By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
There is much discussion from coaching educators at all levels on all courses about the importance and place of technical correction. We seem to have moved in the last 20 years in many coaching education programs from a place where great technical detail was required to a place now where phrases like “keep it on the ground” are somehow considered to be technical feedback.
Perhaps it is because of my playing history, or perhaps it is because I meet hundreds of youth players who love the game and want to play at a high level, who cannot perform the fundamental techniques of the game under no pressure that I fully recognize how vital correct technical feedback is. If you cannot perform the techniques of the game at speed under considerable pressure you have little chance of playing at a competitive level.
I grew up in England and learned the skills (technique applied at the right time in a game based on the tactical situation presented) in the streets and fields of Stoke. For the most part, my formative years were all street soccer. No coach or parent involved at all, we simply attempted the things that our Premier League heroes did on TV. Playing numbers were haphazard with 2v2, 3v3, 3v2, 4v3 the most common games we played. Sunday was often the big game when we scraped enough kids together to manage a 7v7 big game. This street soccer environment with small numbers helped me gain a tremendous understanding of the tactical nuances of the game. I frequently could see the solution to the problem presented on the field and even knew which tool (technique) was needed to fix the problem. The ultimate frustration was my inability to perform the technique in the correct manner. Not really a great surprise when the feedback loop involved watching the professionals do it once a week and comparing their attempts to mine.
I went on to play at a high level in youth soccer in the UK and eventually, aged 17, playing for my county at the Skegness Festival of Football, I was lucky enough to be coached by Sir Bobby Robson, who politely told me that the manner in which I was striking the ball was incorrect. Thankfully he went on to tell me how to fix it and my ability to play a lofted pass improved tremendously in the hour he spent working with my team. I look back now and wonder what dreams I may have chased if this vital technical correction had been given at the key ages of 7-9.
This brings me to the key point: All kids want to know how perform the key techniques of the game. They all take great joy in mastering a new skill and being able to apply it at game speed. These moments provide great joy and pride and as such must be valued by coaches.
Technical correction and feedback is needed and phrases like “keep it on the ground," "don’t pass it in the air” and "unlucky" are not technical correction. Technical correction is precise and it is hopefully concise and surgical. For all those getting upset about the word correction, calm down when they get it right, provide positive concise feedback that reinforces what they got right. For example “great pre-control vision, you disguised your first touch, locked your ankle and played through the center of the ball.”
To help guide the coaches reading this on the specificity of feedback that is required the following nine points are ones that you might consider when teaching the techniques of the game.
1. How should they approach the ball?
2. Position and angle of the non-kicking foot
3. Support leg, position and locked or bent.
4. Surface that makes the connection with the ball.
5. Specific part of the ball connected with.
6. How is ankle locked?
7. What is the power plant – rotation of hip, whip of knee?
8. Position of body and head at the moment of contact with the ball.
9. Follow through of body and body part.
It is impossible to write a piece on the importance of teaching technique and not discuss the best environments for techniques to be learned within. This brief piece was taken from a previous article, No Drills, No Way Ever, Jan. 2017, I believe offers the best advice.
So instead of drills, design activities, exercises and games that
• Look like a little slice of the game.
• Allow players to think, make mistakes and solve problems.
• Are highly competitive, challenging and fun.
• You can structure in a way that allows certain skills to be performed frequently under graduated pressure.
• Allow all players to be engaged at all times.
• Involve multitasking, thinking about and solving numerous problems at the same time.
I promise that if you move away from drills and into activities and exercises in the way prescribed above, your players will develop new energy and passion at your practices.
I implore all youth coaches to spend time leaning about the fundamental techniques of the game so that you can provide much-needed technical feedback at the right time and in the correct manner