I’m not a professional soccer coach, but I really enjoy teaching. I’ve played soccer for a very long time in recreational and amateur leagues and there are certain things that I’ve seen along the way that should be taught at every level and should be common sense. It drives me insane playing with and watching people play that don’t understand simple soccer and basic sports concepts. It’s even worse to watch a youth or high school soccer coach, not teach these things to their players. They are critical mistakes and all of them can be avoided. Here is a collection of my tips and observations.
You are not faster than the ball
The ball travels much faster than you do when it’s kicked through the air or on the ground. Kicking the ball to a team mate will get the ball to a better position faster. It drives me nuts watching a player try and dribble the ball from one end of the field to the other and then try and score a goal. Unless you are supremely better at ball handling than everyone else, you should not be doing this. Kick the ball to various spots on the field. It will get there faster. The very slowest thing on the field is actually a player dribbling. A player running without the ball is faster, and kicking the ball through the air (or on the ground) is fastest. Use that speed properly!
Take a damn shot
Some players want to dribble for hours or make 80 passes before finally taking a shot. Just take the damn shot! In adult recreational soccer and youth soccer, the goalies are horrible. Just take a shot! They aren’t going to block it. Once you’re 20 yards away, it should be open season. There is no reason to not shoot.
Keep it low
When you do shoot, keep the ball low. No goalie wants to go to the ground to block a shot. Especially, in youth and recreational soccer. There is no reason to kick it at chest level or higher and make the job easier on the opposing goalie. Don’t do their job for them! Keep it low and in a far corner. They will never get it.
Don’t clear a ball up the middle
If you are a goalie, clear the ball to the sides. Especially, if you are playing with amateurs. This should be taught to all youth soccer players as well. Do not kick the ball up the middle. An opposing player can easily get it and shoot at you. Same goes for defenders (not just the goalie). Clear the ball to the sides.
Really clear the ball
If you are a defender, your sole purpose in life is to clear the ball and get it out of range. You should really kick it down field. All the way down. Don’t just kick it a few feet in front of you. The opponent’s forward and mid fielders can easily get to it. Make it your goal at least get it past the first wave of opponents. But it’s even better if you get it past two waves. The worse thing that can happen if you half ass clear it and it goes straight to an on-coming opposing forward and now they have great position, a running start, and can score. Don’t worry about possession in this case, just clear the damn ball properly!
Come out of goal
If you are the goalie and all of your defenders are lost up-field and their is an opponent coming towards you with the ball, you have to come out of the goal box and run at the opposing player. You can not wait for them to make it to you and then hope to block the shot. They will have a huge goal to shoot at and will likely score. If you run at the opposing player and close in on them, you shrink the goal and they have to make a very precise shot or they will lose the ball or get blocked.
Learn to use your left foot
The most mind-numbing thing I see on soccer fields is a player who just received a ball, has a perfect shot on goal, but has to stop it, step back, set up the other way, and finally shoot with their right foot. When a shot with the left would have been instantaneous, before the defense or goalie was ready. Please practice shooting with your left. Even practice corner kicks with your left. There is no reason why you can’t shoot with both feet. Your left may not be as strong, but even if it’s 60% as strong and 60% as accurate, just taking a faster shot without having to reset everything will give you an advantage. Youth soccer coaches should make all players play drills and practice games with their non dominant foot. You will be a much better player and can do a whole lot more. If you are just a recreational player, go out and practice shooting only left into a baseball backstop or goal. Then move on and do corner kicks. Get used to it!
Make them play with weak foot
Another amazing strategy is to figure out the strong foot of your opponent, and make them play with the weaker one. Take away their stronger foot. If you play defense, the first 1 minute of each game should be spent trying to figure out the stronger leg of each mid fielder and forward, and then spend the rest of the game forcing them to use the weaker one. They will be completely ineffective and useless. Don’t forget this! It’s the best defensive trick you could ever use!
Don’t run towards your opponent with the ball
If you are 15 yards away from the opponent and start dribbling towards them, that is insane! You’ve just made it a whole lot easier for the defender to defend you! Don’t do their job for them. Make them come to you and then you can pass it past them to your now open team mate up-field. Don’t hurt yourself by helping the enemy. Make them work for it.
Stand in front of oncoming player
If a player is dribbling toward your goal, and you are the last defender between them and the goalie, stand in front of them and make them decide. Don’t rush them. Stand your ground and back away as they approach you. Make them either pass, shoot, or turn a different direction. Don’t run and attack the ball and make it easy for them to go around you. Don’t do their job for them. Ninety percent of the time they will lose the ball or take a very bad hurried kick.
Force oncoming players towards sideline
If an opposing player is coming down the sideline dribbling towards you on your half of the field, let them keep going down the sideline. They are taking themselves out of the game. Take the inside route away from them. Too many dangerous things can happen if you allow them to go inside. Force them to choose to go outside down the sideline all the way down to the end of the field. Very similar to basketball when you force a driving guard to go inside towards more help, but in this case you want them to stay way outside away from your goalie. It’s much easier to defend poor crosses and bad passes than to allow them to get inside and score or make nice seam passes.
Take the inside straight path to goal
Similarly, if you are an attacking forward or midfielder and are faced with either continuing down a sideline or cutting inside and making a straight run at the goal, go at the goal. Going down the sideline effectively takes you out of play. You can either force a bad cross or a bad pass. The defense knows how to react and how to defend those. It’s easy. But if turn inside and go right at the goal, they defense freaks out, makes bad decisions, and doesn’t know what to do. Lots of good things can happen if you do this.
Put the ball in front of the goal box
If you are throwing a ball in from out of bounds, or kicking it up-field, get the ball into play! Put the ball in an area where someone can make a play on it. Corner kicks, throw-ins, penalties, or just a pass up field… don’t waste these. Even if you don’t have a perfect pass to your team mate, just get the ball into the goal box. All it takes is one simple mistake by a defender or goalie, and that turns into a perfect shot for you. And if it gets deflected, you get another chance at it. Create plays for yourself and your team mates, don’t obstruct play.
If you are trying to force or create an offensive play, kick the ball behind the defenders. Make the defenders turn their backs and try to retrieve a ball heading towards their goalie. They aren’t used to this and can easily make mistakes. They aren’t used to someone barreling down on them from behind, they usually play facing forward. Don’t make their jobs easier!
Don’t turn into your opponent with the ball
This may sound like common sense, but if you have the ball and are standing with an opponent behind you, do not turn right into them and try and go through them or around them with your “magical” ball handling/dribbling skills. It’s not going to work. You are not a super hero. Why try to make an outrageously difficult play? Make an easier play and just go forward away from them with your back to them and avoid them, pass it to a team mate, or eventually loop around in another direction. But not directly at the opponent.
Don’t try to make the impossible pass
If you are stuck on a sideline and an opponent is between you and your team mate, don’t try to kick the ball directly through your opponent to your team mate. That isn’t going to work. Balls don’t travel through humans. Pass it on angle backwards or forwards to your team mate or to the area you know they can run to. Do not attempt an impossibly impossible pass. You will lose possession.
Don’t commit killer fouls
If you and a team mate have an opponent stuck on the sideline with no where to go, just wait them out. Wait till they make a mistake. Don’t become inpatient and just kick their legs. Especially if they are on their side of the field. They will either kick it out of bounds, or to the wrong person, or some other horrible option. You will end up with the ball. Don’t do their job for them or allow them to get out of this the easy way by fouling them. There is no reason to!
Pass as if you are the receiver
If you are passing a ball to a team mate or throwing it in to a team mate, don’t make it impossible for them to receive it. Get the ball to their feet. Don’t one hop it up to their chest or knees, or at their back, or anything crazy like that. Also, get the ball to the proper foot so they can make a play on the ball. Sometimes a defender may be at their back right, pass it to their left foot. If you were receiving the ball, where would you want it? For younger kids, we want them to throw it to the ground around their team mate, in an upfield direction, not backwards.
There is no reason to create a wall
If there is a penalty kick forty yards out, there is no reason to create a wall. Your goalie can stop it. Don’t waste 4-5 players on an unnecessary wall, while defenders run lose behind them. You should use all of your players to guard and mark opponents. If the kick is blocked, deflected, or headed, you will need numbers to clear it. Don’t waste players.
Hopefully, you’ve found these helpful. Please try to teach all young players and recreational players these simple concepts. Maybe we can see better play in the future. Some of these are just common sports sense. Check back often, I will be adding to this list!