The first touch is arguably the most important skill in soccer. Without a good one, you won’t ever have the opportunities to use your other skills because a DEFENDER will have already closed in. Unfortunately, the first touch is also one of the most difficult skills to learn — it makes the difference between good players and great ones.
Be Aware of Your Teammates. No matter how you plan to control the ball, you need to know where you want to put it. The point of a good first touch is putting the ball in space and getting it out of your feet so you can deliver a crisp pass or take a clean shot. So in the moment before the ball comes to you, take a peek around. It’s as simple as putting the ball where a defender is not. And as your touch improves, your confidence will, too, and you will be able to look up sooner.
Get the Ball Under Control. Once the ball reaches you, you have several options. Take the ball with: Cushion the ball with the inside or outside of either foot, thigh, chest, head or any part of your body but hands. Track the ball in movement, put your body behind it, and don’t remain stiff. The same way your hands move back to soften a catch, cushion the ball with whichever part of your body you are using. Ideally, you should be on your toes, knees bent and arms out for balance.
Bring the ball down! The first thing you want to do is get the ball on the ground if it isn’t there already — that’s where it is easiest to handle. Doing that requires a soft touch and a generally downward motion of your body. With your foot, almost sweep the ball to the ground when it comes to you. With your thighs or chest, the goal is to provide a cushion for the ball to land on before letting it drop in front of you. You can control the direction of the touch by turning your hips or your shoulders.
Once you have the ball in your possession, you need to be looking around to either run with it, pass, or shoot — so keep your head up. Then, with a tap from the outside of your foot or your instep, push it a couple of feet in front of you to give your kick some room or starting your dribbling. From there, its up to your creativity. The quicker and more natural your first touch becomes, the more time it will give you to plan your next move. The best players always seem to have time and space on the ball because of the quality of their first touch.
Practice makes perfect! All you need for the easiest first-touch drill is a wall and any kind of ball (even a tennis ball works). Throw or kick the ball at the wall from a variety of angles and bring it under control as it bounces back — left foot, right foot, thighs, chest, even shoulders and head. There really is no secret to it. It may sound simple, but it’s the best way to develop those instincts alone. If you have the luxury of practicing with someone else, the drill doesn’t change much. Your teammate takes the place of the wall and have fun with the ball.
How is your first touch?
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Today’s most youth soccer players are tired. What happens if a soccer player doesn’t get enough sleep? How important is sleep anyway?
Although sleep is most times overlooked when planning out a training regimen, it should be considered as equally important as nutrition and physical conditioning. Slowed reaction times lead not only to missed pass or goal opportunities but can result in injuries as well. No matter what level they are performing at that they need to listen to their bodies. When preparing for a physically demanding match or training, it is important to ensure that you are hydrated before, during and after, are well fed and have given your body the proper nutrition to supply the body with energy throughout the entire match.
Sleep is a requisite if you want to be great on the field: Sleep experts have been studying the effects of sleep deprivation for many years and have determined that the lack of sleep affects the athlete greatly in the following ways:
Sleep to Recover:
Muscle fatigue and breakdown, which occurs after strenuous activity, and needs adequate time to heal for the muscles to repair and regenerate before the next activity in order to refrain from injury. A lack of sleep can also increase stress. Elevated levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, has also been shown to interfere negatively with tissue repair and growth. SLEEP DEPRIVATION CAN ALSO LEAD TO SLOWED DOWN REACTION TIMES. And, a slow reaction on the field can lead to injury in the form of a collision with another player or being hit by a ball you didn’t see coming your way.
A lack of sleep can also increase stress. Elevated levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, has also been shown to interfere negatively with tissue repair and growth.
Those who are sleep deprived may experience lower energy storage levels, which is needed to perform at peak levels in endurance events like soccer. Sleep impacts a soccer player’s performance: With busy schedules, often sleep suffers and no one really thinks about the lack of sleep impacting peak performance. This a big mistake.
In today’s fast-paced world, sleep is thought of as a luxury as opposed to a necessity. SLEEP IS NOT A LUXURY. This way of thinking needs to change, especially in the athletic population if a peak performance is expected out of the body every time it touches the soccer field.
Recommendations: What are the recommended hours of sleep for youth and adult athletes/soccer players?
This is a hard question to answer because like with most things in the human body, the number of hours of sleep needed is individually based, especially when we are talking about athletes. Sleep experts for many years have recommended 9-10 hours of sleep for the average adolescent or teen and 7-9 hours for the average adult, but those hours may need to be increased for the athletic population.
Proper focus on sleep and will allow the body the time it needs to recover and re-energize to perform at your best!
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Highlights on social media, scoreline, parent sideline, prizes for individual stats, the opponent style of play, time left on clock etc... all force you to make a decision of how to play during the match.
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The most important thing every player should understand is, in general:
That is the process to the top.
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Consciously or not, every player that is part of the team, during the game faces many opportunities that demand different decisions. The players decision that is fast and correct is extremely influential in the game.
“Everything starts from what the player sees. Not from what they looks at.”
If the player is aware, there is no place to fear and they will want the ball. They become responsible, creative and confident in the game. The basis of the decision process is information. The time, quality and frequency of gained information is a key in this process.
Constantly moving, players must be aware of which direction and part of the field they should move and why. That is perception, sense of awareness, and our field of sight. However, our field of view is limited, but our awareness can improve by understanding this:
1) Scanning the field - Player gathers information from surroundings.
2) Correcting body position
3) Correcting position on the field
Types of information on the field
– Where is the space with advantage (free space, numerical balance)
– Where are opponents
– Where are teammates
– Position in the formation
Based on the received information, a player must analyze them in relation to their position, principles and, assessment of the risk and which solution will bring the biggest advantage for the team.
All this information seems to be quite easy to remember and use during the game, however, sometimes the easiest way seems to be the most difficult to use. Cryuff once said,
“Soccer is simple, but it is difficult to play simple.”
How much you know is the one, but how you will use it is the other thing. Cognitive Process is one of the most difficult pieces of skill a player can develop. Done correctly, their speed of play will be unstoppable. But it takes time to develop the brain to think this way because it’s happening individually inside the head of each player. The player must understand it takes time and patience to think this way. Trust the process.
All we can do as coaches is to replicate the situations that are troublesome for the players during the game. Situations where defenders are set in transitional opportunities (ex. defense to offense), where they need to control more than one aspect of the game. Where attackers must decide what to use to control the pass or what type of run to make or dribble. The direction they will choose to create an attack.
Watching football is a great way to learn more about the game. Ask your coaches questions!
The biggest difference between the good and the best players is, decision making and first touch. So get your head up and gather the infomation to execute.
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Many coaches and trainers have been saying that phrase quite often but most are missing a ton of depth and nuance. As a result, we’re not correctly identifying this player attribute.
By far, most players [outside elite pros] you identify as ‘checking their shoulder‘ are doing it to see if there’s pressure nearby. By far, they are not scanning the field to assess what their next decision is – not to mention what 2 or 3 moves into the future could be. Focus on space to attack, body position to receive, type of touch/pass and most importantly, the technique to execute.
That, my friends, is truly ‘checking your shoulder‘. Those are details that matter and that’s what separates special from average.
Learning to ID these players who are next level takes a ton of experience. But at least now we’re aware there’s more to it than witnessing a simple head swivel, "check your shoulder!"
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