By Tony Earp
When working to improve a player’s finishing, the most important part is helping the player choose the right shot when going to goal. Although striking the ball well, with proper technique, power and accuracy are all important, a brilliantly struck ball with great technique, power, and accuracy can still not produce a goal. Finishing is not just striking the ball harder. It is more about striking the ball SMARTER. Just like a golfer cannot show up at the golf course with only his driver in the bag and expect to do well, a player cannot hit every shot on goal with just power and expect to score. Like a great golfer, you need a lot of different clubs in your bag to hit the right shot, at the right time, when the game demands it from you.
Watch a highlight reel of some of the best finishers of the game. Is every goal a laser hit from outside the penalty area into the side netting? I would bet that most of the goals are not scored that way. If you study the world’s best goal scorers, most goals are scored by the player being very aware of his surroundings and then taking the RIGHT shot to beat the defenders and the goalkeeper. Sometimes this type of shot is hit low and hard to the corner, sometimes it is a chip over a goalkeeper’s head, or possibly a ball hit with some bend to move outside of the goalkeeper’s reach and into the side netting. In all of these scenarios, the player made a decision about what type of shot he was going to hit based on what was going on in the game. Picking the right shot, at the right time, can create a moment of brilliance when the player finds the back of the net in an unexpected way.
Players who are not as savvy around the goal, probably would have just pulled out the driver and just hit the ball as hard as possible at the goal. By trying to strike the ball hard, the player will either miss the mark completely, or the ball’s path makes it easy for a goalkeeper to cut down the angle and make the save. A well positioned goalkeeper is very hard to beat by just hitting the ball hard.
Like a great golfer, great goal scorers look at the shot they need to hit, pick the right type of club (part of the foot/position of the foot), decide how hard they need to swing, and if they need the ball to be low, high, or curve the ball left or right. Then they try to hit that shot. A soccer player needs to do it in a fraction of a second while the golfer has some more time to think about it, and often, both do not hit the exact shot they would have liked. Even the best in the world, golfers and soccer players, miss the target more often than they hit it. Although they get a lot closer, more consistently than anyone else.
When working with players on finishing, this is what we are really trying to get them to learn. Not to just strike the ball hard with great power and accuracy, but to also pick the right shot at the right time to give themselves the best chance to score. A technically perfectly hit shot with great power and accuracy can still give the player little chance to score, but a well hit shot that makes sense in relation to where the player is to the goal, where the ball is in relation to the player, and where the goalkeepers and defenders are standing gives the player the best chance to have success.
Most players do not have the discipline from close range to use the inside or outside of the foot to slot the ball past a goalkeeper in the corner. Even from 10 yards away, the player steps in to try to hit the ball with an incredible amount of force that often causes the technique to break down. It is completely unnecessary to get that much power, but most players fail to see that causing them to miss easier goal scoring chances.
I get it. Hitting the ball hard is a lot of fun, but there are no bonus points for how fast the ball is going when it hits the back of the net.
On the flip side, when players are farther from goal, they need the ability and courage to not just step in and strike the ball hard, but try to aim at a part of the goal and hit the ball with more power. From distance, the goalkeeper has much more time to move to the ball, so a shot needs to have the right path, velocity, and be aimed at a target on the goal that keeps the ball as far away from the goalkeeper’s reach as possible until the ball crosses the white line. Most players are afraid to miss the target, so they hit a straight shot at the middle of the goal giving them little chance to score.
It is my preference for a player to give himself the best chance to score by aiming away from the goalkeeper rather than just hitting it somewhere on frame. I would rather see the player miss the target trying to give himself a chance to score than hit the goalkeeper in the hands with the ball because he is afraid to miss. I am not looking for a shot on goal. I want a player to try to score. Those are two different approaches.
On top of this, finishing is just another form of ball striking. It is the same as passing. All throughout a game, players pick their teammates out from different distances, often with incredible accuracy, when passing and moving the ball around the field. But when they get the chance to score, the mentality changes. A player who can drive a ball 30 yards to a teammate and hit him in the chest without the player having to move cannot hit the side of the goal from 10 yards away. Does that make sense?
Often in training, I will stand in the goal and tell players, “Pass me the ball.” One after the other, the players step up and play an accurate ball to my feet or drive a ball into my chest. Strange, those “passes” would all be brilliant finishes going to goal. What has changed? The approach and mentality of the player.
When passing, players, like a good golfer, are more concerned with getting the ball accurately to the target. With that in mind, players are more likely to “to pick the right club” and the right pass of the ball to get it to a teammate with pace and accuracy. When passing, players tend not to just blast the ball in the direction of their teammates hoping it gets there. Instead, they are much more calculated, and their consistency and accuracy are much better.
If players can take the same approach to finishing, realize they have more than just “one club in their bag”, it will make them much more efficient at putting the ball in the back of the net. Instead of the players only taking out their driver in front of the goal, they will utilize the other clubs in the bag to hit the correct shot to give themselves the best chance to score. As stated above, most players already do this in regards to passing and moving the ball around the field to their teammates, so the ability is there.
Like a great golfer, great goal scorers can hit the shot they need, when they need it, during a game to give themselves the best chance to score. Helping players become great finishers is not just about striking the ball harder or more accurate. It is about helping them to hit the ball SMARTER and picking the right shot, at the right time, that can create a brilliant moment when the ball hits the back of the net.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org