The Art of Shooting

One of the main reasons I coach youth sports is in an effort to teach children proper mechanics. Time & time again I watch young players in every sport using improper mechanics. And I don't understand why coach's don't make the effort to correct these bad habits. It is super critical for the children to try and execute proper mechanics at an early age because "bad habits are nearly impossible to break"!

Taking shots on goal is something that every youngster loves to do. If there's a ball and a soccer goal nearby a child's first instinct is to shoot. They don't want to work on passing or trapping or heaven forbid conditioning. Everybody loves to shoot and everyone loves to score.

There are five key concepts and skills that should be mastered in order to have a successful and powerful shot. Keep your toes curled; your striking knee over the ball; your "off" foot planted immediately next to the ball; your head down and simply follow through. If you can do those five things every time you shoot, you will strike the ball low, hard and effectively.

Curling your toes:
It is very important when you shoot that you don't use your toes. If you do use your toes, not only will they hurt after awhile but shots will never go the same place twice. When shooting the ball you want to use the top part of your foot, where the laces of your shoe are. This is a much wider surface than your toe so it will be more accurate and it doesn't hurt at all. In order to hit the ball properly off the laces of your foot you must curl your toe. The physical act of curling your toes will likewise force you to "lock" your ankle. Which is critical too. Curl your toe you ask what do you mean? Take off your shoes and socks and sit and grab yourself a towel from the closet. Lay the towel down flat on the floor and try and grip the towel using just your toes (if you are at a field you can also do this by trying to pick grass). Do you feel how your toes are curling downward to try and pick the towel up? That is what I mean by curling your toes. If your curl your toes like that when you shoot, you are 1/3 the way to a successful shot.

Getting your knee over the ball:
A huge problem that people have when shooting is that they kick the ball over the goal. This is such a horrific problem because it can mean the difference between winning or losing a game. If you kick the ball over the goal you have no chance of making it. To correct this problem simply concentrate on getting your knee over the ball. What does that mean you ask? To practice this and get the idea, stand on your left leg and point your right toe towards the ground next the front of your planted left foot. Look down and notice the position of your knee in regard to the position of where the ball would be in a shooting position. That is what NOT to do. Now slide your right foot, which is still pointed toward the ground, back towards the heel of your planted left foot. Look down! Notice how your right knee is now over the area in which a ball would normally reside when shooting. That is getting your knee over the ball. When you shoot you want to make sure that your knee is directly over the ball, keeping your shot low and also increasing the power and velocity of the shot.

The "Off" Foot:
Based on the above explanation you should recognize that the "off" (plant, support) foot must be positioned next to the ball at the moment of striking. Candidly, it is easier to get children to concentrate on the positioning of the "off" foot at the time they strike the ball than the positioning of the knee over the ball. Why? It is simply a matter of focus. The child is concentrating on the ball so they can see where to place their support foot more easily than where their knee is at one moment in time. One cannot occur without the other. If the "off" foot is planted next to the ball the knee will naturally be over the ball. The positioning of the "off" foot is probably the single most misunderstood mechanical aspect of shooting a soccer ball.

Keeping your head down:
It is very common to want to look at where you are shooting. You want to make sure that you don't miss the goal to the right or left or shoot right at the goalie. Unfortunately, by looking up when shooting you actually reduce your chance of hitting the target. You definitely want to look up and know where your target is before shooting, but during the actual act you want to have your head down. If your head is down it will help you focus on your "off" foot placement thereby getting your knee over the ball. If your head is looking up at the target your "off" foot will probably be planted behind the ball and so too is your knee which causes you to strike the ball more with your toe - a "no, no". But this is the MOST common occurrence in youth soccer. The shot is going anywhere. So remember to keep that head down and watch your foot make contact. There is plenty of time to look at the target after the ball sails into the back of the net.

Following through:
The follow through is a very important part of the shot. When shooting the ball with either foot (we have two "southpaws" on the Panther's) you want to have your "off" foot firmly planted directly next to the ball. You want your ankle to be locked with your toes curled downwards. As you swing through the ball your knee should be over it at the point of impact and then your leg should continue to follow through the swinging motion. After contact you want to land on your striking foot. That's right! You want the force of your motion to throw you off of your planted foot and onto your swinging foot. Think of the striking action as if it were a swing set. The maximum velocity of a child in a swing is where most of the kinetic energy is - at it's lowest point, closest to the grown.

Now, in summation, the five points above are the proper mechanics for the art of shooting a soccer ball. Granted during a game consisting of 7-year-olds, all of the about is forgotten. But if we emphasis proper fundamentals every time we practice as a group or as individually "Practice Makes Perfect".

Coach Lee