As a young player aspiring to make it to the starting eleven, a better team, or the next level, it’s vastly important you learn how to develop correctly. Every player needs to start from the bottom, learning and perfecting the fundamentals of the game before slowly building their own repertoire of moves.
Believe it or not, there are many players who play at high levels of soccer that have not spent enough time on their fundamentals. These so-called “fundamentals” of soccer consist of four key elements: passing, receiving, dribbling and shooting. Let’s go through each one, their importance, and how you can improve them.
Passing and receiving are closely related. Being able to play an accurate pass every time is an attribute few players have. All you really need to do to improve the accuracy and speed of your passes is to just find a wall and pass the ball repeatedly against it so that it rebounds back to you. This also inadvertently works on your receiving skills, as the ball rolling back to you simulates a pass as well. With this, you can work on different types of receptions, using different parts of your foot. As well, learning different types of receiving turns is an essential tool to add to your offensive arsenal. As you get older, your first touch off a pass could mean the difference between keeping and losing the ball, or it could define the tempo of a possession. The first thing many coaches look for in a player is a good first touch. Another way to improve your first touch is to learn how to juggle. Juggling is not only a great warmup, but it massively improves your feel for and control of the ball. When you watch professional games and wonder how players easily bring down a pass that came from across the field, most of that has to do with the feel for the ball that they developed through juggling everyday. I can’t understate how important it is to continue to work on your passing and receiving. As you get to higher levels, more and more intricate details are required and expected, including but not limited to: passing the ball to the correct foot, turning and taking your first touch with the correct foot, passing the ball at the correct pace and making sure your pass stays flat on the ground instead of bouncing its way to your teammate. There’s no way you can even hope to pass a soccer ball to the correct foot of your teammate if you can’t make an accurate pass to your friend in general.
The art of dribbling is a skill most players pride themselves in. Being able to dribble past your opponent, or at least keep the ball away from them is a must have skill. After all, the main obstacle stopping you from a chance at goal is your defender. Many try to replicate the likes of Messi and Neymar, but dribbling can be a bit more difficult to figure out. Simple cone drills online can greatly help improve your control over the ball. In fact, there are many in our video tutorial section on the Thunder Shots website, where coaches Simone, Yoshi, Arnav, Matthew and Ethan demonstrate basic drills that help both a player’s dribbling and passing.
Finally, the skill I consider the least important but many consider the most pleasurable to practice: shooting. Getting the technique right is far more important here than how much power you have in your legs. Here are the basics to the proper shooting form:
Look at the goal before you shoot. If you don’t, you won’t know where the keeper or where the goal is.
Keep your eye on where you want to make contact with the ball. Most of the time, it should be just under the center of the ball.
Take quick but even strides as you run up to the ball.
Make sure your placement foot (the foot you aren’t shooting with) is placed right next to the ball and pointed directly where you want the ball to go. You’d be surprised how often the ball heads exactly in the direction that foot is pointed at.
As you swing your leg towards the ball, make sure your ankle is locked and your toes are pointed down. This prevents the ball from slipping off into a direction you don’t want it to. At further distances, even a slight loosening of your ankle can mean a shot that flies well wide of the goal by several feet.
Strike the ball with the laces of your shoe, and follow through. Your center of gravity should have been shifted from your placement foot to your shooting foot, as if you jumped from one foot to another.
You can find each step shown in Yoshi’s example on the Thunder Shots website. I also can’t stress more that, while practicing shooting, make sure you’re hitting a moving ball. Many players practice shooting with a still ball, as if they’re taking a free kick. Free kick situations happen way less in games than normal shots, which is why you should be practicing with a moving ball (take a touch and shoot or beat an imaginary player and shoot). While shooting is fun, players manage to get the hang of it and fully develop with time, while the other three fundamental skills generally require more training and work. If you’re just starting, I highly recommend mastering dribbling, passing and receiving long before you start shooting.
3. Position Based Work
After mastering the fundamentals, you should generally be focused on this section in your practices. These differ for different positions.
Forwards generally have a more straightforward path of training. Their workload includes first touch, dribbling, developing one on one moves (beating defenders), shooting, ball control, and crossing.
Defenders often find it tricky to find different ways to train. It’s imperative to have great passing and good footwork, because losing possession of the ball as a defender gives the other team a direct chance at scoring. I would say the best way to improve pure defending is to simply get a forward at your level and repeatedly run a couple one on ones.
Midfielders have to do a bit of everything. They need to be well conditioned and really have the fundamentals mastered. However, the hardest part of the game is the decision making, more commonly known as “soccer IQ”. This normally requires watching a lot of film. Midfielders need to be able to do what both forwards and defenders do.
Goalkeepers are very different, and the best way to train a goalkeeper is to find a designated keeper coach, and to have friends shoot on you every now and then.
While these are simple outlines, coaches will expect more and more from each position as you play for higher levels of soccer. The very same coaches will often look for what might seem counterintuitive to differentiate players. They’ll look for forwards that can defend, defenders that can attack, and goalkeepers that are not just good with their hands but also have necessary foot skills.
4. Play and Watch Games
In order to truly sharpen the skills you have been practicing, you need to utilize them in situations that are, or at least simulate, real game circumstances. One principle that many players use is to take what you have worked on by yourself and implement that in your team’s practices’ scrimmages to gain the confidence you need to then use them in a game. If the skill or mindset seems daunting to use, you’re just not comfortable enough with it and might need to put in a couple more hours of work.
When you play games, it’s imperative you do your best to use what you learned previously. Make the fundamentals right, instead of taking the easy way out. Trust me, it’ll help in the long run. Games are your chance to show off what you have been practicing, but also to shake poor habits and develop positive ones.
As important as it is to play games, it’s also important to watch professional matches. Watching yourself play might also give you an edge over other players. Ask yourself questions such as, “What could I/he/she have done better there?” or “What is a poor habit he/she has?” and use those answers to look at different ways to improve. A good player learns from their errors, but a great player learns from others’ mistakes. Don’t just watch the highlights of professional games, but take the time to watch entire games, recorded or live. Watch the players playing your position, ESPECIALLY what they do off the ball. Identify the pockets of space the professionals are able to find, and when they decide to dribble versus when they realize it’s time to let the ball go. Learn to pass and move. Try to implement what you see into your playing style. Imagine yourself as the player you followed while watching games, and try to replicate their movement. Take note of everything you possibly can. Watching your own games is a great place to identify other players’ errors. Some players are slow in their movement to get the ball and others struggle to make decisions with the ball. Most players freeze and forget to move after they pass. While a good amount of players are capable of acknowledging that there are many areas in which they can improve in, many don’t push one step further to find out their weaknesses. You need to know where you struggle to get better. Improving areas in which you already excel at just doesn't make sense.
Soccer is a very rewarding sport. Your success is parallel to the amount of work you put in. There’s no easy way to put it, becoming a better player and reaching the next level is very hard. Few players have the motivation or the dedication to wake up day after day and work on what they’re horrible at. Worse, there are no short term rewards. When you hit your goals, it’ll be months or years after you first decided to start. Improving as a soccer player is both a commitment and a mindset. If you put in the hard work, practice the fundamentals to perfection, analyze games, and develop positional skills, you will get there. Although all of the aspects I’ve written about are all important, here’s a graph on which ones are more important, and which ones you should be spending the most time on.
This graph assumes that you have your fundamentals down. If not, that instantly becomes your first priority. Obviously, there’s more to the sport than just the basics, such as diet, conditioning, team tactics, and discipline. These tips, however, should easily help you become a better player. You may not notice it, but the more you practice, the quicker your feet become, the faster you think, and the more you see on the field.