A simple guide to improving as a football player
Often it may seem hard to see where to begin to improve your ability as a player; what to work on first and how to motivate yourself if things seem to be going wrong. So I would like to use my experience to help and guide you away from the mistakes I have made and seen. I want to outline the things you should work on to improve, how to improve, the order of what you should focus on and building an understanding of the issues you will face from my experience of working with young players on the same issues. So hopefully this will be helpful from a player, parent or coaches perspective.
Firstly remember that one of the big differences at the beginning of players starting off in youth football is physical. Although this will always play a part generally as you get older this evens out so its very important to focus on the technical side which will define you in the future and also will help whether or not you are blessed with speed and strength. Those who do have physical advantages of either strength, speed, size when they are younger should not rest on your laurels always prepare yourself and look to develop with the same outline I will explain to ensure you can develop into a more rounded player able to still keep up if you lose your physical advantages.
So these are the things you need to work on and the order to allow you to succeed and improve as a player:
1) Your basic ball co-ordination - The ability to move the ball between your feet; preferably both, to change direction quickly and keep the ball close (there is a good drill for this here https://www.soccertraininganddevelopment.co.uk/dribbling). This should be the defining thing for you as a player. With this you will be able to run with the ball and receive the ball; allowing your team mates to trust you and helping you grow in confidence in the game. I will repeat this often but confidence is massive and the difference between a good and a great player. A lack of belief and confidence is the biggest factor in whether players play to their potential so building this belief is very important.
You can practise this very easily by literally just dribbling around with the ball using different feet. Take a ball everywhere you go its a very easy way to improve by yourself without having to play against others. Many of the basic ball mastery training sessions on the website will be perfect for this. If possible try to move with your head up looking around; a skill that will be invaluable further down this list.
Remember although this is the first stage of targeted development for players and is the main focus for the real early stages like 3-5 years old for example this is relevant for everyone. Older more advanced even professional players will still need to work on their co-ordination with both feet to develop their skills so don't ignore this stage and make sue you feel totally comfortable with the ball in both feet before you can progress from this stage.
2) Dribbling - In this sense I only mean being able to manipulate the ball in different directions and keep the ball close not beating players which is a more advanced skill to move onto later on. You need to be able to dribble to evade players which will help you keep control of the ball and become more comfortable in possession. This again leads to important increases in confidence within yourself and from others in you.
This is easy to practise as dribbling requires nothing more than a ball. You can practise in any space; I have training sessions on dribbling you can do in a tiny space inside, and you don't need anyone else to help you (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UuZX_XS6uz0&list=PLMRWLSYuxbQMEhCLBCbl0NY-pRMAtqLA6&index=5). The points to focus on when practising this however are:
To keep the ball very close to your body to enable you to change direction quickly and react quickly to defenders or space
To practise looking around between touches so you can be more aware of space and defenders during a game
To practise with both feet which will help your co-ordination and protecting the ball skills and generally make you better able to deal with situations where you need to evade defenders
To practise moving in different directions at speed again important for fooling and evading defenders
Looking at my training sessions like I said would be the best advice to improve in this area but just dribbling through slaloms or practising moving the ball around in your garden and houses, changing direction at random points would be great.
3) Learn to protect the ball - Thinking back to what I said about the physical factors that are so important in youth football. Often there are players who will destroy you merely because of their size and speed. They may have no technique but the physical difference can be vast in youth football and many haven't developed the technique to counteract this. So you need to be able to keep the ball away from players like this in order to survive in games. The key is to use your body; keeping your body between them and the ball; the technique is here https://www.soccertraininganddevelopment.co.uk/protecting-the-ball.
Football isn't rugby they can't simply go through you to get the ball, if you effectively get your body in the way and move away into space they shouldn't be able to get the ball. The key to this is knowing where the opposition is and the technique to protect the ball. To see where the opposition are look around before you get the ball and play on the half turn; so you can see forward, then you will know where they are and be able to think about how to evade them.
Next always try to keep the ball on the side away from the defender, keeping the ball close enough to you that they have to go through you to reach it (remember if they are faster than you if you knock it too far in front of you they will get it), keep you body side on between them as it creates a bigger barrier and allow you to see them so you can adjust to how they move.
Practise just keeping the ball away from members of your family preferably bigger than you, also friends just looking for how long you can keep the ball away from them in an enclosed space.
4) Passing technique - If you have the above things to a good level it should be going quite well and will make this stage a lot easier as you should have the basic levels of co-ordination needed to perform the correct technique. This stage is quite simple just continual practise of the correct technique either against a wall, or with a partner. Make sure that you progress in steps firstly just understanding the technique with as many touches as you want, then 2 touch setting up your pass with your first touch, then on the move, then 1 touch, then 1 touch on the move (instep passing technique is here https://www.soccertraininganddevelopment.co.uk/instep-passing).
The 3 passing techniques to look at in order are instep passing, low drilled passing and lofted passing. Short instep passing should be the kind of passing you use most and is the base passing level you need to be able to operate in the game; especially as most players start out on a smaller sided, smaller pitch so there is more need for short passing. Low drilled passing is useful for being able to transfer the ball over longer distances and can also be used as a shooting technique. While lofted passing is a technique more suited for 11 a side and can help build your confidence in being able to move the ball longer distances over opposition players if needed. So lofted passing is not as important as the other and shouldn't really be focused on until they move into 9 a side football with bigger pitches.
These are the 4 basic things you need to initially focus on to enable you to go from a beginner to making a positive contribution to your game. Even if you just focused on these you could become a very good player and if you are worried about starting off in a new team practise these techniques first.
There are more advanced techniques though that you should focus on after to develop your game further.
5) Beating players - This is a progression of the co-ordination and dribbling drills where you now look at running towards players to go past them. If you have built up the other stages well this should be something that is not too hard to get a hang of and develop.
Firstly you need to look at becoming more aware of a defenders movements and the space in and around them. You can do this by playing with your head up more and trying to look at the defenders body shape to recognise areas you can exploit. Look for defenders standing square on which makes their turning slower or if they are side on they to look at how you can move behind their back to exploit their weakness in this position.
Next be more positive attacking players at speed and ensuring that if it doesn't work initially you keep going and practising as you will make a lot more mistakes with this as it is a difficult skill. Run directly at the player's centre line to create more space in both directions and hopefully make them stand square on to make getting past them easier.
The kind of skills at the beginning you need are just quick feet and maybe a feint which are easy to practise. 90% of all dribbling is just moving the ball with the inside of outside of your feet. Practise these running at a cone or an obstacle at speed getting getting used to running at speed and then changing direction. Build up by running at a passive defender, then an active defender that only moves forward. Lastly being able to test yourself one on one against an unrestricted defender. Work step by step to ensure you don't progress too fast as if you are unable to do one of these stages you won't be able to do the next one.
6) Shooting Technique - Again if you have prepared well with your passing technique you should already have the technique for a very effective type of shooting (the low drilled shot) ready to implement in shooting situations. But the whipped shooting technique would also be a good one to look at; which again is on the website (https://www.soccertraininganddevelopment.co.uk/whipped-shooting).
Having these two techniques would allow you all the technical qualities to score goals from a variety of situations. Practising these techniques is important to do in isolation and in a game related environment. In isolation you will get more opportunity for repetition of practise to perfect the technical aspects while you need to understand how to spot the opportunities to use these techniques in a game which is why trying them out in games with friends or other match situations is great. Again training sessions for all these shooting skills can be found on the website or our YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6xLL6GIBj16m3ule-lRcIQ).
You can practise them without this against a partner in a goal, or practising the techniques hitting the ball to each other and hitting the ball against the wall. Find and perfect the technique first individually then start making yourself use them in any game situation to allow you to start gaining an understanding for when is the best time to use them in a game.
7) Control out of the air - This is a more advanced technique (https://www.soccertraininganddevelopment.co.uk/control-out-of-the-air) but being able to control and judge a ball in the air is vital to enable you to improve your body and eye co-ordination. It is simple to practise control as well and you can just start off with practising kicking up or throwing the ball up to yourself to control.
Having this ability to bring the ball under control from the air quickly is vital to allow you to deal with aerial balls in a classy and efficient way. To deal with things like lofted passes, throw ins, chipped passes and so on. Like I said this is very easy to practise and just requires a ball. Start by throwing the ball up to yourself to control with your foot, knee and chest. Then throw the ball against the wall to control or get a partner to throw to you as the ball should come at different angles to offer more challenge about how to judge the balls flight. Lastly look at controlling balls that are played over your head and you should be prepared for most situations in a game.
These are what I think are the key initial steps to improving your football ability, there are other techniques like defending technique and other skills like stepovers and so on but these are the main ones you need and the ones you need before you think about developing any advanced skills.