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Convert technique to skill

This is an excerpt from Soccer Skills & Drills by National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

The difference between technique and skill must be well understood. Again, technique is the ability to perform a physical task, whereas skill is the ability to perform a task in a game setting. When teaching young athletes, technique must come first. Match-related components should be added in a progression as the coach sees fit.

Many factors distinguish technique from skill:

  • Speed of execution. How fast should a skill be executed in a given situation? Do I have the time to take a long touch prior to shooting?
  • Pressure from opponents. How do opponents dictate how a technique is executed and any necessary adjustments for success? Can I settle the ball before playing it to a teammate, or will an opponent be able to close me down before I can play the ball?
  • Spatial limitations. How does the space being played in require a different application of technique? Should I trap the ball at my feet or redirect the ball into open space?
  • Psychological considerations. How do other factors enter into how we should play? Should I play forward quickly because we are behind a goal and time is running out?

When teaching beginners a technique, the factors just listed should not come into play. A beginning player should initially learn techniques without factors beyond the task. As technical ability is achieved, factors related to the application of the technique found in the game may be applied in incremental steps. A coach may choose to teach a technique without consideration of these factors and judiciously apply them one at a time or in combination. Once a technique is learned to the point of being automatic, the coach might then introduce one or more of the differentiating factors. The process of introduction is generally limited to one factor per step. Introducing the new factor typically results in a temporary regression in performance, but as players learn to accommodate the new requirements, the overall level of performance will rise. This sequence of one step back, two steps forward should be monitored. If progress is not made in an adequate fashion or if performance falls off too dramatically, a return to a stage with fewer outside factors might help with the reinforcement of the fundamental technique.

Teaching technique should incorporate Albert Bandura's principles of self-efficacy from his book Social Learning Theory (1977). In order of priority, these include:

  1. Mastery experiences (performing a task correctly)
  2. A good modeling experience (a clear demonstration)
  3. Verbal persuasion and encouragement
  4. Physical arousal and preparedness

Let's expand on each of these principles as they apply to coaching soccer:

  1. The coach makes sure players are getting enough successful repetitions of the task(s).
  2. The coach provides (or selects someone to provide) a demonstration of the task being done correctly while supplying appropriate coaching points.
  3. The coach gives audible encouragement.
  4. The coach makes sure players are primed and physically ready to perform the task.

The sequence of learning a skill for a soccer player involves learning technique without pressure (pressure in the form of limited space, time, restrictions, or opponents) and without direction. The emphasis is on the steps necessary for the physical execution of the task. There should be no external factors to deter players from completing the task beyond their ability to execute the demands of the technique.

Direction (such as making the player cross a specific line) is added as the technique becomes learned and reproducible. Direction provides an additional consideration in the execution of the task and is a step toward making the technique a skill because direction is a part of the game.

As players become more comfortable with the technique, a pair of cones or a goal can be included. Obviously, the presence of a goal in the playing area refines the direction aspect just discussed. An additional facet of adding a goal is the enjoyment of seeing a goal being scored. All players like seeing a goal being scored, and this can serve as a great motivator. Scoring goals makes a game fun for players and provides a reward for successful execution of a technique.

As players continue to develop a technique into a skill, opponents can join in. Opposition provides the sense of a real game because players are forced to execute techniques while others are trying to prevent successful execution. Also, opponents can see how the achievement of good technique works to make a team successful, thus motivating them to learn and use this technique when they are on the other side of the ball.

Generally, limits should favor the skill being learned. Offensive skills should be taught with maximum space and decreased as the skill is mastered. We suggest erring on the side of success—for example, provide a large space for offensive skills, and condense the space as the players achieve success. This is preferable to starting with too small a space and being forced to increase the space to allow success—players will figure out that they have failed and require an adjustment to permit success. Reverse the space stages for defensive skills. A similar coaching strategy should be used for restrictions on touch, players, time, and so on.

In addition to a goal being added for the attackers, the defenders can be given a countergoal. More players and more space are added as the technique is polished into a skill. This exercise should develop to resemble a complete game.

Progressing in such a fashion is advantageous for players in that it creates a sense of flow to training. Players can move from one exercise to the next in a logical sequence. Each step establishes a rationale for the following step.

More Excerpts From Soccer Skills & Drills