The first touch is the single most important skill in soccer. Imagine an NFL player who bobbled every pass thrown his way? He wouldn’t get very far – and it’s the same thing for soccer players. A soccer player needs to gain control of the ball before they can do anything with it.
Ball control is the difference between a good player and a great player. From a young age, players are taught to create a surface and cushion the ball so it stops in front of them - which helps them get the ball under control and enables them to use the ball straight away. But, are we teaching them the wrong thing?
If a player controls the ball right in front of them, they are likely to be facing the direction that the ball has just come from -- and where at least one opponent will be pressing from. Controlling the ball in front often results in a stationary player who must create momentum in another direction.
The player must take the following into consideration when directing the ball upon the first touch:
- Body position of the player receiving the ball
- Position on the field
- Position of opponents
- The space around the player receiving the ball
*Keep in mind that there will be times when the only place to control the ball is in front, but all should be dictated by the factors above.
When controlling the ball, a player must always remember to do a few key technical things:
- Get your body in line with the ball - move your feet early
- Present a controlling surface - instep for example
- Cushion the ball into space, and onto the ground as early as possible
- Move off at speed in that direction
I cannot overemphasize the importance of moving your feet early to get your body in line with the ball. Roger Federer is one of the best tennis players of all time - watch his feet as he gets himself set early to play the shot. Preparing early increases the chance of success.
Improving the First Touch
First touch should be practiced in all sessions, from basic drills like two players passing to each other, to more advanced tactical attacking exercises. Every time the player receives the ball, they need to do the following;
- Be aware of their surroundings
- Make a decision where to control the ball
- Push the ball into that space
It's vital for soccer players to have a controlled first touch. A coach must reinforce this importance, but the player needs to take ownership.