Putting receiving skills under the microscope

All Ages

The FA’s Paul Holder, Justin Cochrane, Paul McGuinness and Gemma Grainger take a closer look at the art of receiving. They delve into why it’s important, essential skills required and how coaches can help players improve their ability to receive.
Receiving is a fundamental part of the game, a ‘base skill’ that everyone on the pitch needs to master as they move through the different age groups and formats of the game.
“The moment you start introducing more than one player into practices and games, you have to deal with receiving skills because they’re sharing the ball. It’s an integral skill,” explains Paul Holder, FA youth coach developer.

“There’s not one position on the pitch where you can be effective if you don’t have good receiving skills. So, from the goalkeeper all the way through to the number 11, I think as a base skill it's one that you have to keep practising.”

“Regardless of the position that you play in, of your age, of the numbers you’re playing with... if you want to move the ball between the thirds, you need to have good receiving skills,” states Justin Cochrane, England men’s Youth Development Phase lead and U17s head coach.

Despite its importance, it can be a skill that’s often overlooked.

“I think what happens is you sort of take some things for granted. You play and it becomes automatic. But if you don’t put these skills right under the microscope and go into detail, then you might not be doing them as efficiently as you could,” says Paul McGuinness, FA national coach developer.

“In a sense it’s an individual tactic, ‘how do I beat my opponent when I’m tightly marked?’ ‘How do I receive it and escape them?’ For the best people at receiving, the flow from the passer to the receiver to the next player is really smooth.”

During a secondary school training session on a 3G pitch, a girl controls the ball while under pressure from an opponent close behind.
Working on receiving skills can help players take the ball under pressure and figure out how to get past an opponent.

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.”

England's Jack Grealish runs with ball to take it past Belgium's Youri Tielemans.
Scanning the pitch before receiving will help players see the space and decide what they will do in possession.

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.

This small-sided game helps players work on their movement and decision-making skills.

“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.”

Players will benefit from having plenty of opportunities to hone their skills in your sessions.

Interested in finding out more about the art of receiving? The full webinar is available on the FA Learning YouTube channel.

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