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Improving skills on your own
by Claudio Reyna, April 28th, 2010 11:58PM



By Claudio Reyna

A player can always improve his fitness by working out hard. He can comprehend certain tactics by studying the game. But how far he goes will be determined mainly by how well he has mastered ball skills. Those are acquired by playing, day after day, year after year.

A player who really wants to excel will spend as much time as possible playing small-sided games when he has playmates, and juggling and kicking against the wall when he's on his own.

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.

(Excerpted from "More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition" by Claudio Reyna, courtesy of Human Kinetics.)

(Claudio Reyna was named the U.S. Soccer Federations's Youth Technical Director in April 2010. Reyna played nearly 13 years in the top-tier leagues of Germany (Bayer Leverkusen, VfL Wolfsburg), Scotland (Glasgow Rangers) and England (Sunderland, Manchester City). He represented the USA in four World Cups, and captained the Americans to a quarterfinal run at the 2002 World Cup, where he became the first American selected to the FIFA World Cup all-star team.)

  1. Greg Rich
    commented on: April 29, 2010 at 12:49 p.m.
    Claudio, Thanks for the article. My 11 year old son spends hours kicking the ball onto the back of the couch, walls, cabinets at the end of the hall and yes outside now and then. It drives his mother crazy. But when you see him grab a cross dead out of the air with either foot and finish with the other, you see all his time spent in that split second of skill. Keep up the good work. As the song goes "the children are our future". Garrett
  1. Lenin Merchan
    commented on: May 2, 2010 at 6:30 p.m.
    Great article! Kids need to know this from accomplished players as yourself.
  1. Brad Matheny
    commented on: May 5, 2010 at 3:48 p.m.
    Claudio, Totally agree and glad you are letting folks know! As a youth soccer coach, I leverage these types of articles to educate the parents. "Play first, win later"; love it and absolutely agree! You had a pecan tree with a crooked limb, I had a tree-blocked curved driveway ending in a goal-sized garage door. Players have got to fall in the love with the ball, then get plenty of chances to play small sided, then larger sized games without the unrealistic and constant focus on winning. Good stuff Claudio, looking forward to more. Brad Matheny

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