There are very few resources for the un-athletic player. There are scarce resources for the child that is plunged into the competitive, cut-throat chase of the early status seeking parents and clubs that take the best athletes, throw a ball in the middle of field and reward the biggest, fastest, strongest most aggressive player when he or she kicks it into the back of the net.
At LeftFoot Coaching Academy, a private soccer training school, I’ve developed a recipe for success that integrates technical movement training, coaching strategies that support the techniques and brought everything into successful applications for my clients on the field. This philosophy was designed to de- velop athleticism and integrate correctional exercise within a supportive coaching environment. Combined with a foundation of mental discipline, we created a path for hundreds of local soccer players to go from the lowest teams to the top level of play. These players experienced what I now refer to as the Foundation Series of LeftFoot Coaching Academy’s model of Great Player Development.
Maia Lundstrom was a gawky, uncoordinated, aloof player that was cut from the lowest of five U11 teams. She couldn’t strike a ball, dribble, run or squat to save her life. From a Functional Movement Screen perspective, she would have been a 0. She was passed from clinic to clinic, club to club, until her father was introduced to me in the winter of 2007. Maia was cut from the local super-club team because she couldn’t play in the field, and so her father sought me out with the intention that she would never be cut again from a team because she couldn’t play in the field as a goalie.
Maia and I created a three-pronged strategy to get her onto the top team as a field player:
1. She was going to be creative with the ball.
2. She was going to be a deadly ball striking machine and
3. We were going to make her so technically sound in multi-directional speed techniques that she would have the foundation of skill to build on as she grew into her body since she was only 12.
Three years later, Maia earned several accolades on her way to becoming one of the elite goalkeepers in the state at a leading soccer academy. She now plays half the time in goal and the other half in the field.
Another player, Gabriel Bland, was the daughter of an English soccer player who was born premature. At the time of our introduction, Gabby couldn’t accelerate, stand on one leg or execute a single leg lunge. Her footwork, shot and speed were less than appealing. I cut Gabby from my second team while at the local super club during the first years of beginning LeftFoot Coach- ing Academy.
My first team had the best athletic soccer players at U12. My second team had average players that still needed work. Gabby didn’t make either team. When her mom asked me why, I gave her seven technical skills that I wanted to see in players on the top team. Her mom stated that this was the first time ever that a coach had given specific, technical feedback to her about her daughter, and so we started a coaching relationship that was geared toward getting Gabby onto that team, even though I knew it would take years. This started a private coaching strategy that was bent on replicating the success that I had with Maia and transitioning the success to Gabby, while still integrating soccer skills with athletic development.
Most coaches would take these players and start them touching a ball, dribbling and gaining a touch, or they would teach them a series of moves and ask the players to perform them. And that’s what I used to do prior to meeting Maia.
The Foundation Series
Now, almost 200 players and five years later, I have created what I now refer to as the Foundation Series of the Great Player Model of Development.
The Foundation Series is a six-step process that involves the idea of working backwards from what Great Players do.!
At LeftFoot Coaching Academy, I outline several significant characteristics of Great Soccer Players.!
Great Soccer Players are:
1. Creative with the ball.
2. Great in the air.
3. Accurate and full of power while striking the ball.
4. Fast in Body and Mind.
5. Balanced in task and ego-oriented goals.
6. Aware of Vision and Movement in multiple directions on and off the ball.
7. Passionate and Effective communicators.
Great Players can do all of these things well at the highest level. And while we break down the tasks into the techniques and the measured skills of how we teach our players to be great, we start with a Foundation of Skills that every player must learn and master. Our success comes from these Foundational Skills in combination with the Values of our company (which help players go from the last team to first team), and how other coaches can create successful experiences for players of every sport.
The Foundation Series starts with multi-directional speed, or what’s commonly referred to as Lateral Deceleration, within the principles of movement in the International Youth Conditioning Association literature.
When I first began teaching Lateral Deceleration to Maia, I noticed that all of the ball skills she had brought into her soccer skills didn’t correlate with how the body moves. As a Martial Artist, form leads to application, yet in the soccer world we often just use what works. Maia could not hold a static Lateral Deceleration stance in a stationary sequence without falling, and so by spending countless hours progressing her technical understanding of the sequence of steps within a static application of Lateral Deceleration, we began to integrate “stances” into the application of ball skills and ball striking at the Academy.
In most soccer books and courses, technique is messy and has very little sequencing that flows across platforms. While some pioneers are trying to pin down names of “moves,” the study of the actual movement of the body is often left out of the discussion of the technique. By integrating the IYCA principles of movement and multi- directional speed to evaluate many common soccer “moves” – how they are taught by so-called experts, actually damages the youth player over time.
Using the Lateral Deceleration technique at the Academy, we combine static and dynamic movement of the lateral deceleration stance of the body with the common move called the step- over, through a series of progressions we refer to as a five-step learning sequence – called the Step-Over Sequence.
I combined these moves so that I could teach form and application at the same time – using a ball to create an integrated experience. Unlike using ladders to teach rhythm and balance, we use the step-over sequence to teach comfort with the ball, acceleration, deceleration and game application all at once. We also integrate both the left and right feet in stopping and restarting a moving ball. Cutting and changing pace in a repeated sequence on both sides dynamically with a ball is a process I refer to as “loop- ing”, where the same movement is executed without pause and for an extended period of time. The trainer can include changes in duration, intensity, and rhythm.
The Step-Over Sequence includes seven dynamic progressions with the ball: Static replication of the technique with a dead ball, Dynamic repetition of the technique in short bursts of speed with a dead ball, Dynamic repetition with a moving ball, Dynamic looping with a moving ball, and then Rhythmic movement with a moving ball. Players finish the sequence with applications against partners, and then integrate into game application.
The Foundation Series #1: Lateral Deceleration
Learning and applying the Lateral Deceleration stance on and off the ball is the first step for students at LeftFoot Coaching Academy to master. It creates the foundation of all of our movements with and without the ball, as well as creates a series of sequenced progressions that students can adapt to new skills. From this stance we can then add more technical skills.
The Foundation Series #2: Quick-Six Touch
The second process in the Foundation Series is called Quick-Six Touch, and we use our Hesitation Sequence to teach it. That way, each student progresses their understanding of Linear Deceleration techniques into a series designed to create six different surface touches of the foot with linear movement – while touch- ing the ball and changing rhythm.
Our Quick-Six Touch theory suggests that ball skills for soccer players are not the combination of a library of moves, but are re- ally the application of over twelve different surfaces of the foot touching the ball at speed, rhythm and deception. There are also six different types of touch that, when combined with different surfaces, create a flurry of skills and combinations for players. How we introduce the Quick-Six Touch is by using a second sequence of skills which overlaps and combines skills into faster movements.
The Hesitation Sequence entails a series of five “moves” that when combined, create over ten different surfaces and five types of touch. What coaches can do is take the concept of “overlay” and “looping” and progress those with foundational skills of their own sport.
The Foundation Series #3: Low-Instep Drive
The third step in our Foundation Series is what we refer to as the Low-Instep Drive. A driven ball in soccer is produced by striking the ball dead center with a locked ankle. The ball will travel with no spin on a single straight line just below knee height for ten to forty yards. For most youth players this is almost impossible. Which is why it is third in our series because it takes the longest to teach, but it creates a foundation for the next three progressions.
The Low-Instep drive includes several dynamic movement sequences that most athletes lack: jumping, landing, extension, pelvic tilt, ankle mobility, the ability to decelerate on a single leg, balance and then connect both the arm and leg in a sudden thrust of contra-lateral expansion and contraction. We also have issues associated with the hips and rotational movements with 90% of our new students.!
Both Gabby and Maia had no rotational movement of either their hips or their upper body. Gabby had a slight hunch in her upper back and her legs lacked any mobility in both the ankle and knee extension. She swung her leg straight through the motion from a linear approach and her arms were dangling by her side. At the point of teaching Gabby, I had just nailed down a series of nine steps that progressed the application of striking the ball. At that point, I was starting to replicate an execution of techniques of allowing the student to practice the Low-Instep Drive.
Using a series of progressions and exercises to expand on each topic within the form, I was able to begin replicating the success I had with Maia for Gabby. I began to modify corrective exercise movements into the technique of the Low-Instep Drive.
For instance, Gabby would stand on her left leg and then extend her left hand over her head while at the same time flexing the knee back to touch her right buttocks. At that point she would bring her knee through to touch her chest while her left arm would cross her body, all while keeping her back straight. This exercise would be given a series of sets and reps, and done before and after striking a stationary ball. It would also be done while moving in a “looping” linear fashion, but then also combined with lateral movement. I would expand and make it harder as I continued to work with her by combining movements on the ball and the angles of approach.
Gabby and I continued to work together, but expanded our work at the same time that I was coaching my team of players. While I was building a super team, I was coaching a group of players from another team within the same age group, league and community. I started teaching them the same things I was teaching my teams and finalized the last three concepts of the Foundation Series.
The Foundation Series #4: First Touch Spatial Awareness
A player’s ability to see space and allow their first touch to capitalize on attacking that space is critical to understanding tactical development. Unfortunately the current way that soccer is taught is not how soccer is played!
Most coaches still teach players to trap or stop the ball without understanding that the youth game requires a speed of play that is consistent with full court pressure basketball. While the professionals can stop the ball and look to assess the game, youth players with unlimited substitutions need to have different technical and tactical skills.
The first touch and spatial awareness of the player is a critical skill that has to be taught and constantly applied to tactical situations. Even from a bio-mechanical stance, several techniques that are popular in clubs are too slow and predictable to help players deal with the fast-paced dynamic nature of the game. By applying and integrating lateral directional movements associated with cross- over steps and the directional step in lateral movement, the first touch development is critical in developing creative players.
The Foundation Series #5: Aerial Control
Players are brainwashed these days to “keep the ball on the ground” or “settle the ball first” with a preconceived notion that soccer is only played on the ground. Often players feel that “control” is only at the bottom of their foot and they have an awkward feeling when the ball is in the air.
Unfortunately, a majority of problems that occur in the game have the ball in the air! Being able to control the ball in the air with multiple surfaces and in a variety of directions is essential for players that want to play at the highest levels. Strikers who can dribble the ball but can’t head or volley the ball are basically worthless. How many times have you seen players shank the ball as it comes out of the air, or miss hit a header? It’s because we have outdated ideas of the game and outdated methodologies. By integrating correctional movements with the ball, players have shown an increased comfort not only “in” their body, but also with the ball moving in the air.
The Foundation Series #6: Measuring Success!
Most players have grown up with the American parent’s view of soccer success: Boot it, chase it, pass it, get it and destroy the play! Our players then learn to measure their success based on the impact they have on the game as it relates to how they can boot the ball, chase down attackers and run fast. While at the top levels of the game the measures of success are far more intri- cate; players and families can’t find ways to set reasonable goals within the game without tracking things like “moves” or “goals” and wins. At LeftFoot we teach players the fundamentals of the game at the highest levels and encourage players to see success on the field in different ways.
Finally, while we’ve created a series and philosophy within Left- Foot Coaching Academy of how we want to teach and develop players … it is ultimately about how the player responds to technical training. The Foundation Series is nothing if game play and application are not integrated with the total experience of technique. I’ve found that the player’s experience with the game and all of its movements and opportunities is never fully integrated unless the coach or the game is keeping technical skills and application front and center.
Games of all sorts with and without the balls are critical to find- ing movement opportunities and repetitions high. At LeftFoot Coaching Academy, we try to emphasize that all sessions include at least 100 technical applications of movement each session. Touches on the ball exceed or reach toward 2,000 and strikes on the ball exceed or reach 500 strikes. Our goals and our opportunities to reach our targets have to be measured and increase opportunities for players to get better each day they come to us. Without technical application, we’ve done nothing for the fu- ture of the player – and our players could not go from last to first.
*This post was written in 2010