By: Chad Zimmerman
Years ago, Tim Schulz, the new head coach of the U.S. Under-20 Women's National Soccer Team, was at Nike in Beaverton, Ore., at the same time that Michael Jordan was there shooting a commercial. While on site, Schulz witnessed something that has stuck with him to this day.
"During a break from filming, there was Jordan, working on his free throws, one after another for a good 30 minutes," recalls Schulz. "And I said 'Geez, here's an athlete at the top of his field still working on his fundamentals.'"
The message is simple: you can never be too good at the basic skills of your sport. If Michael Jordan dedicated time to improving his fundamentals, even at the peak of his career, then any athlete of any sport should be willing to spend extra time to master his or her skills.
According to Schulz, the fundamentals of soccer fall into six categories—passing, dribbling, shooting, receiving, heading and tackling. Although each is essential to the game, Schulz emphasizes one fundamental the most.
"The one technique you can't live without is passing," he says. "Good passing can carry you through a soccer game. To an extent, you don't have to be a great dribbler, but there's no substitute for great passing."
Schulz gave STACK some drills an athlete can practice, alone and with a partner, to improve his or her passing. Perform each drill with maximum effort, and focus on quality versus quantity.
ON YOUR OWN
Find a wall and kick it. Literally. Kicking a ball at a wall not only helps you aim your passes, but the ricochet improves your trapping ability, which helps you control the ball before your next pass.
Schultz instructs: "Work on a specific pass for one to two minutes. Say you decide to practice a side foot pass, and it's a two-touch. Be very strict with your mind and body, and just work on the two-touch pass with the side of the foot—to where it's crisp, clean and accurate with both feet. Then, after a minute or two, move on to another type of pass."
Another pass option is a one-touch using the outside or instep of the foot. One-touch passes have to be completed without an initial contact to trap and control the ball. Schulz equates a one-touch pass to hitting a baseball. A pitch is delivered, and the batter hits the ball with one contact. Two-touch passes allow the player to trap and control the ball on first contact and complete the pass with the second.
Schulz recommends working on wall kicks for 15-20 minutes, changing the type of pass every couple of minutes throughout the drill.
"Incorporate dribbling too," he says. "When the ball comes off the wall, do a quick dribbling move against a cone. Make it really clean and quick, then get the next pass against the wall. Now you're working on three different skills—passing, trapping and dribbling."
WITH A PARTNER
"When you have a partner to train with, a whole new world of passing and trapping opens up," Schulz says. He suggests starting with one-touch passes about 10 yards away from your partner. Work on taking a proper two-step approach to the ball and keeping your ankle locked during the pass. Work intensely for one to two minutes. If you're not tired after two minutes, you're not working hard enough.
Following the one-touch interval, move on to two-touch passes, which serve as a rest because they are less intense. For the next one-touch interval, move back to about 15 yards and work on curving the ball. Keep the passes on the ground and focus on striking the outside of the ball with the side of your foot with a solid instep drive.
Next, move 20 yards apart and work on a two-touch pass, making sure the ball goes in the air. Trap your partner's pass to the ground, and then chip the ball into the air toward your partner.
Schulz continues, "After one to two minutes of that, try this one: go back to one-touch, but go ground, ground, air; ground, ground, air. I pass it to you on the ground, you pass it back to me on the ground, I chip it to you in the air, and you do your best to get it back to me on the ground. When it comes to your chest, trap it and play it on the ground to me. That's a great drill for getting under the ball and keeping it on the ground."
To get some killer dribbling moves, you don't need an Olympic coach or a master trainer. You just need a television with a few sports channels.
"If you want to get some good dribbling moves, watch a soccer game on TV for three minutes. You'll see 10 different dribbling moves. Pick two or three you want to work on, emulate and perfect," Schulz says. "Great dribblers don't necessarily have a dozen different moves. Some of the best players only have two or three dribbling moves."
Next time you see Freddy Adu or Landon Donavon playing on the tube, take mental notes on their moves. Pick a few that fit your playing style and abilities, and then get to work. A few solid moves in your arsenal will keep you blasting the competition.
Football is like football
If you think soccer is slow-paced and lacking in intensity, you don't understand the game. Although not a scoring frenzy like other sports popular in the U.S., soccer is filled with quick movements and explosive athletes. "In soccer, when you're on the ball, you have to be very dynamic and explosive, because there are 11 other people who want to take it away from you," Schulz says. "It's like you're John Elway as a quarterback; people want the ball, and they'll kill you for it. Soccer's no different.
"I train athletes to be dynamic and explosive for one minute at a time—that's like running a 440 in track. Afterwards, you're pretty exhausted. When you work extremely hard for a whole minute, you teach fast-twitch muscle fiber to go quick, and you teach muscle memory. After that minute, relax."
Putting his philosophy into practice, Schulz dials the intensity down after a hard minute or two with something simple like juggling the ball for a minute. Once the break is over, it's back to work—hard and intense work.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock