Checking away from the ball gives players freedom once they receive the ball. If you have NO FREEDOM on the pitch that means you have NO SPACE. No space means you don’t get many choices whether to pass, dribble or shoot. Learning how and when to get open make a big difference. Sometimes all it takes is 2-5 steps to get open. Especially if you are getting behind the line of defense. These few steps can help you get behind four players, which can make a 4v4 vs a 4v8 situation. Then there is the training video below you can do to improve controlling the ball in these situation.
What is checking away?
Checking away from the ball means running or walking away from the ball, creating space by taking the defender with you. Also by allowing your teammate to be able to play a ball over the top for a breakaway. Not long ago I watched the #1 U16 Boys Academy team beat the #2 team 4-1. All the goals were over the top of a defender to a forward who checked away at the right time for a goal.
It wasn’t that you could watch the whole game and say “O yeah that team is better.” It was just that they were disciplined and patient. This means they knew their chances would come and they knew how to create space at the dangerous part of the field. Most of the time you check away you end up checking back to receive. Sometimes it’s to collect the ball over the defender for a goal, which is what happened on most of these goals that day.
Most of the time you check away you end up checking back to receive, but sometimes it’s to collect the ball over the defender for a goal.
Building character of a pro
Many of you will take the time below to read the how, why & when checking away can help players & teams become better on the pitch by confusing defenders. This information is important for all ages! If you’re a parent or coach, go ahead and have conversation with your players or kids about these topics. I know kids ages 13+ think they know everything so maybe just let them talk about what they know.
If they don’t want to listen to you let them read the highlight points of this article. Make sure they are teachable. Give them resources like the article from the 14 year Professional Davy Arnaud on 5 Traits of Good Character where he writes how he learned something every week because he tried and wanted to.
Improving first touch when checking to and away
To improve your skills is to simply work on trapping the ball as you check to and check away. In my experience as a player and trainer, checking to while receiving the ball is harder. At the same time checking away is not easy either. Checking to while receiving the ball is tough because you are going to the ball, while the ball is coming to you. This means the play happens fast and your touch has to be extra soft. Checking away is hard because by the time you get the ball your a little tired. Check out the video below to see how you can train on your own.
There are many different ways to check away
You can check away by simply taking 1 single step away from the player with the ball and then check to receive. Then there are the times when you need to actually ‘check away’ 10 steps. You could do this by backpedaling, turn and run, side shuffle or even walking away.
It all depends on the situation and how smart the defenders are as individuals and as a defensive unit. It also depends on your teammates… If you are playing with players who just kick the ball long every time or don’t have the vision to find players in behind, why waste energy checking away?
Checking away depends on the situation and how smart the defenders are as individuals & as a defensive unit.
So much to learn before clever runs
The reason why many younger players are not taught how to do these little tactical things is because the team as a whole is not ready. First they need to know how to control the ball well. Then they need to know how to play wide and stretch the field at the right time. I’m not saying don’t teach youths how to check to and away from the ball. I recommend it at even age 7. But the main focus on time spend with youth should be on technical, not tactical. Meaning, help youths ages 6-12 get better at fundamentals over anything else.
Which Position needs to know most how to check to?
Forwards need to know most because they are often times outnumbered a man. This means they need to know how to get open more than the other positions. Attacking players oftentimes have to play with a defender on their back. By the time the ball reaches them they have immediate pressure.
If a forward knows how to CHECK AWAY at the right time they are able to create more space for when they get the ball they have time to turn and dribble, pass or shoot. The key for this is that they have all 3 options instead of just 1.
Does checking away mean you have to always check back?
You don’t always have to check back to. There are going to be times when you check away and your teammate plays that long ball over the top. That’s the beauty of it all is that the defender has to respect the runs. If they don’t follow the runner, then it will be an easy time scoring goals.
No matter how good the defender is they cannot stop a good ball played to a player who made a well-timed run at speed. No matter how good the defender is they cannot stop a good ball played to a player who made a well-timed run at speed.
Only one thing can stop a perfect run and pass
A defender who has more speed than the attacking player can stop a perfect run & pass. In the middle third of the field, if a ball is played over a defender and the forward made a smart well-timed run, the pass should be complete. But if the defender is faster and they have enough space to catch up it won’t work. Unless, of course, this is a play near the goal (final third part of the field) and the forward only has to finish on goal with 1 or 2 touches.
So at the highest levels (U15 – U18 all the way up to pro) you will see teams who maybe are not as fast physically but once these balls are played in the dangerous part of the field goals are scored. That’s why checking away from the ball is such a key skill to have!
5 Top Reasons to check away
- Makes the defender lose sight of either the ball or attacking player, which is what attackers want because it makes the defenders job stressful when you can’t see the ball & your man.
- Creates more space not only for the player with the ball but also for the player making the run
- Cause overall confusion for the defenders because they sometimes don’t know who to mark or let go
- Tires the defenders out physically and mentally. They’ll know that not only is the forward smart, but they want to work hard by taking extra runs.
- Makes you a more all-around player instead of the player who is predictable and easy to mark.
2 main differences in great runs off the ball
- The TIMING of when you first make your run away
- The CHANGE OF SPEED if which you make your run away… Sometimes it needs to be at 100% speed and others it needs to be slow and undercover. The reason is because you can end up never checking to. Then end up getting the ball behind the player who was marking you. This would especially mean for a center mid.
Private Individual, Group or Team Training Drills
We usually have the players start off stationary and have them check away to build good habits. Then pass them the ball to start or finish the play.
- If I am working with a forward then I want them to check away before I cross them the ball to finish. This creates good habits for the players.
- If I have a private or a large group we can start the play by a player passing the ball to another. Then checking away a step or 2, which allows there to be enough space and time to pass or dribble.
- Through balls to the forwards feet or into space for there to then be a opportunity on goal.
Please help share this with friends, you know they will appreciate it, as will I.