Archive for the ‘MVP’ Category

2010 Soccer MVP: Inside-of-the-Foot … Ease of Learning

March 31, 2010

Author’s Note: This post is the final 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. What do you call this part of the foot? Please vote.

Of the six disciplines tested so far in the MVP (most valuable part) tournament–structure, receiving, dribbling, passing, shooting, popularity among professionals–‘Inside’ won five of them. The only discipline it did not win was the ‘Structure’ competition, although it did come in a close second.

One discipline remains–Easy of Learning. Given its importance, it would be nice if it was easy to learn to use the inside-of-the-foot. Unfortunately, that is not the case. For this discipline, ‘Inside’ tied for last. The winners were the bottom- and top-of-the-foot.

The main reason why ‘Bottom’ and ‘Top’ won this discipline has to do with the way humans walk. Most of us walk with our toes pointing (relatively) straight ahead. Thus, when a ball is passed to a player, it is very natural to simply lift the bottom-of-the-foot off the ground in order to receive it. Equally natural is to use the top-of-the-foot to pass and shoot the ball (although a young player will often use his/her toe when first starting to play soccer).

The story is very different for the insides- or outsides-of-the-feet. The reason once again has to do with the way humans walk. Receiving the ball with the inside-of-the-foot is not natural. To control the ball properly, the receiving foot needs to have the hip turned out slightly, the knee even more, and the ankle turned a full 90-degrees in relation to the ball. To pass or shoot the ball with the inside-of-the-foot is even more uncomfortable and unnatural. I’m guessing a ballerina would have an easy time learning and feeling comfortable using her ‘Inside’ but not a young player. Just like the inter-locking golf grip takes a while to get used to, so too does using the inside-of-the-foot. The same difficulty and uncomfortable feeling exists when using the outside-of-the-foot.

I hope you enjoyed the MVP series. All eight posts are meant to highlight the importance of the inside-of-the-foot in an unusual and hopefully memorable way. The more youth players I see with poor ball control and a weak first-touch, the more convinced I am that …

  • The inability to properly use the inside-of-the-foot, and
  • The lack of attention this part of the foot gets from coaches

… are the two biggest problems in youth soccer today. These issues are preventing players from reaching their full-playing potential.

I’ll conclude the series with one final thought. There is an old Chinese proverb that states, “Easy to Learn, Difficult to Master”. When I first started coaching, I thought I could apply this proverb to describe the process of learning to use the inside-of-the-foot. However, after having coached youth soccer for many years and seeing the difficulty many kids have with the inside-of-the-foot, the following expression is much more appropriate: “Difficult to Learn, Easy to Forget, Impossible to Master.”

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USA vs. Netherlands (1:2) — Statistics Show it Could Have Been Worse

March 4, 2010

I watched the USA vs. Netherlands game today. The U.S. did not do too well (granted several likely World Cup starters did not play and the U.S. was playing the team ranked third in the world). Though the scoring chances did not reflect it, the first half was dominated by the Dutch. Jonathan Bornstein gave up a silly penalty and was lucky not to be called for a second one when he unintentionally handled the ball in the penalty area. The 0-1 was a just half-time score although if you look at the statistics I compiled (more on those shortly), the U.S. was lucky to be down only one goal.

In the second half, the U.S. showed more urgency but so too did the Dutch. The U.S. was very unlucky in conceding the second goal but made up for it with a beautiful header by Carlos Bocanegra. 23-year-old Dutchman Eljero Elia sure is a good player. He was all over the field today. The U.S. was fortunate to lose by only one goal.

The statistics I referred to earlier are shown below. They are the same type of touch-statistics I compiled for the 2010 MVP tournament for which the inside-of-the-foot was crowned champion (MVP stands for most-value-part).

The Dutch completely dominated the first half in terms of touches (see below). They more than doubled the number of U.S. touches: 769 (71%) – 317 (29%). When looking strictly at feet touches, the percentages are even higher (see yellow cells). I contend that controlling the ball with the feet gives players more control than with other parts of the body.

I also contend that using the inside-of-the-foot to control a ball, whether it is to receive, pass, or shoot, gives players far more control of the ball than other parts-of-the-foot. While both the U.S. and Dutch used the inside-of-the-foot a majority of the time (see yellow cells), the Dutch did so with much more frequency.

  • Dutch: receiving-73%, passing-76%, shooting-100%
  • Dutch: receiving-60%, passing-62%, shooting-33%

I’m not sure if these statistics prove anything (I did not compile statistics for the 2nd half because it takes a long time to do so and I wanted to get this post published in a timely manner). However, today the Dutch were the dominant team and they did exhibit very good ball control.

Author’s Notes:

I believe that poor ball control and a lack of emphasis placed on using the inside-of-the foot are the biggest problems facing U.S. youth soccer. If you concur and believe that the inside-of-the-foot is soccer’s MVP, please join the “Inside-of-the-Foot Soccer Fan Club” on Facebook.

I compiled these statistics as follows:

  • I watched the game on ESPN2.
  • I only counted touches that were televised.
  • If I could not tell which body part or surface was used, I did not count the touch (this included when more than one player was playing the ball).
  • If there was a one-touch pass, it was counted only as a pass, not a reception (under receiving).
  • Headers were counted as passes when the intention was there. Otherwise, headers fell under ‘receiving’.

2010 Soccer MVP: Inside-of-the-Foot … Popularity Among Professionals

March 3, 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. What do you call this part of the foot? Please vote.

There is an old  expression that goes, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Today people usually use this expression when asked how one should be behave when visiting a foreign country or visiting someone’s house. Basically, you won’t go wrong if you follow the lead of the locals or homeowner, respectively.

This expression holds true in soccer as well. When playing soccer, if a player emulates his/her favorite professional player or team, chances are he/she will become a pretty good soccer player.

With that said, ‘Inside’ is by far and away professional players’ most used surface and easily won the ‘Popularity Among Professionals’ discipline (see table below).

‘Inside’ won both competitions that were used to measure popularity. The first competition counted the number of touches that took place in one half of an English Premium League game. The second competition examined the number of goals that were scored over a month in professional leagues across the world.

Touches

For this competition, I broke down only the first half the Chelsea vs. Arsenal game that was played February 7, 2010. The touches were broken down by the four main disciplines already examined in this competition. They were receiving, dribbling, passing, and shooting. For each discipline I examined which foot surface was used to perform the skill. They are inside, outside (laces), outside, and bottom. The table also includes touches made with the thighs, chest, and head.

When counting touches, I followed these rules and protocols:

  • I only counted the touches that were shown on TV.
  • On 50-50 balls or when the ball ricocheted off player like a pinball , I did not count those touches.
  • It was easy to differentiate between inside touches and all other touches. It was harder to differentiate between a top (laces) and outside touches, especially when dribbling.
  • I categorized all headers under ‘receiving’ unless they were shots on goal.

The results speak for themselves.

  • For both receiving and passing categories, ‘Inside’ had more touches than all other surfaces combines (including the non-foot surfaces). Chelsea’s 55% receiving percentage is a little low because of the number of headers they had (27)
  • Of all the touches in the game, nearly two-thirds of them were made with the inside-of-the-foot (62% and 63%)
  • Even with dribbling, ‘Inside’ was the most popular surface, 41% and 44%, respectively.
  • In this game, ‘Laces’ was the most popular surface. However in the goal-scoring competition below, you will find a surprising but clear winner.

Goal Scoring

For a five-week period, I looked at all the goals shown on the major soccer highlight shows including Fox Sports Report, Gol TV, La Liga, Sky Sports, and Hallo Bundesliga. I usually looked at several shows a week. When the same goal was shown on multiple shows, the goal was only counted once. In addition, if it was not clear what surface was used to score, the goal was not counted.

In what I’m sure will surprise many, ‘Inside’ won every single week, During the week, the percentage was over 50% once and never below 44% for goals scored with the inside-of-the-foot. Those are impressive percentages. (I included headers because they accounted for a good portion of the goals.)

Conclusion

There should now be a new soccer expression that players should follow and coaches and parents should promote. It is, “When on the soccer field, do as the professionals do and use the inside-of-the-foot.”

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

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

February 26, 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. What do you call this part of the foot? Please vote.

There sure is a lot of emphasis placed on shooting and scoring goals. And rightfully so. After all, if you don’t shoot, you don’t score, and if you don’t score, you don’t win games. Goals in soccer are equivalent to home runs in baseball, touchdowns in football, and slam dunks or buzzer-beating shots in basketball. It’s what puts bodies in the stands and highlights on Fox Sports Report, Gol TV, and ESPN SportsCenter. The lack of goals is usually the #1 complaint voiced among sports fan when asked what’s wrong with soccer. So players, please shoot, shoot often, and score!

The shooting discipline was divided into 3 categories: power, accuracy, and breadth. In what many will consider an upset, ‘Inside’ won this discipline as well.

Power

Without a doubt, ‘Laces’ generated the most powerful shots. Besides being able to transfer the momentum of a pass or a cross to produce powerful shots, strong shots were also generated when shots were taken with the ball in a stationary position. ‘Laces’ was able to score some fantastic goals from 25-, 30-, or 35-yards out. Talk about a ‘golazo’.

‘Inside’ came in a respectable second. On crosses, ‘Inside’ generated as much power as ‘Laces’ had. But it was not able to generate as much power from stationary or set-play shots. However, ‘Inside’ was able to score some amazing goals off of free kicks. Walls and great goalies were no match for a beautifully executed and well-positioned ‘banana kick’.

On several occasions, ‘Outside’ was able to generate the same velocity as ‘Inside’ had but only rarely. ‘Bottom’ was a non-factor.

Accuracy

‘Inside’ excelled at accuracy. The same billiard table analogy I used for receiving the ball can again be applied. The flatter the surface, the more accurate the shot. On many crosses, ‘Inside’ simply had to stick out the foot and accurately redirect the ball into the net.

Accuracy is why penalty kicks and free kicks are taken with the inside-of-the-foot. A good penalty taker has to be able to hit any target inside the goal. With the inside-of-the-foot, the lower-left corner can be hit just as easily as the upper-right corner. The same holds true for direct free kicks. When David ‘Bend-It-Like’ Beckham shoots his free kicks, he always uses the inside-of-the-foot.

‘Outside’ came in second because it was more able to consistently hit its targets than ‘Laces’. When ‘Laces’ made solid contact with the ball, it would usually go straight. However, when the ball did not make solid contact with the sweet spot on top-of-the foot, a spin or curve was introduced and the direction of the shot became more unpredictable. ‘Bottom’ was once again a non-factor.

Breadth

Goalies are so good these days that it often takes incredibly precise shots to beat them. To be effective goal scorers, players need a foot surface that can give them many shooting options. The inside-of-the-foot does this and easily won this shooting subcategory. Several ‘breadth’ tests were used in determine the winner: penalty kicks and long-distance shots with defenders in the way.

Penalty Kicks

Penalty takers try to disguise the direction of the penalty kick so the goalie is forced to guess where the ball will be kicked. Good goalies know that the position of the plant and the kicker’s approach usually telegraph the placement of the kick. That is not the case with the inside-of-the-foot. Good penalty takers are able to place the plant foot in several positions and still hit all targets inside the goal (see image below).

The same is not true when using the top- or outside-of-the-foot. As illustrated below, these surfaces limit the part of the goal that can be targeted because the plant foot needs to be positioned just so in order to execute a good kick. Therefore, good goalies can usually predict where the ball will be kicked by concentrating on the position of the plant foot.

Long Distance Shots with Obstructions

Bending the ball around defenders is an extremely important skill for forwards and free-kicker takers to have. Once again, David Beckham is able to bend or curve a shot around or over walls that are set up to defend against the free kick. This skill also comes in handy on non-set plays. When a forward needs to avoid a defender from blocking a shot, a curved shot using the inside-of-the-foot will do the trick. Even when no defenders are present, forwards will curve a shot around a goalie’s outstretched hands.

Shots with the top-of-the-foot generally go straight. If a defender is standing between the shooter and the goal, whether in a wall or in the run of play, there is a high percentage that the shot will be blocked. Shots with the outside-of-the-foot did give the kicker the ability to curve the ball around a defender, but unlike the inside, these shots had less spin.

Conclusions

In a surprise, ‘Inside’ won the shooting discipline. In terms of shooting ‘accuracy’ and ‘breadth of shots’, the inside-of-the-foot was the overwhelming winner. ‘Inside’ also did quite well in the ‘power’ category.

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

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

February 18, 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. What do you call this part of the foot? Please vote.

Personally, I am a big fan of the pass. It probably stems from having played midfield most of my life where controlling the game and distributing the ball were this position’s primary purpose. When I watch games today, I prefer seeing a nice assist rather than a nice goal.

When passes are made correctly, they look easy and effortless. They are anything but. Passing requires a player to first control a ball that is passed to him/her. Once the ball has been successfully controlled, he/she must know if and where to pass it. This requires playing with the head up (in an up position) in order to see all the players and be able to judge the speed and direction teammates are moving. Most importantly, it requires maturity, confidence, and knowledge of the game. While it is never too early to introduce and teach passing, it is a discipline that won’t become refined and polished until a player is older or has played for many years.

The passing discipline was divided into two categories: accuracy and types. For both categories, ‘Inside’ was the clear winner. ‘Types’ refers to the number of different types of passes that can be made with a surface.


Accuracy

The structure of the inside-of-the-foot is built for accurate passing. The flatter the surface, the more accurate the pass. There is a reason why a tennis racket, a ping pong paddle, and a putter are flat. Imagine trying to hit a tennis ball back over the net using a baseball bat. Or how about putting with the rounded, back end of the putter (see image to the right). In both instances, the required task would become more difficult.

Another factor which contributed to ‘Inside’ having the highest levels of accuracy is the swinging motion of the leg when the ball is passed. When striking the ball with the ankle sweet spot of the inside of the foot (larger red spot in the image to the right), the leg swing should be in a straight plane. It is very much like a golf putt. Ideally, the leg swings straight back and then swings straight through the ball. The straighter the overall swing, the more accurate passes a player will make (green arrow in the image below).

Typically, when passing the ball with the front sweet spot of the inside-of-the-foot (smaller red spot in the image above), the laces, or the outside-of-the-foot, the plane of the swing is more angled. Passes with these surfaces are similar to full iron or wood/metal shots in golf. This angled stroke plane introduces more variables to the swing and, therefore, a higher probability for inaccurate passes (red arrow in the image above).

The top-of-the-foot was the next most accurate surface. To make an accurate pass, the ball had to be struck with the foot’s sweet spot (red spot in the image to the right). Unlike with the ‘Inside’, a pass with the laces required more of an arcing back swing which took away some of the accuracy. An ‘Outside’ pass has a similar arcing swing but this surface is also striking the ball with a convex surface, making it more difficult to control a pass. Passes with the bottom-of-the-foot were accurate but the distances achieved with this surface were short. It came in last place.

Types

Being able to accurately pass a ball to a teammate in a straight line is invaluable. But being limited to only this type of pass is not ideal either. Oftentimes, a defender will stand between a passer and receiver. Except for the bottom-of-the-foot, a player can pass the ball over a defender using other surfaces of the foot. There are times, however, when this may not be possible, especially when the defender is close to the passer. This is where ‘Inside’ has a distinct advantage over the other surfaces.

When the front sweet spot on the inside-of-the-foot is used to pass a ball, it will cause the ball to curve or spin. The technique can be used to curve a pass around a defender. This makes ‘Inside’ the only surface which gives a player 2 distinct options when passing the ball. Most indirect free kicks are kicked with the inside-of-the-foot to deposit the ball precisely to the receiver’s foot or head. David ‘Bend It Like’ Beckman is world-renowned for his precision free kicks and passes.

Conclusions

The ‘passing’ discipline results were not close. In terms of passing accuracy and the different types of passes that can be made, ‘Inside’ was the easy winner.

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

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

February 13, 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. What do you call this part of the foot? Please vote.

I am witnessing a nice evolution in the youth soccer of today. More and more coaching philosophies are professing and emphasizing that players become more creative. This is being applied and fostered by encouraging players to dribble. Many young players know the names of the popular moves that were introduced and perfected by some of the world’s best professionals. They include:

  • The Cruyff turn
  • The Zidane spin move
  • The Puskas pullback (50 seconds into this great tribute to Puskas)
  • The Rivelino reverse scissors
  • Ronaldo’s inside swerve

Working on these skills in practice, at home, incorporating them into small-sided practice games, and executing them in real games are making our youth players much more creative. This is fantastic!

For this discipline, dribbling was broken down into two categories: speed and moves. ‘Laces’ was the overwhelming winner for speed, with ‘Inside’ and ‘Outside’ sharing second place. When it came to moves, which consisted of fakes and feints to get around an opponent, ‘Inside’ and ‘Outside’ shared the top spot.


Speed

There are two types of speed in soccer: speed off the ball and speed with the ball. The fastest players on a team should be the fastest players off the ball. However, the fastest players are not always the fastest dribblers. Proper dribbling technique plays a huge part in the overall speed of a dribbler.

Good running form requires that the toes are always pointing in the direction the player is running in. To achieve optimal dribbling speed, a player should deviate his/her running form as little as possible. The easiest way to accomplish this while controlling the ball is to use the top-of-the-foot. Touching the ball with the top-of-the-foot requires only the slightest change in form. When done probably, only very little speed has to be lost.

The toe could also be used to touch the ball when speed is critical. In fact, using the toe to dribble deviates even less than using the top-of-the-foot. However, because the toe surface is rounded, a player will have less ball control when it is touched. The top-of-the-foot is much flatter and provides much more control.

Because the angle of the foot has to change when touching a ball with the inside- or outside-of-the-foot, a player’s running form will change and overall speed will be reduced. Playing a ball with the bottom-of-the-foot and sustaining any kind of speed is impossible.

Moves

Dribbling around a player is best achieved using the inside- or outside-of-the-foot. All of the moves listed above use one of these parts. In fact, you may have noticed that to accomplish these moves, the players used a combination of surfaces to complete the moves. This is typical in order to beat good defenders. Sometimes, the bottom-of-the-foot is incorporated into these moves as well.

Rarely is the top-of-the-foot used to get around an opponent. Because of its flat surface and the position of the foot when a ball is played with this part of the foot, the ball will naturally go straight. With an opponent directly in front of a player, this serves no value. However, it is worth mentioning that at full speed, using the toe to poke the ball past a defender is a great move. Since I am lumping the toe together with the top-of-the-foot, ‘Laces’ and ‘Bottom’ share the same score.

Conclusion

It turns out that the dribbling discipline was too close to call. Though ‘Inside’ and ‘Outside’ fared very well in both dribbling categories, because ‘Laces’ was such an overwhelming winner in the speed category, all three surfaces took first place.

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

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

February 10, 2010

Author’s Note: This post is one in 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.

I believe that receiving, or controlling the ball, is the most important skill in soccer, bar none.

Every player possession starts with a ball either thrown or kicked to a player who then needs to control it in some fashion. Of the four feet surfaces that made the final round of this competition–inside, top (laces), outside, and bottom–‘Inside’ not only won the receiving discipline but it was capable of controlling 90% of all balls passed to a player.

Control

In baseball, the goal is to catch the baseball in the mitt. In football, the goal is to catch the football with the hands. Once these catches are completed, the player will either throw to first base or turn and run up field, respectively. In both cases, a successful catch does not really dictate a player’s next move.

Soccer is different. In soccer, how the ball is received always dictates a player’s next move. Since soccer is such a fluid sport with players constantly moving, it is preferable for a ball not to be received and come to rest in the same spot. Rather, the ideal method is for the first-touch (the first touch a player makes on the ball) to push or direct the ball away from the player receiving the ball. Where the ball is pushed or directed and how far away from the player the ball rolls depends solely on the first-touch skill of that player.

To test ‘Control’, various targets were placed in front of a player (black ovals in the image to the right). Then rolling passes were kicked at a player as well as to either side of a player at various speeds. The goal was to first-touch the passes as close to the intended targets as possible. Because of the structure of the inside-of-the-foot and the ability to cushion the passes, ‘Inside’ was the overwhelming winner. ‘Inside’ consistently settled the ball in each of the targets regardless of the speed of the pass or which foot received the ball. ‘Laces’ and ‘Bottom’ fared well when the target was under the feet but did poorly with the outer fringe targets. ‘Outside’ had better luck with the outer targets but was only able to push the ball in one direction.

Coverage

The ability for ‘Inside’ to control 90% of all passes was not a typo. Refer to the image on the right to understand how I arrived at this percentage.

  • In the image, the four surfaces are represented by various colored lines: green (Inside), yellow (Laces), purple (Outside), and light blue (Bottom). The geometric shapes on the vertical plane represent the areas-of-coverage that each foot surface can comfortably control when a rolling or bouncing ball was passed to a player. ‘Inside’ was clearly able to control more passes, especially passes that were thigh-high and away from the player. The other surfaces did OK when the ball was passed directly to a player.
  • The dark blue oval on the horizontal plane represents the area on the ground that was controlled by a player when the ball was passed high in the air. Remarkably, ‘Inside’ was able to control all of these high balls, even ones that were passes over a player’s head. ‘Inside’ achieved this control by applying a trapping technique whereby a player let the ball first hit the ground and then immediately covered (or trapped) it with the inside-of-the-foot. ‘Laces’ and ‘Outside’ were able to control the same high-ball passes as ‘Inside’. Both ‘Inside’ and ‘Outside’ were able to push the trapped ball away from where the ball landed. ‘Laces’ could only settle the ball in the same location that the ball was first controlled. ‘Bottom’ had a difficult time controlling these passes with any degree of success.
  • The red rectangle on the vertical plane represents the area that could not be controlled with the feet. These passes could only be received with the chest or head.

Conclusion

As you can see, ‘Inside’ is quite accomplished when it comes to receiving the soccer ball and easily won this discipline. Given the level of proficiency and the importance of receiving the ball under control, players and coaches should continuously work on and develop a strong ‘Inside’.

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

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.