Be Sharper on the Ball

By Scott Leber:

“Oh, I can do that. I know that move. Passing is easy. I can juggle….” These simple, innocent phrases are being said by our players of all ages across the country everyday! But do they really know the move? Is passing really that easy? Do they really know how to juggle? The question is do you ever really know anything or is soccer (as in life) a constant process of improvement? [Check out our previous post of: Knowing versus Doing.

When you train while going through the motions, you might actually be doing more harm than good. Of course, there is a time to learn the skill and break it down, but there is also a time perform the skill with key game-related elements – Limited Time, Limited Space, Increase of Pressure. If the skill is always done without these, then we might be teaching the wrong habits AND (more importantly) we are tricking the player, parent and coach that they are actually technical players. It is pretty easy to ‘look good’ at medium pace with limited pressure, but the demands of the game are well beyond that pace. And that is what iSoccer demands of its players every time!

The ‘That is Easy’ or ‘I can do that’ Problem?

Without being confronted with time or spatial pressure, players develop an unrealistic assessment of their technical ability.

Let’s take two touch passing for example. Next time you are on the field, watch the touches of your players (or yourself) when asked to do two touch. If there are no constraints on the type of control and type of pass, you will probably get players touching and whacking it back and forth. Sure they are two touching back and forth, but there is no attention to the detail of the touch or the precision of the pass.

Let’s take another example: The scissors move. All your players are in a box dribbling around doing their little touches and you yell out “Scissor Left.” Players immediately scissor the ball with their left foot, shift their body weight left, touch the ball with the outside of their right and accelerate into the open space. All looks good, but here is the problem: There are no consequences for a lazy scissor or a poor touch with the outside of the foot. The player is not being deliberate, but more just doing. When there are no repercussions for an errant touch, players are unaware of their weaknesses. And this is where players begin to develop false confidence.

Solution – Deliberate Practice

Demand that players are DELIBERATE. If the first touch has to be with the outside of the right foot and at a forward angle, demand it. If you want the pass to hit the right foot, demand that type of accuracy. If you want a quick outside right touch and then an inside right foot touch past the defender after the scissor, demand it. How iSoccer does this: Each test isolates a specific skill and assigns a score to the execution of the skill. There is no room for interpretation – the player sees and knows exactly where they stand and where their weaknesses are. But you can force your players to be deliberate in any drill!

How to Go from Practice to Game?

In a game, we are not dribbling in a box. We are not performing skills on command. We are not allowed to have lazy touches. We are not allowed to go through the motions. One of the main reasons the ball is turned over quite often in youth games is because we are not forcing players to practice the technical skills in game-like conditions. When we fail to provide pressure, a time constraint, and a space constraint in practice, we are not challenging our players to develop the proper tools to solve the problems that the game demands.

Solution – Deep Practice
First, isolate the skill you want to work on. Second, limit the space and time to execute the skill. Third, require maximum speed and concentration. Finally, increase the pressure. These items are what iSoccer calls SPECIFIC DEMANDS. In all of the technical skills iSoccer test, you are working in a confined space with clear consequences for poor touches. Players are given a limited amount of time. We are requiring players to perform the skills at their absolute maximum speed for 20 seconds. Finally, we are applying the best pressure we can to an individual player – the pressure to be better than yourself.

Result: More Motivation and Faster Development

Players will feel improvement. Players will see improvement. Players will like improvement. Each skill iSoccer assesses, players will be motivated by their current level to push even harder to get to that next level. And that is training smarter!

To close, I want to challenge all of us as players and coaches to question our current definition of player development and look with a critical lens as to what we are doing right and more importantly, what we have to do better.

Reach out to Scott Leber at s.leber@isoccer.org