Practice Scoring, not Shooting
December 31, 2003 09:00 PM
If soccer were simplified into a few words, it might be explained as "the pursuit of time and space." Everyone on the field is trying to create the time to make something happen and the space to do it in.
However, when you get inside the 18-yard box, time and space disappear. That is why the art of scoring goals is so unique.
"I believe anybody - as long as they are athletic - can score goals," says Michelle Akers, the USA's all-time leading scorer. "But you have to have a different kind of mentality if you are going to be successful, especially in the box where everything is magnified. There is a lot of emotion in that one moment, and you are expected to finish every chance you get. You can't afford not to."
To survive those moments of intense emotion, it is essential that putting that finishing touch on a goal-scoring chance comes naturally. And to do that, players must react and not think. Repetition is the key.
"I practice every single day, and it makes the difficult things easier," says Akers. "I do the basics over and over again, always adding a new twist and trying a different way of doing something. There are not enough hours in the day. If you do these things over and over, the skills will become second-nature."
Akers, however, does not succumb to the natural inclination of spending time practicing skills at which she already is proficient. She makes herself take on the tougher challenges - finding a way to put the difficult crosses into the net, using every surface of both feet, cleaning up garbage chances.
Good goal-scorers look for ways to put the ball in the net, period. It doesn't have to be pretty. It just has to count. These types of players practice scoring goals anyway they can, not just the obvious shots. Part of their practice involves lining up balls and cracking them at the net, but that's only the beginning.
"Players have to hit all kinds of balls, balls served from the side, from behind them, rolling at them, bouncing at them, bouncing away from them, every kind of ball you can think of," says Gallimore.
"You have to have repetition in match-related shooting situations. There should be defenders involved, and there should be pressure on the shooter. A lot of coaches put players in unrealistic shooting positions, like hitting stationary balls. I prefer having balls served from the sides and making players get used to hitting them across their bodies."
Too often, a great deal of time is spent on getting the ball out of the back and neatly down the field, and little time is spent on what to do when the ball gets into the final third. And after all, the object is to beat your two opponents every day.