Practicing core soccer skills is essential to the development of young players. Skills like dribbling, passing, and receiving/trapping and retaining/shielding the ball are all learned during the crucial period of ball mastery as kids discover the game. But why are they so important? And how can we coach them effectively? In this Q+A, we look at the most important skills for soccer and some of the best ways to cover them in our sessions.

In This Article

What Are the Core Skills for Soccer?

The core skills for soccer are given different terms in different countries and coaching environments. But the important part — the skills themselves — remains the same. So what skills do you need for soccer? 

“At Fulham, we used the terms receiving, releasing, retaining, and running with the ball,” explains Dave Wright, former Fulham FC Academy Coach and PDP Co-Founder. “A lot of different language can be used depending on where you work, but those four Rs have really stuck with me in terms of helping players to develop a technical base.”

How Can We Coach Soccer Skills for Kids?

In the early ages, you want kids on the ball as much as possible,” says PDP Coaching Advisor James Coutts. “I’m a huge advocate of small-sided games when they’re younger; there are so many more repetitional touches of the ball, there’s quicker decision-making; I think those types of things are huge.”

“At that age, they want to have fun — they don’t really want to have too much coaching — but there’s a lot of hidden learning while they’re playing games. I’d also dedicate a period of time to work on ball mastery. There’s massive value in touches of the ball, with both feet, at a younger age.”

Which Soccer Skills Are the Most Important?

What kind of skills are most valuable in the eyes of those with some experience? “How players receive the ball, and how they deal with the ball under pressure, is the first thing that some of the best scouts I’ve spoken to tend to look for,” says Wright. “So, receiving and controlling the ball is a critical skill.”

“The skill to scan is also huge,” adds Coutts. “Because if you have an understanding of your space, that will help you make the correct decision in terms of what first touch you’re going to take. In fact, with every core skill, scanning and spatial awareness is vital.”

Should We Practice Soccer Skills Under Pressure?

Why is it important for players to develop skills under pressure in soccer? “We need to acknowledge that these skills don’t just happen in isolation,” says Wright. “What’s happening on the pitch will dictate what solution the player chooses; if they have space in front of them, they might run; if they’re under pressure, maybe they’ll have to dribble or pass. ”

“So perhaps we need to think about the concept of representative task design and help kids develop these attributes as opposed to just skills. This means putting them into environments and practices where they’re exposed or challenged.”

Do Certain Positions Require Certain Skills?

“My experience in youth soccer is that players are too often pigeonholed into positions based on their characteristics or strengths,” says Coutts. “With younger players, we obviously want to promote their super strengths, but we still want to look at the other core skills as well.”

Instead of asking ‘what skills do you need for each soccer position?’, can we help players build a solid base of fundamental soccer skills, so that they’ll be equipped to play in a range of different positions during their journey in the game?

“You can also use positions to support development,” advises Wright. “For example, if you have a wide player who needs to work on receiving the ball under pressure, maybe playing in central midfield for a couple of weeks will help; they’ll get repetition in the game to work on that attribute.”

“That’s something we need to consider,” adds Coutts. “How can we build up all of these key strengths as much as possible?”

How Can I Individualise My Approach to Coaching Soccer Skills?

“I think it’s really important that coaches understand the age and the stage of the players they’re working with, and whether the players are getting success,” says Coutts. “For instance, if you’re doing a rondo with seven- or eight-year-olds and they’re struggling with releasing the ball, putting them in that state where there’s more challenge and more failure could actually be more damaging for them.”

“Likewise, we may have isolated practices within our sessions, but does everybody need them? And how much do they need them? It goes back to understanding the players we’re working with and what they need to hopefully be successful.”

How Can We Use 1v1s in Soccer Skill Training?

“With 1v1s, I think the key is understanding what success means for each individual,” says Coutts. “Success isn’t always beating an opponent with a bit of skill; it might be dragging them out of a position to create space for yourself or a teammate.”

“There are lots of little games you can do with 1v1s — you can be so creative. Players love them. And creating individual taks and focuses within the session can be really powerful.”

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