Expert section: Mate Kontra – I’ve played soccer at a very high level all my life. I’ve been coached by ex-pro, D1, and Academy level coaches, currently playing at the MLS-Next level as a wingback in California. Today, I will explain why you should include cone exercises in your soccer training.
One of the most controversial topics in soccer is whether or not training with cones is effective.
Many misconceptions say that cone exercises are “harmful” to players’ development when that’s not even close to the truth.
The rationale for proving that cones are harmful is that opponents in an actual match will actively try to take the ball away and not let you dribble past them.
Essentially, players in a match will try to take the ball, while cones will not.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that cones are an ineffective way to practice.
Players should incorporate exercises with cones, or other obstacles, into their soccer training because it provides a platform to build good habits and learn new techniques. While a team environment helps players train their instincts, decision-making, and communication skills, cones offer a way to master core skills with the ball.
It may be obvious to some players that using cones can be beneficial, but how can they effectively train using them?
For players new to soccer, this question may seem very complicated at first, but it’s alright because that’s how everyone starts something new.
In the next section, we discuss how to effectively use cones in soccer training exercises so you’re ready the next time you step onto the pitch.
Related article: What Types of Cones are Effective for Soccer Training?
How to Practice With Cones Effectively?
Similarly to weight lifting or running, there is a right and wrong way of incorporating cone exercises into soccer training.
So how do you do it correctly?
To effectively incorporate cones into soccer training, players should follow the following five principles:
- Train Transferable Skills
- Don’t Overly Rely on Cones
- Training Off-Ball Skills
- Keep the Training Diverse
Let’s get right into it!
#1: Train transferable skills
A critical component for soccer training to be effective, not just when using cones, is to ensure that the skill transfers to a soccer match.
What does that mean?
Transferable skills are the core abilities required of a player to be successful, depending on their position and task.
Passing is an excellent example of a transferable skill because all players use it during a match, so mastering it will help them succeed.
The point is that training transferable skills will create more effective players because it allows them to execute their decisions during games.
Though it’s hard to practice passing with cones, the idea is the same for other skills that players might want to practice.
Think about your position on the field, your job during a game, and what skills you need to succeed.
An example is a rapid change of direction with a ball for midfielders.
Players can arrange cones far apart to dribble around them, performing sharp direction changes and explosive accelerations with the ball at every turn.
#2: Don’t overly rely on cones
Though not relying on cones may sound counterintuitive, it actually helps cones be more effective.
Here is why:
Soccer is a fluid game where the dynamic can shift very quickly.
Players may go from defending to dribbling into open space to playing several wall passes before assisting a teammate in only 30 seconds.
Countless different skills are used in this 30-second timeframe, all of which have to be practiced by players regardless of their training methods.
Cones can only train so much, so it’s important to remember other aspects of training that require different methods than cones to avoid.
Just like with any other training method, only using cones will prioritize specific skills over others, leaving other areas of the game weak.
How do you avoid relying on cones?
The simplest way to avoid relying on cones is to combine them with other exercises.
For example, a midfielder may want to practice dribbling techniques with cones, which neglects their passing skills.
The solution is to combine the dribbling exercise with a passing drill.
Using a wall, a rebounder, or even a curb to pass the ball is a great way to incorporate multiple skills into one exercise.
Another famous example for strikers is combining cone-assisted agility exercises with a finishing drill.
Agility is a critical skill that strikers must be great at to be successful and can effectively train with cones.
However, they must also train their finishing skills to be effective scorers.
So, the solution is to combine the agility exercise with a finishing drill where players put the ball into the corner of the net after a short agility sequence with the ball.
#3: Training off-ball skills
A frequent mistake players make when practicing with cones is only performing exercises involving a ball.
While using a ball makes exercises much more fun, athleticism is crucial to being successful on the pitch.
Because no matter how skilled a player might be, they need to be quick and athletic enough to keep up with their opponents to be effective.
So one of the best ways to have practical training sessions with only cones is to also perform off-ball training.
Agility and plyometrics are great examples of off-ball skills players can train with cones, both of which improve speed and overall athleticism on the pitch.
#4: Keeping it diverse
Keeping skills diverse is also a vital part of effectively training with cones.
The concept is to learn as many different skills as possible to be great at every aspect of the game.
However, this doesn’t just mean learning different types of skills, such as shooting, passing, or dribbling.
It means mastering different techniques of each skill.
Take passing as an example, the most common type of skill performed during a match.
Players don’t just use the inside of their feet to pass the ball on the ground; they also use different techniques, such as driving the ball with their laces.
It’s an entirely different technique with the same purpose; to pass the ball to a teammate.
But because it’s different, opponents are less likely to predict the next decision, which increases the chance of succeeding.
And remember to always practice with both feet!
An obvious but often overlooked aspect of training effectively, regardless of the equipment used, is consistency.
Practicing a specific skill once or twice randomly throughout the week is insufficient to master it.
Occasional practice sessions may be enough to get the hang of the skill, but players who practice this way cannot perform the skill perfectly on command.
Think about this; players who get injured for a significant time and don’t exercise or play the sport during their injury come back “rusty.”
Their performance levels will be worse than previously because they aren’t used to performing the movements.
It’s not any different with taking breaks between training sessions.
The body will not learn the skills well enough to remember how to perform them flawlessly.
So for cone exercises to be effective, players must train consistently.
Though using cones is a controversial method of soccer training in many players’ eyes, it can be pretty effective as long as players do it right.
How can players train correctly using cones?
Players can effectively train with cones using the five following principles:
First is one of the most essential principles, which is training transferable skills.
This principle ensures that the skills a person is training with cones will actually help them during a match.
Essentially, players must first think about the skills they need to succeed during a game and tailor exercises toward those skills during their training session.
Examples include various dribbling techniques for midfielders or agility training with a ball for attackers.
The second, which can sound counterintuitive, is not relying on just cones during training.
Players often make the mistake of overly relying on cones during their training, which contributes to being “one-skilled.”
This is when players train too much of one skill while ignoring the other vital elements of the game.
The easiest solution is to combine cones with other types of exercises.
An example is adding a finishing practice to the end of a dribbling sequence designed for strikers.
The third is also to perform off-ball training with cones.
Soccer players often neglect off-ball skills, such as agility or explosiveness, because the increase in performance doesn’t come as they want it to, so they give up.
However, to effectively use ball skills during a match, players must be fast and fit enough to keep up with opponents first.
Countless workouts are available with cones, such as agility or plyometric training, which help players get faster on the pitch.
Fourth is also a crucial part of training with cones; it says to keep the training diverse.
Keeping training diverse means not only practicing different skills but also practicing them in different ways.
This way, players will become well-rounded and effective during a match because the variety of skills in their arsenal helps them adapt to any situation.
For example, practicing dribbling techniques not just with one foot but with the insides and outside of both feet to adapt to defenders forcing them one way or the other.
Necessary skills depend on the position and task of the player during a match.
The fifth and final aspect of training with cones is consistency.
It may sound cliche, but regardless of how often people say it, consistency is one of the most overlooked aspects of training.
To improve at any skill, players must reach a level of consistency where they learn and improve, not just “get the hang of it.”
This may be a difficult task for many, but it all comes down to how much players want to improve.
Image Attribution & Licensing
Featured Image: ‘Female Soccer Player Dribbling Soccer Ball Through Mini Cones’ by Image-Source (Licensed via Envato Elements)
#1: ‘Soccer Player Setting Up Soccer Exercises With Cones’ by Pressmaster (Licensed via Envato Elements)
#2: ‘Female Soccer Player Dribbling Soccer Ball on Grass Field’ by Image-Source (Licensed via Envato Elements)
#3: ‘Female Player Performing Plyometric Training With Hurdles’ by Image-Source (Licensed via Envato Elements)
#4: ‘Female Soccer Players Recovering With Hydration Drinks’ by Image-Source (Licensed via Envato Elements)