Let’s recap the first five speeds of soccer we reviewed in earlier articles:

  1. Perception
  2. Anticipation
  3. Decision Making
  4. Reaction
  5. Movement Without Ball

Notice that the first three speeds are mainly mental, in other words speeds of thought. Reaction is built on the first three but eventually it leads to an action in response to some stimulus – re(sponse)action. The fifth speed is entirely physiological. None of them actually require a soccer ball, in fact, none of them in their pure definition are sport or soccer specific. Of course it makes sense for us to train them in a soccer specific context, using drills involving a ball and game situations.

The sixth soccer speed, action with ball, totally involves the mastery and control of the soccer ball. It is about executing all required soccer skills with a high degree of accuracy at maximum speed.

It is good that a player perceived the play, anticipated the exact end point of a pass, decided to meet the ball there, reacted to the actual pass, and out-sprinted the defense to get to the ball first. All this will be wasted if that player needs a few touches to control the ball, needs to adjust their body to get ready for a shot, and then hope to strike with pace and accuracy. It may work at very young ages but as players mature, competition increases, and the demands of the game grow, it will not be successful.

What is required is to execute ALL skills at maximum speed with accuracy. I always start with emphasizing accuracy first, then add speed. The ONLY way to improve skills is through repetition. Assuming reasonable natural aptitude for soccer, the kids who practice most and touch the ball most often will eventually turn into the best soccer players. Studies have shown that 4,000 ball touches a week, starting at age 5, will suffice. A typical 1.5 hour youth practice will have each player touch the ball at best 100 times. So even three practices a week isn’t even close. Our practices average around 500-600 touches per player if coached correctly. Still not even half of what is required in three sessions per week. This then leads to individual extra ball work for those who aspire to higher level soccer.

Here then are some suggestions for improving action speed with the ball.

Simple Passing Drill

Two players are 10 m (more or less depending on age and skill level) apart and pass the ball back and forth to each other, using two touches. The first touch is to receive/control the ball, the second touch is to pass it back. The key coaching points are:

  1. The ball never stops, i.e. the first receiving/controlling touch must be forward and in the direction of the second touch – the pass. The ball must still be in motion when it is struck for the pass.
  2. The players never stop. They move toward the ball for the first touch (attack the ball). The ball must be controlled close to the body such that the second touch can be played in a quick continuous motion, striking the ball with the second step. To be clear: Receive/control the ball with the right foot and move the ball forward. Take one step forward landing on the left foot and strike the ball with the right on the second step forward. After passing the player shuffles backwards to be in position to receive the next return pass.
  3. Ball must remain on ground and be passed in a straight line.
  4. Use the instep or laces to pass the ball. Instep for shorter distances and maximum accuracy, laces for longer distances and pace.

Count the number of completed accurate passes in two minutes. It will become obvious that accuracy pays dividends as any errant ball will waste precious time in retrieving it and resetting the drill.

Once you are satisfied with accuracy and speed, advance to one touch passes. There are countless variations and progressions of this basic soccer drill to simulate various game situations – long balls, off the ground passes, give and gos, etc.

This is just a ball control/passing example. Our books are full of drills addressing ALL soccer skills.

Individual Drill

Parents often ask me what their children can do at home to improve their skills. One example I give them is the above drill, using a wall as the second player. Simply ask the child to pass the ball (could even be a plastic/rubber ball to protect the wall) against a wall such that it comes straight back at them. Attack the rebound, control, pass against the wall, retreat to starting spot – keep repeating. Set a specific distance to the wall and count the number of successful passes in two minutes. One progression may be to put a tape on the wall at ever increasing heights off the ground and ask the ball to hit the wall just above the tape.

This of course requires motivation and discipline, so find a way to make it fun and rewarding.