Soccer, or football (depending on what part of the world you’re in), is one of the most popular sports worldwide. No matter if you are younger or trying out the sport at an old, ripe age, you can still find something that you love about it. With hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of players around the world, you can always learn from one another and improve the different aspects you may have as a player.
It’s hard to say if anyone ever “masters” the sport. Since it is a very creative sport and there are a lot of different elements to it, it’s tough to pinpoint what it takes to be a true “master” or “expert”. However, professional and playing on a national team is one of the highest levels there are. Whether you’ve just started or have been playing it for years, you can always get better.
Before we get started, here is a list of everything you need:
A soccer ball. That’s right. All you really need is a ball. You don’t need fancy cleats, shin guards, a soccer field or even goals. If you do have access to them—brilliant, if you don’t, most Brazilians even makeshift a soccer ball with material they have on hand, they don’t even need a proper soccer ball to become the best in the world, so neither do you.
However, if you do have a little bit of budget to spare, adding a few of these additionals is a great way to help your strides to get better. A good pair of soccer cleats will help you cut better on the field, and will also help you control your passes better.
Shin guards, while not essential, are highly recommended because they protect your shins from kicks and balls. You can have a serious injury to your shins in soccer, and shin guards help protect against that. Almost all leagues require these to be worn, so if you plan on playing in any organized fashion, you’ll want to pick some up.
There are a variety of additional things you can pick up to help you get better and prepare for a game, ranging from cones to a miniature goal. You also might want to look into some soccer clothing for your time on the field.
Now that you have all the necessary equipment, here are a few things you can do to improve your game.
Perhaps more than any other sport, playing soccer well is based on having sound fundamentals. So much of the game can be broken down to the fundamentals. These can be practiced on your own, or in groups, or with your team.
Here are the fundamentals you should focus on to improve your soccer game.
Dribbling is the first fundamental to focus on as you start your practice. Dribbling involves moving the ball with you as you run. There are a variety of different types of dribbles, ranging from keeping the ball close to you as you run, and kicking it further ahead while to run to it.
To truly succeed at soccer, you’ll need to be able to pass the ball around to your teammates a lot more than you dribble. However, dribbling is always a requirement, because so many situations in a game necessitate dribbling.
You’ll often times dribble a few times after receiving the ball before you pass or shoot. You might need to dribble your way out of a dangerous situation. And, at times, you’ll need to dribble your way into space to create a shot or cross.
Getting good at dribbling also makes you better at overall ball control, which is a great trait to have.
Passing the ball well is a vital skill set for a soccer player. Teams pass more than ever before, as possession becomes an important strategic move. In the 2014 World Cup, each team passed an average of 390 times per game.
To put that in perspective, if your team had 50% of the possession, that would mean that your team passed the ball an average of 9 times per minute! Being able to pass the ball well is essential to being good at soccer.
You need to be able to pass the ball using various parts of your feet. You need to be able to pass the ball after trapping it, and sometimes you have to complete one-touch passes. You’ll have to make long passes in the air, and short passes on the ground.
Above all, you’ll have to be accurate with your passes, giving them to your teammate in a manner that they can handle it.
The only want to win the game is by scoring goals, and you can’t score without shooting.
Shooting is part art and part science. While certain positions have a much higher requirement for shooting, every player on the pitch needs to be able to shoot accurately. This will ensure that your team can take advantage of every scoring opportunity, because there aren’t many in a game.
Shooting well takes practice, and is very difficult. A good shot combines great accuracy with precision and power. Usually, the soccer player has to find the space to shoot from, working their way free from one or many defenders.
You can practice dribbling, passing, and shooting all on your own, without the need for any coaches or friends. Learning soccer drills you can do by yourself can help you improve as a soccer at your own pace.
A common reference in soccer, your first touch is literally the very first time you touch the ball when you receive it on the field. There are a variety of things you can do with your first touch, such as trap the ball, pass the ball, or shoot the ball.
Controlling your first touch is one of the toughest skills in soccer to master, and yet it is one of the most important.
Having a good first touch sets up what you will do next with the ball. If you are able to control the ball well, it will make what you do next that much more effective.
Related: How Fast Can You Kick a Soccer Ball?
Having a poor first touch, though, will make your next action that much harder. And, if your first touch is a pass or shot, and its poor… well, obviously that isn’t going to work very well.
The type of cleat you select can also impact how accurate your first touch is. Through a variety of factors, such as how the clean is constructed and the material used, you can better focus on how you touch the ball, and thus have a higher accuracy.
Trapping is when you receive the soccer ball and “stop” it in front of you. A typical trap involves stopping the ball’s motion as close to your body as you can.
The purpose of trapping is to get the ball under control as quickly as possible. After a good trap, you’ll be able to dribble, pass, or shoot the ball. The better the trap, the quicker you’ll be able to do this, and the better you’ll be in position to do it well.
Trapping is really important as it is most commonly your first touch when you receive the ball. And, you can receive the ball in a while variety of circumstances. You’ll need to get good at trapping the ball not only with your feet, but with your thighs, stomach, chest, and even your head.
Sometimes your teammates will give you a pass that isn’t perfect, and being good at trapping the ball will allow you to retain possession and control.
Being able to use both feet is also extremely important in a game. It makes you a very versatile player, harder to defend, extremely useful for a team, and attractive for coaches.
You’ll start off having a preferred and favorite foot. This is natural and normal, and this foot will be the easiest to get skilled at. However, in a soccer game, you’ll need to be able to use both feet.
When you’re training, make sure you're training both feet equally. If you begin this at the starting point of your soccer training, you’ll easily gain the momentum and skill you need to use both feet.
There’s no getting around it - soccer is a sport that requires fitness and running—for 90+ minutes. The average soccer player runs an average of 7 miles in a game. You will need to have great fitness to play soccer well.
A lot of soccer players think of their fitness as separate from their skills. However, for a soccer player, they are completely connected. Having good fitness will allow your skills to shine throughout the game, whereas having poor fitness will make your skills suffer as a result.
In your training regimen, you should alternate your schedule. You should be focusing not only on making it 90 minutes in a game by conditioning for long-distance but also train speed and agility, which we’ll get into later.
Even if speed isn’t normally your strong suit, you’ll still have to work on it to get better. It is a crucial component in the sport of soccer.
Some degree of speed is required to play soccer well. You’ll need to chase balls and players down, while getting into position throughout the game.
The faster you are, the quicker you can get to space and move with the ball.
Another aspect of soccer that you should work on is agility. When getting out of tight spaces with the ball or working your way through attackers and slide in to save the ball off the line with a slide tackle, you’ll need to be agile and quick on your feet.
In most cases when training for agility, you can get away with only needing a few cones or even makeshift cones like water bottles and shoes (anything that can stand on its own as a marker), and work on some drills by yourself.
Many get confused as to the differences in speed and agility. While speed is great, agility is perhaps the biggest fitness component to getting better at soccer.
Especially in 1v1 situations, you’ll need upper and lower body strength to beat someone off the ball. Depending on your age and where you begin your strengthening journey physically, you can have a workout plan that helps work on sport-specific strengthening.
While strength conditioning isn’t as important as speed and agility, your strength will allow you to kick the ball farther, while also holding on to the ball more.
Apart from actually being able to perform techniques on the field and working on the physical aspects of being a player, you should also work on how you read the game.
Knowing the tactics of a soccer game isn’t something everyone is born with. You have to be taught and you have to learn it, to become a great soccer player.
Even though the sport is creative and not really black and white, there are certain aspects of a soccer game that you can—and should—learn.
Bonus: focus on just one player throughout the game - even better if its the player in the position you typically play. Follow them and note their positioning throughout the game, especially when they don’t have the ball.
You can always improve as a soccer player. No matter if you’ve been playing for years or you’re new to the sport, working with these tips can help you get better at your game and focus on yourself as a player.