Learn More About Passing Tips From Julie Foudy

I receive a lot of questions on teamwork and passing. In other words, how to get your teams to string more passes together.

One of my favorite exercises, both as a player and a coach, is a possession game we do with the national team. It is really simple and you all probably use it in some form already. But it’s the simplicity of this drill that makes it perfect for all ages.

Set up a grid that gives enough space for possession, but is not too big so that the kids have no pressure on them when they receive the ball (the size depends on the number of players, the age of the kids, etc).

Create two teams of five, plus two permanent attackers that only play for the team with the ball.

The two permanent attackers create “numbers up” for the offensive team, which hopefully creates success in possession. If the players are still having a hard time with possession, add more permanent attackers (maybe go to 4 v. 4, plus four permanent attackers).

The team that can successfully string 10 consecutive passes together gets one “goal.”

Time them and get the score at the end. They must play lines and keep score. Competition is crucial for success at all levels of soccer.

The reason I love this simple drill is there are so many great opportunities for coaching points, for all levels:

  • Demonstrating basic support angles
  • Movement off the ball
  • Balance of support runs (some must go short to ball and other staying out for long ball option)
  • Communication
  • Body shape
  • Seeing the whole field

If you have a young team, this drill is a great way to show support angles, and the necessity of movement to get into those support angles.

Also, you can demonstrate proper body positioning. Many younger players (and older, I get caught doing this all the time myself!) forget to open their body up to see the field BEFORE they receive the ball.

It is so critical to adjust your body so you can see the whole field every time you receive the ball, no matter where it is played.

Most important for coaches: tweak the game to create success (for example, bigger grid, more permanent attackers, smaller number of passes that equals one goal).

If the players are doing really well, challenge them. Decrease the size of the grid, limit their touches, decrease the number of permanent attackers, make it directional, increase number of consecutive passes that equal one goal, etc.

Eat Right Before a Soccer Game

OK, I’ll admit it. I’ve put this article off for almost two years. It’s a complex issue and I wanted to make it easy to understand, but not over simplified. What triggered my urge to get it done? A good intentioned, but poorly informed, flyer put out by a grocery chain about eating right. (Targeted towards youth soccer families.)

In this flyer they were discussing the recent negative press high carb / refined / processed foods were getting. They were stressing that eating only low carb food and complex carb foods was a “good replacement” for healthy eating. After my head exploded and I put the pieces back together, I sat down to write this.

First, if your child is obese, overweight, diabetic, or has other eating / health issues, this is not for you. I am talking about the healthy competitive soccer player that trains hard several times a week. Their body is a processing machine and needs the right fuel at the right time. (Just doing the touch stations we show in the SoccerU series can burn 350 calories in 30 minutes.) I have trained soccer players at all levels of play and ages; from young 7 year olds to professional players training six days a week, twice a day. Getting this right is more important than most people know.

Next, I will not be giving you a “lifetime eating chart”. I am focusing on the 24-48 hours prior to competing. REMEMBER… Long-term body development, health and growth are different from pre-game preparations.

Important Note–Kids are Weird!

Get this straight. This is not a nutrition article from the USDA. It’s a real world guide for youth soccer players. While much of the same information is used for adult players, we have to understand the “mind of the child” in this formula.

One of the key issues with youth players is that they often can’t overcome eating habits/tastes/phobias, for the sake of health and nutrition.

The greatest food not eaten? What if I told you about a top secret soccer drink? OK, put raw oysters, broccoli, and mushrooms into a blender, then add chicken broth and puree. Now set it in front of you child and see what happens…nothing. It might be the secret to becoming a star player but guess what? It’s not going down. We have to face the reality. Younger athletes will generally eat a limited range of foods. Something simple as color, texture or smell can make them say, “No way.”

Also, youth players will generally fill up faster. Making sure that they get the proper carb intake is very important since their volume of eating is generally lower. Whenever possible, eliminate all snacks just before meal time. They should come to the table hungry (after main meals, snacking is encouraged.) Also, avoid large consumptions of fluids before eating. They should drink while they eat and afterwards. Large amounts of fluids will take away hunger and fill the stomach with low-value volume.

Next, let’s figure out what to eat and when.

 

Step One

Learn the groups (these are simplified):

  • Carb –Level 1: Pure “hyper energy” in its simplest form. (Sugars)
  • Carb –Level 2: Fast energy available within 1 — 4 hours. (Processed foods – white flour — starches — etc)
  • Carb –Level 3: Slow energy available within 3 — 7 hours. (Complex carbs — whole grains — roughage veggies — etc)
  • Protein — (Meats — Poultry — Eggs — Etc)
  • Fats

Step Two

What do we use as fuel?

The body burns mostly carbohydrates as fuel. (Yes, fats and proteins are used but the body uses what is easiest first.) Excess fuel is first stored in many places including the red blood cells, muscles, and liver as Glycogen. Then once those reserves are full, it stores excess as body fat. Long distance runners and athletes that perform sports for long periods of time, actually start to burn fat for fuel. However, since most youth matches are limited to around an hour, we don’t see this much. Therefore, building reserves and refueling is critical.

The “stored fuel tank” will last different lengths in different players. Studies vary on this but most seem to indicate that somewhere around the 60-120 minute mark of continuous hard-paced exercise is when stored fuel, glycogen reserves, can start to be depleted. This is often referred to as hitting the wall.

Step Three

How are the fuels processed, stored and delivered?

This is almost too complex of an issue to deal with thoroughly, however we are dealing with pre-game eating so this makes it easier. Just keep this thought in mind: The body will store excess fuel for later use. So, as game time approaches we want to load or even overload. We want our diet to be switched from balanced to heavy with fuel (we cut down on fats and proteins, but not eliminate them, and focus on carbs). The percentages vary from expert to expert but the number goes as high as 75 percent in some studies for pre-loading.

Important Note on Slow Steady Fueling

We simply can’t shove large amounts of sugars or simple carbs into our body at the last minute, or close to game time. This may increase the release of insulin and actually hinder what we are trying to accomplish (as well as trigger low blood sugar levels). Therefore the best practice is a mixture of simple and complex carbs over a longer period of time. As game time approaches we run out of time for heavy digestion, so easier fuels are needed.

You will constantly hear that you should focus on “complex carbs” for long-term loading, but let’s be real. They’re kids. You can’t force them to eat what they won’t, and they can only eat so much. We cannot apply the same rules to adult athletes to kids. If your child is an eating machine then you probably can go with this premise. However, I have seen too many youth players eat very little and fill up fast, not getting enough carbs. This is why I prefer to see youth players switched over to level 2 carbs for the last 12 – 24 hours.

Survive Your Child’s First Game

Just moments ago you were shouting, “Go, Jackson, go” from the sidelines of the soccer field. Your 5-year-old, swimming in mesh shorts and a cotton T-shirt, shin guards up to his thighs, was running to the ball. He swung his foot back and made contact with those tiny cleats that required a special trip to the sporting goods store. He dribbled for a few feet before a teammate got the ball and started kicking in the wrong direction.

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“That way,” the coach directs, pointing to the goal.

“That way,” other parents yell.

As for you, you start asking, “What are you doing?”

There, where your kid lost possession of the ball, is a shower of grass. A tiny body, hot and tired, is sitting while picking at the field and tossing the blades into the air.

You stop and shake your head. This was not how you imagined your future World Cup champion kicking off his career.

But before you cross his name off the roster, here’s what you’ll need to get through that first game—and season.

Adjust Expectations

When children are first starting sports, they get the basics—and only the very basics. Get to ball. Kick ball. Kick ball into goal. Things like strategy and team play come later (sometimes much later, depending on the child). Be patient and enjoy the other things your kid is learning, like following directions and sportsmanship.

Well-Nourished

The benefits of hydration and fueling are stressed when adults work out, but it should be for kids, too. If you want your kid to have fun and play to the best of their ability, they need to have a good snack before and access to water or a low-sugar sports drink during the game. Make sure to get a good mix of protein, carbohydrates and fat.

Make Friends

There’s a moment in every parent’s life when they realizes that if their child is supposed to be social, they should be, too. Sitting back and sipping an iced coffee as your kid runs around might seem like a chance to enjoy a glorious hour of relaxation to yourself, but a simple “hello” to the fellow parents can go a long way in helping you enjoy your child’s time on the field. Plus, it might help you make some connections so your child can work on their game off the field.

Let Your Child Take the Lead

Being involved in team sports should be fun for you and your child. If they want to sit in the grass, try to understand why instead of scolding them or scooping them off the field. If they don’t want to go to practice and can tell you why, maybe take a night off or explore another sport. And, if they want to go for a second season, look for opportunities to continue. You never know—Team USA might have a spot in 2030.

Effective Soccer Shooting

Gretzky may have been a hockey player, but his quote about scoring goals is true in any sport–including soccer. A lot of students in our EduKick soccer camps and boarding schools start out with hesitation to shoot. We teach them take advantage of every opportunity. If you never shoot, you’ll never score.

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  • Observe the goalkeeper’s position. Have they left a gap that you can exploit?
  • Select the best technique for your shot. A sidefoot shot will have greater accuracy, but an instep (laces) with good follow-through will have greater power.
  • Put your non-kicking foot alongside the ball.
  • Keep your head down and your eyes on the ball when striking.
  • Keep your body over the ball.
  • Make contact with the middle to top half of the ball.
  • Maintain your composure.

Tips to improve your chance of scoring:

  • Shoot wide rather than high. There’s a better chance of getting a deflection that will wrong-foot the goalkeeper.
  • Shoot low. It’s harder for a keeper to reach shots along the ground because it’s further for them to travel. It’s easy for them to jump up and save, but much harder to crouch down and get it.
  • Shoot across the keeper. It’s tougher for them to hold these shots, and means they could divert the ball back into the path of another attacker.

Where Are the Most Shots Made?

Ever wondered if there’s actually a “sweet spot” in a soccer goal? A place where you could kick the ball and it would go in almost every time?

Well, there may not be a definitive “sweet spot,” but a recent study did take a look at where scored goals most often went into the net. Here are the results:

  • Top Left: 8 percent
  • Top Center: 4 percent
  • Top Right: 5 percent

Ouch. As you can see, shooting high means you have a pretty low percentage of actually scoring.

  • Middle Left: 7 percent
  • Middle Center: 8 percent
  • Middle Right: 6 percent

While you have a better chance of scoring if you shoot to the middle than up high, the odds still aren’t much in your favor.

  • Bottom Left: 22 percent
  • Bottom Center: 21 percent
  • Bottom Right: 19 percent

Look at these stats: 62 percent of all goals were scored low. This makes sense because it is very difficult for goalkeepers, especially tall ones, to get down to the ground. It’s much easier and more natural for them to jump high.

Also, looking at the statistics, 67 percent of goals were scored in the corners versus 33 percent down the middle. If you combine the two statistics and shoot low into the corner, you should have a much greater success rate in scoring goals.

As with any soccer technique, you need to practice if you want to improve your shooting skills. Fortunately, the techniques used for shooting are similar to those used for passing. So you can build up two vital soccer techniques at the same time.

But most importantly: If you see the goal, shoot!

This one piece of advice is important enough to reiterate: You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take. If you see an opportunity to shoot, take it! The only way these tips can help you is if you implement them, both in practice and in games.

Know 3 Endurance Tests for Soccer Players

There are numerous fitness factors that are important in soccer. I have already described how much a player runs in soccer and in another article, I talked about how training can be manipulated to improve endurance.

Why the focus on endurance, when probably the biggest change in the game is the speed at which the game is played? Competitive male players cover about two-thirds of the game (females about three-fourths) at a walk or a jog. The better the endurance, the faster pace one can cover this large part of the game meaning the faster you get from one place on the field to another.

Also, the better the endurance, the faster one recovers from each hard run.

But how much endurance is enough? Obviously, the soccer player doesn’t need the endurance of a marathoner, and along the spectrum of athletes, the endurance of the soccer player is really pretty average. But as team sports go, their endurance is among the best because the game demands decent endurance to be successful.

More: The 3 Best Formations for Youth Soccer

But again, how much is enough? How can a coach confirm that their team’s endurance is improving or that their endurance is sufficient for play? The best way to tell if a player has good endurance is to test their endurance. That’s pretty obvious, but how?

There are many tests of endurance. Here is a brief list of test methods:

VO2 Max

An athlete works progressively harder on a treadmill or cycle until they are unable to continue. Expired air is analyzed during the test and a statement of aerobic capacity is calculated as oxygen consumption in ml O2 / kg / min. Advantages: the gold standard for endurance testing. Disadvantages: expensive; requires a lab and skilled personnel to administer and interpret; only test one at a time; not soccer-specific running.

12-Minute Run

A team runs around a track as far as they can in 12 minutes. The results correlate to VO2 max. The score is how far the player ran in 12 minutes. Advantages: easy; only need a stopwatch and people to count laps. Disadvantages: pure endurance running, not soccer-specific running.

“Beep” Tests

These are 20-meter shuttle tests paced by an audiotape. There is a beep to start running, a beep when to arrive and turn at the 20-meter point, then a beep for when you are be back at the start line. The beeps continue until the athlete fails to keep the pace set by the audiotape. The score is the total distance covered (number of runs x 40 meters). Advantages: easy to do; you can test many players at once; just need the tape and a “boom box.” Disadvantage: tears the field up (at the turn-around point).

There are many types of beep tests (also called Yo-Yo tests), but they all fall into one of two categories:

  • Continuous beep tests: In this method, the athlete runs continuously as there is no break. The pace gradually increases.
  • Intermittent beep tests: The pace gradually increases, but in this method, after each run, there is a brief (usually 10 seconds) recovery period.

More: Get Your Kids Interested in Soccer Through the FIFA Women’s World Cup

There are other tests out there, but all are variations on these themes: lab test, timed distance run, beep tests.

I favor the intermittent beep test for a couple of reasons:

  1. It is soccer-specific running. Run for a distance (20 meters) change direction, run again (20 meters), then a brief rest.
  2. Other tests correlate better with VO2 max (like the 12-minute run and continuous beep), but this correlates with what is important to the coach: how far the player runs during the game.

Circumstances had a series of soccer players tested using the continuous beep test one day. About two weeks later, a subset of the first group was tested using the intermittent beep test. Using the continuous beep test, the goalkeepers were very close or even equal to the field players in total distance run. When tested using the intermittent beep test, the field players outran the goalkeepers by over 25 percent, which makes more intuitive sense for soccer.

Back to the question: How much endurance is needed? Using the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test (its formal name), high school girls should be approaching 700+ meters and college should be near or over 1,000 meters.

National level women are typically 1,500 meters or higher and some exceptional players are over 2,000 meters. High school boys should be close to 1,000 meters, with national-level boys in the 1,500- to 2,000-plus-meter area.

These are all level 1 tests (slower start and slower progression). World-class adult men should be around 900 to 1,000 meters or more on the level 2 test (a faster start and much faster progression).