Cues: Part Two

By Tony Earp

Scoring a goal is one of the most difficult things to do. Player’s who have a “nose for the goal” are some of the highest paid players in the world. Are these player’s just natural goal scorers? Were they born with a gift? Maybe it is a gift, but it is wrapped in cues.

Great goal scorers use cues to find the easiest way to score goals. A player’s decision to score a goal needs to happen before or right as the opportunity is created. Players who struggle to score goals will seem indecisive or unsure around the goal and when they have a chance to take a shot. Although they may make a good decision and create a good chance to score, it happens just a little to slow for it to work. The goalkeeper or a defender has enough time to get in a good position to stop the shot or win the ball.

A goal scorer uses cues, without knowing it, to make decisions on how to score goals. Messi’s genius around the goal, and why he is arguably one of the best goal scorers of all time, has obviously something to do with his skill, but I think it is more about how quickly he reacts to cues in the game. Many of his goals look effortless as he lifts a ball over a goalkeeper or quickly deflects the ball into a seemingly defenseless goal?

When a player has an opportunity to score a goal, there are cues that need to be recognized that will affect how and when the player strikes the ball. A couple cues a player may consider is where the goalkeeper is located, is the goalkeeper moving and in which direction, and how is the goalkeeper standing (or is the Gk standing). This should influence how the ball is struck by the player to try to score. Again, this needs to happen quickly and without much thought. The action of striking the ball needs to be a reaction from one or more of these cues.

When players are coached on how to score goals, normally the coaching points are limited to “stay over the ball, be composed, lock the ankle, and follow through” and other technical points (all which are very good). But do we teach players the cues on when and why to strike the ball to score? The cues to how and why to strike the ball are even more valuable for a player than just the technical aspects of striking the ball. Should the player strike the ball with their laces, inside of the foot, outside of the foot, or the toe (yes, toe)? Should the shot be low or high, how much speed does the ball need, and should the player try to bend the ball? Obviously this is a lot to consider in a fraction of a second, so this is not something players can really consider. It needs to be something done as a reaction to learned cues from years of playing and proper instruction.

A couple more cues…

When and where to make a run into the 18 yard box to get a cross from a teammate?

A very difficult thing to teach a player and coaches can get frustrated by players making runs too early or too late and in the wrong area in front of the goal. A cue for when an attacking player should run into the 18 yard box would be the player with the ball pushing the ball out from under their feet and picking their head up. This is a simple cue that tells other players that their teammate is about to cross the ball. Where and why do the players make their runs? The cues for this would be where the defenders and goalkeeper are standing (or where are they not standing), where is the player starting the run into the box, from what area of the field is the ball being crossed (closer to the end line or farther out from goal), and will the cross swing towards or away from goal.

On the defensive side of this situation, the same cues for the attacking players indicating the ball will be crossed are the same cues for the defensive players for them to react and position themselves appropriately to defend the cross.

Should the player pass the ball to a player’s feet or play the ball into space?

First, how is the player who wants the soccer ball standing? If the player is moving towards the ball, facing the player with the ball, and maybe pointing at their feet, these cues indicate the ball should be played to feet. If the player is moving or facing away, pointing into space, or is being closely marked, then the ball will need to be played into space. Often when these cues are missed, you see players playing the ball over a teammate’s head or a ball played on the ground behind a player running into space.

There are many more cues in many situations that players need to learn so they can produce a reactive, or instinctive, response to them during games. Learning and understanding these cues is an invaluable part of a player’s development during their younger years. As the game becomes faster and more complex, these simple cues need to be automatic as there is little time to really think about them during the run of play.

It is critical coaches teach these cues along side technique and tactical aspects of the game to their players. This will allow the players overtime to associate cues in the game with the technique and tactical elements of the game being taught. Ideally, players will begin doing the right things automatically without much prompting from the coach or teammates. The players will be using the cues that the game presents to them to react and perform quicker and at a higher, more effective level.

Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at tearp@superkickcolumbus.com

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