Strengthening the Weaker Soccer Players – Article 8

Many young and other soccer players are timid and are afraid of some contact with the opposition. This may be most apparent and occur against some teams or towns where strong aggressive play is more common or even an accepted practice by their coaches. This is easily observed when players are seen slowing down and backing-off when simultaneously a more aggressive opponent is charging towards a "loose ball". This occurs more often with the more timid players yet may also be seen with one's stronger players when the opponent team intimidates them with a more aggressive behavior. Yet, good soccer players are aggressive in a sense that they usually end up with a ball when going up against another player; this does not mean however, fouling the opposition player.

The correct amount of legal aggression can be taught to all players with a certain drill called "The Shoulder Charging Drill". This exercise is not to be thought of as one that teaches illegal soccer-play or exceptional roughness; but one that is within the fair rules of the game. The international source is FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), the 2012/2013 LAWS of THE GAME states:

Law 12, page 113; FOULS AND MISCONDUCT:

Charging an opponent

The act of charging is a challenge for space using physical contact within

playing distance of the ball without using arms or elbows.

It is an offence to charge an opponent :

• in a careless manner

• in a reckless manner

• using excessive force

So within the legal limits of the law, it is permitted to make contact with an opposing player using the shoulder – this can generally mean to make shoulder to shoulder contact. But before I discuss the drill in more detail, I would like to present a little relevant history during my coaching experience with two stories:

Years ago, while organizing the Park Ridge NJ soccer league, I was approached by a middle-aged coach, coaching the house league team of an Under 10 team. It was in the middle of the season and his team had not won a single game. He also said that his players were not very soccer aggressive. So, I decided that I would personally teach his players the shoulder charging drill. For the next two practices I spent about 25 to 30 minutes with the drill, working with each player while doing the drill. About four weeks later, the same coach told me that his team had now won two games. He was happy and so was I. He attributed the wins to the new training exercise.

Years later while managing and coaching a RI Portuguese men's team with players from the Azores, our team lost the first four matches, even though early in each game we were ahead by two to three goals, believe this or not. Our players were highly skillful, yet were not accustomed to any or much contact. They were also accustomed to play against teams with their same approach to the game. However, in this league, the teams were all American teams composed of players from other countries along with home-grown players. The game was different in so far as contact, aggression and intimidation go. Our players yielded to the intimidation as the opposition soon realized that this was the way get the upper hand (maybe the upper foot).

After the fourth game, I took each player aside and worked with them with the shoulder charging drill. One such player stopped in the middle of the drill as he was shocked at my shoulder to shoulder contact; however, shortly thereafter he caught on to the technique. Amazingly the players easily adapted to the realization that they too must show more determination. The results of this training from then on, gave us the edge along with their superior skills and good conditioning. This appropriate aggression helped them to win every game thereafter. Furthermore, our team actually won the championship that season.

Now back to a description of the drill. It is quite simple. The coach throws out a ball in front of two players, each in front of a line as if starting a race. The players are to run after the "loose ball" and shoulder charge each other to win possession of the ball. After one appropriately wins it, the other player must now win the ball. At a distance of about 25 to 30 yards, the players are to reverse direction and continue the drill back towards the starting line. Note this drill is not a race or to show dominance of any particular player. Keep this drill in mind if one's players appear to be timid on the playing field. A more detailed description of the drill may be found in comprehensive soccer books or soccer drill books.

The drill's intention can teach the amount of legal soccer contact (or roughness) to weaker players; however, it also benefits other players. Most young, and other players, are not aware that this is a strategy for gaining control of the ball. It must also be noted that some amateur referees may not be that familiar with legal shoulder contact and may call the contact an offense. But, this is not any reason to instruct players against using this technique: It is fair and within the laws of the game.

Players familiar with the proper use of this technique will be stronger, more confident and more skillful soccer players. A fuller effect will be seen if, along with this drill, good physical conditioning has been maintained; thus, allowing one's players to keep up their strength throughout the full game.