2010

This is the third in a series of posts that discusses how to improve throw-ins. The first two throw-in posts covered checking in and throwing in to all areas of the field (all 180 choices).

You often hear coaches telling their players to pass the ball on the ground. This is great advice. After all, it is easier to control a rolling ball than a bouncing ball. But what should a coach tell the player who is throwing in the ball from a throw-in? Rolling the ball is not permissible and passing the ball on the ground is impossible given the angle from which the ball is thrown. But if a coach were to instead instruct a player to pass the ball to a player’s feet, this instruction could apply to a throw-in as well.

There are times when it is not doable or desirable to throw in a ball at a player’s feet. Some examples would be when:

  • You want a field player to flick the ball with his/her head.
  • Throwing the ball into an open space.
  • Throwing a long distance throw to an approaching player.

But for the most part, the player taking the throw-in should always aim for a player’s feet. Ideally the ball will land directly at the player’s feet. But as you can see in the photos below, there is some leeway. The ball can be thrown as high as the knees (transparent blue area) and up to a few feet in front of the player (transparent red area). If the ball is not directly at the player’s feet, it is expected that the receiver will make the necessary adjustments.

There are many advantages to throwing the ball to a player’s feet.

  • It is easier to control the ball. Players are used to and more comfortable controlling the ball with their feet when the ball is on or near the ground.
  • A player has the best control stopping the ball with his/her feet.
  • A player has more options for a next move when the ball is controlled with the feet. For example, receiver of the throw-in can:
    • Pass back to the thrower.
    • Pass to another teammate.
    • Control and turn.
    • Beating a defender with a quick move.

Throwing the ball accurately is much easier said than done. Most throwers are conditioned to throw the ball down the wing as hard as he/she can. Now when a player is running at them, it becomes a challenge to time the throw with the player checking in. What also tends to happen is when a thrower tries to take a little pace off the throw-in, the throw-in technique changes enough (i.e., the ball is not placed behind the head) to result in a foul throw-in.

If you read my other throw-in posts, I’m not a big fan of working on throw-ins during practice. This is in large part the result of seeing many coaches spending too much time on throw-ins. However, I am a fan of making sure that the game of soccer is played and taught properly. I also believe that when a team is in possession of the ball, they should take advantage of the situation and not just give the ball away.

With that in mind, the following exercise will help players develop more accurate throw-ins and also reinforce the act of checking-in.

  1. Team up players in pairs.
  2. To warm up, have the two players stand 5 yards apart. Have them throw the ball back and forth to one another (Scenario A) using proper throw-in technique.
  3. Next, have them move 10 yards apart. Have the receiver break toward the thrower (Scenario B). The goal is for the thrower to time the run and throw the ball at the advancing player’s feet. Have the receiver control the ball, pass it back, and then return to the 10-yard spot. Repeat this 5 times and then switch the thrower and receiver.
  4. Repeat this same exercise at 15-yards apart (Scenario C) and 20-yards apart (Scenario D).

During the exercise, make sure that:

  • Good throw-in technique is used (hands behind the head and both feet on the ground).
  • The players make eye contact with one another and the receiver calls for the ball.
  • The ball lands at the receiver’s feet or within the designated area.
  • The receiver controls the ball properly.
  • The receiver breaks away quickly from the imaginary defender.
  • The receiver passes the ball accurately and with the correct pace back to the thrower.
  • The receiver returns quickly to the prescribed starting spot and repeats the check-in (this is a great conditioning exercise for the receiver).

Remember that the player receiving the throw-in does not always have to pass the ball back to the thrower. When the ball is passed back, I often see the thrower simply kick the ball up-field without much thought. In my opinion, this action is just as bad as throwing the ball down the wing. The player receiving the throw-in should always be aware of the defender’s and his/her teammate’s positioning. Based on this information, the receiving player has many options after controlling the ball. Make sure towork on these options and incorporate them into the exercise above.

2-3 Goal Difference Per Game: Never Let the Ball Hit the Ground

September 21, 2009

As a referee, I have had the opportunity to see many age groups and different calibers of players. I am always surprised at the number of players, even high school players, who don’t have the ability or the confidence to controlĀ  the ball out of the air. This is most evident when a goalie punts the ball but it happens on corners, free kicks, goal kicks, or anytime the ball is kicked high in the air.

I equate being able to control a soccer ball out of the air to catching a pop-up in baseball. At first, catching a baseball is very intimidating. The ball is hard, the ball is hit high, and if a player miscalculates a catch, it could cause a serious injury. I know I was scared to death when I was first asked to catch a pop-up. But at least in baseball, there is a glove you can use. In soccer, there is no glove.

The problem with letting the ball hit the ground in soccer is that at that point, it is anyone’s ball. Usually it will be the faster, more aggressive player who gets to it first. If that is your player, great. If not, you will find yourself in a heap of trouble more than you would like. Also when the ball is punted by the opposing goalie, the ball is heading toward your goal. If the ball bounces several times before it is controlled, it will be dangerously close to your goal.

These particular ‘2-3 goal difference per game’ postings are not meant to get into techniques and mechanics. That will be done in other postings. However, regarding the earlier statement that there is no glove in soccer, that is not entirely correct. The fact is there are two gloves–a right and left foot. It is just a matter of learning how to catch and control the high balls. When a player feels confident controlling high balls, the goal should be, “Never Let the Ball Hit the Ground!”

Offensive Counter

As a youngster, I made my living knowing that most defenders would not be able to control the high kicks. Therefore, once a ball was punted or kicked by a teammate and I knew I was not going to be able to control it, I would simply anticipate the defenders missing the ball. When they did, I would be well on my way toward the opponent’s goal. Even after college, this strategy worked very well, although the defenders would miss these balls much lest frequently.

Headers!

It is worth mentioning about headers. I’m not a big fan of headers, especially with young players. First of all, the spot on the head that should be making contact with the ball is actually the forehead. Now imagine the thoughts that must be going through a young player’s head when the coach tells him what part of the head should be used. “But coach, the ball is going to hit me in my nose!” is a common response (and often it does). I would be scared too. So for a long time, young players will hit the ball with the top of the head which is not the part of the head they should be using.

As coaches, I would make sure to teach your players the proper heading mechanics but greatly discourage them from using their heads, especially on high punts or kicks. Tell them to use their ‘gloves’ instead.

2-3 Goal Difference Per Game: Bombs Away

September 3, 2009

At the youth level, most players have a really tough time controlling the ball out of the air, especially when the ball descends from great heights such as a goalie punt. Many players are scared and I don’t blame them. Players are often taught is to head these balls. That is the worst thing a player could do for several reasons:

  • Soccer balls may not be properly inflated. Over-inflated and under-inflated balls can really hurt when they are not headed properly. Over time, who knows what long-term damage could result.
  • While coaches probably teach their players the correct way to head a ball–always using the forehead and not the top of the head–rarely do players practice heading extremely high balls. Usually any game-simulated heading exercises come from corners or free kicks where the trajectory of the ball is not nearly as steep.
  • Players rarely have any control of where the ball ends up after heading the ball.
  • High balls are very difficult to judge. For an outfielder in baseball, it takes many years to learn the fundamentals of catching a routine pop-up. Same thing in soccer with high balls.

Since many coaches don’t practice controlling high balls, the offensive team should take full advantage of this, especially when going with the wind. This is how to do it.

  • Have your goalie punt the ball as high as possible straight down the middle of the field. The higher the kick, the more the wind will carry the ball.
  • At least one forward should always assume that the defense is going to miss the ball. This happens more often than not in youth soccer. Playing the miss will result in many one-on-ones with the goalie.
  • Consider putting in the goal the player who has the strongest leg but who may not necessarily be your best goalie especially when down a few goals and when going with the wind. With the wind to the goalie’s back, you will be able to take advantage of her long punts.

Defensive Strategy

This is very easy to defend against:

  • After seeing that the long, high punts are a problem, have your last one or two defenders play further back than usual. It is always better if the first bounce is in front of the defender, not in back.
  • By playing a defender back, it will be easier for her to run up on the ball, if necessary, to control it.
  • Controlling these types of kicks should be done with the feet, not the head or even the chest. If properly taught, it is very easy to control the ball with the feet even from great heights. It is just a matter of practice.