Whatever passing and shooting exercise you use, for every coach it is important to guide or improve the technical execution. The pass with the inside of the foot, the pass with the outside of the foot and the instep pass are, of course, the most used passing and shooting techniques. There is also the heel pass, but there are not many trainers who will use their training time on that type. Besides that, you can vary the speed of the ball, the direction of the ball and you can also pass the ball through the air. Firstly, we look at the different forms of shooting technique and the most important coaching points within that. After that, we will look at the different types of resistance and condition you can implement in this exercise.
In general you can say that the pass with the inside of the foot is the most common in football. Especially in youth football, because the instep pass is quite difficult at this level. But is it also commonly used at the higher levels, because it is a clean pass and suitable for passing across shorter distances?
So if you and your team choose the short build up from the back, you will have to perfect the inside foot pass. At youth level, you still look at the technical elements, like opening the foot accurately, kicking the ball in the middle, keeping the body bent over the ball and using the arms for balance. Whilst, at the senior level, it is more about the speed and the direction of the ball?
Are those technical or tactical elements? I am inclined to say that they are tactical elements, because of the several tactical elements involved, such as positioning, the pressure from the opponents and the objective of the pass; to play an important role in the correct execution. So you cannot say that every ball must be passed as hard as possible, or that a striker that opens up with a defender in his back, must be reached with a much more sensitive pass. He already moves towards the ball and will therefore prefer a softer pass. Also the defender must than cover bigger distances (to the striker), so the space increases for the striker or other players. So it is more complex than just passing the ball as hard as possible.
The difference within different shooting techniques involves several aspects, namely; which part do I hit the ball, which part of my foot hits the ball and how is the position of the rest of my body, especially my upper body and arms? It is important to note that everybody is different, which means that passing and shooting is also something personal. Because Ronald Koeman has small feet, he can hit the ball beautifully with the instep in the sweetspot of the ball, whereby he places his foot straight against the ball. You can imagine though, that a player with larger feet must slant his foot slightly, because he will otherwise risk shooting into the ground. And we all know how that feels!
You can hit the ball in different places. But in general if you want to keep the ball low, you have to hit it through the centre. If you want to kick the ball through the air, you have to hit the ball slightly below the centre, and if you want to play the ball with effect, you have to hit it slightly on one side. A great example is Roberto Carlos’ free kick, as he kicks the ball with the outside of the
instep and slightly on the side of the ball and consequently was able to surprise many goalkeepers with his infamous swervers.
Besides the different places to hit the ball, you can also use different parts of the foot to kick the ball; inside and outside of the foot, instep, and, of course, the inside instep or the outside instep. All these forms of passing and shooting demand a lot of practice to perfect them. You as a coach must always ask yourself what is important. If you are limited in your training time, you must ask yourself how much time you must spend on training without resistance or conditions, the direction and finishing. The more training time there is available, the more time you have to perfect the passing and shooting technique. These techniques can also be coached by the players in small groups outside the regular training sessions.
An area which is often overlooked is the correct use and posture of the body when passing and shooting. For example, the position of the standing foot is very relevant for a good execution of a pass or a shot, and is different for various techniques. If you want to keep the ball low, the body must be positioned over the ball, and the standing foot must not be too far behind the ball. In general the foot must be positioned at about the same height as the ball and if you want to play the ball through the air, the standing foot should be a bit more behind the ball. This way it is easier to hit the ball a bit lower, which is required to play the ball through the air. If the standing foot is placed too far forward, it is very difficult to gain power and lift, in this case you will hit the ball too soon and will have not reached maximum speed. That is how so many shooting chances (in and around the penalty area) are wasted.
Another important area of attention is the direction of the standing foot. The standing foot should point in the direction you want to pass or kick the ball. At the highest level there are of course players who can camouflage this really well and are able to trick the opponent in this way.
Finally, I emphasize the importance of using the arms for good balance. Just like with walking or running, your arms swing along in the opposite direction, but often you see that with shooting that the arm swing is not totally completed, whereby the player is offbalance. Or you see one arm swinging along in the right direction, but the other in the wrong direction; that will have an effect on the execution of the shot or pass. So passing and shooting requires a lot of technique and it is crucial to pay the necessary attention to perfecting these techniques. When a player trains often, these things will become automatic and you can start to perfect the execution, but bear in mind that the player’s physique plays an important part in this and may not be forgotten.
In passing and shooting exercises, you as a coach can also implement different resistances and conditions, whereby the exercises become more realistic to the game situation.
By including a finish at the end of an exercise (on a goal with a goalkeeper or by dribbling across a line after a 1v1), the technical aspects have more meaning. For the players, it means that the ball must be passed in such a way that your teammate can easily give the next pass, or that receiving the ball is aimed to finish on goal, or to get into the 1v1. You can also make the exercise more demanding by setting a maximum number of touches, as this puts emphasis on their first touch, which has effect on their next touch, and so on. Another important condition is, of course, to play with one or more defenders, which can be done by letting a defender cover the ball line, so the ball speed must be fast, so the defender cannot (so easily) intercept the ball. The player who receives the ball, must adopt a position to receive it, before deciding what to do next; run off the ball, away from the defender.
As mentioned earlier you can also put a defender behind an attacker, so the attacker must become open to receive the ball. The timing of the run off the ball and the ball speed are two important coaching points. If as an attacker you run too soon, there is a big chance that the defender will close in when you receive the ball. If you run too late, a good defender will be able to intercept the pass. These exercises are therefore a great way to train the timing of a run off the ball.
Passing and shooting are also excellent exercises to improve the communication; not verbally, but by looking closely at the pass of your teammate you can influence on the speed of the game play, as a possible advantage.
You could decide to pass directly in some positions, or to touch the ball twice to improve receiving the ball, but it is even more effective if the players have to make that decision for themselves. When the ball is on his way from player A to player B, player C must already decide if player B is able to pass the ball to him(subsequently),or if the player B must control it before passing it to him. Player C must be able to estimate whether the pass is good enough for player B to pass it to him in one touch or not. If you are able to estimate that correctly you will almost always make the right choice when timing your run off the ball.
This is probably the most difficult aspect in football, especially if there are defenders in between who are pressuring the ball. But on the highest level, it is this aspect that decides if a team can easily pass the ball around or not, and that football actually looks very simple. Look at Barcelona or Ajax under Louis van Gaal.
Progressing from easy to difficult
It is not recommended to challenge players as beginners with a lot of resistances and conditions. Like with all techniques this must also be improved step by step, and more and more tactics and technical detail are progressively added. These aspects should also be monitored in matches. Which pass is used most often by the players and what is their shooting strength at any given age? Of course you have to adjust your exercises to that. Where are your players positioned and how do you want your strikers to be reached? However, you must be aware of the fact when you are playing a match there is an opponent, and they are positioned in between your players. The opponent will try to interfere with your play.
There are a lot of passing and shooting exercises to consider, and it could be useful to look at your own style of play to decide what is right for you and your team.