After playing soccer all my life and then teaching all ages and levels for 10+ years (averaging over 100 hours per month), conducting 1-on-1 or group technical training, & producing professional & collegiate athletes, I have seen that there are certain drills and skills on which the soccer player’s brain and feet have a hard time connecting. In this blog post I will teach you what ages have a hard time with what skill. You’ll know how you can help your players, child or self be more diverse with certain skills that are common. This will help you improve in less time.
Younger Players (Ages 5-9)
I see players are either natural at using the inside of the foot or with using the laces/top of the foot – but not both. You will notice especially that kids ages 5-7 naturally use one of the two. The kids ages 5-7 who are more natural at using the top of the foot are the ones who end up toe poking it. Be patient with these kids because it’s not easy to fix the toe poke. They will only get frustrated if you tell them all the time. You can tell them to get their toe down, but let them know it will take time for the muscle memory to listen to the brain. For some kids it might take a year or more. I know in Mexico and Brazil they don’t stress this at a young age, and both these countries play fantastic futbol at youth and adult ages.
Parents and coaches can help the muscle memory by literally taking the player’s foot and swinging through with the proper motion / mechanics. This teaches the muscles how to do it the right way. If you are not sure the proper way, then don’t even do it. Bring them to me and I will show you or take them to a trainer who knows how.
Push pass using inside of the foot
If you want to get used to using the inside of the foot make sure you do these 4 things. Toes are pointed up, knees are bent, ankle is locked and the follow through shows the inside of the foot staying open. Naturally the foot will want to close, meaning the toes would want to face forward like they have been the players whole life. For them to connect with the inside of the foot and have proper mechanics, the foot needs to stay open (i.e., the inside of foot showing towards the target).
Using your laces [top of the foot]
If you are trying to get them used to using the laces you point the toe down, have them lock their ankle and have them let you control their foot to get used to the swing & connection. Do this 7+ times to help program/connect the muscles with the brain. Each day this happens the better they get and the more they retain the ‘training’ of the muscles.To use the inside of the foot, make sure the toe is pointed up, ankle locked & the follow through keeps the inside 'open.' - Jeremie PietteClick To Tweet
The natural dribbling style in soccer
Almost every player I have ever seen at this age uses the inside of the foot to dribble. It makes sense because it’s more comfortable for a new player to trap or keep the ball between their feet. This is why the homework methods I use help the players improve so fast. I get you used to using every surface of their foot and working the ball all around you. This you become coordinated with the ball. Kids need to be encouraged to do what’s comfortable, but they also need to learn things that are not natural. If they are only told to just dribble up and down or between cones, they’ll only do what they are comfortable with.
Volleys [kicking the ball while it’s in the air]
Most players at this age are not good at volley drills whether it be inside or laces. Most players have not even been introduced to volleys, which is fine in a team setting. But with Private Lessons this is one of the elements which will improve most. The reason is because if a coach is tossing the ball to all of his players in a line, think about how few of reps each player will get. And if the coach has them partnered up, usually at this age the kids can’t toss the ball accurate, which means the volley skills will not improve fast.
How to improve muscle memory in soccer
To fix this work some at the house (Outside) and if it’s not coming along, just kneel down and have them put their hand on your shoulder for balance so that you can take their foot with your hand and help them follow through the correct way. If you have any questions you can buy some private individual lessons and have the trainer work on it and show you. You can also check out my online courses which will show several different ways to work on the skills.
Parent testimonial: “The quality and detail of teaching in Jeremie’s course is like nothing you will get with team coaches. After watching the lessons online, we saw that our kids were not even doing basic movement correct. Jeremie teaches you how to form your foot and leg so that you do it correctly, opposed of just doing a skill move.”
Older players (ages 10 – adult)
Shooting or Long Passes – Most players are more comfortable with using their laces/top of the foot to strike or, if they are not, they end up bending the ball on accident which for a right footed player the ball will go to the left every time. The reason is because of the mechanics and place of the ball and plant foot as the connection happens.
Learning exact parts of the foot to use
Another reason is because most players do not know exactly what part of the foot or ball to connect with. When I ask kids age 14 what part of the laces do you connect with, 80% of the time they are wrong – even ECNL and DA, the highest levels for girls in America. They just say or point at their laces – not sure of the exact spot. And I don’t think they’ve ever really thought about it. The reason for this is because the coach doesn’t know or the kids forgot what the coach said. I have told players the answer and then 3 weeks later they’ve forgotten!We need to teach players that mechanics is form and it’s important that our form is correct. - Jeremie PietteClick To Tweet
Mechanics and form are left out
The last reason, besides not knowing what part of the foot is correct, they don’t know the proper mechanics – which means their form is wrong! Mechanics are not talked about enough in my opinion! Matter a fact here are 10 sports that teach mechanics more than soccer. When I ask player what mechanics are they sometimes say “The guys who fix cars?” LOL. So common to hear that. Or the players who are a little closer to the correct answer will say “Skills”. So I have to teach them that mechanics is form and it’s important that our form is correct.
Kids growth spurts in soccer
When players go through growth spurts they oftentimes lose their regular correct form. so you might see a player who could strike a ball really nice all of a sudden, within a few weeks, not be able to connect the same way because they grew and inch in such a short time. You then have to start back at scratch and work on getting your mechanics right again. It usually has to do with the plant knee being too straight, instead of bend more.
Soccer player’s brain has to connect with the feet
At ages 10-11 (select players) is when you start to see players improve on volleys. (*And note – there is a small percentage of players who may get this at ages 7-8). Players are either natural with the inside or the laces. When I say natural it doesn’t mean it’s easy, just that it comes easier than the other.
I personally was always and still am more comfortable using the inside of my feet to pass a volley to a partner. Once I started to practice shooting a volley with my laces, I became better and more comfortable to hit a long pass or shot with my laces. I get feedback from our older students that they are more comfortable using their laces to knock a long ball out of the air, but with light weight passes many prefer the inside.
Connecting a soccer player’s brain & feet
Interesting Observation: Does Dancing Help soccer players? One interesting thing that I find very interesting is that the countries & cultures that like to dance have better coordination and ball control when they are older. Maybe it’s their feet have been trained to connect with the brain at an early age in their lives or it’s just a coincidence? Look at Players from Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Columbia. They’re all very good with ball control & coordination at a young age and ALL of these countries love to dance! 🙂
Start coordination / agility training early for your kids, even ages 4 or 5. You can just get them doing simple things like jumping jacks or hopscotch type games. Sports kids ages 6-9 need coordination training (even the natural star athletes have a hard time with certain agility drills). This is so good for not only their body, but their brains! It’s like a kid 3-6 years old playing with Legos or an elderly person doing Crossword Puzzles. These things stimulate the brain in a way that is healthy for the individual.
Super Advanced Footskills that we call roll-scissors, roll chops and roll step overs are skills that most players learn one easier than the others. In the 10 years I have worked with soccer players for a full time living’ skills and mechanics, I have only seen 1 player to ever grasp both of these skills in the first few seconds. This was a girl age 13 who had just moved from New Jersey to Texas. In NJ & D.C. they have lots of technical soccer companies and the players there focus on skills more than any other part of the country. NY, NJ and DC produce tons of national team players every year and I think this is one of the main reasons. Players who train extra, doing the right stuff become more skilled.