How to Shoot a Ball with Power and Accuracy: 4 Ways to Tell if Your Player Needs Help
I’m sitting here watching Minnesota youth soccer.
Disappointing to say the least.
The majority of turnovers are related to playing balls out of the air as well as trying to deliver flighted balls. What’s challenging to the players is the fact that most of them don’t know what they’re doing wrong; they just know they are not successful at getting the ball from point A to point B. The shrugged shoulders of disappointment are a clear sign of “I can’t/I don’t know how to …do it right.”
Now this isn’t U12C3 Girls soccer. This is U14C1 Boys. Both clubs are respected destinations. Both coaches are respected in their clubs and communities. However, neither of them are addressing the technical and tactical issues that their respective teams are struggling to perform. For one team, the coach is stressing short passing and small angles. Simple, elegant and on par with the fact that his players still “back up to strike a ball.” There’s no way this team will cross and finish anytime soon, they will have to basically pass the ball into the net from five yards away.
The other coach is trying to get some possession and “string passes together” so that his team can exploit the poor defending angles. His dribblers and playmakers can’t hit a straight ball over 15 yards. What both teams can’t do is differentiate strikes and do the right strike at the right time. Even more, while the foot skills are adequate, each team is predominately right footed, all touches, receiving, passing and preparation are right foot dominant, setting up the ball striking issues.
I think it’s embarrassing nowadays to see a soccer game and see players that don’t know how to shoot a ball with power and accuracy. Or place a ball to a spot, height and direction while moving. It would be similar to seeing a baseball game and the majority of the players can’t throw the ball to a target. That’s how bad we still are at the art of BallStriking. The purpose of this article is to at least highlight and maybe point out what I see so that maybe you can see why I’m disappointed.
Here are several things you can look for when observing a youth soccer game.
1). Flight/Path of the Ball.
I try to point out to players that the flight and height of the ball is specific to the actions that we want and intend. The flight of the ball should be as straight as possible. If the intention is to curve the ball, then it should bend with side spin up and then down toward the receiver. For most players though the target of the strike is not the path that the ball takes. Watch any shots on goal, for an example. Did the player intend to place the ball in the exact spot with the exact height? Probably not. So for Flight of the Ball, think path, think straight.
2). Height of the Flight.
Great players can differentiate between the height of the strike and therefore modify the distance. There are four basic heights that a U14 players should be able to control and decide which one to do, how and why. For these purposes we’ll use the body to orient your perception of the height of the ball.
a.— Obviously, low and driven over 18 yards is the most difficult ball to perform while moving. Grass, air time, balance and pressure all play a considerable role, but if your player can do the Low Instep Drive in game play, you’ve separated yourself from a huge pool of players. A Low Instep Drive is defined as straight, with no spin under knee height and over 15 yards.
b.— The second tier is knee height and driven. This is a dangerous ball to defend as a goal keeper on crosses as well as a great ball to penetrate a back four. It’s fast, low, no spin, travels straight and true. Your center mid should be able to master this strike to send a ball to a striker making a run. This ball will bounce low and travel far. It will create chances in the box. An outside mid who can deliver this strike to the near post cross will get a lot of assists.
c.— Head height is next. A ball that is at head height on the way down is targeted. I like saying this is the goldilocks strike, not too high, not too low, perfect passing height to go over a defender and come down. This is a great pass. I refer to this as a High Lofted Ball at times because it should go up and come down at a player for a perfect pass. However, the HLB has two distinctions that we’ll discuss later related to spin.
d.— The final tier is above the head. We have to be aerospace engineers here and realize that the space above the head is based on time and distance. Too high and without the correct spin and the time of flight takes too long to get to the space. Too low and with no spin and it doesn’t give us enough time to get to the space. This height is based on spacing, style of play and ability of players to receive, track and anticipate flighted balls. You won’t see a sophisticated awareness of this height in youth soccer. The sad thing is you could, but there’s a judgement against the air in the game. I think it’s “Grassist.”
Now this is the hardest to see and the easiest to hold your players accountable to when learning ball striking theory. Yes, I’m a self-proclaimed “spinnest.” I will judge your player based on the spin of their strike. The wrong spin in the situation will make a huge difference in the play. This of a quarterback that can’t throw a tight spiral. Would you want to be the receiver of a ball that wobbled pass?
a– No Spin – The “knuckle ball” that so many young players aspire to, most believing that it’s unobtainable, but for the most part can be taught to 9 year olds. Managing the height of the no spin strike is actually the hardest thing to do.
b- back spin. The High Lofted Ball wants and needs back spin to slow the ball down. You don’t want back spin on a ball that’s been cleared out of your defensive half, why? The opposing team has a chance to read it’s flight and get under it, sending it back toward your goal. But unfortunately the side lines cheer, “great kick.”
c. – side spin. The Bent Ball, can it curve around the defender, can it drop in behind as it dies on the pitch at the defenders feet.
Knowing which spin goes with which height is key. Too many players drive a back spin ball. As a receiver of that ball, a great big sarcastic “thanks.”
4. Angle of Approach
When I first began teaching the Low Instep Drive as a Foundation Series technique I made the assumption that Step 1 would be the Plant Foot. Over the years that I taught this, I began discussing the approach process as the initial Step 0. This took the Low Instep Drive Principles from 1-8 to Nine Core Principles of Technique.
What’s important about the angle of approach is to get the hips involved in the strike as well as opening the hip joint to “torque” the glutes into the strike. Most young players approach the ball “straight on” but also over compensate on the leg swinging through the ball. At the same time, a lot of players “jump” into the plant foot. These movements are completely inefficient to striking a ball properly. When you watch your player approach the ball the most common approach to to tap the ball away, step back and then jump into the plant foot to strike the ball. If a player is running with the ball, this “bad habit” is replaced with “pitter patter” steps as they run toward the ball. Both completely inefficient while hindering their power transfer into the strike.
So watch how the player approaches the ball, what’s their angle of approach? Do they run into the ball? Do they need a lot of space to get a running start. Do they even step into the strike, or do they just swing their leg?
How Can We Help Each Other Succeed?
Hopefully, this helps you realize that the game is much more than footskills and futsal on grass. BallStriking isn’t too be judged as “kick ball.” The game has so much to offer coaches and players to study technique. How and why can I strike the ball to get it to a place where I can help others succeed. That has to be the question of every player, and every coach who chastices and corrects their players from “just kicking the ball” should ask themselves , what would happen if I could really teach my players to strike a ball? What would I have to learn about teaching technique that I haven’t? And if I don’t have time to teach how to strike a ball, isn’t it in my best interest to learn how and why I could?