When you move into the professional soccer level it becomes even more important to communicate on the field. Simple directions or alerts, such as ‘man on’ and ‘turn’ or ‘you have time’, make playing the game so much easier and become more important as the game speeds up.
Communication is also about asking for the ball all the time. Yes, you’ll need to ask for the ball – tell your teammates you want it. Demand the ball even. And it really doesn’t matter what position you play, whether you’re a defender, midfielder, or a forward, you should always want the soccer ball. The idea is you want to help and offer support and make things happen. Otherwise, why are you out there playing.
At the same time though, once you get the ball, give it to the player who is in the best position to create something. Give it to the player who can do the most damage to the other team with the ball. Often on a team there are two or three players, or maybe one, who you always want to have the ball at their feet. These are the play makers, when they are open, pass them them ball and then make a run to get the ball back. Watch the best teams in the world, there’s always two or three players who always get the ball at their feet and run the show.
Players like Messi and Suarez at Barcelona. Both are play makers and combine cleverly with Dani Alves on the right side. Alves acts as support player, like a wall that Messi and Suarez can play off of and get the ball back when they are open again. Suarez of course is a unique player, as he’s extremely skilled, and can get down the line to cross the ball and into the attack. But players should work together and share the ball, and Messi, Suarez, and Alves offer no better example of this.
Communicate through how you play the ball itself, if you play a hard ball into someone’s feet that tells the player they are under pressure. If you play a soft pass to somone that means you’re trying to draw the player back to the ball to open up space behind them. Overall, play crisp passes to your teammates, if not, the ball will get cut out by the defense and it’s easy to control a firm pass.
Play the Ball Quickly
The key though is to give the ball and get the ball – play the ball quickly in one and two touches. If you hold on to the ball too long you will lose it. And even if you don’t lose the ball, if you don’t play the ball quickly, you can kill an attack and allow the opposing team to get back on defense.
Also, this means you should be prepared to receive the soccer ball at all times, and of course want the ball! This kind of energy, wanting to always be involved in the play, puts the other team that much more on their heels. So play simple and smart soccer, give and get the ball and move it quickly.
Try to attack the space when you have the ball. See if you can draw a defender in, and then release the ball just when they’re about to close you down or win the ball. There’s a certain flow to the game of soccer when things are going well. Everyone is on the same page, fighting for one another and sharing the ball. That’s the type of soccer you want to play. This often comes from sharing and moving the ball quickly with one and two touches passing.
Shielding the Soccer Ball
A simple and great exercise is to dribble in a small square and have an opponent try to take the ball from you. Use your body to shield the ball from the defender. Always keep your body between the ball and the defender. Tell your friend or the person who is acting as the defender to fight for the ball with a game like intensity, pushing you and playing so hard they are almost fouling you. Add more players into the game as you get more confident holding on to the ball and holding off the defender. If the defender wins the ball you switch roles.
This game can eventually build into a possession game that focuses on shielding. Call out to stop play now and again and whichever team doesn’t have the ball has to do push-ups or a few sprints as punishment.
When shielding the ball, and there’s space, carry the ball into the open space – all the while shielding the ball from the defender. Carry the ball with the inside of your foot, this is where you will get the most control, kind of dragging the ball along as the defender pushes against you. Make sure to bend your knees and have a strong sense about you that this person is not going to get the ball from you no matter what. Then, try to work on cutting the ball back and forth. Carry the ball with the inside of your foot for a few yards and then cut back with the outside of your foot and shield the ball with the outside of your foot. As you get better, practice shielding the ball using all parts of both feet.
Shielding the soccer ball, protecting it with your body, is one of the most underrated skills in soccer. As you get more comfortable, try shielding the ball for a few yards with the inside of your right foot and playing it to your left and carrying it in the other direction. Next, use the sole of your foot to turn or switch directions. Try to use all the different surfaces of your foot without letting the defender get a touch on the ball. Chop and cut the ball back with the inside and outside of both feet. Keep the defense honest by turning and taking the defender on from time to time. This way they know you’re actually trying to get past them and not just hold the ball.
Freeze the Defender
If you see a defender rushing to close you down and win the ball, throw in a fake to slow them down. Before receiving the soccer ball, fake like you’re going to make a long pass or about to take a shot – this will freeze the defender who is rushing towards you and give you more time. Simply pull your leg back as if you’re going to play the ball down the field, or, get more animated with it, and throw your shoulders and whole body into selling the fake kick.
Either way, this simple move will freeze the defender who’s rushing at you. Again, just before you receive the ball (and control it), fake like you’re going to shoot or make a pass by drawing your leg back in the shooting or kicking motion to momentarily freeze the defender. This move will surprise them a bit and slow them down so you have time to control the ball.
As a team keep the game flowing by ball swinging the ball from one side to the other to find the best ratio of numbers and the most space. Release pressure by switching the ball to the other side of the soccer field.
If you watch the best teams in the world, like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Manchester United, they move the ball from one side of the pitch to the other looking for space and a numerical advantage. You want to draw the other team to one side of the field and then quickly switch the ball to the other side when they start to close you down.
Try playing the ball into the forwards feet, so the defense collapses into the center, and when the forward lays the ball back, you can swing the ball out wide and into the corner to get a cross off. There are a number of different ways to switch the ball, and open up the defense, but the key is to keep the ball moving and play one and two touch soccer.