By Jenn Ireland. For more content from Jenn, check out ExpandYourGame.com
You love to train hard and put in extra time each week working on ball control and foot skills. But when game time rolls around, how are you at bringing your skills into live play.
Why translating foot skills to games can be hard
A common pre-season goal for youth soccer players is to 'use more moves in games'. Unfortunately many players who set this goal never achieve it. Why? Because, by itself, it is vague and has no plan of execution. Having personal goals is great, but without a specific process or plan, they rarely come to fruition. When you frequently work on, plan for and discuss your goals, they are much more likely to happen than if you just 'set and forget'.
The reason that players aren't always able to translate skills from individual training to the game environment ranges widely from player to player. For some it's a lack of confidence or fear of failure. For others, it's more about situational awareness: slow decision making, as well as misjudgments in regards to timing (aka WHEN to execute moves) that prevent them from being successful.
Players can also get so comfortable doing moves in a controlled environment that when the opportunity presents itself in a game, they struggle to recognize it. When this happens, what you often see is the player does not attempt ANYTHING, often running directly into pressure or leaving the ball in a vulnerable position to be picked off.
Keep things simple
The key to translating skills to the game is to start small and build from there. The first part of your plan should be to narrow down to just a couple of moves. This will help simplify your decision making during live play and make the whole process of integrating skills into games easier.
Even though you might technically be able to do dozens of 1v1 moves, for example, start by choosing just one to two skills to focus on. After you've achieved consistent success with those, you can move on and continue adding in new things.
How do you choose which skills to start with?
Choose one move that feels easy and natural to you (Example: Zig Zag Cuts). And then choose another that is more challenging (Example: LVL Combo)
Choose one move that is a change of direction (Example: V, Behind the Back) and another that disguises forward progressing movement (Example: Pull Touch Scoop)
Either way, choose two that are different and will be of use in different situations.
Grow your confidence
Now that you've identified the first skills that you want to integrate into your game play, you need to make them a priority during training. The more reps you do with them, the more you will have faith in your ability to perform. Preparedness breeds confidence, always. You also want to heavily focus your training on these moves, because you want them crystal clear in your mind on game day.
Here are some ways to incorporate your moves into your weekly training:
- Team training: Perform each move at least one time in live play at team training; keep a log in your phone, marking down if you completed this task each session.
- Individual training:
- Practice your move on a live defender (or cone), followed by a pass to hit a designated target.
- Practice doing this move into space (use cones as obstacles) and immediately take a shot on goal with your next touch.
- Mental visualization: Spend a few minutes each day running through the game scenario in your mind in which you execute each move with correct timing, technique and pace.
Translating skills to the game
You've spent all week working hard on your skills, and now it's game day. Keeping with the theme, you'll want to start small, making your goal to execute a move at least one time for the first few matches. The reason for this is that you want to set yourself up for success. By starting small you give yourself an attainable goal, one that when achieved immediately works to grow your confidence.
When hitting the field, you'll want to keep your goal in the forefront of your mind (using positive instructional self-talk is a good way to do this), and check in with yourself during sub breaks or halftime to see what adjustments you need to make in order to hit your objective. After the game, make sure you track your progress and log whether or not you were able to achieve, or surpass, your goal that day.
Here's the hardest part of this, you MUST be kind to yourself and give yourself a pat on the back for every execution attempt you make - REGARDLESS OF WHETHER IT WENT WELL OR NOT. It's an achievement in its own right just to have tried. And simply trying is where this starts, because without trying you can't achieve your goal. Without trying, you won't ever be able to maximize your potential.
Remember - have frequent conversations about your goal and plans with your coach, teammates or your parents. Frequently talking about what you are trying to do makes it more likely to happen, and also helps you hold yourself accountable to this commitment you have made to yourself to elevate your game.
This blog post is from Jenn Ireland, youth soccer coach in Chattanooga, TN and content creator at Expand Your Game. Expand Your Game was created to help guide youth soccer players toward harnessing their power and elevating their game by expanding mental performance skills, reframing limiting beliefs and uncovering authentic passion and drive.
Want more? Check out this article by Jenn about improving game play with positive & instructional self-talk on the soccer field.