Youth soccer player

Beginner Soccer Skills: Defend, Pass, Control and Shoot

The basics in soccer are key to the game. Pro players have mastered these areas, so these are skills that will always beneficial to any soccer player. If you can get great at any two of these, you are sure to do well in the game.

What soccer skills are needed for Beginners?

At its core, soccer revolves around 4 main skills:

  1. Shooting
  2. Passing
  3. Ball Control
  4. Defending

There are many other important things to concentrate on in the sport such as tactics and gameplans. However, working on these areas is coach-specific and should be tackled by more advanced players.

For the beginner, improving a particular skill or technique should be the focus of training sessions. Building strong fundamentals is the key to becoming a good well-rounded player.

Passing

Xavi side passing a soccer ball
Xavi demonstrating a textbook passing technique for the Spanish national team.

There are several ways of kicking a ball. Different techniques are used for different purposes. For example, a standard pass is played with the inside of the foot, while a more powerful shot might be struck with the ‘laces’ or the front of the foot.

Here’s a look at the basic passing and shooting techniques. The textbook passing technique used for short to mid-distance passes involves using the inside of the passing foot. Here is a step by step, how to pass a soccer ball;

  1. Take a short step and plant your standing leg to the side of the ball so that it doesn’t obstruct the kicking leg or the path of the pass. It’s generally good practice to point your standing foot in the direction that you are passing.
  2. Swing back your kicking leg just enough to generate the necessary power to pass.
  3. As you swing your leg forward toward the ball, open out your hip, knee, and foot so that the inside of the foot is now going to be the point of contact with the ball.
  4. Lock the ankle of your kicking leg to ensure stability in the strike.
  5. Connect with the center of the back of the ball and follow through.
  6. The pass should be firm but not too powerful.
Pique with a strong pass
Pique showing how to get more power in a side pass by following through with the leg

Shooting

Zlatan_Ibrahimovic lining up a big shot
Ibrahimovic shooting

From close range, it can be very effective to use a passing technique when shooting. It’s the most accurate and controlled way to strike a ball and so when power is not needed, try passing the ball into the net. For when you do need an extra bit of ‘zip’ on your pass, here’s the classic shooting technique: with the front of the foot.

Step by step, how to shoot a soccer ball;

  1. Take a few steps back or place the ball a few feet in front of you. A shot requires more power than a pass so the run-up is necessary. Some players like to stand further away than others. Try a few distances to see what suits you best.
  2. When approaching the ball to shoot, it’s best to take short quick steps. This helps the legs to prepare for the explosive shooting action.
  3. Plant your standing leg alongside the ball, cocking back your kicking leg.
  4. Lock the ankle of the kicking leg to make it stable.
  5. Strike the ball hard with the front of your foot and follow through. Don’t focus too much on power, to the point that the technique or connection with the ball suffers. A balance of technique and power will ensure the best strike. 
  6. Stand upright or lean slightly forward when shooting. Do not lean back or the ball is likely to fly high, wide and not very handsome.
File:Germany and Argentina face off in the final of the World Cup 2014 04 crop.jpg
Lionel Messi lining up a powerful shot for Argentina | Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
This video demonstrates a range of techniques. Look closely at the power and strike quality generated using the laces technique.

Receiving the Ball – Control

In a soccer match, one can receive the ball from any direction or height and at various power levels. A player may be forced to use their head, chest, thighs, knees or feet to control a ball. Some of these more unorthodox techniques are useful but tricky. For beginners, it’s most important to be able to receive a pass comfortably, with a good touch and control.

Image result for control soccer
Receiving a pass

Today’s game is possession focused with a huge emphasis being put on passing and ball retention. It’s crucial for players in all positions to be able to receive the ball in tight areas and be comfortable controlling it under pressure.

Step by step, the technique of receiving a pass:

  1. Different scenarios require different body positions. For example:
    1. In a defensive position, with players closing you down and running towards you, you will want to stand squarely allowing you to take a touch either side of your opponent to move or pass away.
    2. In a midfield position, it’s important to be able to turn into space to progress upfield. In this scenario, open up your body upon receiving the ball. Turn out your hips and control the ball using the inside of your foot. This opens up the field and gives you more space, time and options to make your next move.
    3. In an advanced attacking position with your back to goal, you should have a low center of gravity, leaning into the defender and shielding the ball from them.
Image result for control soccer
Ronaldo controlling a high ball
  1. In all positions, it’s important to “check your shoulder” before receiving. This means looking around to identify the positions of your opponents.
  2. Use the inside of your foot to control the ball. This is a large, flat part of the foot and so it can absorb the power quite well, killing the ball’s momentum. Over time it’s important to be able to use different parts of the foot to receive a pass, but for beginners, using the inside of both feet should be the area of focus.
  3. The standing leg should be positioned for balance, defensive shielding, and to set up the next move or pass.

Tackling

Unlike shooting, passing and dribbling, the art of defending is not so subtle. Tackling is the most important skill to learn for a beginner defender. There are two main types of tackles: a standing tackle, and a sliding tackle. As a rule of thumb, defenders should try to stay on their feet. A sliding tackle should only be attempted if absolutely necessary.

Standing Tackle

Image result for tackle soccer
Standing tackle example – Ball should be poked away – Timing is key

When an opponent is in front of you, trying to dribble or move past you, it’s best practice to position your body in such a way that encourages the attacker to run into space away from your goal. Slowly close the distance on the attacker, jockeying them away from goal until a suitable moment comes for you to dispossess your opponent. It’s generally advised to use your foot closest to the ball to do this.

Steps on how to tackle;

  1. Wait for the right moment
  2. Be 80% sure you will win the tackle
  3. When the attacker loses control of the ball, strike!
  4. To poke away, stretch your closest foot towards the ball and use your toe
  5. To take possession to get your body in between the attacker and the ball
  6. Crouch slightly with a wide stance to be firm
  7. Dribble the ball away or pass to a teammate

If you are running alongside an opponent you can either tackle or block the ball by stepping across the attacker, or you can move between the attacker and the ball. Be careful not to foul your opponent in this instance.

Football, Ball Control, Sport, Player, Departure, Shot
Strong firm stance – Between player and ball

Tackling from behind is the most difficult standing tackle technique. In many situations, a tackle from behind will result in a foul on the attacker. To avoid this, the defender should move to the side of their opponent and step across, touching or intercepting the ball away from them.

This should only be attempted if the defender is confident that they will win possession. If this tackle attempt fails, the defender will be caught wrong-sided, putting the attacker in an advantageous position.

Sliding Tackle

A sliding tackle, although impressive to watch and enjoyable to do, should be regarded as a last-ditch attempt to win the ball. Once you commit to a sliding tackle, there is no turning back so it’s important to be successful in your attempt.

Step to slide tackle;

  1. When the opportunity arises to commit to the tackle, slide across your opponent. Ensure that contact is made with the ball before the player, or else it will be a foul
  2. Tuck your non-tackling leg behind you as you go to the ground and slide for the ball
  3. Lock the ankle of your tackling leg for stability
  4. Use the tackling leg to hook or push the ball away from your opponent

When tackling, always keep the studs (cleat spikes) pointed downward.

Defending at its best

Heading the ball

Heading is an important skill for attacking and defending. Whether clearing a cross or having a scoring attempt, a player must have the right heading technique in their locker.Timing is the most important aspect of heading. You must judge the flight of the ball in order to be in the right position and to time the header. Steps to head a soccer ball;

Image result for header soccer
  1. When a high ball is incoming, get into position
  2. When jumping, narrow the gap between legs – if unchallenged have a firm leg stance
  3. Keep your eyes on the ball and direct it using your forehead. This can be difficult at first but becomes a lot easier with practice.
  4. To defend, head from underneath – to shoot head from over  the ball to direct to the ground
  5. Avoid heading with the top of the head as it is very hard to judge and can cause injury

If jumping, try to perform the header at the highest point of your jump.

Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidić 

Should kids practice the same as adults? No, and yes. The main thing to take into consideration here is the amount of experience a player has. From a physical standpoint, some adults will have a better basis for a more grueling workout. However, from a skill perspective, players with little experience should work on their fundamentals, no matter their age. 

Is soccer easy to learn? When you begin playing soccer, have fun. There are many rules in soccer but these will be learned over time. Know the basics and enjoy the game until you are playing competitively and then you will need to know the rules.

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