Player Development Blog


Striking the Ball on your Laces

06/08/18
Paul Scholes had one of the best driven passes that I have seen. Moving the ball out of his feet, he would look up, and drive a fast and straight pass over 30-40 yards into his team-mates feet. It changed the point of attack and made life very difficult for opposing teams.

It is though, a very hard technique. Even at the top level you can see players slice the ball and drag their pass wide of the intended target.

For youngsters, along with developing their first touch, striking on the laces can be one of the harder techniques to successfully master. There are a number of factors to remember and it also feels like a very un-natural way to kick the ball.

Players use the instep because it is the largest striking area of the foot, it's well supported and provides stability. Striking on the laces puts the ankle under more pressure and can at times feel uncomfortable for the younger players. That's why a lot of their passes can get dragged wide, and curl away from the intended target. This can be caused by a slight worry of feeling discomfort in their foot, therefore causing them to turn and make contact with the instep.

To move forward from this, encourage the players to bring their knee over the ball, giving them a strong base and good balance, which in turn will provide stability and strength in the ankle.

The most important aspect of developing a players long distance passing is to focus on the technique, don't worry about power at all, that will come over time. Focus on technique and eventually the power will be a bi-product of that.

Keep your balance, providing stability and then the technique will come. It is very much like a golf swing. The best golfers don't focus on power, they focus on their technique, making sure that their body is in the right position to strike and follow though with their shot. It's just the same for a footballer.

Try out this long passing tutorial, below.

The key points to focus on are the standing foot being placed next to the ball, with the knee also over the ball when striking. Turn your foot to the side and follow through with control on your shoe laces. This will provide accuracy and that straight pass that you have been looking for.

If you're tired of striking the ball and then having to go and collect it, repeating numerous times, then this training tool may be of use. I personally used to use one when I was younger and loved the fact that the ball would just come back to me, giving me plenty more time to practise my technique.

Check it out here:

https://opportunityelite.myshopify.com/collections/player-development/products/sklz-star-kick-trainer-football-training-aid

How good can your first touch be?

02/08/18
It is one of the most difficult, yet important, skills in the game. Maintaining control of the ball is vital. Controlling the ball correctly can lead to all sorts of positive outcomes, but, a heavy touch that is bouncing around out of control, can cause plenty of danger to your team.

When watching the World Cup you could see just how good the professionals are with their first touch. At the very top of the game, with huge amounts of pressure on them, they are able to control the ball almost perfectly in the most difficult of situations. Sure, there are times where mistakes are made, and when they are, we notice them as it is so rare!

Left foot and right foot, with great composure, the professionals would place the first touch in front of them, allowing them to move forward with the ball. It wasn't stuck under their feet, it was ahead of them, giving them space to step forward and progress up the pitch. When receiving the ball the players were always prepared, they had a bounce in their movement, ready to take the weight off the pass by withdrawing their foot when contact is made. They were never standing still waiting for the ball, instead they were prepared, prepared to move their feet to get in the best position to have the perfect first touch.

It is a hard skill to learn, and practise, however, you can do so. Work with a friend, team-mate, or coach, and focus on controlling the ball with different parts of the foot. The key to it is repetition (as with all techniques in football), the more you practise the better you will become at it.

One of the first technical aspects that a scout looks for when assessing a player is their first touch. Can the player control it under pressure, keep possession, place the ball in a position where they can progress forwards? There are all sorts of situations, but the scouts look for confidence on the ball and the ability to keep it.

It is also one of those skills that you can always get better at, giving you fantastic opportunity to develop and hone your technique.

A wall, and a ball, will give you the perfect conditions to train. Pass the ball against the wall with varying speeds, spins, and techniques, replicating passes that your team-mates might give you during a game. The more you use the wall, the better you will become.

Try these first touch wall-ball techniques:
The key to this is practise. You can make your first touch as good as you want it to be. It's hard, a very difficult skill, but you can do it. It may take some players much longer to develop their touch to a level that they want to be at, however, it will come, as long as you persevere and keep going. Always make sure to use both feet and enjoy the training that you do. If you enjoy it and put the effort in then you will succeed.

Make that first touch as good as you want it to be and realise your potential.

Practising regularly will give you gradual improvements and you will notice your team-mates growing confidence in you. When you begin to receive the ball in tight situations, feeling comfortable, you will have nothing to fear. Possessing a good first touch provides the platform for you to perform to a high level and keep your team in the ascendancy.

Keep up the good work and if you're looking for any training equipment and first touch rebounders then feel free to take a look at some of our recommended products below, to help you in your training.


The Importance of Ball Mastery

23/07/18
Not everyone has heard of Ball Mastery and why it is so important. It is, However, a fast developing area of coaching and training, allowing players to increase their contact time with the ball and become more comfortable in a variety of situations.

Ball Mastery gives players the time, and focus, to practise and demonstrate technical ability on the ball. As they keep practising they improve their control, co-ordination, weaker foot, skill, and composure. The training provides players with the ability to practise new skills and routines, shifting the ball from one foot to the other.

The beauty of it is that players can go at their own pace, they can practice until they feel comfortable and keep working on their techniques. All you need is a ball and some demonstrations. If you are a coach you can demonstrate these skills to your players (if you feel confident too), or you can show them some Ball Mastery demonstrations through YouTube.

The main aim is to increase the touches on the ball, developing the close control and skill that are the foundation of the individuals game.

Some ask 'why practice Ball Mastery, it just seems to be skills that are irrelevant during a game?'

In my eyes, this couldn't be further from the truth. Ball Mastery provides players with the opportunity to become more comfortable and confident on the ball. With each touch taken, they become better. Over time, with the increase in their practice they will feel comfortable and composed when they have the ball at their feet. Ball Mastery trains players to develop their co-ordination, quickly moving the ball from one foot to the other while maintaining their balance.

After a sustained period of Ball Mastery training, players will begin to show their confidence on the ball in pressurised situations. Receiving the ball in tight areas will be no problem as they can shift the ball from one foot to the other and demonstrate a quick turn to move out of trouble. These practiced drills become ingrained in the player, allowing them to think freely, with no pressure.

It is a fantastic area of development for players, and something that we at OpportunityElite are very passionate about. Ball Mastery can be used in warm ups, individual training, technical sessions, or even as homework challenges for your team.

The key to it is repetition. Very few players can perform the skills straight away, stick with it and keep practising and you will see huge improvements in balance, co-ordination, speed of thought, control, and ability on the weaker foot.

Give these Twenty Ball Mastery demonstrations from the video below a try.

The more you try these skills, the better you will become. It doesn't happen over night, but the development will be clear to see if you incorporate Ball Mastery into your training.

The Key to a strong Pre-Season

17/07/18
The World Cup has just finished (what a World Cup it was, by the way) and you would think there would be a break from Football. Think again, Professional and Semi-Professional clubs are already back training, making sure that they are preparing themselves for the season ahead.

Over the years many players have dreaded pre-season training. The thought of long hard runs didn't exactly thrill many players, but times are changing. Focus is more upon short and sharp bouts of high intensity activities. The long hard runs are becoming less common, with more of a focus on shorter, sharper sprints and agility exercises. Pre-season is focused on preparation, making sure that players are strengthening and preparing their muscles for the season ahead.

It is still undoubtedly one of the toughest times of the season, but you can prepare and put yourself in a great position to have a strong pre-season.

It is important that you have a high 'base-rate' level of fitness. This allows you to jog at a consistent pace for a prolonged period of time, giving you strong foundations to perform during the physical test of pre-season training.

Prior, and during, pre-season training it is important that you are also working on your fitness individually.

In my opinion (some may think differently) you should aim to get on the ball as much as possible. Ball Mastery and intense ball control drills will help replicate game like scenarios, giving you fitness and technical training.

Think about the situations when you have been extremely fatigued in training or a match. What was the most noticeable thing to happen to you? Did your touch and close control become tired and sloppy? Were you making incorrect decisions, struggling to strike the ball cleanly?

It is most likely that you have experienced most of the questions above when you are tired, but at times we can all forget how important it is train our fitness while using the ball. The more that we can do this, the more impact we will have on the game and the less tired we will be in those intense situations with the ball at your feet.

Practise Ball Mastery after some intense sprinting drills, include Ball Mastery or close control in your fitness activities. It will only help in the long run. Improving your fitness and your touch, even in the most tiring of situations.

I used to find that my legs would become very tired if I was fatigued. I'd struggle to move my feet quick enough, or make the right movements to receive the ball. Training with the ball helps you overcome this, ensuring that you are prepared and ready to hit the ground running during pre-season training.

Check out our YouTube channel to see some Ball Mastery drills that you could implement in your pre-season training.


Strike it like De Bruyne

09/07/18
Belgium v Brazil, the World Cup Quarter Final, one of the biggest games in the careers of the very best players in the world. As Kevin De Bruyne receives the ball he is sharing the pitch with some fantastic players such as Neymar, Hazard, Lukaku, Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus.

With the world watching, De Bruyne looks up and has a decision to make, does he play the safe option and slide the ball in to the overlapping full back, or does he strike for goal?

As he took a touch out of his feet he had a quick look up, assessing his options. In that situation, with the ball on the move, many players would play the safe pass.

De Bruyne decided not too.

He stepped to the ball and struck a perfect strike that arrowed into the far corner, giving Brazilian goalkeeper, Allison, no chance.

It was pure technique at the highest of levels.

The power with which he hit the ball was phenomenal, however, he wasn't focusing on hitting it as hard as he can. You can see that he focused on pure technique, striking the ball on his laces and drilling it into the far corner. The ball went dead straight, a clear sign that he connected with it perfectly.

How can you hit the ball so cleanly, with such power?

The answer to this is his focus on technique. He realised that if he was off balance he would end up slicing the ball and missing the target. Firstly he made sure to plant his standing foot firmly into the ground, next to the ball. This giving him stability and a strong base to strike from. As he moved forward to the ball he made sure to keep his body weight over and strike cleanly on his laces. His connection was perfect, drilling the ball hard, and low, into the bottom corner.

Check out the finishing drills below to learn how to strike cleanly on your laces and pose a huge threat from the edge of the box, like Kevin De Bruyne.
The key focus should be technique first, then power. It is very much like a golf swing, if you try to hit the ball too hard then you will inevitably mis-hit the shot. Make sure that your body positioning is correct and strike cleanly on your laces through the middle of the ball.

If you're looking for something to help with your striking of the ball then have a look at the kicking trainer below (ball not included). Giving you the chance to practise your shooting technique more than before.

Remember, practise makes permanent!

Taking the Perfect Penalty

02/07/18

Yesterday brought us the first penalty shootouts of the World Cup. We saw great penalties, great saves, but also players struggle with the pressure. Penalty shootouts, for footballers, are one of, if not, the most stressful situations in the game. You can practise them daily, but never replicate the pressure that you are put under.

All players feel the pressure, whether you are playing for England, or a Sunday league/ youth team.

The main aspect is how to cope with this pressure, what can you do to increase your chances of scoring?

Sometimes it can feel like a lottery as to whether you score or miss, however, it isn't. You are in control.



Firstly, practise is key. You can't replicate the pressure of a penalty shootout in your training. But, you can make sure that you are confident in your ability. Practise your run up, positioning of standing foot, and your technique. The more you do this, the more you will hit the back of the net. Increasing your confidence when the time does come to step up and place the ball on the spot.

Then you must learn how to focus purely on yourself and deal with the pressure.

One of the key areas to scoring a penalty is to control your emotions. There were players yesterday who are superstars, player's you would feel extremely confident in scoring penalties, Modric, Koke, Iago Aspas and earlier in the tournament, Messi. They all missed.

That wasn't because of their ability, it was due to the emotion of the moment and the pressure they felt under.

When the next shootout comes around, (hopefully not England!) watch carefully. The players that miss typically rush their kick, aiming to get the moment out of the way quickly. As soon as the referee blows their whistle, they step up and quickly strike the ball. Those who do this are at a disadvantage, giving themselves less time be composed.

The player's that score will be calm, take their time, and strike the ball when they are ready.

If you are taking a penalty wait three to five seconds after the referee blows the whistle. Focus on the ball, your technique and picture yourself scoring. These extra seconds will calm you down, allowing you to take a deep breath and focus on your technique.

If you've practised your penalties enough in training then your technique will be there. We don't make good decisions when rushing, take your time and believe in your ability, knowing that you have practised this countless times.

02/07/18
26/06/18

Thirty six minutes into the game and England are 2-0 up against a physical Panama side. Scoring goal number three would put the game out of sight and give England a huge lead over the central American side at the half time break.

Jesse Lingard, England's creative attacking midfielder, receives the ball on the left side of the pitch, turning with it, he then plays the ball into Raheem Sterling for a quick one-two. As Lingard receives the ball back from Sterling, he finds himself under pressure, about twenty five yards from goal. He is left with a decision, does he strike the ball with power on his laces, or try to place it with the inside of his foot into the far corner?

He takes the second option and bends the ball beautifully into the far corner, out of the reach of Panama goalkeeper, Penedo. As the ball curls past the keeper it clips the underside of the crossbar and nestles into the back of the net, to the delight of the travelling England fans.

As Jesse Lingard wheels away to celebrate, the nation realises it has just seen something spectacular.

Was it a fortunate shot, one that he luckily hit sweetly into the top corner?

The answer to that is no. He has practised this technique for countless hours and hours, perfecting the skill of curling into the far corner.

No skill comes easily initially, it is a bit of trial and error, assessing how to strike the ball and with how much power. Sometimes he may have found that he was aiming too wide of the post, or too centrally. However, the more shots he practised, the more accurate he would become.

Top players will spend hours focusing on techniques such as these, aiming to routinely hit the far corner. With consistent and regular training the players will put themselves in a position where it feels natural. They will arrive on the edge of the area and without thinking, due to their training and muscle memory, they will bend the ball into the far corner of the goal.

They have performed the skill so much in their own training that they are prepared and comfortable when it comes to the key moment, in a key game.

Learn how to bend the ball into the far corner, like Jesse Lingard, by watching the video tutorial below.
Keep practising this technique and you will see the benefits. As soon as you find yourself in a position just outside the penalty area you will have the confidence to look up and curl that ball around the out-stretched hand of the goalkeeper.

There are three key points to remember when curling the ball to the far corner:
  • Your first touch should be a step or two out of your feet, allowing you to approach the ball and have the room for a clean connection.
  • Aim your hips wide of the goal, your follow through will then curl the ball into the far corner.
  • Strike the ball on the instep, close to the inside of the big toe.

Focus on these key areas and continue to practise. For some players it may take less attempts on goal to become very confident in this technique, whereas for others it may take longer. Focus on yourself and keep practising and you will soon find yourself in a similar position in a game.

Before you know it, you will be running away in celebration after scoring a brilliantly placed goal, out of the keepers reach, just like Jesse Lingard.

Share with us on Facebook your best curled efforts to the far post!