When you’re not training with your coach, learning the game from TV, or playing with others …
Go Find a Wall
It is the single greatest tool for developing your technique. Nothing else comes close.
Claudio Reyna, one of the few quality players to survive the US Soccer landfill, shares a brief story with us. The following is an excerpt from his book: “More than goals: the journey from backyard games to World Cup competition“.
I spent a lot of time hitting the ball against the side of the house when I was a growing up. If my mother complained about the noise, I’d hop down the retaining wall at the end of our property to the office-building parking lot.
I’d use that wall — hitting the ball with both feet, seeing how long I could return the wall’s passes without losing control. I found out later that so many pros spent lots of their childhood doing that.
Dennis Bergkamp, the great Dutch striker who scored and set up hundreds of goals for Ajax Amsterdam, Arsenal, and the Dutch national team, said that when he was a youth player at Ajax, they had little three-foot-high walls. He would knock the ball against the walls for hours. Every time he hit the ball, he’d know whether it was a good touch or a bad touch. He’d do it over and over, trying to establish a rhythm.
Whenever I saw Bergkamp slotting a perfectly placed ball past a goalkeeper or making a precise pass, I thought of him practicing against the wall.
Kicking against the wall is an excellent way to work on improving your weaker foot. You can back up and practice shots on goal, or move close to the wall and work on passing, because where there’s a wall, there’s a teammate.
You can practice trapping and work on your first touch by controlling the ball before you kick it, or hit it back first time.
Passing the ball against a wall from close distance takes timing and coordination. Hit the ball faster, and you’ve got to react faster and get a rhythm going. It almost feels like you’re dancing.
Practicing the correct striking of the ball over and over helps it become second nature. It has to be, because in a game a player doesn’t have time to think about his form or approach. Under pressure, everything is more difficult. Mastering technique while playing on your own is the first step to being able to do it right in a game.
Are you doing it?
Are your kids doing it?
Is your coach telling you to do it?
Great article. Here’s a great list of exercises to do against the wall with videos. Doing them in an enclosed raquetball court is even better:
Gary Kleiban says
Thank you for sharing Sinisa!
Yes. There are tons of variations that can be done to focus on different aspects of one’s technique. We need to develop these videos!
It’s good but there is a time and a place, ask yourself how many times this happens in a game? If you practice a short or medium range sidefoot pass you’ll get better at it but only that. It’s a building block of many so to much means something else misses out
Gary Kleiban says
The key takeaway here is repetitions. I’m talking thousands upon thousands. Additionally one can simulate an incredible amount of situations that absolutely translate to a game. And with repetition, a player acquires that much needed muscle memory. Over time, they won’t need to ‘think’ about technique during a match – it comes naturally. This relieves pressure from you brain, and you can now focus on lightning fast and proper decision making.
It is simply not possible to get the necessary amount of touches in team training sessions. If a player is relying on his club practices and a game on the weekend to vastly improve his technique, it will never happen! And if a parent or a coach thinks otherwise, they are sadly mistaken.
Furthermore, when using a wall the player should be focusing on mimicking how the best players in the world stroke and caress the ball. They shouldn’t just blindly be ‘kicking’.
All of this is critical for development.
Gary, what do you think of the National Standards Project in partnership with iSoccer? The intent appears similar to what you highlight in this post.
Gary Kleiban says
Thank you for sharing! I like their videos. They have a lot of good exercises that complement the post.
WARNING … Here comes a rant about their “mission” though.
So I just took a quick look (the “Project Details” page).
My first impression was:
“It’s good someone’s taking initiative and trying to make something happen.”
BUT I think this won’t help!
You see, I don’t think the fundamental problem is technique. Yes, our national team players fall way short when compared to international level quality …
However, the reason is not that we don’t have technically gifted players in the US. We absolutely do! The reason is that those players don’t make it to the top.
So fundamentally US Soccer fails in the selection process.
I am wary of projects that try to systematically and scientifically build a player’s technique. Maybe I’m old school or something, but did Maradona, Pele, Ronaldinho, Messi, Beckham, et al … go through a “scientific” program to develop world class technical quality?
Nope. They did it themselves by living with the ball, mimicking their idols, and using their own creativity.
I’m not saying a structured program can’t work. What I am saying is:
“This isn’t the fundamental problem.”
Instead, the following two should be the priority of a national program:
* Soccer IQ. We fail our players in this department BIG TIME! And this is a coaching problem.
* We fail miserably in player selection.
As far as technique is concerned, we mess up in the intangibles. The things that, at least to my knowledge, have no way of being quantified. For example, I’m sure Maurice Edu and Xavi can perform all the exercises shown in iSoccer’s Assessment. I can too!
So what makes Xavi’s technique ridiculously superior?
It’s the way the ball is struck. It’s the biomechanics. It’s the fluidity of the motion. These things matter and it’s apparently over the head of those who are in charge of player selection, along with those who make educational curricula.
Ok, so ranting aside, I guess I should dig deeper into what iSoccer is trying to accomplish. I’m just so skeptical after seeing program after program fail for the same reasons.
Googling for good arguments to convince some of my players that time on the wall can be time well spent and look what I found 🙂
Just one caviat…wall self training can do wonders for one’s first touch and passing/shooting but the soccer savvy come mostly from somewhere else…playing, playing, playing…watching, watching, watching….coaching, coaching, coaching…culture, culture, culture
Kevin Rogers says
I started doing these wall drills about an hour a day, I can definitely see a ton of improvement. Especially in my weak foot. Now I’m starting to make up my own drills and it’s really beginning to become an intense workout. I also try to follow my wall practice with some dribbling or juggling, trying new moves, using both feet and different body parts.
Thanks for posting, I also think solo practice is important. A lot of kids on my team don’t do solo practice and it really shows, we’re 1-5-0 (W-L-D) so far this season.
soccer grit says
Couldnt agree with article more, oldest daughter luckily had opportunity to guest play up on club team at disney with two future national team players and found same tale. Their mothers said the girls played daily on 3 sided handball courts when young kicking ball against walls developing their touch and ball control. It was their technical skills and astounding ball control that elevated their play to national team level. Tennis walls mixed in with soccer tennis fun and great for young player development. Mix in some of girls favorite tunes for additional spirit and rhythm.
Ahhhh yes, the love of the game and ambition to be the best. That is why we all play and played ( I am 37). I wish I had structured coaching like this growing up. There were not any club teams available back in the 90s, very few ( at least in Northern Cali). Still my dad was the coach and we were all local friends growing up and have stayed friends since. All in our late 30s now. We all had dreams of being bigger and better and then when you realize you aren’t that good you realize it’s just a game at the end of the day. Good stuff Brian… enjoy reading your articles. You’ll be coaching pro level one day.