Have you ever noticed that basketball players can score in lots of different ways and often, while soccer players usually have 1-2 shots and often miss what looks like should be easy goals?
Basketball hoops are everywhere. From Fisher Price and Nerf hoops to get kids started early learning to launch balls on the parabolic trajectory needed to send it through the net, to driveway hoops that can lowered for young kids, to every school, many churches and parks — finding a hoop to shoot on is easy.
Contrast that with soccer, where goals aren’t that readily available and where they are they are often locked up because the folks who take care of the grounds don’t want to destroy the grass in front of the goal.
When shooting hoops, it’s easy to get lots of reps. When practicing scoring in soccer you spend 75% of the time chasing the ball.
Having lots of hoops wouldn’t matter at all if nobody used them. But, we do tend to use them. From a young age, we learn lots of fun basketball games to keep anywhere from 1-10 players engaged and improving without knowing it. Games like OUT, Around the World, 1-on-1, 2-on-2, and up, 21 and so on. Every one of them has endless variation and chances are if you played them, you created your own variations that nobody knows about.
The neat trick of these games is that they get people practicing without feeling like they are practicing and gets them to do thousands upon thousands of reps, while having fun.
And, there’s something about that ‘swish’ sound the basketball makes when falling through the net that’s addictive feedback that encourages lots and lots of reps.
Hitting the back of the net in soccer is similar, but the overhead it takes to get there (finding a goal to practice on, chasing the ball, etc.) is much higher than with a basketball.
Putting all this together, it seems scoring practice in soccer happens several order of magnitudes less than in basketball, and it shows, even at the elite levels, who often send easy looking shots high and wide and then put their arms up in despair, hopefully thinking to themselves, “I should have practiced that shot at least 100,000 more times!” Because that’s what I think when I miss easy goals.
I feel like there’s a simple solution out there to graft some of these learnings about basketball practice onto soccer, but I just don’t know what it is.
I think it may entail some combination of futsal courts and walls made specifically for shooting games and practice and adapting some of those fun basketball games that gets kids shooting hoops for hours at a time, so kids will know how to use those courts and walls.
I like the fustal courts because they can encourage lots of shooting practice and can easily accommodate basketball-like games from 1 to 10 players or more with pickup rules. The court surface means its playable more of the time and no worries about destroying the grass in front of the goal.
I like the wall idea, because it can increase the shooting practice to ball chase ratio to proportions similar to basketball and increase reps by orders of magnitude.
Maybe someone can get creative and paint a goal face on the wall and point targets. Maybe 100 points for the corners and 50 points all along the edge, that could be used to play a form of 500 and around the world.
I like the basketball game ideas, because these have been proven in basketball to be effective at changing the practice experience to be fun. Instead of 5 minutes of drills feeling like 5 hours to a kid, the games can make 2 hours feel like 10 minutes.
What I can’t figure out is how to combine these. When I coached, I tried to adapt several fun games (forms of 21, around the world, 500) to soccer hoping the kids would take those home and do them. But, they didn’t, so apparently they weren’t fun or easy enough.
I also made small rebounders out of about $10 worth of lumber. I like those, but wish they could be lighter and easier to transport and easier to setup on multiple surfaces, like grass, turf and pavement.
I also quite figure out how to replicate the ‘swoosh’, that sound of addictive sound of perfection.
I feel that the answer is in there somewhere. Sometimes, it just takes an almost accidental combination of such ingredients to ignite an explosion of culture change. I mean, games like OUT and 21 in basketball started somewhere.
Also, while I think tennis is well ahead of soccer in getting parks and rec departments to put in tennis courts and rebounding walls across the country, I think it still lacks the knowledge of simple and fun games on those walls to encourage competition.
I think the result is that these games and facilities could be much more consistent and varied scoring as well as spreading skill competencies beyond the kids that happen to be a) ‘bitten by the soccer bug’ early and b) have the self-discipline to put in the work specifically in those sports to get better.
Fun games of catch, 500, 1-on-1, 21, OUT, HORSE and more, build a good skill base in a bigger chunk of the population that has had two big impacts on the elite levels.
First, it broadens the elite player pool by orders of magnitude because it won’t be limited to the small percentage of kids that have the two ingredients mentioned above. A kid might get to age 13 and be bitten by the soccer bug, but still have good enough skills where they are starting at 75% of elite, instead of 0%, so it’s easier for them to close the gap. That 13 year-old who decides to give soccer a try with 0% skills, often quits after the first practice because their skill level is so far below average they think they are awful.
Second, it means that ‘elite’ players have to compete against better competition, which makes them even better — and maybe even means a whole different set of people become elite. Instead of winning tournament trophies against teams where the kids have 0-30% of the skill base of the elite, they are competing against kids that have 75% or more of the skill base, which will push the higher level even higher, while also improving scoring.
These are the two dynamics that I think support Tom Byer’s saying, “You have to push up the bottom to push up the top.”