Self Improvement

There are probably two major areas that American soccer players lag behind their European and South American counterparts – watching the game and training outside of practice.  Below are a collection of examples of how committing some time on your own can make sweeping improvements to your game, alongside suggestions of how to improve.

Training outside of practice

No-one can expect to become an expert on anything if they only practice it for 2 hours twice a week!  Especially when they are being coached to play a specific position as defined by their existing skillset.  The coach is required to make a team successful, this is achieved by helping you improve if possible, but more easily by defining your role and asking you to make decisions that do not expose your weaknesses. For example if you are a poor dribbler, you are required to play two-touch, if you have no left foot, you are played on the right side.

The player’s motivation however must be to reach their potential in all of the skills of being a soccer player.  There are no optional skills in soccer!! At the highest level a player can aspire to play at they will be required to have the skills that are hidden in the above scenario.  Therefore, it is up to the player to find a way to improve on them.  The biggest weapon that a player can have in their armory if they wish to improve is a willingness to fail.  How many times will you have to try to juggle with your weaker foot until you can keep it up consistently?  How many times must you try a move in practice before it is successful?  At older age groups, games are about learning to make the decisions that lead to success i.e. taking calculated risks only in the right areas of the field.  Practice, however, must be a free place to try skills that have a high risk of failure.  How else can you perfect something without attempting it over and over again when it isn’t yet perfect?

A player must self-evaluate to determine what strengths and weaknesses they have.  What skills are they proficient at and what areas of the game need to improve?  They must then actively work to develop those areas.  Below are some skills/techniques that commonly require improvement along with examples of drills/exercises that can be utilized to address them.  Some of these examples are focused towards players of greater or lesser skill and experience.


Field Players



A player should be able to dribble the ball at high speed, keeping the ball within reach of the foot at all times, and using each surface of the foot (laces, inside, outside and sole) to accelerate, decelerate, change direction and stop while remaining balanced and under control.

Essential Abilities

  • move the ball quickly and accurately using all surfaces of the foot
  • balance on each leg
  • transfer weight quickly and explosively, forwards-backwards, left-right and from leg to leg.
  • quick feet
  • agility
  • foot eye coordination

Ball manipulation in tight areas

Dribbling with different surfaces

Coerver ball mastery

High speed dribbling


Moves and turns

A move or turn consists of 3 parts: Fake; Change of direction and; Explosion.  The burst of acceleration at the end of the move is paramount if you are going to use it to beat or get away from a defender.  The player should endeavor to play the ball far enough out of their feet to get 2-3 strides before having to touch the ball again.  Trying to accelerate with the ball under your feet gives a huge advantage to the defender.  For this reason, once a player is capable of the basic techniques of the move, they MUST practice it at game speed with a large exit touch and explosion of pace.  Otherwise they will not have the ability or confidence to use it in a game situation.

A selection of moves

1st touch

The 1st touch is the most important touch in soccer as if it is unsuccessful the player doesn’t get a second touch.  Preparing the body before the ball arrives and being aware of your surroundings (where will pressure come from, where are outlet passes or spaces to move into) can significantly increase your chances of having a successful first touch.  However, nothing supersedes the necessity to receive thousands of balls with each controlling surface to develop the muscle memory and fine motor skills necessary to be successful consistently.

1st touch drills

Bringing the ball down with the laces

Bringing the ball down with the thigh

Bringing the ball down with the chest


More to come soon…




Goalkeeping is a completely different position than any other, but it does require many of the same skillsets with just a slight difference in emphasis.  For this reason many of the drills above may be useful to a goalkeeper with minor adjustments.

1st Touch

When dealing with backpasses goalkeepers are often under intense pressure to control the ball effectively, as a forward comes sprinting towards them.  Unlike field players, though, they rarely receive the ball to feet in very tight or awkward positions so don’t need to train as many different ways to control the ball.  However, they also do not have the luxury of other players behind them as field players do, to save them if their touch lets them down.  For these reasons, goalkeepers should focus on receiving the ball with the basic and most consistent surfaces (inside of the foot if the ball is on the ground etc.).  They must also put extra work into making sure that they NEVER have a bad touch.


A goalkeeper needs to be a very accurate passer over short distance (to a defender on the edge of the box) and long distance (to a forward or outside mid to start a counter attack).  Therefore a goalkeeper should put significant time into becoming proficient with the inside and laces of BOTH feet.  For the reasons mentioned above, the ability to pass with other surfaces or to bend the ball is less important.  Although the ability to put height on a ball is definitely a necessity in emergency situations.

Additionally the goalkeeper has some specific methods of distribution to master:

Punt – Usually the first method of kicking from the hands that is learned because it is the easiest.  This method gives the ball a very high trajectory which hangs the ball in the air for a long time.  This can be a good or bad thing depending on the situation.

How to punt

Dropkick – Striking the ball as it hits the ground gives a lower trajectory and greater overall distance.  The ball covers the distance quicker giving players less time to reposition under it.

How to dropkick

Side volley – Typically used in the higher levels of the men’s game where it gives similar advantages to the drop kick with a quicker release.  It requires significantly greater strength, however.

Examples of effective side volleying


more to come soon…