Coaches Corner: The Three Most Important Skills in Soccer

Three skills you can practice every time you step on the field, no matter who you are.

Coaches Corner: The Three Most Important Skills in Soccer

Coaching soccer, I often get asked: "What can I work on to get better?"

It's always a good question to ask yourself as a player, however lightly or seriously you treat the game.

While I always try to tailor my answer to whoever is asking, there are three things I believe everyone can focus on in order to get better.

While these are things everyone should be working on, they are particularly fruitful to focus on if you're a nascent soccer player, or even not quite a beginner, but still finding your comfort zone.

1. Knowledge. Specifically your awareness on the field. There is nothing in soccer that can hold you back for longer than lacking an awareness on the field.

You can be 93 with two bad knees, but if you're aware of where what's going on and where you should position yourself, it won't matter because you will be able to read the play on the field and understand what is going to happen before it does.

There are a couple of things you can do to practice this.

First, you need to be looking around the field, getting information. Conventionally this is called scanning the field.

When you're waiting to receive a pass, you need to be looking around to see where the nearest defender is who is going to come to you, and also finding where your teammates are so you can distribute the ball.

If a teammate has the ball, you need to look for the empty spaces on the field where you can run to, look for where the defenders are, look for where your teammates are, and decide where you need to be at that moment.

When you're defending, don't just look at the player with the ball, look at the other attackers and where they are heading towards.

I cannot tell you how many skilled players remain average because they do not know how to look around the field, because they are not aware of their surroundings. And that is all this really is, being aware of your surroundings by looking.

Second, play different positions on the field.

I've already advocated for this before, but it is vital to the game of soccer to understand how each position fits together.

Understanding what each position wants on the field, not just empathetically but through experience, can shape the way you play with much more refinement and elegance than anything else.

A defender playing striker might learn how important it is to stay high and threaten a counter attack to relieve pressure instead of dropping low, defending, and getting trapped in your own end.

Vice versa, a striker playing defender can learn how important off-the-ball movement is when moving up the field from the back, and how to make cautious, safe decisions.

Playing a different position will give you insight into what your teammates want from you on the field, which in turn makes you a better player. It's as simple as that.

2. Fitness.


I am groaning as I'm even writing the words but it's true (it also happens to be the reason I became a goalie), but fitness is simply a must have trait.

I'm not saying you have to be able to jog-sprint-jog-sprint across the pitch for 45 minutes straight, but you need to be able to last.

Everyone is fit and energetic in the first 5 minutes of the game, but it's the last 5 minutes where the field opens up, people start trying to take short cuts, and the fittest person on the field can rule the pitch.

There are two types of fitness, both of which are important to practice.

Short sprint fitness. There's a misconception in soccer that being soccer fit means you've got to have the same fitness as a long distance runner.

While you do have to run for a long time, the most important pieces of time are when you have to sprint for 5, maybe 10 seconds, and then be able to come out of that sprint still able to jog around the field, stay in position, and be able to make another 5 second sprint.

If you go on runs, alternating from jogging, to sprinting, to jogging again is the best way that you can practice this.

While being able to sprint on demand is massively important, you do also need to have that longevity factor.

I know a lot of you might be wearing fit bits and apple watches on the field, so you might have your own data, but on average over a 40 minute game on a 7v7 field, people will move around 1.5 miles.

For 40 minutes, it's not a massive distance, but it's 40 minutes of sprinting-accelerating on average 1 time per minute.

If that's a metric you think you can handle, I can guarantee you'll be a step above anyone else on the field.

3. First touch.

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I like to emphasize how important the things players do without the ball because most of the game that is what we all are, players without the ball.

But, obviously, the moments we get the ball are vital and the skill that gate keeps the most beginner and intermediate players is how the receive the ball, their first touch.

For those of you who don't know, your first touch is, very plainly, the first touch you make on the ball, usually the one you make after you receive a pass.

If you want to develop a good first touch, the first thing you need to develop is a soft touch.

It is the difference between receiving a pass, and then the ball bouncing 5+ yards away, and keeping the ball at your feet.

At the most basic level, practice receiving the ball and keeping it in a place that is comfortable for you, where the ball is protected from the other team at your feet, and where you can either pass it or dribble it with ease.

Once you're able to do that consistently, which is no mean feat, you can begin to develop your first touch to take you places.

What I mean by that is, instead of stopping the ball, and then dribbling or shooting or passing, your first touch becomes a pass, a dribble, or a shot on goal.

If you're even unsure of what you can be practicing, practice your first touch.

I hope you enjoyed this little read. Until next time.

- James Berry