How Practicing the Simple Things Improves Your Soccer Team

What does soccer practice do for your team? A lot, if you practice doing the simple things correctly. In soccer, the basics consist of passing the ball, trapping the ball, and dribbling the ball. Shooting the ball is important as well, but a more advanced topic. Goalkeeping is also important, but goalkeepers are soccer players first, so they should be able to play with their feet just like a field player.

At all levels of skill, it is important to pass, trap, and dribble consistently well and under control without losing the ball. Let’s look at several scenarios describing players of different skill levels keeping in mind the general premises I have set up already in regards to soccer tactics and soccer stats — namely that effective offensive possession in soccer should be seen as a series of soccer actions like passes and dribbling attempts that each have a general percentage chance of success associated with them. We commonly refer to “50/50″ balls but there’s no reason we can’t speak of high percentage plays such as a simple pass or simple dribble in the same terms, more like “80/20″ or “90/10″ plays.

The interesting thing about a series of percentages like this is how quickly your overall chances of success deteriorate even while each individual action has a very high percentage chance of success.

Players of various skill levels are going to be able to perform soccer actions like passing, trapping, and dribbling at different rates of success, too. Beginning soccer players are not going to be able to do even the simplest basic soccer actions with any degree of repetition while professional soccer players will rarely make any mistakes over dozens of attempts. You can quantify these different skill levels with percentages of success as well, and this is where you see your soccer practice pay off for your team.

A beginning soccer player might not be able to keep control of the ball while doing simple soccer actions more than 10-20% of the time. We might imagine something along the lines of dribbling 10 yards, turning around, and dribbling another 10 yards back to the starting point. As simple as this task is, most beginners are going to be challenged not to lose control of the ball at some point. Even at a walking pace, many beginners are not going to be able to do this without getting yards away from the line they’re trying to dribble along. Simple passing and trapping are much the same story.

So how are teams to build up possession during a game in order to get a shot on goal and hopefully score when their players individually have a hard time controlling the ball, making passes, and dribbling? The short answer is, they’re not! If your players can’t achieve 50% rates of success while making simple soccer plays, your team is better off kicking the ball as deep as possible in the opponent’s field and hoping to be in the right place for a shot on goal when the inevitable turnover happens.

  • Beginning players who can successfully complete simple soccer skills 20% of the time only have a 4% chance of doing two skills correctly back-to-back.
  • Intermediate players who can do simple skills correctly and under control 50% of the time have only a 12.5% chance of doing three skills correctly back-to-back-to-back.
  • Advanced players who can do simple skills 80% of the time have a 64% chance of doing two skills successfully in succession and 51.2% chance of doing three skills successfully in a row. However, even advanced players only have a 32.7% chance of performing five skills in succession.

From these numbers, you can see the importance of practicing! When players can’t even do a short series of actions with any degree of certainty then there is no hope for team tactics. Team tactics shouldn’t even come into play for beginning players. Intermediate players might be aware of team tactics but overall their skill level is just not high enough to be able to do even the simplest series of soccer actions consistently. Only advanced players can keep control of the ball long enough doing even the simplest series of soccer actions so that tactics matter!

Now let’s look at several different levels of advanced players and how their chances of success increase as their skills get better.

  • Players able to complete 85% of basic skills correctly have a 44.3% chance of completing five skills in a row without losing possession. That is an improvement of more than 10% for a 5% improvement in individual skill over the 80% player.
  • Players able to complete 90% of basic skills correctly can complete a series of six skills with still a better than 50% chance of success.
  • Players able to complete 95% of basic skills correctly have better than 75% chance of completing five skills in succession and can consistently complete 13 skills in succession while still having a better than 50% chance of success. That is more than twice as many skills that can consistently be performed with a better than 50% chance of success over the 90% player.
  • Being able to put together a string of 10-20 passes during a game requires a great deal of skill from all players on the field.

If these numbers don’t show how important it is to do the small things correctly in soccer each and every time, what will convince you? As a beginning soccer player, gathering the basic skills of the game is extremely important for your progression in the game, and even as an advanced player, practicing basic skills pays enormous rewards. If you want to be a professional soccer player or on a winning competitive team at any level, you must be able to do the small things correctly each and every time because only by being that good is your team able to work together and execute tactics on the soccer field with any consistency.

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