1) Play and practice a lot.
In order to improve in Soccer, it is crucial to play as often as possible. Whether you're training at your club, with friends or at school, playing at least 4 to 5 days a week (including official games) is important in order to improve your overall football.
Playing for several teams is fun and very effective at the same time, since you get to face a variety of opponents. Playing against advanced players is very helpful as well.
Keep in mind that it is essential to have at least a full day of rest. Sleeping well is vital in order to maintain your stamina. Attending all of your training sessions is also extremely important in order to not only keep up with the game, but also to develop a strong work ethic and self-discipline.
2) Improve Your Technique
The number one football exercise to improve your ability to control and manoeuvre the ball is kick-ups.
From U8s all the way up to senior categories, kick-ups are extremely beneficial for your ball control and your coordination. In my semi-pro days, during a pre-season training session in Paris, the coach noticed that I wasn't able to take part in the 'Brésilienne'. I just could not keep the ball up.
A 'Brésilienne' is a drill which requires keeping the ball up between two or more players, without letting it hit the ground.
The coach added that if I was going to go for a trial with an average technique, my chances of getting recruited would almost be non-existent. He simply advised me to do kick-ups everyday, which I did for weeks.
Then, I noticed some surprising results really, including:
- Subconsciously pulling out nice and effective pieces of skill.
- Dribbling with my weakest foot with ease.
- Improved first touch, technical mistakes reduced.
- Increased ability to hit or pass the ball with accuracy.
Another way to practice your ability to do kick-ups is by doing it against a wall. The wall has always been considered as the 'best sparring partner', because you can increase the difficulty by kicking the ball harder so that it bounces back far away from you for instance. Thus, making you have to run and control it properly in order to regain control of it The above video with Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets is a good example of using the right part of the foot to regain control of the ball.
When a player makes the effort and sacrifice to perform kick-ups everyday using both feet, the head, chest and thighs etc., the ball is more likely to stick to his/her feet in the long run. Once again the results are surprising after a few weeks.
Dribbling with the ball around a set of cones is also a good challenging way to improve your dribbling, technique and agility with the ball. Make sure you are using all areas of both feet. You may focus on accuracy first at an acceptable speed, then gradually increase the pace until it becomes second nature.
Do not worry about hitting the cones, as long as you end up doing better each time and persevere. There is always room for improvement in the long run.
3) Be curious, observe and ask.
Regardless of your position, you must be a huge fan of a Soccer Star such as Messi, C.Ronaldo, Mbappé, Neymar, Marta and many more. Football geniuses, often times ‘wow’ us with some amazing skills. However, observing their behavior and decision-making prior to receiving the ball is crucial. On top of their skills, top level players effectively apply the basics of the game such as positioning, movement, runs, vision, first touch, anticipation and so on.
Anticipation is a key aspect of defending. As a U17 defender, after three successive defeats in my club, I was concerned about how to defend against dangerous long balls as a central defender or full back. Therefore, I decided to watch a recorded Old Firm Derby (Celtics vs Rangers) match during which my focus was on Baldé (Celtics) throughout the game. The main answer was anticipation, body positioning and footwork. I noticed that Baldé would orientate his body towards the landing point, back-up slightly before the ball was being played while keeping an eye on the striker he was marking while keeping on his toes. Being alert when the action is away from you is extremely important
My teammates and I asked our coach to work on long balls at training. As a result, it turned out to be effective for the team in the long run. Furthermore, I was also curious about the game itself, and wanted to understand how football works tactically speaking. I was concerned about core principles of the game. Thus, I documented myself with a few Soccer books written by Top European technicians/tacticians, which answered my questions and helped me gather a lot of information.
There are certain aspects I was not aware of as a player. Applying those in my game helped me improve tremendously. Top midfielders like Iniesta or Fabregas know exactly what they're going to do with the ball way before receiving it, by scanning the pitch well ahead. My approach to the game progressively changed. I became eager to discover more
Movement & positioning is another key aspect to take into consideration when playing football. You will often see top strikers like Cavani making timed runs in behind defenders. I will address movement in more details in my following posts. Defending against a striker constantly in movement is very hard.
Though, watching a soccer game with an observing eye will improve your approach and vision towards the game, which can then be implemented in your game and have a beneficial impact in your team.
4) Stay fit.
Being in shape is vital in football. The higher the level (semi-pro to professional) the more important you should remain fit. Performing one to three jogs every week in between your training sessions will help keeping your stamina at a good level. When it comes to attending trials, always be prepared. One of the main things coaches (Especially in Europe) will observe in the first place is your endurance, technique and intelligence (i.e: behavior while away from the action). Early signs of tiredness, average technique and/or bad attitude will rule you out, no matter how talented your are (most of the time).
In other words, you have to be the best you can be and make a strong, reassuring and positive first impression.
Make sure your nutrition is on point and sleep well. Taking a nap before the match is very beneficial and highly recommended in order to perform at your best. Have good lunch (i.e: rice, pasta, potatoes..) 3 hours before kick-off to boost your energy levels thanks to well digested high carbohydrate foods.
Stretching is extremely important in Soccer. Every time you practice, you must stretch your muscles after warm up, during training and more importantly after training. Top athletes like C.Ronaldo always take plenty of time after training to focus on doing stretches solely. Whether dynamic or static, stretches will prevent injuries and improve your flexibility. You also need to carry out coordination, speed and explosiveness drills on a regular basis.
Finally, strength training will build muscle and bone; thus protecting you against injury. In football, muscular strengthening can be done by doing squats, push-ups and abs. The latter is important in Soccer for jumping and quick changes in direction. During pre-season, some clubs carry and use gym equipment onto the pitch. Doing another sport discipline such as Tennis, Basketball or Martial Arts for instance is definitely a plus.
5) Be part of good club.
At a young age (U8 up to U15), in order to improve in football, you need to be part of a club that focuses on youth development with integrity.
As a Technical Assistant at FC.Boréal (Quebec), I coached in one of the best Soccer Infrastructures in Quebec. The Académie Lafontaine. The ideal environment for young players to develop. In my opinion Académie Lafontaine meets the standards of European Academies with quality fields, big changing rooms, dining areas as well as entertainment areas where players can relax and have fun,.
Furthermore, the club's philosophy, vision and the technical plan tailored to each category is really impressive. A few young players successfully joined Montréal Impact. I witnessed a few promising young U8s with a potential to be considered by European Clubs.
To sum up, make sure you to be part of a high tier club with a youth development philosophy and desire for success.