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Euro/Copa 2016 – Soccer Skills

I have always encouraged youngsters to watch professional soccer games on TV, mostly to learn how the pros execute the things we practice and try to accomplish during games. That applies to both skills and tactical elements of the game. Right now there are two tournaments with extensive TV coverage:

  1. Euro 2016
  2. Copa America 2016

These tournaments feature the top soccer nations in the world and hence the best soccer players. The skills of Messi, Ronaldo, Bale, Neuer, are brought right to your living room. When you watch, consider the speed at which the game is played and the pressure players are under when handling the ball. You will appreciate pinpoint passing, amazing receiving skills, super goalie reflexes, and some great goals being scored. Yet we can also learn from the mistakes the professionals make. And so far two mistakes have been observed in both tournaments.

  1. Goalkeepers Misjudging Crosses

Quite a few goals have been scored off crosses where the goalkeeper has come off his line to catch or punch the ball. The ball comes in, keeper runs out but misses the ball. An attacker gets his head on it and the ball is in the back of the net. And most of these have come from corner kicks. Dealing with crosses is one of the more difficult tasks for a soccer goalie, especially during corner kicks when the goal area and the entire penalty box are crowded. Two elements determine success or failure for the goalie. The first is the decision of whether to attack the ball or not. The keeper needs to be sure that when he attacks he gets to the ball. He needs to judge the position of his own and opposing players before the cross is taken. Is there space in the crowd for the goalie to attack the ball? As soon as the ball is kicked and in flight action happens. Attackers try to get to the end of the cross and defenders are trying to prevent them and/or get there first. The judgment the keeper has to make is whether or not an attacker can get an unobstructed run to the ball and a header on target. If he is convinced that no defender can clear,the second success factor kicks in – the keeper has to decide whether or not he will try to attack the ball and catch/punch it at a point higher than any attacker can jump to. If there is a clear path to the anticipated point of playing the ball, then the decision is “go”. If there is going to be traffic and obstruction then the answer is “stay” and play the header. What I have observed in these tournaments is goalies making the wrong decision. They attack the ball when there really isn’t a clear path to it.

2. Shots Missing The Net Totally

While some brilliant goals have been scored from the direct free kicks and the run of play, there have also been horrible misses. Some free kicks seem to be headed for the upper tiers of the stadium and some go so far wide that the defending team gets a throw in near the corner flag. How can this happen? It is always poor technique, not because the players are not skilled, but due to the situational circumstance. Free kicks sail high above the goal or go far wide because the shooter is facing a wall and is either trying to get the ball over the wall and back down, or trying to bend it around the wall. Both are difficult tasks and the exact speed, foot position, body posture and point of striking the ball has to be perfect. The slightest misalignment will cause a terrible miss. So in my mind, these are somewhat excusable – who is perfect in all aspects of executing a task? But a lot of  misses from shots during the run of play are avoidable. Often the shooter is trying to power the ball into the net from a reasonably short distance. As kids we should be taught that accuracy trumps power. Power introduces faster body motion, less time for eye-foot coordination, and almost no time to look at the target before shooting. You will notice that a lot of goals are not powerful blasts, but rather accurately placed shots at average speed. Even the pros should stick with accuracy over power. The other observation is that the wrong part of the foot or even parts of the leg are hitting the ball, and then it can go anywhere. Why is that? Sometimes haste, sometimes lack of concentration, and sometimes it is simply a stretch to reach the ball.

My point is not to ridicule the pros playing the game, but rather to stress the fundamentals at all levels and to encourage young players and coaches to watch games with a purpose of learning, not just with a purpose of being entertained.

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