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Ball Mastery: Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know

by Coach Kurtis

A very popular topic area that I see crop up from time to time is ‘how to teach ball mastery’. 

Mastering the ball has always been an integral part of developing  young players, and this only intensified with the rise in popularity for the Coerver coaching method which has ball mastery at the foundation of their work.

In the modern game, every player now needs to be comfortable when in possession of the ball even the goalkeeper.

Gone are the days where a defender could just get away with being big, strong and able to boot the ball up the pitch whenever in possession.

Defenders are now expected to be comfortable on the ball as they are no longer just expected to ‘defend’ but also cleverly ‘start attacks’ with being able to do the following;

  • Receive the ball under pressure from attackers.
  • Use both feet.
  • break the lines and create overloads in the mid – attacking phases of the pitch.

As mentioned earlier, it doesn’t get much easier for our goalkeepers. keepers are expected to ‘play from the back’ more then ever birthing the new role of the ‘sweeper keeper’.

With all this in mind, it is now easy to see why being able to ‘stay with the ball’ (as I prefer to call it) is the foundation when it comes to player development.

If a player is lacking in this area everything else becomes harder to teach.

The Traditional Way To Teach Ball Mastery!

The internet is probably one of the greatest inventions in recent times. It is allowed coaches, parents & players to access a wealth of content at their finger tips. 

Despite all the positives of having so much content available to us there is a downside, as not everything we see on the internet is an effective form of coaching.

What we see on popular social sites such as YouTube, Facebook & Instagram are exercises that contain the following;

  • Players waiting in cues.
  • Players waiting for their turn.
  • Dribbling with a ball in a straight line of cones.
  • Every call and instruction is coming from the coach, the players or player have little involvement and must do exactly as they are told.

It seems that the most popular videos are the ones with the latest ‘gimmick’ or ‘overly repetitive’ task that they wouldn’t normally see in a game.

Yes I know what some of you are thinking, I have heard a lot of it  thrown at me before such as “but if a player first practices the same skill over & over again without focusing on anything else they will master it and become better”.

I have also had “boxers and Olympic runners lift weights but don’t actually use weights in the sport and that helps them, so not everything has to relate to the sport”. 

There is some truth in both answers such as if a player practices the skill over and over again they will get better at that skill but once you add other elements such as a player or moments where they have to make ‘decisions’ can they perform the skill as effectively?

Yes lifting weights or running through ladders can help you physically but is this essential for youth players when you only have a short window to truly embed the ‘core skills’ that will make them a standout players?

I prefer to maximise every moment I have with the players by using practices that are ‘game specific’ allowing the child to transfer their skills to the game.  

Teach Ball Mastery in Realistic situations!

For me, in order to teach anything there should be an element of ‘realism’ involved.

When you learn to drive, you actually drive a real car on the road which enables you to learn the foundations before moving to more advanced manoeuvres. 

You don’t first learn in a simulator and go straight to a car.

When you first cross the road your parent holds your hand and guides you across the road prompting you on occasions when to look left & right.

We tend to learn best by actually learning in that ‘real scenario’ which is why we should try to include the ‘random’ elements of the game of football in all practices, teaching ball mastery should be no different.

What does this lookalike? look to include the following elements;

  • Some form of decision making.
  • Interference whether its passive or full pressure. Players have to get used to making choices amongst opposition.
  • There needs to be an element of chaos – it should be variable with a number of outcomes available to the players or individual (if working one 2 one).

The game is chaotic, so we  should try to teach kids to master the ball in ‘random’ situations to prepare appropriately for the game.

Summary

Ball mastery is an integral part of player development and should be included as part of your curriculum.

But this doesn’t mean it should be taught ‘robotically’ leaving no room for the players or individual to express themselves in a ‘game-like situation’.

Notice how I said ‘game-like’. Nobody is suggesting that you should just let them play a game at every moment and hope they pick everything up, far from it.

But, as parent trainers & coaches we should take ‘snippets’ from the game and create situations that encourage them to solve a ‘problem’ with our objective in mind.

There is a saying I here all the time “master the ball, master the game” which is very true but don’t confuse this with ‘only having to master the ball’ when creating your practice.

Multiple outcomes are a ‘must’ if the intention is to create ‘natural’ players!

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