Soccer fundamentals? "No thanks I'm all about the flashy tricks". Let's pretend like you didn't say that, there is nothing more important to learn in any sport (not just soccer) than the fundamentals.
Fundamentals are the core exercises that make up the foundation for all other skills in the technical, physical, psychological and leadership parts of the game.
Every sport has fundamental exercises and skills that if you master will help you more than anything else in becoming a player of the highest quality. The full explanation of them are below but they include passing, shooting, dribbling, to name a few.
Stop working on the rolls, flips and tricks and worry about mastering the fundamentals of the game. They may not be the easiest on the eye at times but come the moment in a game when you're being closed down by two defenders you'l be thankful you can control and receive a ball with both feet with ease.
Without mastering soccer fundamentals you’re not getting anywhere in the game never mind playing pro. If you watch too many highlights and think all that’s important are moves and fancy tricks then you’ll be left cleaning up a locker room not changing in one.
There are general soccer fundamentals and then there are position specific fundamentals that are the foundation which any good player is made. So what if you can do a rainbow, can you hit a driven ball with your non dominant foot? Or are your shots going out for throw ins? That’s what I thought; now master the fundamentals, nothing more, and nothing less.
Offensive Soccer Fundamentals
Dribbling with the ball is a fine art. It takes skill, speed, creativity and courage. Dribbling is more about being comfortable on the ball than anything else. Either foot or any position you need to know when, how and where to dribble.
Dribbling is done at speed, Ronaldo does it every fifth time he dribbles, and Messi does it every time he dribbles. That’s why they are so effective at it, nothing to do with fancy moves and circus tricks. Soccer fundamentals such as dribbling are a fine art and takes a unique type of person to develop it.
Keys to Successful Dribbling
-If dribbling in tight spaces keep the ball close to you, if covering a larger area then keep the ball out in front of you.
-Use the outside of your feet when dribbling to maintain a natural stride if sprinting or changing direction.
-A dynamic dribble is a diverse one so develop skill and confidence with both feet.
-Change of direction and pace as the defender nears is critical to get separation.
Ball Control (Trapping a Ball)
Most players can’t execute a pass or shot not because their technique is wrong or they don’t know what they’re doing but many times a person’s touch lets them down. If you can’t trap a ball properly you can forget about executing another skill, it’s like trying to do back flips on a bike before learning how to ride it.
You can control a ball with your thigh, heel, shoulder, neck and anything else you could possibly imagine. No ball will ever come to you already on a platter to serve, you must prepare it through your control to execute the next move, pass or shot. Developing your soccer fundamentals is the first step.
Keys to Successful Trapping
-Cradle the ball like catching an egg, show then withdraw to cushion the ball. Whether it’s a pass on the ground, ball from the air or bouncing ball, show then withdraw.
-Develop this technique in both feet as you will find yourself in situations where you will need to use both.
-When you get to a higher level trapping of the ball you will move the ball into a space you eventually want to move into instead of stopping it dead. This means try trapping the ball into a space as your skills develop in this area.
Inside, outside, long, short, bent, straight, weighted and whatever else you can name, passing is the most frequently used fundamental we use in the game. Ya ya I know what you’re going to say, the pro’s only use one foot mainly why should I learn with both. Well, although some pros are one foot dominant that doesn’t mean they don’t use their non dominant foot when necessary.
Keys to Successful Passing
-Lock the ankle and foot by pointing your toe to the sky, this will lock the entire surface and make for cleaner contact and crisper passes.
-Develop the habit of keeping your head up with the ball on your foot instead of looking down at it constantly.
-Develop the technique on both feet.
-Hard crisp passes, make the ball move, no daisy cutters here.
Can’t score if you don’t shoot! Shooting although a skill synonymous with soccer isn’t used as often as people think in a game. An attacking player may only get a couple shots a game, that’s why knowing the fundamentals of this skill like you know the scuff marks on your cleats are important.
Either power or placement the same soccer fundamentals apply. All that changes is the part of the foot where the ball is hit. A dynamic successful attack is a diverse one so look to develop both techniques on both feet. Nobody said it was going to be easy Seedorf.
Keys to successful Shooting
-Pick your target, plant foot beside the ball pointing to the desired target, keep your head down, follow through and don’t look at your shot until you’ve landed completely.
-Aim low (either way the ball will either stay low which is ideal or if it gets away from you a bit it will still remain on target)
-Quicker the release the better, a big fancy wind up with fireworks and runway lights telling a keeper that you’re shooting will never catch them by surprise.
Heading on Goal
Scoring with your head is much different then clearing, trapping or passing the ball with your head. This skill takes power, technique and precise timing to pull off. The key here is just like taking a shot or pass with your foot is to bring your head back and snap it forward (keeping your chin down) aiming the ball down.
A creative scorer can put the ball in with every body part so neglecting learning the proper heading technique is like leaving one of your guns at home going to war.
Keys to Successful Heading (On Goal)
-Bring the torso and head all the way back and snap forward heading the ball downwards.
-Hit the middle of the ball with your forehead
-Keep your eyes open and head with conviction
Defensive Soccer Fundamentals
If you’re a defender worth anything you know how important solid booming clearances are. Whether it’s with your foot, knee, shoulder or head all great clearances follow the same classic motto, up and out!
Clearing the ball into areas of low danger is the key here. Never down the middle, never across your own goal and better in the air then on the deck.
Soccer fundamentals such as clearances go unnoticed by the un-train eye but is critical for a defenders development.
Keys to Successful Defensive Clearances
-No flimsy or non flexed body parts. Lock the ankle, tighten up the body part clearing the ball and hit it to China.
-If you are clearing a ball in your box, if the ball goes past the middle of the goal then it goes out the opposite way, if you are in front of the middle of the goal then the ball goes back to where it came from.
-Better too long then too short, too many goals are scored off poorly hit clearances that create the others teams offense.
-Command the ball and make it yours, tear down anybody in your way, this includes teammates.
Great outside backs have one attribute they all share (besides their non dominant foot is only good for getting on the bus) and that is they are all very sound 1v1 defenders. Sure every team has their system of play and when to go forward and when to defend etc etc but all an outside back really needs to excel at to keep their spot is to be a vicious 1v1 defender.
Front foot pointing forward, stay low and staying discipline is the name of the game here. Much easier said than done defending the fastest players on the pitch operating from the wings.
Keys to Successful 1v1 Defending
-Front foot pointing at the ball
-Only tackle with the front foot unless an emergency desperation last man tackle situation arises.
-Delay and contain, delay and contain
-Keeping a low centre of gravity
-Spring to ball pressure then give the attacker a two yard cushion as you shepherd them into tight uncomfortable positions and areas of the field
-Eye on the ball not the man
-Capitalize on mistakes but only when the moment presents itself to attempt winning a tackle
If beat, either the ball or the man gets by you, never both. Although tackling might seem just like throwing your body at a ball and hoping for the best it truly is an art that requires expert strength, desire and timing.
Never limp in or you’ll get hurt, in hard out harder. Lunging in to win the ball but never sacrificing all of your balance or real estate.
Keys to Successful Tackling
-No hesitation, go in hard and follow through
-Go into a tackle in an athletic stance, standing straight up will get you laid out on the pitch
-Desire is just as important as technique
Goal Keeper Soccer Fundamentals
It’s all in the hands, a keeper without good hands is as useful as a striker who doesn’t score goals. A simple ball and a wall can get this skill developed. Hitting the ball numerous times back to you developing your hand eye co-ordination and developing the comfort of catching a ball at high speeds.
It’s no secret that a great goalkeeper needs to be able to know how to catch but what’s not so common knowledge is that handling the ball at high speeds should be second nature to an aspiring professional goalie.
Keys to Successful Catching
-Getting your body behind and in line with the ball not just your arms and hands will make for an easier catch
-Improving your hands is a job that is never finished, every day not every other day.
-Eyes on the target and get your hands up early not just when the ball is an inch from your head.
There’s nothing like a goalie that’s a pure shot stopper and can get behind every ball no matter the power or placement of it. This takes tremendous athleticism, hand eye co-ordination and quick reflexes to master the art of keeping the ball from crossing that white line.
You can always work on your hands but shot stopping is a skill in itself that takes some god given talent with a mix of physical superiority. A high level of understanding the soccer fundamentals for the goalkeeper position is a must.
Keys to Successful Shot Stopping
-Develop quickness in your feet (lateral movement here is everything)
-Anticipate then react, be proactive when anticipating shots
-No fear, no matter the speed or the surface you must be able to throw yourself at the ball like your saving a child
Directly out of your hands or a half volley the drop kick has several variations but all have the same intent. First objective is to get the ball out of your defensive area and to link up with attacking players looking to hit a team on a counter if available.
A drop kick can be launched in the air coming down with ice on it or can be hit like a frozen rope, most will tell you the accurate frozen rope is best for accuracy and speed of play.
Keys to a Successful Drop Kick
-Quick release from the time you catch it to the time you distribute it is critical
-Try and flatten it out as much as possible, nobody likes heading a ball that comes down from the heavens.
-Look to hit the bottom half of the ball to avoid a miss kick and a potential disaster.
-Hit the ball with the top of your foot (not inside) while your toes are pointed.
Throwing the Ball
Distribution from the hand is just as important as distributing a ball from your feet, and more accurate. Under hand, over hand, short outlet or long a pro level goalkeeper needs to be well rounded in all soccer fundamentals that pertain to their positon and all forms of distribution both hand and foot.
Keys to Successfully Throwing a Ball
-If there is a clear path, the lower the throw the better
-Flatten out the throw as best as possible, a looping throw in the air does nobody any good
-Extend your non throwing hand pointing in the direction of the desire target
-Become well rounded in all throws both long and short, high and low to truly develop all aspects of soccer fundamentals for keepers
Every player no matter the position needs to be physically fit and ready to play the game. Ever played 90minutes unfit? There is honestly no worse torture then dragging your carcass around the field praying for the final whistle.
Fitness is a bar that should be constantly pushed if serious about improving your game. At the pro level having average or sub average fitness will leave you with nothing but a seat on the bench. Constantly outdoing yourself and pushing your cardiovascular fitness to higher and higher heights will give you a level of play you never thought possible. Fitness is a foundation for any of the soccer fundamentals explained below.
Strength is actually the base for all other physical fundamentals you need to become a complete player. Whether it's holding off a player and shielding the ball using your core strength or shooting a ball and using the power from your legs strength is the genesis of it all. Being able to execute proper soccer specific strength exercises such as squats, lunges, pull-ups and olympic lifts are essential at growing your game from the ground up.
You've heard the expression that speed makes up for so much in our game and ain't it the truth. Having speed to catch up to attackers or blow by defenders can't be understated. If you don't believe me turn on the TV on the weekend and look at the amount of blistering speed is on the pitch. Understanding how to do speed exercises to increase this part of your game such as plyometrics, bounding and sprints are a daily routine in any serious soccer players life.
What good are all those muscles if you can't be light on your feet when you do it. Agility plays a vital role in how you move the machine you've created with all those plyometrics and weights. Your ability to shuffle side to side and move vertically and horizontally happens in every aspect and in every position possible. Plyos, jump series and agility circuits are the core of any agile pro.
Offensive Tactical Fundamental Principles
The ability to drive down the heart of the defence or beyond with or without the ball is a key tactical soccer fundamental you need to be able to recognize and execute.
You may do this already without thinking but when a teammate has the ball the importance of you showing and supporting them to give them options is a key tactical fundamental. As you may guess this is an important fundamental when trying to maintain possession.
Depth is defined as the mobility of a certain attacker to create new playing spaces around the pitch. So the opposite of support and the anticipation of the play to occupy spaces deep on the pitch to give the most space to play with.
Width and Length
This is at times confused with depth but is used to stretch and confuse the defence by pulling them horizontally and vertically to make it more difficult to defend all the players on the pitch. Your job here if you are off the ball is to move the defenders into places where they are isolated and overall create challenges for them.
Defensive Tactical Fundamental Principles
All great defenders are disciplined and that's exactly what delay defending depends on. Essentially delay defending is not jumping in and taking risks but tracking defenders slowly restricting their time and space until an optimal time comes to try and win the ball. Next time you hear your coach yell "delay!!" they mean just that, delay the player from getting in behind you at about a 2-5 yard cushion.
This fundamental principle means just that, to cover the spaces in behind the primary attacker and defender. So if your teammate is defending a player 1v1 your job is to be off their back shoulder covering the space in behind your teammate in case the attacker wants to dribble by them or play a ball over the top of them. You are the safety net and providing coverage for your pal.
Balance speaks about providing symmetry off of the delay and cover defenders allowing your team to remain balanced. It essentially is defending opponents off of the ball while still remaining compact to your defensive line. Not allowing yourself to get dragged too close to the ball nor too close to the far side attacker to unbalance your teams defensive structure.
Well it's all in the name, staying nice and tight and compact around the threatening parts of the pitch (central and in front of the goal usually). This principle calls for numerical superiority behind the ball with little to no spaces to play through the structure, only possibly around it.
If you're curious about some of the tactical fundamentals compared across age groups feel free to read this article for a deeper understanding. Fundamental Tactical Principles of Soccer: A Comparison Across Different Age Groups.
Leader of One , Leader of None. Leader of Many, Leader of Any!
Learning to lead is a big part of guiding any group and yourself to a desired outcome. In soccer if you don’t have the discipline to lead yourself then you will never get that virus to spread. Leadership is a fundamental principle of any great team and any great player. It is one of the most useful soccer fundamentals because of its use beyond sport and beyond soccer.
The keeper should be the loudest on the field, some soccer fundamentals go beyond technical drills and this is no exception.
Players on the field and on the side lines should be able to hear the keeper directing traffic for the entire match. If it’s not direction it’s positive reinforcement to his/her teammates.
Keys to Successful Vocal Leadership
-Every player needs to be built up, coming down on a player for a mistake is not the way to get them to improve.
-Instead of saying “you, pick him up and you pick that guy up”, put a name to a number, “Mike pick up number 7!” and so on.
The fundamentals in any sport are vital to a players development and ultimate performance on the pitch. Not being able to perform the basic soccer fundamentals in a game will leave you a step behind, the greatest players in the world have mastered the basic soccer fundamentals and left all the fancy tricks and show boating for the amateurs.
Enjoy What You Do
If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, then why are you doing it? To be successful in anything life there must be an inner passion and joy that comes out of doing it or getting results from it. If practice seems like a drag or you’re just looking forward to the post game match activities you may want to question why you play the game.
Maybe it’s not the team culture you want to be a part of or maybe you’ve lost the spark.
If it’s not fun, then it’s not worth putting yourself through a miserable and unrewarding experience.
I’ll take a less talented player with bags of confidence over a more talented player that thinks little of themselves any day of the week.
Despite contrary belief confidence IS a skill, and can be nurtured and developed over time through practice and repetition. Pro’s at the highest level use different confidence building techniques to get that slightest edge of the competition.
Forget about “I think I can I think I can” and know you can. Above all technical attributes or physical attributes confidence is as important as any of the other soccer fundamentals if not more so for those who want to play pro.
Work On Your Weaknesses One at a Time
Players tend to think that this summer they are going to develop a new shot, five new moves, learn how to head and increase their strength. Although this might all sound fine you’ll end up mastering none of those if all done at the same time.
Just as if you’re studying for an exam break up the skills one at a time and put all of your focus into one then move on to the next. This is the single best way to improve upon your soccer fundamentals.
It’s also easy to fall back into what you’re already good at and just keep doing it instead of failing at first and challenging yourself to develop another skill you’re not so great at. So remember, work on an area of improvement, one at a time.