Vinny Halsall, FA physical education officer, shares some simple session-based tips to help your players develop this essential skill.
A IS FOR AGE-APPROPRIATE
When planning a session, it’s important to acknowledge your players’ stage of development. For example, around the ages of six to eight, children have an instinctive focus on ‘me and the ball’. This is due to the egocentric nature of their psychological development. As a result, it’s useful to maximise individual opportunities to move with the ball, e.g. 1v1 and 2v2 practices.
B IS FOR BODY MASTERY
All children need to develop physical literacy skills. Doing so makes them more confident and competent in their movements. Simple tag games are a great tool in this area. For example, if ‘tagged’, a player has to balance on one leg. Then, to get ‘free’, they must seek out and high-five a teammate. Games like this encourage the use of fundamental skills such as agility, balance and coordination. They also make excellent arrival activities.
C IS FOR CREATIVE PRACTICE DESIGN
On-ball movement is a key element of mastering the ball. To help players develop this skill, we need to expose them to lots of different game-based experiences. This allows them to process a variety of situations and build a toolkit of responses. For example, while U8s play 5v5 on matchdays, their practice sessions should include lots of 1v1, 1v2 and 2v2 activities. Getting creative with the STEP principle can also encourage players to receive the ball and observe their options. Try asking your team to play ‘like meerkats’: as you move with the ball, keep your head up and scan!
D IS FOR DECISION-MAKING
It’s important for players to know when to move with the ball – and when to release it. To work on this, your team need the opportunity to practice their decision-making in realistic and challenging situations. It can also be helpful to ask players to focus on their awareness, body position and control. This approach encourages the development of good ‘individual tactics’, both on and off the ball.
E IS FOR EXECUTION AND EVALUATION
How a player moves with the ball depends on their awareness and perception of what’s happening around them. For example, if space is available, they may choose to run. If space is tight, they may decide to turn. If marked closely, they may use multiple touches to hide, manoeuvre and reveal the ball. Whatever your player’s decision, encourage them to evaluate their execution. This could include peer observation and 1-2-1 interventions. Remember: if you’re providing feedback, always start with a positive.
F IS FOR THE FA FOUR-CORNER MODEL
When helping players to move with the ball, try to factor in each of the four corners. Here are some areas to consider.
- Psychological: the perception of pressure and space when scanning the pitch.
- Physical: the change of pace and direction to exploit space.
- Social: the ability to combine with a teammate to move or ‘lend’ the ball.
- Technical and tactical: the skill to control the ball – whether close or far.
One of the delights of football is having the ball at your feet and being able to move it comfortably and with confidence. When developing a young team, this ‘love of the ball’ must be a key priority – especially as we aim to help all players become more skilful.
For more guidance on how to help your team move with the ball, check out our bib tag session.