Ages: 6+; Materials: Cones, bibs; Players: 4+
The laces kick (a.k.a. instep drive) and the driven pass are very similar in terms of technique. The primary difference is that, in the driven pass, the player typically will want to keep an eye on play and has less of a need for added power on the pass. As a result, the player usually will not run through the pass or add any type of snap to the pass.
On the other hand, when a player wants to take a very hard low, shot like a penalty kick, additional power is needed. Also, smaller players will often need to add a significant follow-through to most shots in order to get enough power. Some coaches opt to teach the laces kick and the driven pass in the same practice. This is fine, as long as you have enough time and as long as you are careful to distinguish for players when each technique will be most useful.
Start with players, each with a ball, seated on the ground. Point out the big bone that runs along the inside laces of the foot. This is the hardest surface of the foot, and is the area which they will use to make a laces kick. Have them toss the football up in the air, and try to hit the ball solidly in the centre with the big bone of the foot.
Now, put them in pairs. One player will bend over and hold the ball with the hands, while the other player works on the foot position needed to make the big bone of the foot come into contact with the centre of the ball. Players with big feet often have to turn the foot sharply to the side and turn the knee inward to get this optimal contact. Furthermore, as they continue to grow, they may need to periodically redo this exercise to find the correct foot position, so coaches should not overlook the need to do this if a player suddenly becomes unable to do a low shot after having prior success.
Next, work on the correct distance for the plant foot. One of the most common problems with young players is a tendency to put the foot too close to the ball, which makes it almost impossible to make good contact with the ball. Tell the players to leave plenty of room for their hips to swing, because they will get power from the swing of the hips/legs.
Finally, work on the proper approach to the ball. Put the player at an angle to the side of the ball, usually around 35 degrees, and back at a distance that he will need to take 3 steps to reach the ball . Note that a right-footed player will step L, R, and then put his L foot beside the ball. As the non-kicking foot is planted, the kicking leg is drawn back; the ankle of the kicking foot is locked with the toe down; and the knees of BOTH legs are bent so that the knee of the kicking foot comes over the ball as contact is made with the ball.
Coaching Note: Do not skip the phase of checking out the proper foot positioning. It is critical that the players be allowed to experiment with the positioning which feels “best” to them and they will automatically feel when they are making solid contact. The coach can make the rounds and to check each player while they are experimenting with their foot position.
Once both partners have tried this basic positioning, put partners across from one another at a distance of about 30 feet, each player with a ball, lining up the partners so you have two lines of players who are facing one another. Get some parents/assistants to shag errant balls and let the players work on their kicks. To maximize touches, allow both players to go at the same time and allow players on one side to use any ball which comes their way. While they are working on these skills, walk around and correct technique as necessary.
Common problems are:
- Erratic shots caused by failure to lock the ankle/foot.
Tip: to get players to lock the ankle with the foot in the ‘down’ position, encourage them to curl their toes into the bottom of their boot.
- Shot not staying low, caused by foot position too low on the ball or by putting the plant foot too far behind the ball.
- No power on the shot, caused by poor leg swing or improper position of plant foot.
- Stubbed toe, caused by poor run angle and/or failure to bend leg of kicking foot and/or failure improper foot angle.
Tip: cut the bottom off of a styrofoam cup and use the use the inverted upper half as a kicking tee); shorten the tee as the player improves
- Lifting the head, which causes the ball to become air-borne or the shot to be erratic.
Tip: get the players to focus on a particular panel of the ball and “watch their foot hit the ball”.
Once the players have learned the basic mechanics of the shot itself, they are ready for the next stage, which is to teach the follow-through. In order to impart the maximum power to the ball, the player must continue to run through the shot, ending in a high-kick worthy of a can-can dancer, with his head/nose almost coming into contact with his kicking leg. To do this, it is easiest to practice the move without the ball. Simply put the players on the field and tell them to select a spot which represents the ball such as a mound of grass or a spot marked on the dirt. Have them start their run so that their foot will go over the spot; and then practice leaping through the contact with the ball so that they go over the spot and land on their kicking foot.
Coaching Note: Some players who are worried about stubbing their toes may be afraid of an exaggerated follow-through. For these players, it is sufficient initially if you can get them to run through the kick and land on their kicking foot.
Now, put the players back into their two lines. Because of the increased power, and the need to run forward, have the two lines alternate on doing these kicks and leave plenty of space so that nobody gets hit by a shot, Let the players see how much extra power is achieved by the follow-through.
Small Group Work
Of course, in an actual game, there will be very few situations where the player actually can take the time to place the ball and then take a careful run-up. As a result, players need to learn to control and shoot balls that are coming in from the front, from the side, or from behind them.
Divide the players into groups of 3, and put players in a long grid about 30 feet by 40 feet. Make two narrow cone goals at one end to imitate the corners of the net with a “keeper” stationed several yards behind the goals so that he can more easily shag balls which come through the goals. Have one player as a shooter and one with 3-4 balls as a server. Start with service of a ball coming from behind the shooter by having the server about 15 feet to one side and slightly deeper than the shooter. Server rolls the ball so that it will cross the path of the incoming shooter about midway to the goals. The shooter must take one touch to control the ball and then take a laces shot at either of the cone goals. After 3-4 shots, the players rotate positions.
Repeat, with balls coming in square by putting server about 20 feet wide of the shooter and about midway to the goals, and have him roll the ball out as the shooter starts his run. Again, the shooter tries to control with one touch and put the ball into position to make a laces shot with his second touch. Rotate after 3-4 shots.
Repeat, with balls coming in from the front by putting put server about 20 feet wide of the goals on the goal-line and have him roll the ball so that it intersects his path about midway to the goals. Rotate after3-4 shots.
Now, repeat the entire exercise again with the server becoming a lazy defender who just jogs slowly towards the shooter to add a bit of extra pressure on him after the serve. Rotate players after each sequence of balls (back, side, front) has been completed. Finally, end with shooters dribbling their own balls in, and the extra player acting as a lazy defender to apply some minimal pressure.
Coaching Note: If players are having difficulty, the coach may opt to delay square and front-coming balls for a later date. This is especially true of younger players, who may not have the ability to accurately judge or time these balls, either from the service or shooting sides of the equation. If you run into this problem, limit your initial drill to balls passed in from behind recruit parents to help as servers when you are going to work on other types of service at a future practice. When the slight-pressure rotations have been completed, turn the drill into a contest. To prevent sabotage by poor service, have the contest between the shooter and the keeper. Then put the servers into their own groups for their own contest, using the others as shaggers and servers. See how many goals can be scored in X tries, perhaps around 9-10 each, divided into the types that you’ve practiced.
Now, divide the groups up so that the top scorers are in one group; the middle ones in another; and the lower ones in the last group. Run the contests again, making a mental note of strength levels of the various shooters.
Large Group Work
Divide the players into 2-4 evenly balanced teams (good/average/poor shooters) and run some relay races or have some contests. Use your imagination about conditions. Ideas include:
Put players in 2 lines about 40 feet out from goal. On your shout of “go”, first player dribbles and shoots with laces kick. If he misses, and shooting high counts as a miss, he must run and tag the goalpost before running back to tag hand of next player on team. If his shot goes in, he can run back and tag hand of next teammate in line. If you do not have even numbers, let one member of the team run twice. First team to finish wins.
Create distance lanes, and see which team has the most balls that land in the farthest lane out.
Have a penalty kick contest.
Play for points. Teams are in two lines, about 40 feet out from goal, and will alternate shooting. Coach has all balls, and teams take turns in shooting on balls served by coach. Team with most points wins.
Similar to last drill, except players have balls. Coach stands in between the groups; players serve balls into coach, who lays them back out to the incoming player for a shot.
Because you’ve already made balanced teams, you can proceed to a regular scrimmage at the end of the contests. Alternatively, you can allow the winning team to decide how to end the practice, and let them choose the ending game. Periodically, repeat this practice during the seasons to continue to work on shooting balls which are coming in from various angles.
Almost all players enjoy shooting work, so these sessions are good to include after several hard practices.