There is a saying in soccer, a rather obvious one, that goes something like ‘You can’t score if you don’t have the ball… and the opposition won’t put the ball in the net if you do.’ The clever clogs of the planet quickly point out ‘own goals’, but we get the idea. Certainly, some teams like to play on the break, utilizing quick passing and speed to catch the opposition during transition (the point at which the ball is lost or regained). We will look at teams that like to play on the break later in the chapter, but as a general rule, the more your side has the ball, the more likely it is to score and the less likely it is to concede. Implementing soccer training drills to improve your passing and possession will take your game to the next level.
In general terms, it is seen that there are three phases in soccer. Offense, or attack, when your side has the ball; defense, when your team does not have the ball, and transition, the stage between the two.
It therefore makes sense that a team will wish to be in attack more than defense, in other words have the ball in their possession more than leave it with the opposition.
The most important part of the game for the individual is to be able to keep possession of the ball; and in close control. If all players in the team have this skill, it makes the team a lot more flexible in passing and movement.
The ball should be received by either foot on the ground, off the ground using the feet up to around knee height; on the thigh; on the chest and with the head. There are then three positions through which the player might receive the ball, these being, head on with back to goal; on the half turn; and a pass on which to run.
Let us look at each of these in a little more detail.
Soccer Training Skill- Feet on the ground
The best players should be comfortable receiving the ball with either foot. Practice on the weaker foot, even as simple as hitting the ball against a wall and controlling it fifty times a day will soon make the less comfortable foot more than simply something for standing on. The foot should ‘cushion’ the ball as it comes in by slightly relaxing it, ‘giving’ a little to the ball. This means that the ball will not bounce away, and nor will it become stuck under the foot.
Weight should be over the ball, and as much body should be behind the ball as possible, to prevent an opponent from nicking it away. Controlling a pass with feet on the ground is the easiest method and this is why most coaches encouraging passing ‘on the deck’. The ball is usually controlled with the inside of the foot, but by using the outside of the foot it is possible to turn quickly, beating your marker. Controlling with the toes, a difficult skill, will slightly lift the ball and might draw a foul from a tight marker, as they lunge in for the ball, thinking it has been miss-controlled.
Soccer Training Skill- Feet off the ground
Here, it is important for the receiver to get into position as soon as possible. They should have a check to see what kind of pressure the defence is able to put on them, and bend the knee of the receiving foot to make the leg into a triangle. Control is with the instep.
If pressure is on, then usually a player will control with their first touch and lay off a pass with their second. Team mates can anticipate this, getting into position if they sense that an early pass is likely. The kind of lifted pass that requires control in this way can be used to put some swerve on the ball allowing it to be played round an opponent, and is also one which often draws a defender forward, and can create a little space behind this player.
Soccer Training Skill – Thigh Control
A more difficult skill again. The thigh of the receiving leg comes slightly forward and the knee bends to create a triangle. This should not be too steeply angled, as the maximum area possible of the thigh should be exposed. Since balance is harder to maintain here, as it is likely that the receiving leg is off the ground, and weight is over it, the arms need to be out for balance. These also make it harder for a defender to get around and make a tackle.
Soccer Training Skill – Chest Control
The receiver should check for challenges likely to come in, spread their arms to make as big an area as possible and ensure that their body continues to protect the ball as it is received. More experienced players will close their arms at the last minute to make the ball drop to their feet more quickly, and a good skill to practice is twisting the body on receipt to direct the ball to a team mate.
This ‘chest pass’ to an on-running team mate can really create space and lead to a driving run and attack, especially around the penalty area where space might be tight and a pass along the ground hard to orchestrate.
Soccer Training Skill – Head
There are many types of headers, but as we are looking at retaining possession here, rather than attempting a goal or clearing the ball, we will focus on two types – the flick on and the cushioned header. The flick on is designed to put the ball into the space behind the defence for an attacker to run on to. To be successful there has to be a good understanding between the striker and his team mate. Both need to anticipate the flick, to allow for the run to be made with good timing. Usually, the player heading the ball will be marked by the last defender, and if the run off the ball is not timed well, the player will fall offside.
There is little force behind the flick on, the ball just (to state the obvious) flicked by the attacker’s head. The pace of the ball takes it into the space behind the defense. The flick on can be effective, but is not a good way to retain possession. Firstly, it is likely the passer will be under pressure and therefore controlling the flick is difficult; secondly, often a defending team will drop a defender back in anticipation of the move. The cushioned header is a controlled, directed header to a close by team mate, often the goalkeeper. Here, the body is held firmly and the head directs the ball to the team mate, relaxing slightly on contact with the ball to take the pace off the pass.
Next, we will consider the three ways in which possession is maintained with the receipt of the pass.
Soccer Training Skill – Half Turn
This is the most effective way to receive a pass and retain possession. Here, the shoulder is directed towards the passer, and the body twists to receive the ball at between 30 and 45 degrees. The body is slightly crouched, with knees loose and slightly bent, to allow for a strong, low centre of gravity, plus movement in all directions. The ball can then be received on the instep to allow for a return pass, or to move the ball forwards (if under no pressure) or towards the player’s own goal (if some pressure is felt); on the outside of the boot to allow for a spin to turn into space or beat a defender, or on the toes to lift the ball and buy a little time, or encourage a tackle to earn a free kick. Watch players at the highest level, and their receipt of the ball will often be on the half turn.
The first touch here is very important, as less of the body is protecting the ball, and if the touch is poor, possession is likely to be lost. Scouts for professional clubs and those teaching children for the highest levels will usually look for the player’s first touch – if this is missing, it is unlikely that the player will be selected for trials at a more advanced level.
Soccer Training Skill – Back to goal
The arms are outstretched for balance and protection. The body shields the ball, with the back facing the opponents goal. Communication is important, where team mates tell the receiver whether they have time to turn, are under closing pressure, or need a one or two touch lay off. Often with this kind of receipt, the player will lay the ball back the way they are facing, that is, towards their own goal, to a team mate in more space, then make a move into space themselves.
‘Back to Goal’ can be a slightly misleading term, as this way of receiving the ball can also be from a lateral pass, where the player has his or her back to the touchline, although this will usually only be in and around the attacking penalty area.
Soccer Training Skill – Running on to the ball
This is an attacking pass into space for a player to dribble, pass or cross. A pass that allows for the running on to the ball injects pace into an attack, while the side continues to retain possession.
If you found this useful, you should also find our post on soccer passing skills great.
Your soccer coaching home – Books