Game Time: How to Use Those Soccer Skills! by: Brittany Gonzalez, B.S., C.S.C.S.
“I have been taking my soccer player to a private skills coach for months now but they won’t use the skills in the game.” This may sound familiar.
First off, there are many soccer skills coaches in southern California; therefore, picking the perfect skills coach may be harder than you think. Working with over 70 male and female soccer athletes, here are 3 components I have found to help a youth soccer athlete be successful when using skilled moves in a game.
1) Skills Training
When looking for a skills coach, ask around to other parents for feedback regarding different coaches or a particular coach you have in mind to work with your athlete. In order for your athlete to feel comfortable about using a new skill, they need to be comfortable with the skills coach. The coach and athlete need to be able to understand each other, meaning the coach should be able to know if their communication style is working with the athlete. If the athlete appears to not comprehend what the coach is asking, then the coach may need to change the delivery of the message – either verbally or physical demonstration. This type of interaction helps the athlete feel that the coach is taking a personal interest in helping them, ultimately leading the athlete to trust the coach. When an athlete feels that they can trust the coach, then they will begin pushing themselves to the level that coach is seeking. If this cannot be achieved within a short time frame (about a month) with the skills coach, then the athlete will have a hard time mentally pushing himself or herself to use the skill. Unfortunately, this will continue to lead the athlete down a path lacking confidence in their abilities with the ball.
2) Strength and Conditioning Training
Doing a skilled move in a private setting is completely different than in a game. The game is a fast paced environment with strong, quick moving bodies in multiple directions demanding the athletes to maneuver their bodies in familiar and unfamiliar movements. Often times, it is a lack of confidence in the movements that cause an athlete to decide not to use a learned skill in the game setting. A parent may watch their athlete master a skill with the skills coach, in their own backyard, or at a team practice with teammates. Then when it comes to an actual game, the athlete lacks the confidence in their physical ability to execute the skilled move at an opponent.
The athlete may feel that they are not quick enough to use the skill against their opponent or not fast enough to retreat back to defense if they lose the ball. Either way, the athlete needs to work with their body without the ball to gain the confidence in their abilities. Athletes need to learn how to be aware of their body on the field by working on agility for quickness, plyometrics for power, sprinting mechanics for speed, and total body strengthening for strength. Working on ALL of these components will help the athlete become quicker, faster, stronger, and ultimately confident in their physical abilities. They will also notice immediate success and rewards from their training, example: working on quick, agility patterns on ladders and seeing their feet get quicker with each repetition. It is best to perform these exercises without the ball so they can concentrate on their bodies and not get distracted by the ball. This will lead to confidence on and off the ball, which leads into the last component: Mental Confidence.
3) Mental Training
Compare the environment of a private practice at a park and a live game at a field. A private practice consists of 1 athlete, 1 skills coach, and maybe other teams, athletes, and parents in the background doing their own activities.
Now, think of a live soccer game: The 11 athletes on one team on the field, 1-2 coaches yelling on the sideline, 2-6 substitutions anxiously waiting to play, and 30+ parents and spectators cheering on the sideline. Take those 44+ people and double it (the other team.) Pretty scary, huh? Having all those people look at one person while they dribble the ball.
Going from a private setting to a live game brings on more distraction and challenges than a parent or coach may be aware of. Being positive and supportive of the athlete will help; however, the athlete needs to learn how to deal with the intense environment and it may take a few different mental strategies to figure out which one works.
A few strategies that have helped are writing down 1-2 game goals the night before a game, writing down their goal on their hand to look at during the game, clap their hands when they feel nervous, brush off their cleat after they miss a goal, or listen to their favorite music on the way to the field. Identifying what makes them nervous about using the skills will help also. This makes it easier to find what will help them to overcome the fear. Youth athletes are always changing mentally, physically, and skillfully, it is important to support them through the changes and make sure they are always in a positive environment.
For additional articles or questions, contact Coach Brittany Gonzales, CSCS, FMS, USSF