Expert section: Mate Kontra – I’ve played soccer all my life at a very high level consistently. Since I play the fullback position, I’ve had my fair share of defending and attacking so I was able to learn a lot about what skills an effective attacker should possess in soccer. Currently, I play at the MLS-Next level in California.
Forwards in soccer have some of the most demanding jobs on the field, and without their performance, it is nearly impossible to win games.
So you’re an attacker. Your coaches have yelled at you, your teammates have yelled at you, and maybe even your parents have too.
Don’t worry because we’re here to help.
Today we will be going over the core skills that you should learn, as well as how to improve them to up your game to the next level as an attacker.
The 6 Skills Needed to Improve Your Attacking Play in Soccer
These are the following 6 skills that you should practice to improve your attacking game in soccer.
1: Solid First Touch
Having a solid first touch as an attacker is non-negotiable.
The foundation for every responsibility of an attacker in soccer begins with a great first touch that sets them up for success.
For example, when your team is being pressured high up the pitch they will likely choose to play a long ball in the air to their attackers who will have to bring it down.
Additionally, in many cases, attackers will only have time for 1 touch to set up for a shot and if their touch isn’t perfect then the opportunity to score is blundered.
Well if it’s so important, how do I improve it?
It might be cliche, but becoming a master at juggling is the start of getting a good first touch.
Start by just juggling the ball at knee height with alternating feet, then progress into kicking the ball above your head and catching it with your feet as well as your thighs.
When catching the ball, use the inside of your feet as well, focusing on bouncing the ball straight back up at first, and then learning how to cushion it.
Mastering these skills should take you at most a week or two as long as you are consistent with your practice.
Juggling with a ball is essentially wall ball, but without dropping the ball.
For reference, you only need to be 4-6 feet from the wall most of the time, but you can go closer or farther if you want to give yourself a challenge.
At first, I would recommend letting the ball take a bounce before you catch it and kick it at the wall again, just to get used to the ball going at you from the front and not above you.
Then I would transition into kicking the ball firmly at the wall and catching it without a bounce in the best way that I can.
For most people, this is the most they need, however, I recommend practicing other variations where you only use your laces or the insides of your feet to learn how to catch the ball in even the most awkward scenarios.
This will be very frustrating, especially when transitioning from one bounce to no bounce, but I can tell you from personal experience, this is the most beneficial exercise that I have ever mastered because it translated perfectly into game scenarios.
2: Physical Strength
Physical Strength is one of the most overlooked traits that effective attackers pretty much always have.
Nowadays it is very rare that opposing defenders aren’t big and muscular, so physical strength plays a huge role for attackers in being able to keep the ball for their team.
A very common excuse, especially among fast and skillful players is that they don’t want to become heavy because then they will be slow.
But realistically, while regularly attending training sessions it is very unlikely that you can put on so much mass that it impacts your play.
But if anything, it will just make it easier for them to win headers and muscle defenders off in high-pressure situations.
Not only that but there is a reason that the fastest sprinters in the world are muscular upper bodies, and that is because it also plays a huge role in being able to maintain proper running form as well as having a high top speed.
How to improve physical strength for soccer?
At the MLS-Next level to improve physical strength we mostly did some sort of resistance or weight training for our entire body.
We focused a lot on explosive movements such as trap bar deadlifts and squats for the lower body.
For the upper body, we targeted the core a lot with several types of sit-ups with weights, and countless amount of pushups.
We were also encouraged to do weight training on our own as well, which I did, and over the season I could really notice the strength increase both when I was attacking as well as defending.
3: Fast & Explosive
Being a fast and explosive player is crucial in the modern game.
It is very important to be fast and explosive because that is the only way to get away from the defenders and score.
It is part of taking on defenders 1v1 or separating yourself from your marker during an off-ball run.
The absolute best way to create yourself and your team space in a tight situation is by being fast and getting to your destination before the opposing defender does.
If these things are difficult, then it is also difficult to score because you will constantly have to worry about a defender and will never have any space to work with.
How to get faster and more explosive? – How I was coached
There are 2 main parts to being fast and explosive in soccer; being agile and being able to generate power into the ground.
A large part of being a fast and explosive player is being able to change directions quickly, in other words being agile.
The way I was coached to train this at the MLS-Next level was mostly with exercises in which changing directions as quickly as possible was the goal.
Setting up a cone-to-cone running exercise will help you train how to slow down and change directions quickly.
Generating power into the ground is also a crucial part of being fast and explosive because the more power you can generate, the quicker you can get up to speed and leave your opponents behind.
Our strength and conditioning coach helped us increase our power output by doing short burst sprints.
These were ranging from short 10-yard bursts to very intense 30-yard sprints with up to a minute rest, depending on the length of the sprint.
Uphill sprints were also introduced into the mix when the weather was appropriate.
Individually, I focused on doing strength work for my leg muscles so that I can build more muscle that puts power through my legs into the ground.
My workouts consisted of a mix of the following exercises:
- Nordic Curls to failure (hamstrings)
- Full-depth barbell squats (Glutes & Quadriceps)
- Barbell half squats – higher weight (Glutes & Quadriceps)
- Dumbbell Calf Raises/Single leg calf raises (Calves)
Additionally, for endurance I always used a stationary bike for 5-6 miles at 200-250 watts or power on average, depending on how fatigued I already was from my workout.
The stationary bike is an absolute torture, and I worked up to the 200+ watt output for 1-2 months during the Summer, so don’t be worried if you aren’t able to do it the first time.
4: Dribbling skills
Having exceptional dribbling skills as an attacker provides you and your team with 3 great advantages.
Helps keep possession
Arguably, the most important purpose that attackers need to have great dribbling skills is keeping the ball for their team.
Being a good dribbler makes it very difficult for defenders to take away the ball from you, allowing you to keep possession until an opportunity presents itself, or until you can recycle the ball.
Having Close Control
Having close control of the ball makes attackers unpredictable, which means that defenders won’t be able to anticipate what attackers will do next.
This generally spares attackers more options to choose from in terms of what to do next, as well as more time to make a decision.
Not only that but keeping the ball close to your feet also makes you a threat in 1v1 situations.
It makes baiting the defender into a tackle much easier which helps you pass defenders with ease.
In the complete opposite situation, when there isn’t much time to think and not a lot of space to work with, having great dribbling skills still comes in handy.
Exceptional dribbling skills give you the ability to move defenders in any way you want, which helps you create more passing angles for yourself and your team, making it much easier to create an opportunity to score.
How to get better at dribbling?
There are two really good ways to get good at dribbling.
The first way is with the use of cones.
I would recommend a mix of ball mastery drills, with creativity drills where you just randomly throw down a bunch of cones and solve your way out of it a bunch of times differently.
This is very useful when you don’t have anyone to train with because it first of all improves your ball control and second, your reflexes which translate to real-life scenarios well.
The second way is pickup soccer.
There is no better way to practice than playing a live game with no stakes because it encourages creativity and helps you practice in live situations without anything on the line.
To further enhance your dribbling skills, please check out our article on the most effective skill moves to learn in soccer.
In the realm of attackers, there are no great players who can’t finish the play by putting the ball into the back of the net.
As a start, there are 3 types of finishes that I recommend you practice.
The Finesse shot works with a specific technique that is used while shooting to whip the ball around the goalkeeper (curving shot).
This is a very good shooting technique when your hip isn’t facing toward the opposing team’s goal, and you are inside, or close to the 18-yard box.
I recommend using the finesse shot when the opponent goalkeeper is slightly off their line, or offset to one side of the goal because both the said scenarios make it easier for you to bend the ball around them, into the net.
This technique can be done by shooting the ball with the front part of the inside of the foot, and wrapping the foot around the ball as it leaves the ground.
Driven shots are more-so power shots than anything else.
These can be off the ground or on the ground, but the most effective is the low-driven shot.
The ball generally travels at a higher speed when it is shot with the laces (a driven shot), and because it is already hard for keepers to get down on the ground to save low shots, a low-driven shot makes their job much more difficult.
I recommend using this from the top of the 18-yard box, or inside the 18-yard box because driven shots travel in a straight line, which means they travel in a much more predictable manner than a finesse shot.
Inside of the foot placement
Placing the ball with the inside of the foot creates much more accurate, but weaker shots than finesse or driven shots.
For this reason, attackers tend to place the ball from inside the 18-yard box.
How to get better at shooting?
Practicing shots takes a lot of time because most of it is spent gathering the balls after they were all shot at the goal.
To save time and make my sessions more efficient, I usually did some type of passing combination with a friend, or a dribbling sequence before shooting the ball.
The only thing I want to mention is to practice with both feet and try to practice from all realistic angles and distances so that your practice translates to real-life scenarios.
Passing is a skill that should be mastered regardless of position or play style because it is the most foundational skill that exists in soccer.
The two most important passing skills for attackers are short passes and crosses.
Attackers tend to make a lot of short passes in small passing combinations to advance the play forward after they received the ball.
It is really important to master short passes because in the attacking phase, forwards have very little time to work with and any little mistake can lead to the attack breaking down.
The other passing skill that is an integral part of any attacker’s arsenal is crossing.
One of the most effective ways teams can score goals is by putting an accurate cross into the box for an easy one-touch finish.
It is not an accident that in all levels of soccer scoring from corners and crosses is so common.
How to get better at Short Passes & Crosses?
The best way to practice short passes is with a friend or pretty much any type of wall that you can find.
Focus on hitting the ball in the middle, skimming it right over the surface you are practicing on.
If the ball takes a bounce as you hit it, try to hit the ball at a lower point.
If the ball goes up in the air right as you hit it, try to hit the ball at a higher point.
For practicing crosses, I would say just practice curving the ball accurately.
You can practice by “shooting” the ball into a net or using a wall, but the point is to try to consistently hit whatever you are aiming at, so you can replicate it in a game.
The best advice I can give you to improve your attacking game in soccer is just to go out there and play.
There isn’t a single piece of equipment designed for practice that will improve your soccer skills more than simply playing and enjoying the game because playing live with other people will put you in real scenarios with real responses to everything you do.
Then again, practicing on your own time individually is something that you can and should do to put yourself ahead of the curve.
Having a great first touch is one of the most simple ways you can separate yourself from your competition which can be practiced anywhere with simple juggling or alternatively with a wall.
Physical Strength is another aspect of an attacker’s game that can be improved, simply by following a strength work routine, which can be done with weights, body weight, or if you’re creative, even with resistance bands.
Being fast and explosive on the pitch is crucial for attackers in the modern game because defenders nowadays and extremely fast and strong, so to create space, separation, and scoring opportunities, being fast and explosive is key.
Dribbling skills are something that can take you out of tight spaces and even create a scoring opportunity out of nothing by simply moving defenders around and opening spaces.
Great shooting technique is essential for an attacker because if the play can’t be finished in the back of the net, no matter what you do, or how many times you outplay your opponent, you will never be a single step ahead of the competition.
Last but not least, short passes and crosses are a must-have for attackers because they are two of the most common tools that tear apart any defense in front of the goal.
Now you have all of the information you need to get ahead of your competition, will you be the one that takes action?
Image Attribution & Licensing
Featured Image: ‘Soccer Player Showing Off Volley Skills’ by LightFieldStudios (Licensed via Unsplash)
#1: ‘Soccer Player Ready to Practice’ by Connor Coyne (Licensed via Unsplash)
#2: ‘Soccer Player Juggling Skills’ by Jeffrey F Lin (Licensed via Unsplash)
#3: ‘Soccer Player Strength Work’ by Nigel Msipa (Licensed via Unsplash)
#4: ‘Explosiveness Training For Soccer’ by Sam Sabourin (Licensed via Unsplash)
#5: ‘Soccer Player Dribbles Past Opponent’ by Janosch Diggelmann (Licensed via Unsplash)
#6: ‘Soccer Player Shooting The Ball’ by Omar Ram (Licensed via Unsplash)
#7: ‘Soccer Player Crossing The Ball’ by Waldemar (Licensed via Unsplash)