Expert section: Mate Kontra – I’ve played soccer at a very high level all my life. Throughout my time playing, I’ve been coached by ex-pro, D1, and Academy level coaches, currently playing at the MLS-Next level as a wingback in California. What separated me from 99% of my competition at this stage of my soccer career is my work during the off-season. I am here to share how you can do the same, to elevate your game during the offseason.
Before we get into the list, it’s important to learn the basics of getting quality training during the offseason.
There are no two ways about it, it’s all about practice and consistency.
There is no need to sweat blood during every session, but you have to strive to always do your best whether it is juggling for 30 minutes or rigorous practice for several hours.
A good way to know that you gave it all is if you can end the session by telling yourself that there wasn’t a single touch on the ball where you didn’t give it your best.
It is important to note that individual sessions do not have to be as long as team sessions because they are generally more intense.
In team sessions, you have the ball less often and the focus of the game constantly moves from player to player, but in individual sessions, you’re constantly on the ball doing work making these sessions more intense.
For this reason, I recommend that instead of doing a single intense session, do two separate sessions throughout the day.
One with ball work, and one with more focus on the fitness aspect of the game such as agility and explosiveness. Though, still with a ball if you can.
Now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s get into the list of skills that you should practice during the offseason to elevate your game to the next level.
Be sure to check out any links under each section for specific exercises that you can use to practice each skill.
Related Article: How to Improve Your Technical Ability In Soccer | Academy Player Advice
The 6 Essential soccer skills to practice during the offseason
Since during the offseason, it’s difficult to train with an organized team and pickup soccer doesn’t cut it, it’s crucial to focus on the development of individual skill sets that are utilized in a game.
Without these skills, it is challenging to perform well, even if you have exceptional game sense or tactics knowledge.
Practicing individual skills will enhance your game by making you more efficient, and overall help you stand out on the pitch.
Though, it is still critical to play in a team environment, regardless of the level of play, to keep improving your game sense or at the very least maintain it.
#1: First touch
The first touch is easily one of the most important skills to practice because everything else depends on it.
A bad first touch often means losing the ball or sacrificing the play, which ruins your team’s momentum or in the worst case leads to conceding a goal.
On the other hand, a great first touch will set you up for success by helping you speed up the attack and potentially score a goal.
Even in situations such as keeping the ball under pressure, having a good first touch is key to using your time efficiently, so you can find the next pass quickly and keep the ball for your team.
There are two types of ball receptions that you should practice, ground receptions and aerial receptions.
Ground receptions refer to your first touch from a ground pass or ball that is low to the ground.
The most important aspect to focus on for ground receptions is being able to set yourself up for the next play in one touch.
So in other words, having the ability to direct the ball wherever you need it to be for your next move.
This can relate to hitting the ball toward the direction of your next pass, or into space where the opponent player can’t reach, so you can beat them.
In both scenarios, your first touch will speed up the attack which makes it difficult for the opposition to defend you.
Additionally, forwards will have an easier time creating a goal-scoring opportunity with a fast-paced attack as opposed to a slowly developing attack.
Similar to ground receptions, having a great aerial touch can help you use your time more efficiently, speeding up the attack.
As I said in the last segment, a great reception will make plays faster and give you a higher probability of scoring.
A benefit that good aerial receptions have that ground receptions don’t, is that very often defenders will overcommit when taking your touch because aerial receptions are more difficult to perform.
This opens up space around them which helps you make a one-touch pass, or use their momentum against them and get past them with one touch.
The last aspect that needs to be emphasized about ball receptions is that they are essentially the foundation for almost everything that you can do in a match.
Whether that is passing the ball, setting up for a shot, or beating a defender, the first touch always plays a role in preparing you for the next move.
It is simple, yet one of the core skills that can help you stand out on the pitch.
Since soccer is a team sport, passing is also one of the most important skills that you have to master to be a great player.
For example, even fine details such as passing to the wrong foot of your teammate can kill a play because extra touches take too much time.
The goal is to have the ability to accurately pass the ball with the correct technique in any given situation, with either foot.
There are 4 types of passes that you should practice; inside of the foot, low driven, ping, and crosses.
Inside of the foot passes
The most common passes in soccer are done with the inside of the foot.
Short passes, even medium-range passes, and playing from the spot (from a standstill) are the most effective when performed with the inside of the foot.
Mastering ground passes with the inside of the foot should be your first goal because you will use this technique the most.
Typically, they’re used for passing out of small spaces or to cycle the ball around, because they take the least time, and are the easiest to execute.
Additionally, short and medium-range passes are a key aspect of maintaining possession so mastering the use of the inside of the foot is completely non-negotiable if you strive to be a great player.
Low Driven Pass
Low driven passes are performed with the laces of the foot, by hitting the ball in the center and skimming it across the ground to another teammate.
These are useful for medium to long-range applications if you have the space to do them.
Mastering this technique will make you an efficient player because these passes travel faster than passes performed with the inside of the foot.
Opponents will have less time to make adjustments in their positioning since by the time they reorganize the ball will already reach its target.
So performing this pass successfully will give you a high probability of catching the opponents out of position, and potentially giving you a goal-scoring opportunity.
During the season it’s difficult to get strength work in because it sacrifices performance in practices and games.
It can cause muscle strains, and drastically increase your chances of picking up an injury.
So the perfect time to focus on strength is the offseason because there is less risk involved.
Importance of Strength Training
Strength is often overlooked by soccer players, but it is something that every single professional player trains.
Even the fast wingers who look slim and nimble, are only able to keep the ball because they are strong enough to stay with the ball while being pushed around by powerful defenders.
As a defender, it is much more difficult to handle a strong attacker that can stay on their feet compared to someone that I can defend with just my shoulder.
As for strength training, my academy team was coached to complete a mix of resistance training, including some weight training, calisthenics, and plyometrics.
Weight training was cycled between high volume with lighter weight and low volume with heavier weight for squats and deadlifts.
Calisthenics was more focused on the upper body than the lower body, with several pullup variations, and a bunch of pushup variations.
The only calisthenics exercise for the lower body was nordic curls, to strengthen the hamstring.
Our workouts put a heavy emphasis on the core as well, with exercises such as leg holds (while laying down), Russian twists, sit-ups, and leg raises on a pullup bar.
As for plyometrics, our exercises were too complex to list out, so here are a few things that we focused on during our workouts, that you can apply when constructing your plyometric workout.
Include a lot of lateral movements, not just vertical, because, with so many direction changes, it’s important to be able to generate power in all directions.
Footwork is an element of soccer that can be tested at any given time, on and off the ball.
This is because footwork trains coordination in your movement and balance, which are used in every situation in soccer.
To have exceptional footwork, it is essential to incorporate footwork practice into every session.
And there is no need to worry because footwork is by far the easiest skill that you can implement into your sessions.
Footwork is the easiest to implement in practice sessions, as it can be as simple as 5-10 minutes on a ladder, or more serious exercises with cones.
Since being an explosive player is crucial in soccer, I highly recommend completing both footwork and plyometric exercises in the off-season practices because they complement each other very well.
Plyometric work increases the amount of power you can generate through your legs, and having great coordination and balance helps you translate that power into the ground efficiently.
So training these two skills will make you an extremely fast and explosive player.
#5: Ball control
Completing ball work exercises is another great way that you can set yourself apart from your competition during the off-season.
Since having organized team practices can be difficult during this time, it’s crucial to focus on improving individual ball skills during this time.
Specifically, practicing ball control skills will enhance your game once the season starts because you will be more efficient with the ball, leading you to make quicker decisions.
These exercises can range anywhere from simple ball mastery to complex dribbling exercises that can teach you a wider variety of dribbling skill sets.
I recommend first practicing turns with the ball because more often than not you will need to turn toward open space before making a pass.
Remember, always open your hips in the direction of your turn to make it quicker and easier.
Also, every situation is different in soccer, so it is crucial to master control of the ball at different running speeds, especially for players who dribble often.
The goal is to perform regardless of the scenario, so you should be good at both sprinting and jogging with the ball under control.
Conditioning during the off-season is typically forgotten because there aren’t any games going on that would make fitness necessary.
However, you should keep your body conditioned (moderately fit) during the off-season because it will allow you to have better & more quality training sessions.
Essentially, your body will not get fatigued, which will allow you to keep yourself composed throughout the entire session.
Similarly to being fit to play a full 90-minute match, you should be fit enough to finish a training session without taking sloppy touches.
Another great benefit that you should consider is that if you keep yourself conditioned, you can get to match fitness very quickly.
This means if you get a chance to attend a soccer camp or showcase, you can get to match fitness swiftly.
The off-season is a crucial part of soccer development, and it is something that every player should take advantage of if they want to make it to the next level.
The first skill you should focus on mastering during the off-season is your first touch, as it is an integral part of every move that you make on the ball during a game. It can set you up for success, or failure.
The next skill you should master is passing. Soccer is a team sport that requires the ability to pass the ball to one another, and being able to do it perfectly every time can set you apart from your competition.
Strength training should not be underestimated because, with proper strength work, you will bully your opponents while defending and even while attacking.
Footwork improves balance and coordination which are integral parts of being an explosive player, so it’s extremely complementary to strength work such as plyometrics.
Ball control is a major aspect of soccer that should be practiced during the off-season because it’s difficult to be part of an organized team environment, so individual skill sets such as ball control should be trained.
Last but not least, conditioning is something that is often forgotten during the off-season since there are no games, however, they can provide a huge advantage by making your practice sessions a lot more effective.
Image Attribution & Licensing
Featured Image: ‘Soccer Training Cones’ by rawf8 (Licensed via EnvatoElements)
#1: ‘Female Player Practicing Soccer’ by YuriArcursPeopleImages (Licensed via Envato)
#2: ‘Practicing Under the Hot Sun’ by Colin Lloyd (Licensed via Unsplash)
#3: ‘Soccer Player First Touch & Juggle’ by Jeffrey F Lin (Licensed via Unsplash)
#4: ‘Soccer Players Passing The Ball’ by Wavebearkmedia (Licensed via EnvatoElements)
#5: ‘Weightlifting For Strength’ by Pressmaster (Licensed via EnvatoElements)
#6: ‘Female Soccer Players Training’ by Image-Source (Licensed via EnvatoElements)
#7: ‘Futsal Player With Great Ball Control’ by Jonas Augustin (Licensed via Unsplash)
#8: ‘Running on an Empty Road’ by Jakob Owens (Licensed via Unsplash)