Intelligent Effort or A Ball and a Wall

Over the years I have listened to many a young player tell me they want to play in college, play professional and make the USMNT.  There is a huge difference between wanting to do something and actually accomplishing what you want to do.

Anyone who plays the game, wants to be that guy who scores the game winning goal in the World Cup final. A very select few are ever in a position to do so and fewer still actually do score the winning goal in a World Cup final.

The bridge between "want to" and actual achievement is work and more precisely, working intelligently.

I have watched young players work tireless on their game. They work to master foot skills and moves to beat an opponent. They can juggle proficiently. In a 1 v 1 environment they look like the next great one. More often than not they are left to wonder why no academy program or major college is recruiting them. They cannot figure out why their path to glory is seemingly blocked.

How many young players have you seen who are capable of passing accurately with either foot for distances of 10 yards, 20 yards and 30 yards?

All the fancy footwork in the world will not make you an elite soccer player. Sean Garnier is a Freestyle World Champion, but is unlikely to ever score a game winning goal in the World Cup.  Mr. Woo is amazing but he isn't going to be seen scoring that World Cup winning goal either. So, how do you become Super Mario Gotze?

Receiving and passing.

Watch Gotze's game winning goal once again. He receives the ball and passes it into the net.  Now, the reception was difficult - he took it off his chest while directing the ball towards his next play. His first touch led him towards goal. He then used his left foot to volley the ball past the goalkeeper and into the net.

Next time you drive by a pitch and see a lone player "working" on his game observe exactly what it is he is doing.  Practicing fancy moves? Juggling the ball? Shooting the ball? Perhaps running with the ball?  Think for a minute... these are all individual skills ... that can only take place in a match after the player has received the ball. And they lead to the intent of passing the ball either to a teammate or into the goal.

Receiving and Passing.

So, many players spend a disproportionate amount of time on individual skills when soccer is a team game.  That player putting in work on his own, is he working on team skills?  Is he working on receiving and passing the ball?

When I mention this to people they are quick to point out that the individual player did not have a partner to work with. There was no one to pass him the ball so he could work on receiving the ball. There was no one for him to pass to. That is nothing more than an excuse for close by is a kickback wall or a bench that could be turned on it's side to be used to play a ball against. 

The term is a ball and a wall.  

Graham Ramsay introduced our local high school soccer athletes to a ball and a wall many years ago. Turn wood benches on their sides and practice passing the ball against the bench. Many people think of this as practicing their passing, but every time that ball is returned by the bench to the player he receives the ball. Set two benches up with their flat surfaces facing one another or three benches set up in a "U" shape or four benches in a square - now you can practice receiving across the body, turning with the ball and leading touches into your next play, your next pass.

If you want to play on the next level you will need a well rounded skill set, but you must be an exceptional receiver and passer of the ball. All those fancy foot skills and moves to beat an opponent are useless if you cannot flawlessly gain possession of the ball and they don't count for much if you cannot deliver the ball accurately and in a timely fashion to it's next destination, be that a teammate or the back of the net.

Work alone is not enough to get you to the next level of play.

You must recognize and appreciate what the most critical skills of the game are - receiving and passing. You must work intelligently and that calls for working on these two skills 1) receiving or gaining possession of the ball and 2) precision delivery of the ball to it's next destination. The individual skills that fall in between receiving and passing are secondary in nature.

You do not need a coach, a personal soccer trainer, no fancy shoes or perfect playing pitch. You do not need anyone or anything except yourself, a ball and a wall. The rest is up to you.

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