I'm playing in a men's soccer league this summer! What should I do first?
April 22, 2010 2:14 PM   Subscribe

I'm playing in a men's soccer league this summer! What should I do first?

I was asked to join a semi-competitive men's soccer league this summer. I have never played organized soccer, although I've played enough pick-up soccer in my youth to know the basics. I watch soccer, so I'm well-versed in the rules, however I don't know where to start when it comes to getting more skilled.

Some background:

1) I'm 27, fit and a natural athlete. I was chosen because of my natural skill at sports and because I will likely be the best runner on the field.

2) They want me to play striker because I sprint well. I would call my ball-handling suspect, likely, to play the position and would love to know how to move with the ball better. Additionally, I'd love some ideas on how to work on defenders with the ball.

3) How should I approach situations where we're moving back on the field? In my years of watching soccer, I've never really paid attention to what forwards do on defence. I'm interested in being a player who's very responsible on the field in addition to being an attacking forward.

4) How can I be a good teammate? I will likely be playing with a very experienced striker on the other side, how can I open things up for him?

Thanks in advance. Most of the stuff I see on the basics of soccer skill are usually aimed at people who are also learning how to control their bodies, which I've got a good handle on. How can I, an athlete, pick this sport up as quick as possible?
posted by Hiker to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: 2) Ball handling can be learned to some extent by juggling (try to keep ball in the air for as many touches as possible).

A more important skill is vision. Find a big field and just dribble around and around, trying to get to the point where you don't have to watch the ball to keep it in your possession. That way, you can see who to pass to and pass accurately. If you are only glancing up momentarily, it's hard to get a read on their movement and you'll tend to pass where they were instead of are. Don't worry so much about faking people out - defenders who don't bite on simple fakes are best dealt with by passing around them.

3) This depends somewhat on the formation your team uses, but mostly, I'd say you should be near the front line of their defense all the time. If you can stay roughly in position and pressure the ball handler, do so, but don't chase too far. And above all, don't lounge in an offsides position - when the eventual turnover happens, you need to be on side and in position so your team's offense can function properly.

4) Know where your teammates are when you have the ball, and pass liberally. Work on your give-and-go. Respond to congestion by switching the ball to the other side of the field. Tell teammates what's around them when they have the ball so they don't get surprised. Move to open space that they can pass to when they have the ball, so that the defense is forced to defend against the possibility that you might get it - this can open things up for the ball handler, even if they choose not to pass it to you.

Gawd, I miss soccer. I need to get my ankle flexibility back so I can start playing again.
posted by richyoung at 2:34 PM on April 22, 2010

Best answer: You probably want to develop learning how to play with your 'back to goal'. A defender/midfielder on your team passes the ball forward and you position yourself between the opposition defender and the ball while keeping the defender at bay by your body strength. Ideally you'd have your fellow striker, or attacking midfielders, running towards (and past) you and then you can pass or flick the ball into one of their paths.

Another thing to develop would be heading ability when the ball is crossed into the box, a lot of people don't like heading the ball (like me).

I know I'm going to be pilloried for suggesting him, but you could do worse than watching a player like Emile Heskey who is currently playing for Aston Villa in the English Premier League - although he has fallen out of favour to some extent recently. Heskey is not particularly skilfull with the ball at his feet yet he is often touted as the player that Wayne Rooney prefers to partner in the England team.

To make yourself valuable in the team you, as a striker, can harass the opposition defenders and goalkeeper when they're passing around the ball - at a lot of levels simply by doing this you will create and score a number of goals from their mistakes.

I would guess by simply being physically fit you already have some advantages compared to a lot of the people you'll be playing with and you'll have a lot of fun.
posted by selton at 2:37 PM on April 22, 2010

Best answer: (Disclaimer: this is all my personal opinion, based on playing for what's basically a pub team in the UK. There's no guarantee that my team mates would agree with me, or that this will apply to your league, which sounds like it's in north America.)

The easiest way is to play. In general, I'd like a forward (especially a quick one) to be looking for the ball in 'the channels' - that is, move between the centre backs and the full backs on a diagonal run. It's easier to pass into this area without it being intercepted and you'll then be looking to either cross to your strike partner or use your speed to get through on goal yourself. The secondary effect of this may be to drag a centre back out of position, creating space for your strike partner or a midfielder. The most important thing is not to do the defender's job for him - don't mark yourself out of the game, look for space - particularly if you're not confident in your touch.

In terms of defence, if you're playing as a 'proper' forward (furthest forward member of your team most of the time) the typical expectation is that you make sure not to give opposition defenders too much time on the ball. Keep putting them under pressure and always make sure you're aware of the possibility of a short goal-kick. If you're tall, you may be expected to mark someone while defending corners and free-kicks near the penalty area.

Ball skills I don't have much help on, except that you should be comfortable shooting with either foot. If defenders can see that, they'll have to stand off you a little more rather than just force you on to your weaker side. If they can't see that, take advantage of it! It's surprising how little space a good striker needs to get a decent shot away.
posted by smcg at 2:40 PM on April 22, 2010

Oh, selton makes a good point: Heskey is an excellent example of a great team mate and strike partner. He probably won't have many Youtube highlights videos showing this aspect of his play but if you can, try to catch a game where he's playing and pay as much attention to him as possible.
posted by smcg at 2:45 PM on April 22, 2010

Best answer: If you're determined to play up front

i) learn the offside rule
ii) learn to turn with the ball

The first one you can learn from a book, the second will require some practice with a ball at your feet. If you're practising by yourself kick a ball against a wall, hard, control it as it rebounds while shielding it from an imaginary opponent and then turn. Repeat until nauseous. This may seem Sisyphean, but from a practical point of view it is worth noting that

i) In-game, nineteen out of twenty times that the ball comes in your direction it won't be from a perfectly weighted defence-splitting pass. It will be from a miskick or a blocked clearance or a contested header or a simple ball to feet. Therefore, as a striker, most of the time you will have to redirect the ball towards the goal so you can shoot. Knowing how to turn while protecting the ball is a paramount skill.

ii) Executing simple skills correctly is what wins matches at almost every level of the game. Messi and Rooney and Ronaldo are exceptional even amongst their peers, concentrate on performing simple things consistently and with confidence.

Always head the ball down. Always attack the near post at corners.

Practice pushing the ball out of your feet with the outside of your foot then thumping it. Certain manuals still recommend getting your head over the ball, but while this may increase accuracy it diminishes power.

When you only have the keeper to beat step towards the near post, the keeper will generally commit himself that way, then pass the ball around or over his legs inside the far post. Practise this. A simple, elegant skill which will yield goals and secure the admiration of all.
posted by tigrefacile at 3:06 PM on April 22, 2010

Have a look at Zonal Marking. I think I found this site after someone linked it on MeFi and it's awesome at breaking down games and explaining tactics. In your situation, you might be interested in this article on Eduardo's game against Bolton earlier this year. Even as a lone striker he was all over the pitch and played 22 passes.
posted by IanMorr at 3:18 PM on April 22, 2010

Best answer: As others have said, if you are naturally fast the thing you want to focus on most is learning the offside rule and its nuances. You need to be as close as possible to that at all times as your speed is your huge advantage over what may or may not be more skilled players.

I also agree with what tigrefacile said. As a former goalie I always dove with my hands towards near post and let my feet cover far post. If you can get the goalie to commit a split second before you do, you're golden. The ball-handling required for this might be beyond your reach at the start, so practice selling it with your body and line of sight.

Good luck.
posted by highfidelity at 3:36 PM on April 22, 2010

Best answer: Great answers above. Watch as much soccer as you can, I think it really helps the mental part of your game. Check out Robin Van Persie (Arsenal) - amazing ball control, great vision and link-up play.

#2 - there is no real substitute for matches and generally handling the ball in real play. As was suggested, practicing by yourself cannot mimic the messy, quirky situations that a real match provides. Even small scrimmages can give you enough handling practice to help. Your feet need to get soft on the ball which takes practice. While you develop skill with the ball at your feet, body fakes help keep defenders off balance.

#4 - be prepared to win balls in the air (practice trapping, heading etc) and hold up play if needed. Often more physical play than quickness is needed (back to the goal, holding a defender off). When off the ball, think about moving with your marker, to open space for others linking up through midfield.

In general, you need to be tranquilo in front of goal - composed and patient. I also played Ultimate Frisbee during a soccer layoff and found it really helped my vision and sense of space in the game.
posted by jethrographic at 5:10 PM on April 22, 2010

Best answer: The best strikers and forwards control the ball, and can befuddle a defender at slow speeds. Learn to stop and turn the ball. Learn to protect the ball. Learn to pass the ball and receive it. Be good with both feet. Work on your weaker foot a lot. Learn to head. Learn to trap the ball in the air - catch it on your chest, stomach, legs - and drop it at your feet.

There are good video drills on the internet, aimed at younger players, but they are true for everyone. Run up and down the field with the ball, so you know how fast you can break and control the ball. Do a slalom bit with the ball - if you have cones, set them about 6 feet, or 2 meters apart and dribble around the cones. Offset the cones, and slalom around them the hard way. Don't go fast. Work on consistency. Play one-on-one with a friend. Juggle the ball with your feet. Run the ball down the field, stop it, turn it, and go.

Shooting is of course, vital. Learn to shoot at the corners of the net. Learn to shoot with your hips oriented. It's like a golf swing. Mechanical. Muscle memory. Kick a ball against a wall. Get comfortable putting the ball where you want it.

Much of the rest is based on your team's strategy and tactics. For example, you know how to receive a pass and control the ball; but knowing where the ball is going and when the ball will be passed takes planning and practice. Anticipate where the ball is going to go.

The best teams know the laws of the game inside and out and how to push the envelope. For example, countering a defense's offside trap is easy, but you have to plan and practice before the game. A good coach will capitalize on the team's skills, and develop a strategy that you can execute.

Practice, practice practice.
posted by Xoebe at 5:32 PM on April 22, 2010

Best answer: Offside rule, back to goal, using your body (if you can) to shield the ball from the centre-half, knowing how to time your runs into the 6-yard box if the side is going to use a lot of crosses.

It sounds a bit like they fancy your chance of either being able to beat the back line and chase down balls hoofed behind them: that requires having a sense of where those long balls are going to end up, and either the route you're going to take onwards towards goal, or the areas your support is coming from.

On the defensive side, track back, but not too far back: you want to encourage the back line to push up and give you room to run into on a break, but not so far that they get heavily involved in attacks. If the opposition counters, your job is primarily to disrupt in their half and give the defenders time to get back into position: if you can tackle, even better, but getting in the way can be enough. If you have a reputation for being a bit nippy, you may get clobbered by a centre-half early on just to "give you something to think about".

The player I have in mind is Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink in his heyday. Not the most committed player on the defensive side, but there was always a "world class pub-team striker" air to the way he played.
posted by holgate at 5:58 PM on April 22, 2010

Best answer: Sure, offside rule, but personally I think patience and keeping it simple are the hardest things to do. Don't look for that awesome pass that opens things up. Take one touch to control and then make the stupidly simple pass (which is quite possibly backwards or sideways). Then move into space. Beginners tend to want to boot the ball forward in the air. The best pass is often diagonal and certainly on the ground.

Beginners tend to be terrible at ball watching, i.e. standing still and watching the ball on both defense and offense. If you're on offense you should be moving into space, making the defenders work at tracking you. Even if the ball never comes to you, you're moving them out of position and creating space for your teammates. There's an article on ZonalMarking about Thomas Vermaelen where the (171 comment) debate to some extent is about how Messi pulled him out of position by moving about 3 or 4 steps away from goal.

The other thing beginners tend to do is over-commit when defending, i.e. rush into a tackle. Sometimes the best thing you can do is get within a few yards of a player with the ball and make them slow down, stop and think while your fellow players get into position.
posted by idb at 7:29 PM on April 22, 2010

Best answer: idb makes a good point about avoiding ball watching. If you are playing upfront but are sort of weak on the ball handling and vision (two things which usually comes from experience), you are going to have to work at getting in position to draw defenders out, receive passes and just make things happen. As a defender, I sort of hate playing against forwards who are constantly moving around because they're usually in better shape than me, and I know they're going to draw me or one of the other defenders out too far and create a scoring opportunity.

Also, always try to place shots in the areas where goal keepers can't easily reach. I know that's sort of a "duh" statement, but watch players like Messi and Rooney, and see where they aim the ball at the net.
posted by kendrak at 8:58 PM on April 22, 2010

Best answer: The other advice here is great.

- Your first touch is extremely important and is one of the best tools for creating space when you are not shooting or passing.

- I don't know exactly what level you are on the ball, but if you're not already there, get comfortable enough so you don't have to always look at the ball when you have it. Then you can look for your teammates and their runs, or towards goal.

- Off the ball, make varied runs. Timing your runs is important too, especially if the defenders are busy with something else. My favorite time to move is as soon as I make a pass. Defenders pay more attention to the pass, leaving me unmarked. Even if you watch pros on television, you will sometimes find people ball-watching.

- My team likes to defend from the front, so I pressure them into lumping it forward aimlessly or making a mistake, allowing my team to regain posession. At the very least, buy time for your team to get back.

- Likewise, if your team is forced back into their own half, try to provide an outlet for working the ball forwards, instead of forcing them to hoof it. I don't often venture back into our defensive third, though.

- I don't think anyone's mentioned set pieces. You might need to help defend them if opposing defenders come forward. Communicate with your team and don't let anyone get an easy shot.
posted by melvinwang at 10:13 PM on April 22, 2010

Lots of great advice on here. One thing I'd add: if you have access to the Fox Soccer Channel, look for a show called "Skill Factor." They explain and demonstrate a few simple moves that help players hold onto the ball in one on one situations, and get away from defenders.
posted by JenMarie at 5:59 PM on April 23, 2010

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