Taking more, quality, touches on the ball during training is key to helping players develop. It’s important for players to be familiar with the ball and allow them to be comfortable with it while using both feet, changing direction, receiving the ball and when they are playing passes or shooting.
And the only way to develop this is to give the players as much contact time on the ball as possible. Individuals who work on ball mastery and their skills more, in their own time, will develop at a higher rate than those that don’t.
As we all know, football is an incredibly technical game so it is crucial that players practise with the ball at their feet as much as they possibly can, taking touches with all parts of the foot, developing their co-ordination and balance while increasing their speed and intensity with the ball at their feet.
But a lot of the skills that, let’s say, ball mastery provides, aren’t necessarily used often in a game. Are you going to be performing two step-overs and an L-turn, a quick in and out touch and then a drag back while being put under pressure? It’s likely that you won’t, so it can potentially be seen as something that isn’t always the most relevant to the game.
But, in reality, it really is, and it is incredibly helpful to developing your technical abilities.
When playing, especially higher up the levels as you progress, the speed of the game and its intensity increases greatly. Players' ability on the ball is good which allows for quicker decision making and faster, sharper passing. In addition to this, it’s not only the ability on the ball that improves, it is the movement off it. Players on the team in possession create better options and angles for the player in possession while opposing players need to be concentrating fully, aware of the danger on the ball but also off it.
Therefore, the higher intensity needs to be matched when you have the ball. And the only way to be able to perform at these higher intensities are by practising with the ball as much as you can; practising so that your first touch can be positioned exactly where you want it the majority of the time, practising so that you can move away from opponents quickly with a good turn of pace.
Players can have good technical ability but the next step is to increase the speed of that technical ability.
But why exactly is that?
It’s all linked to the intensity of the game as you move up the levels. What amazes me is that when we watch a match on TV it can sometimes be hard to actually see how quick the game is being played. Players look like they have plenty of time and space on the ball, even in congested areas of the pitch such as midfield. It’s not that the pitch is bigger, or that the other team is sitting off them, it is actually because the speed of play is so high. The movement of the ball is quick and sharp, direct to whom they want the ball to go to. The movement off the ball is quick with a number of different angles and options for the player in possession to pass to. And this comes from the quality on the ball and the movement off it.
Watch a Premier League game and see a midfielder take 2-3 touches too many and straight away they will be pressured, leading to a much higher chance of them being dispossessed. Taking more touches on the ball, when it’s not needed, in a congested area of the pitch, can lead to a higher chance of being tackled.
So we therefore train as much as we can on the ball individually, taking as many touches on the ball as possible in our own training, developing our control, quality and technique on the ball at a higher pace. As that improves, you will be able to receive the ball quickly in a game and move the ball on to a better option, or explode away from your opponent, all because you have practised those moves and techniques frequently. Use these 50 Ball Mastery techniques to help you take more touches when you’re training on your own.
Quite often you will see the top players play it simple, but they are able to play it simply due to their efficiency with the ball. That efficiency comes because they are so good with it.
When you are training by yourself, unless you're focusing on really specific parts of your game, like fitness (although that can be done with the ball), then try and bring as many touches as possible in to your training. Ball mastery, turning, dribbling and first touch/receiving activities off a wall are excellent for this. The more touches you take, the better you will become.
Once you develop the technique, it’s important to begin scanning, lifting your eyebrows so you can see what is ahead of you, which gets you practised for those moments in a game where you need to make a quick decision, executing it successfully.
The more of these touches you take, the more you’ll develop your speed and quality, giving you a much better chance of playing quickly in a match when you receive the ball.
Taking fewer touches in between receiving the ball and passing in a match can help your team move the opposition out of their shape quicker, while bypassing their press. Take too many slow touches and then there is a greater chance that they will win the ball back.
But it’s not just necessarily practising so that you can move the ball to your team mate quicker. It’s practising so that when you do get it, and the pass isn’t on, you can then move away from your opponent quickly, with a drop of the shoulder and change of direction. Being able to do this cleanly while maintaining technique is really valuable and, the sharper you can do it, the more opportunities you are going to create for yourself and your team mates.
So to be better on the ball, to improve your first touch, dribbling, turning and speed of play, it is important that you practise with the ball as much as you possibly can.
Doing this more, and doing it consistently, will put you in a position to feel confident when the ball comes to you, allowing you to make quick decisions at a high intensity while giving you a better chance to execute the technique that you attempt.
Keep focusing on having the ball at your feet as much as possible when you train and develop your technique so that when you play you can be decisive, affecting the game with potentially fewer touches than you would have taken before.