How Does a Player Get Better?
I get this question a lot and unfortunately I often feel as I’m working in isolation of the total solution that would help the player. One session of private coaching is a drop in the bucket of the complete soccer and athletic experience of the player–and the complete skills reinforcement from training to game is obviously lost in the transition. Players can have a host of issues and depending on the age a host of movement patterns that are causing them problems in excelling thus, their soccer looks like rubbish, they come to me and my work begins.
My challenge is then connected with the psychological patterns, the movement patterns and the overall coordination of the athlete. Not to mention the player may have a one- dimensional understanding of the game or have never really learned the principles of the game only specific tactics that their coach wanted them to do without really understanding how to problem solve in and during the game.
Can I fix that?
Not as a private coach unfortunately, but as a team coach it’s one of my primary goals. To develop players that can solve their problems of the game on the field with a range of skill takes time and patience and most coaches don’t wait for success, they want it this weekend or next game or at the future tourney.
Since I can’t influence every player’s understanding of the game I’ve positioned myself to make sure that I can influence their movements within the game. I’ve also gleaned from years of youth coaching what separates each player and then what skills I can reinforce privately so that my player can incorporate into their current team and shine.
These skills are defined as general movement skills, creative ball mastery, vision and awareness and finally, precision ball striking. I’ve taken these four ideas and basically broken them down into what soccer skills my private clients have excelled in demonstrating: the low instep drive, quick changes of direction and acceleration and an evolving mental discipline that has helped them gain more control of their body and mind because of our practice together.
When I first began teaching the low instep drive to high school players I knew that several movements were essential in the process:
1) the location and direction of the plant foot
2) the snapping of the knee along with
3) the locked ankle.
Now for many of you that seems easy to understand but my athletes would present me with a host of issues: weak glutes (thus they would swing the fully extended leg around the ball), floppy ankles, uneven hip swings, disassociated upper and lower body movements( so that the arms would not swing as they strike the ball), weak core muscle control that would lift their shoulders as they struck the ball not to mention the eagerness to watch the ball go into the goal which would then lift the ball over the net.
All of that with a lack of kinesthetic differentiation (amount of force required) that combined with poor proprioceptive and spatial awareness–the ability to land on a single leg at a specific spot, over and over again while striking a moving object. WOW! That’s a lot to digest, teach and learn! No wonder most kids can’t shoot low!
The low instep drive is the hardest shot to defend and the hardest to master.
When I tracked the time and effort it took for just my “strikers” to learn the low instep drive I noticed that when I began to add in more complex techniques they were able to easily and efficiently add on new techniques. What I found was that in emphasizing ONE technical lesson and breaking it down to all the component parts, movements and practices I was helping the players MASTER a SKILL. As I began coaching with what’s termed skills sets: consistent verbal directions that model the technique I found that the players were then correcting themselves based on what was or was not happening in the game. They knew why, how and what to fix or to concentrate on in their next attempt.
What happened in that time of teaching my strikers and then central mids how to strike the low driven ball was that the psychological skills of dedicated practice and concentration began to contribute to more confidence and willingness to try new skills. We scored a lot of goals that year but I had only really kept that training to myself and my strikers–I didn’t really teach that to my girls’ teams or coaching camps. It wasn’t until later that when I worked with three young ladies who came to me with the intent of getter better that I began to frame the notion that if I could give them this skill and let them master it then they would find some success with new teams.
Those girls had a tremendous learning curve and their first day of the low instep drive was U-G-L-Y! but now? They’re kinda better than me…. and two of them are now goal scorers on their teams!
So think about it? At 12, 14, 16, 18, 8, 6, or 10 years of age what has your player mastered? Soccer has a range of techniques, problems and tactics but not every player or coach focuses enough to truly allow players to learn, try, find success and then apply specific skills through a game. Can you, the parent truly say, this is what my son or daughter really learned? As a player can you say specifically what you are good at? What do you want to accomplish as a skill in each game, practice or tournament?
Are you winning? Is that your measure? Or can you knock the snot out of the ball, dribble around other players, see the field and the options, and change direction with a linear deceleration step, crossover and then hip turn? Do you understand technique as a skill set that you can master or do you just do what your coach wants you to?