Kristen Hamilton is elite.
The 26-year-old forward was a first-team All-American at the University of Denver, and she's also the school's all-time leader in points and goals. She now stars for the North Carolina Courage, arguably the top women's club team on the planet. Hamilton's appeared in 18 of the club's 19 NWSL games so far this season, and her four assists are tied for the second-most on the team.
Hamilton has been involved with the sport since she was 4 years old. When STACK got the recent opportunity to interview her, we proposed a simple question—what habits can a young player develop to aid their growth? Hamilton had a simple answer—touch the ball as much as possible.
"Getting as many touches on the ball as you possibly can is one of most beneficial things that I can think of…as tedious as it sounds, even just dribbling through cones," Hamilton says. "I think just getting as many touches as you possibly can is one thing that sticks out in my head as something that really helped me."
The quickest way a youth soccer player can increase touches is by buying their own ball. If you only have access to a ball during practice, you're drastically limiting the amount of touches you can get each week. But if you have your own ball, you can get in touches every single day. And don't overthink it—almost any touch is a productive one. Focus on keeping the ball close to your body, and get comfortable controlling the ball with different surfaces of your feet. When you do use cones, the drills don't have to be overly complex. Simply getting comfortable with dribbling around and through cones, as demonstrated in this drill from Tobin Heath, will organically develop a variety of ball-handling skills.
Hamilton also recommends playing with and against older players whenever the opportunity presents itself—even if it's just for a couple practices.
"As you get older, the talent level obviously goes up," she says. "The mental side of the game is increased, in the sense that the competitiveness is increased. If you can surround yourself with players that are higher and more proficient than you in those regards, you're going to benefit from that and be able to learn a lot...I think having that competitive mentality is something you can feed of. Seeing what it takes at the next level gives you something to feed off of and progress and grow and be successful at the next age group. I think it's a big, important factor in development."
Even if it's just in pick-up games around the neighborhood, playing against older, more-talented competition can help you grow your game in a hurry.
Photo Credit: Icon Sportswire/Getty Images
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