- Natural skills
- Motor skills
- Soccer skills
- Life skills
- Communication skills
- 12 simple steps
- Safetynet Skills Assessment
- DNA Profile
- On the ball
- Off the ball
When soccer kids kick a ball, look at their eyes. When they head the ball, look at their feet.
At training, coaches spend so much time looking at Soccer skills that they overlook the natural skills that all kids have. Perfect striking technique means nothing if kids don’t know what to look at or how to move their feet when they kick a ball. Natural skills make it easier to learn Soccer skills. Natural skills include looking, listening, calling, thinking, understanding, learning, making decisions and moving.
If we listen carefully in a game, the sideline calls refer to natural skills, not soccer skills. When the pressure is on and kids make mistakes, coaches don’t criticise the soccer skills. They question the natural skills. They shout things like: ‘Wake up’, ‘Call for the ball’, ‘Watch the offside’, ‘Why don’t you listen?’, ‘Open your eyes’ and ‘think about it’. They suddenly worry about the natural skills and they don’t even realise it. Back at training, they focus on soccer skills and ignore the natural skills.
Kicking a ball is a basic motor skill just like walking and running.
There are three levels in the basic development of motor skills. At the cognitive (conscious) level, we need to stop and think before we act. At the associative (familiar) level, we become more comfortable with the skill. At the autonomous (intuitive) level, we can act without thinking. Australian Freestyle kids learn at the cognitive level, practise at the associative level and play at the intuitive level.
Most Australian Soccer kids never get enough kicks to reach the intuitive level. Ordinary kids learn to strike at a ball (cognitive level). Skilful kids strike through a ball and learn to pass it (associative level). Freestyle kids learn to distribute the ball, cross the ball, bend the ball, drive the ball, chip the ball and feed the ball in various close repetition drills (autonomous level). It takes thousands of touches to reach the intuitive level of skill where control becomes second nature. Injured kids know that they need rehabilitation at the cognitive and associative levels before they fully regain their intuitive capability. Too many coaches try to start shooting practice at the intuitive level. Kids need to build up speed, confidence and degree of difficulty.
All kids are different and they all have different skills and talents.
At training ovals all across Australia, we’re teaching perfect striking technique to kids who don’t know how to move their feet or what to look at when they kick a ball. We look at the kick and overlook the kid. We separate the Soccer skills from the natural skills and isolate the control surface. When kids practice heading the ball, we’re teaching perfect heading technique to kids whose feet are glued to the ground. Coaches naturally stare at their head so they can correct the inevitable mistakes and they never bother to look at their feet. It’s too easy to develop kids to replace mechanical robots and give them artificial intelligence so that they all look, think, stretch, kick, move and play the same way. Australian kids are better than that.
Soccer players have minds and bodies of their own and they need to use them or lose them. Kids need the freedom to think for themselves and create their own moves so they can achieve their full potential. Players need to integrate their natural skills with their Soccer skills so that they know what to think about, how to move their feet and what to look at when they kick the ball. Kids need to coordinate their whole body when they kick, not just the control surface. Repetitive ball control improves agility. Fusion drills enable Freestyle Soccer kids to look, think, move, control mind, body, ball.
Coaches can’t teach character, intelligence, energy or talent but a soccer ball can.
Soccer is a competitive team game with a ball. It’s competitive, so kids need to try their best. It’s a team, so kids need to think about other kids. It’s a game so they need to have fun, and it’s a ball so they need to have a ball. Freestyle Soccer is a great way to develop respect, resourcefulness, responsibility, resilience, resolve and results. Kids will get out of the game what they put into it.
Your game is a reflection of your character. Use soccer to improve your coordination and communication skills and respect everyone in the game. Never blame anyone else for a loss. If you need to rely on the ref to win a game, you were never good enough in the first place.
A 1 lap race of the training field doesn’t tell us who the fastest kid is. It shows us the three kids at the front who have the character to push themselves and the three kids at the back who just want to drag their feet. At the end of the match, it’s not what you show on the outside but what you have inside. It’s the heart, mind and soul of your game.
Effective calling is the communication of information that turns eleven individuals into a cohesive team.
Most kids have no idea where to move or what to call in a game. Calling helps eleven individuals to think as one. There are 20 calls kids can use. See how many they know. Ask kids questions to make them think more. Too often, two talented team mates will go for the same ball or the same tackle because neither of them call their name. Calling is the simplest and most effective way to coordinate players because it takes no energy and it reduces the rise of unforced errors. Calling defines confidence. A noisy team is a hungry team.
A lot of support players hesitate and wait for the pass before they make a run or they wait for instructions from the coach. Freestyle kids never stand around waiting to be told what to do. They make decisions, commit themselves and call the shots. Calling is just one half of communication. Kids need to listen and play the call.
12 simple steps
The best way to conquer Everest is to take one simple step at a time
We’re trying to teach perfect soccer skills to kids who don’t know how to use their mental and physical skills when they kick a ball. Any kid can apply the 12 freestyle elements to activate their natural skills and integrate them with their soccer skills. Australian kids need to think freely and move freely.
Footwork gets kids up on their toes so they can strike through the ball smoothly instead of stabbing at it awkwardly.
Vision shows kids what to aim for before they kick and what to look at when they strike the ball.
Power teaches kids to develop timing first before increasing their strength.
Precision teaches kids the importance of small targets so they learn to aim small and miss small.
Movement enables Soccer kids to improve their positioning so they can use space to create options.
Decision gives kids the freedom to think for themselves without waiting to be told what to do.
Belief gives kids confidence to make mistakes and learn from them so they can play their own game.
Repetition gives kids the thousands of ball touches they need to develop close control so that their natural skill kicks in.
Challenge helps kids set their own short term goals that are achievable and measurable. Growing kids have a growth mindset which enables them to tackle what the rest of us avoid.
Intuition gives kids the confidence to question old ideas and create new ideas.
Communication enables kids to dictate the play and dominate the game.
Condition means that Freestyle kids keep going when ordinary kids keep stopping.
When a kid kicks a ball, we look at the kick and overlook the kid.
A lot of soccer kids struggle to strike the ball because they don’t know how to move their feet. Soccer kids are flat footed, stiff legged and one footed. It’s difficult for kids to control a ball if they lead with their striking foot. This makes them stab at a ball awkwardly instead of striking through it smoothly. Coaches get kids to stand dead still and stay dead quiet so they can teach them perfect striking technique. Kids are learning to stand still when they kick.
When kids practice heading, coaches stare at their head so they can correct the technique and develop perfect contact. They never look at the players or notice that their feet are glued to the ground. We spend years teaching the same techniques and correcting the same mistakes because we can’t spare the time to find the underlying cause of the mistake. Experts see what they’re trained to see, kids look at everything.
It takes 5 minutes to show Soccer players how to move their feet so they can improve their striking technique. Any kid can learn how to kick a ball. Innovative kids improvise different ways to control a ball, so they can pass it.
Technique is the secret to shooting. Vision is the secret to scoring.
Freestyle kids keep their eyes firmly on the ball when they control it
Most kids don’t know what to look at when they kick a ball. Just ask them. Some look at the ball and some look at the target. Some look at the goal before they shoot and some only look after they shoot. Some kids don’t believe they need to look at the target at all because the target doesn’t move. The problem is not that kids lift their eyes when they kick but they lift their heads and kick high. Little kids will look up at the goal when they shoot because they like to see the net bulge. Anyone who thinks outside the goalsquare and stands behind the net can discover the problem and develop the solution.
Coaches can’t see what players are looking at. At training, they focus on technique so they can correct mistakes. In games, they follow the bouncing ball so they can monitor control and possession. They don’t have time to see what kids are doing off the ball. Coaches aren’t the only ones who ballwatch. Forwards get caught offside and defenders fail to check the blind side. It takes 5 minutes to teach kids about vision.
Too many Soccer kids try too hard to kick the ball too hard
Ordinary players judge power by the size of the target. They blast a ball over the crossbar from inside the 6 yard box because they aim for the whole goal. They increase the force and lose the power. Power comes from training. Force comes from straining.
Finishing is probably the most neglected skill in Australian Soccer. The quality of shooting should be a major priority for research and development. We can learn so much just by observing our strikers. A simple video will show what kids put into the shot and what they get out of it.
Freestyle kids can get hundreds of ball touches on their own
Freestyle kids learn how to finish because they know where to start. Power shooting begins in the 6 yard box with short, simple, smooth, slow, two touch shots on the ground and builds up to powerful first time volleys from outside the penalty area. Wall practice is the most effective way to teach kids how to weight the ball. When kids stand a couple of metres away from the wall, they soon learn that the wall can kick the ball a lot harder than any kid can. It takes 5 minutes to show kids how to develop timing first so they can maximise their power.
Professional marksmen don’t aim for the target. They aim for the bullseye which is the smallest part of the target. They don’t miss.
When they shoot at goal, most Soccer kids simply miss big because they aim big. If they aim small, they will only miss small. Soccer goals are just too big. You can fit 34 Soccer balls between two posts and 10 balls from the ground to the crossbar. That’s 340 places that kids can score. Most strikers aim for the whole goal instead of picking one small part of it. The rest kick the ball straight at the goalkeeper.
It only takes 5 minutes to improve shooting accuracy. By placing small cones inside the posts at training, it’s easy to discover whether strikers aim small or aim big when they shoot. Most shooting sessions are so short that kids only have time to blast a few balls over the bar. Most kids don’t know what they’re missing. Freestyle kids spend two hours shooting at goal from every angle and distance until their skill becomes second nature. All across Australia, there are thousands of Freestyle Soccer kids waiting to be discovered and developed to their full potential.
Any kid can learn the soccer skills to kick and shoot. Freestyle kids discover the natural skills to pass and score.
The more we move, the more we improve. The more we improve, the more we move.
Modern kids are losing their basic motor skills because they spend so much time in front of a screen. At Soccer training, they spend so little time training with the ball that basic moves become unfamiliar. The average Australian soccer kid waits for the pass so they know where to run. The average Freestyle soccer kid makes a run and call so that the ball player knows where to pass.
A well trained kid can use their skill on the ball to dominate a game. A Freestyle kid can use their talent off the ball to dominate every game.
Smart kids don’t hesitate, wait or stagnate. They make their move so they can improve.
Any kid can trap, pass, dribble, head the ball, screen or shoot. The most difficult skill in Soccer is deciding when to choose the right one. It takes a lot of mistakes to reach that level.
A lot of soccer kids lack the confidence to create their own moves in a game in case they make the wrong decisions. Fear of failure means that kids stand dead still and stay dead quiet because they’re dead scared of being told that they’re dead wrong. All kids have a mind and body of their own and they need to exercise them to achieve their full potential. Kids need the freedom to think for themselves, make decisions, create moves, make mistakes, learn from them and kick on. Freestyle kids think freely, talk freely and move freely so they can drive, strive, thrive and come alive.
Given the population of Australia, we already have thousands of elite players waiting to be discovered and at least a couple of kids with the potential of Messi and Ronaldo but we can’t recognise them. We need research and development teams to visit training ovals and actually discover what coaches and players are doing. We look for kids who train when they have to and we need to identify the thousands of motivated kids who decide to train when they don’t have to. Junior soccer is a kids’ game played by adults who like to make all the decisions. We need to be innovative and discover a fresh approach or we will stay the same for another ten years. Growing kids with a growth mindset will always create more original ideas than experts with a fixed mindset. That’s Soccerevolution.
If the kids believe in the coach, and the coach believes in the kids, the kids will believe in themselves. The more we believe, the more we achieve. The more we achieve, the more we believe.
Freestyle Soccer is based on the belief that the vast majority of kids have the talent to reach the top. That belief is sufficient to make us search for hidden and untapped talent. We can try to artificially replicate talent in controlled conditions but it’s a lot more challenging to search for it in its original and natural form. Australian soccer kids are a prime example of renewable energy. The more energy they use, the more they create.
If we believe that all Soccer kids have talent, we will observe them, learn about them and search for their individual talent. If we believe that the vast majority of Soccer kids lack the talent to reach the top, we will teach every player to fit a generic system so that they all look, think, move, kick, stretch and play the same way. No country can compete with the leading Football nations of the world while believing that their young players lack the talent to reach the top. Technical skill has to come from the top level. Natural talent comes from the grassroots level.
For 30 years, Freestyle kids have known that it takes 200 kicks before kickoff to develop eye/foot coordination.
Australian Soccer players never get enough ball touches to develop intuitive skill. When 10 kids stand dead still in a line waiting to kick a dead ball to the coach, they spend 10% of their time controlling a ball and the other 90% being inactive. When a squad of players stand in a circle sharing one ball before kickoff, each kid gets 10 ball touches and spends the first 20 minutes of the game making unforced errors.
Kids need at least 200 ball touches before they find the right balance and their ball control becomes second nature. Initial kicks will be too hard or too soft, too fast or too slow, too early or too late, too high or too low, too loose or too tight, too left or too right. Any Soccer coach can discover and measure this for themselves. Kids know when their intuition kicks in. After 200 touches, mistakes disappear and players are in the zone. It only takes 5 minutes for kids to get 200 touches of a Soccer ball just by juggling on their own, passing in pairs or kicking a ball against a wall.
If we never look at individual coaching or performance measurement, we’ll never know how good Australian soccer kids really are.
Australian Soccer kids need to be challenged so they can reach the next level. Our Soccer experts visit European clubs to learn about Australian kids. The answers are standing right in front of us. Every kid is at a different level. Coaching aimed at the median level is lazy. If we aim too low, players get bored. If we aim too high, players lose confidence. We need to coach each kid at their appropriate level, so we can inspire them.
Coaching should be a great challenge. We should never give up on a kid or just look for the kids who are easy to teach. Coaches need to coach the struggling kids who need all the help they can get, not just pick the elite kids who already know how to play. Organisations need to discover new and better ways to coach all those untalented kids. Ordinary kids try to keep the ball on the ground. In an actual game, the ball is always in the air. Freestyle kids challenge their skills by constantly practising with a difficult bouncing and spinning ball.
We need to show kids how to think, not tell them what to think.
Sharpshooter practice is intensive training for one striker, for one hour, using 30 balls and shooting from every angle and range.
Players need thousands of repetitive ball touches so they can reach the intuitive level of skill where they can automatically make the right decisions and create their own moves. They will never achieve their potential by standing in line waiting to kick a dead ball to a coach, every two minutes.
A lot of kids hesitate because they’re trying to second guess what the coach wants them to do in case they make the wrong decision. Kids don’t realise how good they are because we constantly point out their mistakes even when there’s nothing wrong with their technique. We honestly believe that we’re helping kids by constantly telling them what’s wrong with them. We have a crisis of confidence across the country. When we give kids the freedom to practice on their own, we discover that they challenge themselves, compete with their mates, learn from their mistakes, try new tricks and they keep going until they achieve something. The key is to let kids run their own drills and put the fun back into the fundamentals.
If we believe that kids lack skill, we’ve got a lot to teach. If we believe that kids lack talent, we’ve got a lot to learn.
The vast majority of Australian Soccer kids have the talent to reach the top. It’s not the talent that matters, but what they do with it. In any endeavour, at any level, the only obstacles to achievement are ignorance, laziness, selfishness and fear. They can stop the smallest kid from playing the ball ,or the largest organisation from lifting our game.
Our actions are driven by our beliefs. The belief that all kids have talent is enough to challenge us to deliver a much higher standard of Soccer coaching. The belief that kids lack talent is a poor excuse to ignore the struggling kids. Every kid is a challenge and we should never give up on them for making mistakes. If we discover the underlying cause of mistakes we can overcome them and move on to the next challenge.
Coaching kids is all about helping them to improve. We can either do this by looking for mistakes to correct or looking for talent to develop. Improving Soccer kids is a balance between overcoaching them and overlooking them. Every kid is different and we need to respect that.
SafetyNet Skills Assessment
It’s far more rewarding to coach an untalented kid who wants to learn it all than a talented kid who thinks he already knows it all.
There are too many 16 year old kids who stab at the ball and blast their shots over the bar. The Safetynet assesment is a check of every 10 year old soccer kid to identify problems before they become permanent bad habits.
For whatever reason, some kids don’t develop motivation, physical strength or technical ability until their mid teens. We overlook too many talented Soccer kids because they don’t fit our normal profile. When a kid is strong-willed, different, unpredictable or hyperactive, some coaches may see these as too challenging or difficult to coach. It’s a lot easier to pick the docile kids who stand around and wait to be told what to do and how to think but it’s a lot more enjoyable and rewarding to pick the innovative kids who use their own initiative. Coaching should be fun, exciting and challenging.
The quality of coaching is not measured by what we teach kids but by what they actually learn. These are not always the same. Regular feedback is two way communication of information.
Give each kid a list of 10 skills and ask them to nominate their best as number 1, worst number 10, second best number 2, second worst number 9, third best 3, third worst 8. Basically, you want players to identify their 3 peak skills and 3 weak skills. 4, 5, 6 and 7 aren’t critical. The 3 peak skills define the unique qualities of each player. The 3 weak skills indicate what each kid needs to improve. When you profile a whole team, you can identify the training drills that your squad needs. The DNA profile of any team usually indicates kids who are scared of heading and shooting. Kids who are scared of losing will indicate confidence as number 10.
- Support Play
The key is Confidence. Kids won’t tell you that they lack confidence, but they will identify it if you include it in an unrelated list of skills. We can improve kids if they tell us what they want to improve. We can inspire kids if we show that we listen to what they tell us. Kids become more confident if we show confidence in them.
On the ball
The average Soccer kid has control of the ball for 5% of the game
When kids first learn to move with the ball, they keep their heads down which restricts their field of vision to 10 metres. Indoor Soccer players struggle to adapt to the wider game because they’re used to keeping the ball close when under pressure. Outdoor players develop better peripheral vision and learn how to use it. An intelligent player will use the ball to draw opponents across to one side of the field and then switch the pass to the unmarked team mate on the opposite side. Smart players use their intelligence to outthink opponents.
Natural skills are important on the ball. The ball player needs to look for options and listen for the most informative call. Soccer skills are simple. Any kid can learn how to pass, trap, screen, dribble, shoot and head the ball. The most challenging skill in Soccer is choosing the right one. This only develops with experience and familiarity on the ball. It doesn’t happen if coaches keep choreographing all the moves and calling all the shots. There’s no reason why coaches should run the warmup drills if they don’t play. They don’t trust kids to feed the ball at training, but expect them to do it in a game. Think about it.
Off the ball
A skilful player can dominate 5% of the game with the ball. A talented player can dominate the other 95% without the ball.
Australian Soccer revolves around the ball and the ball player. The centre mid has the ball. He looks for a run and listens for a call. Three forwards stand still with their markers and watch the ball player. They wait to see where he passes first so they know where to run. We spend so much time teaching kids what to do with the ball that we never get a chance to learn how effective these players can be without the ball.
With 22 players on the field, every kid has control of the ball for less than 5 minutes in each game. Freestyle kids learn to play without the ball. At corners, throws and free kicks, most attackers stand still with their defenders and wait for the 50-50 ball. Intelligent attackers are prepared to make plenty of runs to provide options for their team and disrupt the opposing defence. A freestyle kid never waits to see what happens. They can draw opponents out of position and make something happen. Every action creates a reaction.