During the final international break of 2020, Jack Grealish and Phil Foden demonstrated this clearly. The pair displayed impressive receiving skills, showcasing some of the essentials outlined in our 5 top tips for developing receiving skills and how to help players improve their receiving skills articles.
The duo thought ahead and scanned the pitch to find space, a skill Gemma Grainger, England women’s U17s head coach, values highly.
“For me it’s important to really focus on what are the brilliant basics in the before [you receive the ball] phase. So scanning – can players recognise the space, take in the picture and arrive into the space at the right time?”
McGuiness continues, highlighting that effective scanning can also help players outwit the opposition.
“You've already scanned [and noticed the player], then your tactics might be disguised to look like you’re going one way, [then you] change direction. Changing your speed and of course the timing of it to bring the opposition close, would be another tactic.”
As well as scanning, McGuinness states that good communication and staying on the ball are essential for effective receiving.
“There’s a lot of interdependent skills, so you have to get the fundamentals right. If you don’t get the right connection between the passer and the receiver, it’s very difficult. So, you have to get a smooth pass, but you also have to get a signal to say, ‘this is the time I want it’.
“It has to be clear: I've created this bit of space by my position or my movement – moving the defender away to come short – and now I’m going to show you, with my body movement. I’m going to communicate that.
“The next fundamental is, can you actually control the ball and keep it? That’s one thing that really stops people from receiving sometimes, they don’t want to receive it because when they get it, they’re not good enough at holding it, manipulating it, and twisting and turning. So, we have to get those skills right: staying on the ball for the right amount of time to shake the defender off and create the next pass.”
But what can coaches do to help their players work on the fundamental skills mentioned above? Small-sided games and adjusting the size of the playing area could help.
“You can do practices in small-sided formats, that frees you up and relaxes you about what you can see,” Holder explains.
“The trouble is, when you do 8v8, 9v9, 11v11s, you get lost – sometimes it gets a bit crowded. If you want to do receiving skills and really do them well, you have to have really keen observation skills. Sometimes that might mean practising in smaller areas and lesser numbers.”
It’s about creating clear pictures for players. It’s important that they can see ahead of the ball and how they could receive it.
“If you play in too crowded of an area with too many players, they’re never going to get that,” says McGuinness.
“Small-sided football can be good, but they might need a bigger space in which to do it at first. Then we can go through it: ‘what picture did you see?’ ‘What was the key factor that was missing there?’”
It’s also important to make sure that your sessions reflect the game and involve repetition to give the players the opportunity to develop their skills.
“Regardless of where you are on the pitch, it’s about being totally aware of what’s around you and using your body maybe to hide the ball, to shield the ball or protect the ball,” states Cochrane.
“These are all things that, as you practice more and play more game scenarios – I think it’s important that a lot of the session should look like the game – that means kids will build up a memory of the movements.”
Grainger seconds the need for consistency. “The main message for me would be about creating those deliberate habits. If you implement lots of repetition in your practices about recognising space – the impact on receiving skills could be so much.
“So, in terms of that simplicity: with the players or the teams you work in, what habits can you start to really identify? Then, create lots of opportunities within your practices.”