Coaching Tips: Contacting the Ball

By Tom Turner

Contacting the Ball

How many ways can the player kick or dribble or control the ball? There are six surfaces (inside, outside, instep, sole, toe and heel) used for kicking, dribbling or controlling a soccer ball. The ball can also be driven, chipped, volleyed, half-volleyed, side-volleyed, curled and lofted. The U-11/12 player should be proficient in using a majority of surfaces with both feet, and be challenged to expand their ability to use different textures (weights and spins). The coach of the motivated U-11/12 player should intensify the refinement of these basic contacting skills through warm-up activities and tactically challenging practice games.

Finishing

How proficient is the player in front of goal? Shots can be placed, driven, chipped, curled, volleyed, half-volleyed, side-volleyed, or improvised using any other legal body part. Practice activities should refine these skills through individual, small group and small-sided activities.

Vision and Ball Control

How quickly does the player assess tactical options and execute ball control skills?Vision for “What next?” is a key element in the positive use of the “first touch,” and for improving speed of play. Coaches should challenge players to appreciate their immediate tactical situation as early, and as often, as possible by looking around and turning their bodies sideways-on to the game, whenever possible. The earlier a player decides what to do with the ball, the fewer touches they will take and the faster they will play. Practice activities should involve possession games and other live, competitive games in order to improve decision-making and speed of play.

Dribbling

Does the player have the skill and creativity to dribble out of pressure, or past an opponent? At the U-11/12 level, evading pressure and beating opponents are critical skills for complementing the passing game as team play emerges. Rapid and abrupt changes in speed and direction, and the use of the shoulders and hips to disguise intentions, become critical subtleties as dribbling sophistication responds to the improved skills of defenders.

Does the player maintain vision while dribbling? Improving speed of play, through cleaner technique and faster reading of the game, is the primary role of the coach at this stage. Dribbling should now be considered very much a means to an end, with the balance between shooting, passing and dribbling (decision-making) related to time and space and position on the field

Heading

How diverse are the player’s heading skills? Heading to goal and heading away from goal are basic applications of this technique. In addition, the use of heading as a passing technique and as a response to crossing situations should also be stressed as viable applications of this difficult skill. The timing of heading techniques, relative to the balls’ pace, trajectory and time of flight, is the critical “next level” for most players of age eleven and beyond. Soccer balls should be kicked in the air over varying distances, whenever possible, to approximate realistic match situations, with hand-serves utilized as seldom as possible. It should also be stressed that there is NO medical evidence supporting the claim that heading a soccer ball is dangerous to the participants.

Tackling

How competent is the player in applying sliding techniques? In addition to tackling for the ball, sliding skills can be used to keep balls in play, to reach wayward passes, to cross balls from the goal line, and to extend reach. Players should be instructed in tacking techniques with both the inside and outside legs (relative to a defender), and in sliding to maintain possession, pass, or clear.

(Part two of this article to come in next month’s issue).

Tom Turner is a U.S. Soccer National Staff Coach, Region II Boys ODP Coach, Ohio North State Director of Coaching. He can be reached at coaching@oysan.org.

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Weigh in on the World Cup

The World Cup is unmatched in its ability to captivate the world and provide thrills and stunning highlights. This tournament has also delivered its share of controversy. Did Team USA exceed expectations, or disappoint? And should FIFA institute instant replay? Let us know what you think!

The Three Tee Drill

By Chance Reynolds, Former Professional Baseball Player

Would you like to learn a drill that can automatically create more line drives for your young hitters?  Of course, you would!  What hitting coach wouldn’t?  The drill I’m referring to is what I like to call the “Three Tee Drill.”  Now, even though most people would think I’m suggesting you drag three batting tees out to the cage today and line them up accordingly, you actually only need one in order to do this drill properly.

One of the quickest ways to becoming a better hitter is to learn to stay in the zone longer.  Now, what does that mean?  Basically, that is Hitting Coach mumbo-jumbo for “keeping the barrel of your bat on a level plane through the strike zone for as long as possible.”  And one of the most effective ways of learning this skill is called the Three Tee Drill.  This one drill (which I first heard of being used by Alex Rodriguez) is terrific for teaching your young hitter how to keep their bat in the zone longer.  To begin the drill, set up a batting tee with the ball placement directly over the front edge of the plate.  Have your young hitter drive the ball through the back of the cage a few times to get the feel of going to the ball and staying through the ball.  If your young hitter is not hitting the back of the net consistently in this ball placement position, then they are “rolling over” (i.e. letting the barrel beat their hands to the ball.)  Please make sure they understand the term Bat Lag and how to lead with their hands, rather than with their barrel.

Next, move the batting tee forward about three inches, but do not allow your young hitter to change their foot positioning.  They should stay in the exact same spot in the box.  However, now your young hitter will have to extend their hands even further to make sure they can still drive the ball through the back of the cage.  Do this a few times until again, your young hitter can drive the ball through the back of the cage with some consistency.

Finally, (and this is where the drill becomes really difficult) move the ball three more inches away from its original placement (six inches in total) with their foot positioning still remaining the same.  Now, your young hitter really has to stay in the zone with their hands leading the way in order to hit the ball through the back of the cage.

Coaches, This one drill is terrific for correcting so many Swing Plane issues and I can’t recommend it enough.  It’s also an excellent drill to use with young hitters who have trouble with off-speed pitches.  If he or she can keep their swing plane consistently level throughout the entire zone, they will be fooled less.  They will be able to create more line drives, and ultimately, they will become better hitters!

Former Professional Baseball Player, Chance Reynolds, is the Inventor of the Pitcher’s Nightmare Swing Trainer (www.pitchersnightmare.com).  Endorsed by 1991 N.L. M.V.P. and current Atlanta Braves Hitting Coach, Terry Pendleton, the Pitcher’s Nightmare Swing Trainer not only increases your bat speed, but teaches proper hitting fundamentals as well.

Teach your catchers to get more strike calls for your pitcher

I’ll start by admitting that I’m not a catcher. Other than some rec games when I was very young, I never played the position. However, through coaching fifty-something Little League, PONY, and travel teams, and after having done my share of calling balls and strikes as an umpire, I’ve seen enough pitches hit the catcher’s mitt to make some observations. And I’ve learned how you, as a coach, can help your catchers get those marginal pitches called strikes, and to dramatically cut down the number of actual strikes that an umpire will mistakenly rule as balls.

I’m not talking about framing pitches. A catcher who catches an outside pitch and tries to sneak the glove in the strike zone is kidding himself. Unless the ump happened to close his eyes the instant before the ball got to the mitt, then opened them to see the mitt positioned over the outside corner, it’s not going to fool anyone. But there are three things I see that youth catchers, even at the high school level, could do better to improve their pitcher’s success.

First is the elbow. Catchers need to have a strong, locking elbow when receiving a borderline pitch. So many times I’ve see the ball hit the catcher’s mitt in the strike zone, but then the catcher lazily lets the velocity of the pitch knock his glove down to his ankles. The result?  Because the umpire last sees the catcher’s glove down by his shoe laces, a pitch that clearly came across the plate at the knees or higher is called a ball. When we ask where the pitch missed, the umpire says it was low. If the catcher had locked the elbow and held it where it first hit the mitt, there is no way the ump misses the call.

The next skill, which is a little tougher to teach, is how the catcher receives the ball. This is especially important on a pitch in the strike zone, but not where it was supposed to go. A call that goes against you in this situation can’t be blamed completely on the catcher, but it is something they can work on.  Let’s say you call a fastball inside, and the catcher gives his target there, but the pitch comes in outside. If the catcher is startled and dives outside, even though the ball may be several inches within the strike zone, it will inevitably be called a ball because the catcher made it seem like it was almost a wild pitch. The trick is to make the reception appear as natural as possible, so as to almost look as if it was planned that way.

This could even be more subtle. I’ve seen a catcher set up his target at mid-thighs, and a beautiful pitch came in at the knees. The catcher should have kept his fingers up and simply moved his glove a few inches lower to catch the pitch, making it appear like this was where he expected it. Instead, he instinctively flipped his mitt thumbs down to make the catch. I don’t know how many games I’ve seen where that pitch is called a ball and the defensive team’s coaches throw their hands up in the air and protest. And yes, a great umpire should still call that a strike, but in the split second it took to decide on a borderline call, the catcher’s action convinced the jury in the umpire’s mind to rule in favor of the batter.

Finally, there’s one more thing you can teach, but only if you have an outstanding player behind the plate. We all know that pitches often travel in, and then out of the strike zone. The best catchers will go get the ball before it leaves the zone, seizing it at the last possible instant. Young players need to be able to wait long enough to be sure the batter isn’t swinging, but a great receiver can take a tailing fastball or a curveball, and nab it before it goes off the plate to make sure it is called a strike.

Clearly, pitchers are extremely important at every level of baseball. But what many coaches don’t seem to realize is that when it comes to pitchers throwing balls and strikes – to getting ground balls and strikeouts instead of giving up walks – often a catcher can make all the difference. So next game, before you complain about the umpire or yell at your pitcher to “just get it over the plate,” take a close look at the kid on the other end of the pitch and make sure he’s doing all the “little things” to make every pitch look as good as it can.

World Cup Runneth Overtime

What makes the World Cup so special? Like the Olympics, much of its allure stems from its infrequency, which amplifies the stories and sub-plots. Millions of rabid fans from countries in every hemisphere have been waiting four, eight or often more years to converge on this one stage (in person or via television and radio), making it an unmatched spectacle.

I know, we Americans don’t “get” soccer. Too many ties; too much flopping and acting; too little scoring. But there is a reason 90% of the planet is soccer-crazy, and yesterday’s action was a perfect example of why. The USA vs. Algeria game was like a script out of Hollywood. Already having been robbed of a precious goal in their previous game, (one that would have assured them a spot in the coveted knockout round), it appeared for 90 minutes that the story of Team USA 2010 was destined to be a tragedy. In what everyone knew could very well be their final game, against Armenia, they found themselves again the victim of a dubious goal-erasing call early in the game. Reports from the other pool game being played simultaneously conveyed the worst of news. England held a one goal lead over Slovenia. Now only a US win would do. The Americans subsequently missed opportunity after opportunity, only intensifying the magnitude of those excruciating officiating errors, and were tied 0-0 and on the brink of elimination as regulation time ended. As the game entered four minutes extra time, only the most faithful and optimistic believed there was any chance of a tournament-saving goal.

But then it happened. With heads in hands as distraught fans sat on the edges of their seats, Team USA was raised from the dead by a sudden and miraculous goal just before time expired. Just that suddenly, the fates of other nations changed as England fell to number two in the pool and Slovenia went from moving to the round of 16, to going home. Imagine how the Slovenian fans felt as their game ended and they scrambled to catch the final minutes of ours. In an instant, our epic good fortune became their calamity and heartbreak.

These scenarios are played out in every pool, in every participating country throughout the tournament. And when it’s over for a team and country there is no, “Get ‘em next year.” There’s nearly half a decade’s wait, or more, for another chance. Four more years to hope for an opportunity that may not come or that might finally arrive again, then end – or not – in the blink of an eye. Who knows? Maybe this World Cup thing might catch on.

Athletic activities your kids can do at home

Following-up on yesterday’s post regarding keeping kids busy and active during the summer months, here are two great links we’d like to recommend. Both offer speed and agility drills young athletes can do by themselves, in the backyard, at the park or even on the street. The first one is more baseball-specific and the second is great for soccer and other sports as well. If you’re like me, at work and not able to stand the thought of your kids staying inside all day watching TV or playing Playstation, you might consider making one of these workouts a “suggested” part of the day.

How do we keep our kids busy during the summer?

It’s summer and that means that athletic kids who would usually be filling their days with school, then afternoon or evening sports, then homework, now have a lot more free time on their hands. When I was young, that was no problem. It meant pickup baseball, basketball or football games in the backyard with all the neighborhood kids from morning until dusk. But for a variety of reasons, it seems that the days of kids getting together in informal “backyard” settings and playing unsupervised games are a thing of the past. Or are they? Do your kids still play sports on their own, without a schedule or structure? What are some creative ways you’ve found to keep your kids busy and active during the summer?