Having a positive 1st-touch is only one fundamental component of a good soccer player. If you are just joining us, this is the third article in a series of the best drills to improve a player’s first touch in soccer. Personally I teach more than just skills. besides life lessons and character there are topics like ‘checking to’ the ball and the ‘science behind it’. Today I am going to begin to break down the concept of soccer I.Q. If you are curious to what that means please read on and you will see what I mean. Each topic can become very deep.
Technique, Tactics & Terminology
There are thousands of soccer teams and players in each state across America/World. There are also many great all around coaches.
Unfortunately, there are more bad coaches due to the demand for team coaches. No matter which one you have (or what type of coach you are) there is lots to teach and learn.
Checking to the ball in short means going to the ball when your teammate has it. Opposed to just standing and waiting for the ball. You can check to on throw ins, run of play, corner kicks and much more.
One of the best ways to practice this is by simply putting yourself in the game. Meaning pretending you’re in the game (when practicing) and getting used to the feeling and situations.
One touch passing drill
To get players muscle memory and brain used to checking to and away, have them do this drill…
Partner up in groups of 2… With 1 ball the players make soft one touch passes. After you pass, back pedal a few steps and then move forward towards the ball as it is coming to you.
A good foundation for soccer players
One soccer term that needs to be introduced as young as age 7 is ‘checking to’ the ball. I mean why not? These kids are smart and they need to be introduced to soccer terms early. Even if they forget, at least we are doing our best to teach.
Teaching basic drills is key, but teaching players young is one way to set a firm foundation.
Kids need to be educated on wanting to do things the best they can. If coaches don’t push players to do their best, most will do just enough to get by.
Here’s a great drill for novice soccer players learning to control the ball and set a good foundation. Learning to control the ball later helps with wanting the ball, which helps with a good first touch and other skills.
Coach Jones: ‘the Italian’
Growing up I was lucky to have good youth coaches… My first coach was Russell Jones, who was like an Italian style coach, smoking cigarettes during the game and using lots of body language to teach the game and communicate. He had passion and built passion in me! (Side wander: he even got us professional looking long-sleeve jerseys. THAT was cool.).
Coach Jones taught me so much; the main thing I remember is how to possess the ball by swinging it (passing from left to right) back and forth in the back line.
Back in the day you could still pass to the goalie for them to pick the ball up and change the field with his hands or feet. This rule changed because FIFA wanted to make the game more exciting with more goals.
Coaches Alexander & Barden
Then I had a coach named Alvin Alexander. He STILL holds the record of leading goal scorer at Midwestern State University. Alvin was also wonderful coach that would teach lots of technique. Things like bending the ball and how to turn the corner dribbling at speed with the outside of the foot. It’s funny the things we remember! I later realized how my coaches took time to teach and give back to the game. My last year in HS Alvin moved his family to another state, but I was lucky to get another good coach named Shane Barden.
Shane was good with the players and could kind of relate because he was younger and he also was a good player growing up, going to a D1 college and having stints in Europe. Without these 3 coaches I would not know as much as I do now, so I thank them for their time!
P.S. I can’t forget my 1st coach ever: Patrick! Patrick taught me at the age when it’s so important for the coach to teach love for the game and build confident youths.
Right space at the right time when checking to
Once it was time to move on to college, I had my top 2 schools of choice. University of New Mexico (which is D1) and West Texas A&M University (D2).
I chose West Texas A&M for two main reasons: 1) the coach Butch Lauffer (whom I have spoken highly of before) & 2) I wanted to be closer to Midland, where I grew up, so that my mom and grandparents could attend more games.
At WT, Coach Lauffer taught a whole new piece that I didn’t get from the other coaches: tactical play and how to be in the right space at the right time.
Checking to the ball was something I already knew going into college but Butch would break it down for us. Showing me how to position my body, so that when I trap the ball I was in a better position to pass it.
The key to ‘checking to‘ the ball
The key to checking to the ball is timing and change of speed! If you check to the ball slow then it will be easy for the defender to stay with you. Time it to where your teammate can pass you the ball as you create the good distance from the defender.
Note: there are also times when you want to check to the ball slow but this would be when there is not a defender behind you. Maybe it’s a time when you are reading the play and know it’s going to come your way and you are just slowly checking to the ball into the space you want to receive it.
Keeping up with Roy
As a Pro player the biggest change for me going from college to the pros was change of speed and timing of the runs off the ball. I will never forget the 1st couple days in pre-season camp with the MLS Team Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting KC). I had to mark Roy Lassiter who, at the time, was the leading goal scorer in MLS History and he was on the cover of the PlayStation video game (which was cool).
My first experience playing pro was a shock to see the timing and the change of speed from the forwards! The reason is because they knew when to check to and check away with speed. This meant the defender had to be ready and not only match the speed but the timing.
Breaking checking to the ball down
Checking to the ball – When your teammate has the ball, you ‘check to’ (go to the player with the ball), calling for it so they can pass it to you. Many select/club players who are well trained know what checking to the ball is. From my experience the kids learn it around 10 years old. Some sooner and others later or never.
Why would a player want to check to the ball?
I have a list for you so check it out and please share it with your kids, friends, players, teammates & fellow coaches.
- In the middle third of the field there is lots of activity and players checking to receive the ball. Midfielders and Forwards are going to check to the ball more than defenders. Imagine a player in the central midfield with a defender on their back marking tight. If the ball comes into the standing midfielder they will most likely lose the ball. If the midfielder checks to the ball they create space between themselves and the defender. This gives more time on the ball.
- Defenders also check to the ball at times. One specific time you will see this is when their own keeper has the ball at feet. Defenders will demand the ball to keep possession, instead of the keeper kicking long for a 50/50 ball. However, most of the time defenders are doing the opposite of checking to. Instead they are checking away from the ball to create more space.
- Forwards oftentimes have to check to the ball to get away from the defender. Forwards have to be creative and diverse OFF the Ball if they want to get more touches. Playing up top (forwards) are most of the time outnumbered by 1 player. If they just stand around waiting for balls into their feet or long ‘through’ balls they will be limited and easy to mark/guard. When you watch a game on TV you will see the forwards time their runs perfect so that they can create space.
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