Building Proper Striking Muscle Memory in Youth Sports
When it comes to the game of soccer, children in youth sports will automatically get out on the field and kick the ball in a way that feels natural to them. Unfortunately, this kicking technique is ineffective and could cause potential injury, especially in early age athletes. Learning proper striking technique will not only build a better, more mature soccer player who succeeds as the game advances, but it will help reduce the risk of injury. Ultimately, it is the coach's job to teach correct striking technique to young players. While there are a number of ways this can be done, the best and most effective method is by working to enhance muscle memory.
What Is Muscle Memory?
Muscle memory is the theory that, over time, the body can learn very specific motor skills with the use of repetition. It is believed by exposing muscles to this repetitive activity, long-term muscle memory develops. Once this long-term muscle memory develops, people will be able to instinctively engage in whatever repetitive action was performed without having to put too much conscious effort into it.
How Muscle Memory Relates to Soccer
Soccer and muscle memory go hand-in-hand, believe it or not. When players eventually commit proper striking technique to muscle memory, they no longer have to spend considerable time thinking about how they are kicking the ball. This time can be better spent thinking about other factors, such as position of the other players, direction to kick the ball, how to move around other players, etc -- all of which are essential to youth sports and soccer.
Tips for Youth Sports Coaches Looking to Improve Striking Technique
The best way to help improve children's striking technique is to conduct soccer drills and activities that focus solely on this task. A great activity or drill that helps with this is the simple soccer kick. The soccer kick drill requires children to stand away from the ball, typically four to five steps away, and off to the left or right side. Children will run to ball and kick it into the goal. After each child has kicked the ball, have him or her repeat it several times.
This drill allows coaches to watch how a player is kicking the ball and offer constructive criticism on how to improve technique. It is important to remember that it isn't just the repetition that helps improve the player's skill; it is the fact that the task is being done properly. If the young player continues to kick the ball using improper technique, it will only result in developing a habit and failing to kick the ball correctly in the future.
When youth sports athletes perform this soccer drill, look for the following:
-- Making sure the top of the foot is being used as opposed to the toe for striking kicks; and the instep of the foot is being used when kicking the ball to pass it.
-- Keeping the toes down when striking with the top of the foot.
-- Kicking the middle of the soccer ball — not the sides or top.
-- Letting the kicking leg follow through with the kick, not stopping short after kicking the ball.
-- Locking the standing leg so the kick is solid.
-- Judging proper approaching speed to the ball.
Working with children in youth sports to improve striking technique while building muscle memory may not sound like an enjoyable task. Luckily, if you keep a good attitude and make it fun, the children will enjoy what they are doing and not even realize they are building proper striking technique. That, of course, will all be thanks to your diligence as a coach.
Author Bio: Brandon Capaletti is Vice President of Cisco Athletic, a Maryland-based athletic apparel manufacturer of adult and youth custom uniforms. Cisco Athletic makes jerseys for 18 sports, including soccer, volleyball, basketball, and baseball.