I read Tom Byer’s book, Soccer Starts at Home. It’s short and easy to read. I recommend it and agree with it.
U.S. Soccer is piloting ‘his revolutionary programs.’ Good.
What are those revolutionary programs? According to his book, it’s as simple as getting kids working with the ball at home, in their home, as soon as they can walk, or sooner.
He bought 16 small soccer balls (I’m assuming size 1 or 3 or toy balls) and put 2 or 3 in each room of his house for his two sons to play with.
He discouraged simply kicking the ball (what many Americans think soccer is all about).
He encouraged and demonstrated moving with the ball at their feet — forward, backward, side-to-side, 360 degrees and pulling back using the soles of his feet.
He has videos posted on Youtube of his boys through the years as they learned to control the ball. By the time they were 4, they were more advanced than 10-12year-old soccer players in the U.S.
Tom’s key insight: Kids in soccer-playing countries get a lot of reps through culture (i.e. pickup and unorganized play) that develops their technical abilities starting at young ages, just like kids in our culture get the same type of skill development for our sports — basketball (e.g. “OUT”) and baseball (e.g. ‘catch’).
Last June, I posted about a similar observation of my own here.
Further, Tom correctly observes, if kids aren’t getting enough reps through a culture of unorganized pickup play, then they need to get those reps somehow. One or two hours a week at a camp or training session is not enough.
Just to put numbers on it, kids should be getting 5,000 – 20,000 touches per week on the ball to improve. At training, they may get a few hundred. Even on technical-focused session might only getting them 2,000-3,000 touches. They still need to get a few thousand more on their own.
His solution: work with the ball at home, in the home, from ages 1 or 2 on up.
I second that.
I got into soccer 6 years ago (well past age 2). I had less ball control than a wall. I started practicing in the backyard to improve.
I quickly realized there were too many thing to keep me from practicing outdoors: heat, cold, humidity, mosquitos, darkness, long grass, mud, rain, snow, ice, and so on.
So, I cleared space in my rec room and vastly improved how much and how consistently I practiced and I began improving quicker (and I have only broken one thing, so far, in 3-4 years).
Here are tips and tricks I’ve learned since I started practicing inside:
Have ‘inside’ balls, like Tom says. These balls stay inside, so they don’t track in dirt and grime. And they are always available, so you don’t have to go to the garage and get it. I use a couple of my son’s old size 4 balls, tennis balls and a toy rubber ball.
Having them lying around means that I will sometimes work with the ball for 2-3 minutes here and there in addition the regular sessions — which increases my touch count.
Deflate the soccer balls to about 80%. Most of my in-home ball work is done with socks and no shoes. The deflated ball is easier on the feet, keeps the the ball’s bounce low and the feel transfers well to a fully inflated ball with shoes.
Like Tom suggests, most of my indoor ball work is about keeping the ball at my feet and being able to move around with it. You don’t need a lot of space for this.
The base of my couches and ottoman in my rec room are perfect rebounding surfaces to work on passing and 1st touch.
I try to get in 2-3 one hour long sessions each week. I look forward to these sessions as much as playing games.
I’m always looking for things to add in to my routine.
YouTube is a great resource to find things to work on. For example, this video gave me a simple tweak to the way I approach juggling practice. Prior to that, I just did the old ‘how many juggles in a row’ method. This video caused me to tweak that to just getting in a certain number of juggles, not worrying about whether I dropped it or not. Since I started this approach, my juggling high score as improved from about 60 to 160 (but it took time). I didn’t do the 1,000 juggles like in the video. I usually do somewhere between 300 and 600.
I am also a member of Renegade Soccer Training, which has a large selection of training videos to choose from. I like these for a few reasons. It gets me through 1000s of touches on basics that I wouldn’t do on my own. I can pull them up on computer or phone anywhere. And, I think Coach JR offers some great form and technique coaching as a part of the videos that reminds you to correct simple form issues that can up your game. I often use about 10 minutes of a video as part of my warm-up for games.
Evolve your routines. I constantly evolve my routines as I learn more. For example, once I learned the new approach to juggling practice from above, I soon added a timed element to it. So, instead of just getting 100 juggles on my right foot, I see how long it takes to get 100 juggles so I can track my performance over time (it’s about 1 minute on my right, 1:10 on my left).
Another recent evolution in my juggling is that I restart balls from the floor, instead of picking them up with my hands. So, I have to pop the ball up with my feet.
Which gets me to my next point: Use performance measures. The previous two paragraphs give you some ideas of performance measures I use. Keep the measures simple. It usually involves a ‘how many’ and/or a time element (e.g. how many can I do in a minute or how long does it take be to get to 100?).
A dribbling ‘time trial’ through cones, like this one or this one from Yael Averbuch are good examples of performance measures and activities that you can build into your routine.
Listen to music. I like to put on some tunes while I practice. It helps me stay focused. Sometimes I use the songs to measure time. For example, I’ll work on right foot chops through cones for one song and left foot chops for the next song.
Share your ideas with teammates and friends so you guys can compete on the measures. My son and I have a friendly competition of juggling. He is currently in the lead.
I use a Soccer Sidekick to also work on passing, shooting and shoelace, thigh, chest and head 1st touch.
These sessions also have a big fitness component. I’m usually drenched in sweat and have had plenty of high-intensity intervals throughout the ball work. I consider these sessions to be a part of my overall fitness routine, which includes running, biking, weightlifting and playing soccer.
Very easy to slip in 30 minutes to an hour. On a busy night, where I get home from activities at 8 or 9, who wants to go to backyard to practice? But, I don’t mind going to the rec room from 9-10 pm to turn on some tunes and do some ball work. It’s relaxing.
The fun part is to see all this work come through in my games. Improving my technical skills has shifted the game from chasing the ball and being a step behind the other team to where now I’m thinking steps ahead, winning balls and just thinking about where I want to put the ball — and my body makes it happen.
The key points to all of this is that getting better at soccer takes hundreds of thousands of reps if not millions of ball touches.
The earlier those reps start in life, the better.
The more barriers you can remove to getting these touches, the better (e.g. having the balls already inside).
The more fun you can make getting these touches, the better.