Posts Tagged ‘inside-of-the-foot’

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.)

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!

What Do You Call this Part of the Foot: Instep or Inside-of-the-Foot?

December 6, 2009

One of my favorite questions I ask youth players and coaches is, “What is the most important part of the foot in soccer?” While the answer should really be ‘all parts of the foot’ (refer to the ‘Are You Right or Left Footed?‘ post), you can tell by this post what my answer is. Based on the answers I get, young players typically split their votes equally between the bottom, top, outside, and inside of the foot. Older, more experienced players along with coaches tend to agree with me.

However, herein lies a problem. What do you call this part of the foot? For as long as I can remember, I always referred to it as the instep. I hear people refer to it as the inside-of-the-foot but referring to it as the ‘instep’ is so much simpler. However, a few years back I was told that the instep actually refers to the top the foot. I don’t know about you but I now find myself in a shoe and foot-naming quandary.

IOTF_or_Instep

So what do you call this part of the foot (highlighted in red)? Please share the name you use by answering the poll question. Below the poll are some videos that show that part of the foot in action. Be sure to ‘Share This’ poll with other soccer enthusiasts.

This following clip show Zlatan “Ibra” Ibrahimovic scoring a beautiful goal against Real Madrid with that part of the foot. The goal is scored at 2:00 of the video.

2-3 Goal Difference Per Game: Shots On Goal

September 4, 2009
Ever wonder why it seems that so many shots on goal are shot directly at the goalie? Sure it could be that the goalie is in a good position. But I am of a different opinion. I believe the main reason is due to which part of the foot is used to strike the ball.

Oftentimes, the instep (also known as the top-of-the-foot or laces) is used to shoot on goal. The main reason to use the instep is to produce a more powerful shot. A strong shot is great but if it is shot directly at the goalie, what is the point? Players will often get frustrated at themselves when kick after kick goes directly to the goalkeeper; yet this keeps happening. What is going on?

Different Technique
I consider myself an expert when it comes to using and understanding the importance of the inside-of-the-foot. I invented a soccer training device called Loopball which teaches players to use the inside-of-the-foot. You will see many more posts in this blog about Loopball and the importance of the inside-of-the-foot. For the purposes of this post, I believe the problem lies in the fact that shots with the instep require much less thought than shots with the inside-of-the-foot. Instep shots require brute strength. Inside-of-the-foot shots require forethought and placement.

The direction a ball travels can normally be traced back to the position of the plant-foot toe. For shots on goal, this toe is usually pointed at the middle of the goal. When an instep kick is well struck, it will travel in the direction that this toe is pointing which is where the goalkeeper is likely to be standing. It is usually the poorly-struck instep kicks that stand a better chance of going in. The same logic can be applied to shots with the inside-of-the-foot, but because more forethought is given with this type of shot, the kicks don’t always head for the middle of the goal. Using the inside-of-the-foot requires the player to think which side of the goal to aim for and whether or not to curve the shot around the defenders or goalkeeper.

From long distance, I definitely recommend using an instep kick. But when the ball is closer to the goal, have your players use the inside-of-the-foot and have them think about the kick. You’ll also be surprised how much force this type of kick can generate when struck well. The top players in the world usually use the inside-of-the-foot to score goals, especially with free kicks. David ‘Bend-It-Like’ Beckham certainly does and he is quite successful.

2-3 Goal Difference Per Game: Penalty Kicks

August 26, 2009

I would say that at the professional level, 75 – 80% of penalty kicks are successful. For the misses, the goalie will save 15-20% and the other 5% miss the goal entirely. At the youth level, the success rate is around 50%. Given that youth goalies typically don’t move or dive until the ball is kicked, I would have thought the success rate would be higher. This is not the case. I have several theories why this is so.

  • When a player steps up to take a penalty kick, he does not know where he is going to kick the ball–he does not have a plan. And if he does, he may end up changing his mind before the kick because of the goalie’s actions. Without a plan or by changing the plan, the success rate drops sharply.
  • Penalty kicks are pressure kicks, especially for the penalty kicker. Everyone expects the penalty to be made so all the pressure and eye are on the kicker.
  • The penalty kick is not practiced much.

Before explaining how you can easily go from a 50% to a 90% success rate, it is important to understand the proper kicking mechanics of a penalty kick.

  • Because the penalty kick is taken so close to the goal, accuracy is much more important than power. Players should take the kick with the inside-of-the-foot.
  • When a kick is taken with inside-of-the-foot, the toe of the kicking foot should be pointing up.
  • When the kick is taken with the inside-of-the-foot and the toe is pointed up, the ball will have a spin or curve on it.

As a result, a right-footed kicker will naturally kick the ball to the left side of the goal (the goalie’s right) and a left-footed kicker will naturally kick the ball to the right side of the goal (the goalie’s left). To prove my point, try this exercise at one of your practices.

  • Place a cone 1-yard in from the right post and another cone 1-yard in from the left post.
  • Have each player take 10 penalty kicks with their dominant foot–5 kicked to the right and 5 kicked to the left. Have them alternate feet for each kick.
  • Put a goalie or coach in goal to simulate a game situation.
  • Score a point when the ball goes between the post and the cone.

Tally up the points. The right-footed kickers should be more accurate going to their left.

Ask each player which side they felt more comfortable with. Whatever side they choose (even it is not what I predicted), tell them that that is the side they should always target in practice and in a game regardless of what the goalie may be doing or where the goalie is standing. This will take a lot of pressure off the kicker.

Here are some additional tips and tricks:

  • It is a good idea to practices penalties once or twice a year, especially if there is an upcoming tournament that uses penalty kicks for tie-breakers.
  • Penalty kicks should not necessarily be taken by the best player or the player with the strongest foot. Consider using the player with the best accuracy. It could even be your goalie. Remember, they should use the inside-of-the-foot.
  • All penalty kicks should be kicked on the ground. It is much more difficult for a goalie to save a shot on the ground than in the air because it takes more time for a goalie to reach the ground, especially if the goalie is tall. In addition, a kick on the ground will never go over the cross bar.
  • The penalty kick should never be blasted. But there should be enough power behind the kick so if the goalie dives the correct way, she will still not be able to save it. When more power is used than necessary, accuracy will be compromised and kicks will tend to go high.
  • Make sure the penalty kicker knows which corner he will kick to well before the kick is taken. Remind him not to change his mind, even if the goalie is leaning to his preferred side. An accurate, well-struck penalty kick will not be saved.
  • Targets help. The target should always be the side netting.

Defensive Strategy

According to Law XIV, FIFA states that the defending goalkeeper must remain on her goal line, facing the kicker, and between the goalposts until the ball has been kicked.

Once again, everyone expects for the penalty kick to be made. Therefore, there is no pressure on the goalie whatsoever. Also, you and your goalie now know which corner the kicker is likely going to choose. With this bit of information, the chance of the penalty being successful drops to 25%. Those are pretty good odds for your team. In addition, follow these tips and tricks:

  • Reiterate to your goalie that she is under no pressure. If you want to remove all pressure, communicate with your goalie through hand signals which way you want her to dive. That way, the goalie won’t be able to second-guess herself. Personally, I don’t think this step is necessary but it should depend on the confidence and comfort-level of the goalie.
  • Since you know which corner is likely being targeted, have the goalie stand slightly off-center. But which way you ask–left or right? If the kicker is right-footed, you know he will likely target the left corner. In this case, have the goalie stand 1 foot to her LEFT-of-center (not right as you may think). This will accomplish 2 things:
  1. If the right-footed penalty kicker had decided to go to his left, now that the goalie is favoring the other side, the kicker will naturally stick to the left side.
  2. However, if the kicker had planned to kick the ball to his right, now he is presented with a dilemma. Is he still going to go to his right, or has the goalie forced him to change his side? Good question. In all likelihood, the kicker will probably change corners. Now a successful kick drops to 20% because the preferred side has been taken away. Just before the kick is taken (after the kicker’s head drops to look at the ball), have your goalie shift to the center of the goal and a foot to the right-of-center. Make sure that your goalie acts the part. It should appear to the kicker that the goalie is standing off-center not as a tactic but rather as a mistake.

In many ways, having all this information is not fair to the kicker. I’m always fascinated to see how penalty kickers and coaches counter this type of defensive strategy.