My first challenge for you as a coach is to find a way of influencing your club/programmes curriculum to allow for it to be continued throughout the age groups.
Often when you hear people discussing ball mastery there is a perception that it is something that an individual practises by themselves without pressure or interference. It’s true, this is a way of delivering ball mastery, however, it isn’t the only way. Here are some tips to help with the transfer of the skill from training into games:
1. Add interference – have opposition and team mates that will vary the situations for an individual on the ball and therefore make them consider the best decision.
2. Variety – add variation to your training and games with; different formats, pitch sizes, number of players etc. The more variety you can add to your programme the more adaptable that individual will be when making decisions with the ball.
3. Practise, practise, practise – it’s going to take a lot of time and repetition. A simple skill needs to be practised for an individual to be able to use it in a complex situation. With every situation not the same, you will need to give that an individual not only the tools physically and technically to apply the skills but also the cognitive capacity to perform it at the right time.
It’s really important to remember that for an individual to apply a skill to a game it’s going to take time. Therefore, there is a place for repetitious practises but you as a coach need to keep them fun and engaging. A great way of doing this is by adding competition. Make everything competitive and understand its benefits and how it can be used to create a practise culture. Anson Dorrance concept of the ‘competitive cauldron’ is a great way to start understanding how you can make practise and the development of skills competitive for your players: https://www.championshipcoachesnetwork.com/public/439.cfm
This is also something I have seen first hand during my time at Lincoln City, both Danny and Nicky Cowley were fantastic at creating a competitive learning environment where winners would be rewarded with more hard work. Everything was league tables which led to senior pro’s going above and beyond to be the best version that they can be. So it works, not only with young foundation phase players but also with pros, but your job as a coach is to create this environment for your players. What a challenge hey!
Another myth I want to challenge with ball mastery is that it isn’t just an individual and how they manipulate the ball. So, when looking to breakdown skills, particularly in mini-soccer here are some ideas for topics that you may wish to cover:
Staying on the ball
– Ball Manipulation
– Running with the ball
– Shielding & Turning
– Forward Facing 1v1s
– Body Feints
Passing & Receiving
– Receiving to Protect
– Ball Striking techniques
– Receiving to Play forward
Combining and scoring
– Combination techniques
The above is there to provoke thought that you need to help individuals acquire skills and therefore master the ball not just in how they manipulate but also in how they receive, strike and get away from opponents.
Lastly, a great way of inspiring you to build a better understanding of ball mastery is to look at individuals at the elite level and break down their skills and look at how you can teach them. Not only do children find modelling engaging but it also helps them to relate what you are trying to teach and puts it into context. This could be fantastic way of children being inspired to go above and beyond to watch videos on YouTube and recreate these skills by learning them and applying them in training and games.
To conclude, ball mastery needs to be encouraged throughout a players journey. You need to create an environment where they want to practise but also are willing to try the skills they’ve learnt in both your training and games. The experiences you provide for them is crucial by giving them the variety they need in order to be adaptable in order to apply these skills to a game. To master the ball isn’t a short term fix, it is a long term aim. How you help your players achieve it is down to you.