How to coach a skill

I was involved in a discussion last season with some fellow coaches. It provided some useful insight into explaining to our players how they should perform a skill – a step-over, a turn, a feint, for instance.

Messi skill

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi in action with Athletic Bilbao’s Ander Iturraspe and Eneko Boveda

Most of us will say that a skill is the key technical act that sees a player attempt to shake off the immediate attentions of an opponent, but it’s actually much more than that.

It can be easy to forget that there is a complete sequence to a skill that can start a few seconds before the technical act and can finish a few seconds after it. And the conversation I had came at just the right time, as my Under-10s are at the perfect age now to start learning that football involves more than just their feet – they need to use their brains as well. So last week at training, I went through breaking down the parts of a skill into segments with my players.

The first part, which might be called the approach, emphasises that the ‘skill’ actually begins when your player is approaching an opponent. I told my players that it’s during these crucial few moments that they must decide what to do and how they are going to do it.

When I coach a particular skill to my players, I ask them to repeat it a number of times. Therefore, we rehearsed them approaching an opponent, before I told them to stop and tell me what plan they had for the next part. That next part is obviously the technical act of the skill – the element most of us take for granted in the process. Again, we rehearsed this as a separate activity.

And finally, the release – the part where the player moves away having evaded the attention of his opponent. Nine times out of 10, the main thing a technical skill creates for a player is space, so making good positive use of that space must also be part of the process.

All of this segmenting was designed to teach players to combine and fine-tune physical skill with a measured and considered mental process, because in football, it’s no good just coaching a skill in isolation if players are not doing something before and after to put it into context. I asked my players to repeat what they’d learnt and then saw them put it into practice in a game situation.

So going forward, I’d always recommend breaking down skills and other elements into really simplistic chunks. Clarity is everything when there’s so much to learn, and I believe I’m already seeing the results.

Share this

Follow us