Any coach will mention that there is no substitute for good technique. The better the technique and wider the range of techniques, the better the player. An outstanding player is one who has mastered all the necessary techniques required in soccer play and who has the skill to know which technique to use in any situation. To perform well at any level in soccer, a player has to learn and use a wide range of skills.

This last statement is important as we must distinguish between skill and technique:

Technique is the ability to execute a solitary action in isolation from the game such as a control with the chest, a pass or a volleyed shot. The player is only concerned with executing the action without the distractions of other players. Technique also refers to the relationship and harmony demonstrated by a player in possession.

Skill is the ability to be in the right place at the right time and to be able to select and correctly employ the required technique on demand as result of the information provided to the player by the game situation.

Running at pace with the ball is
an important technique but knowing when
and where to run is an important skill

Skill contains several important components such as physical fitness, mental approach, technique and decision making which are all interrelated in a complex pattern. Some players may have an excellent and wide ranging technique but struggle to use this ability in a game situation. A game environment is more challenging due to its unpredictability and the decisions that have to be taken in relation to both team-mates and opponents. Decision making is what to do in a given situation and a skilful player is one who can quickly assess when to pass, dribble or shoot and which technique to use. Thus, we can say that technique is only a part of skill. A player who is both physically and mentally skilful but who has a poor technique when passing or controlling the ball is an incomplete player.

To develop excellent soccer technique players must possess or acquire the ability to perform isolated physical activities, both on and off the ball. As a player spends a large amount of their time without the ball, it is therefore important to distinguish between soccer techniques when a player is in possession or not: For example, controlling and passing the ball are two on the ball techniques whereas the player who has turned and accelerated into space to receive the ball has executed two off the ball techniques - Figure 1:

Fig 1: Soccer technique

As previously mentioned, a player spends the majority of the game without the ball and making decisions in attack and defence. When analysing the player's skill, both the coach and player should break this down into three parts:

1/ Making a choice... Did the player select the right option, should he have held onto the ball, did he pass to the wrong player... ?
2/ How will the player do it ? When the player has made his choice, he must then decide on how he will achieve this objective.
3/ The technical execution... After choosing an option and deciding how this will be carried out, the player must execute the right technique at the right time in order to be successful. An example of breaking down an attacking action (both on and off the ball) is given below:

On the ball - A winger in possession on the flank: 1/ Decides to beat the defender and cross the ball. 2/ Decides to beat the player using his pace and cross to the back post. 3/ Performs the technical actions required.

Off the ball - A winger not in possession on the flank: 1/ Decides to draw his fullback out of position to allow his own fullback to utilise the space behind. 2/ Decides to call for the ball and makes a checking movement to draw the defender forward. 3/ Executes the action and drags the defender out of position.

The coach through watching the game may realise that the player has regularly failed a particular skill. Players often need help in making the correct decisions, whether of a skilful or technical nature. Failure can be at any of the three levels mentioned above. An regular example seen in soccer is when a player unsuccessfully attempts to beat his a defender by dribbling. The coach must identify where the player is making the mistake:

1/ The player may not get his head up enough to evaluate other options.
2/ He may have seen a good opportunity if he can beat the defender but his technique or a lack of confidence lets him down.
3/ He may be using the wrong technique, he tries to beat the defender for pace on the outside but the defender is always quicker.
4/ The opposition use 2 or more players to close him down and do not allow the player the chance to execute his technique...

Testing soccer skills may be useful for evaluating the progress and abilities of players. For further information concerning specific skill tests, visit the English Football Association's site - Click here. Otherwise, tests should be based on various techniques such as passing, dribbling, heading and shooting. Advanced tests should perhaps combine several of these techniques. Whatever the test used, this should be universally standardised and be as objective and realistic as possible. It should also take into account the player's age, playing level and physical capacity.

Otherwise, a coach may also want to quantitatively analyse individual skills in real match conditions. Simple match analysis can look at total scores achieved by players (n° of passes, shots, tackles...) as well as their effectiveness (% shots on target, successful passes or tackles...). This can provide a basis for developing performance by outlining a player's weaker/stronger areas. For the rest of this article, click on the next arrow.

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