Ball and Technical Mastery – An Introduction
Author: Sacha Syed
On The Ball
Take a moment to think of your favourite ever footballers and any other players you currently enjoy watching. There’re lots of reasons players become favourites or enjoyable – what are your choices of your favourite players and what is it that makes them enjoyable to watch?
I imagine that most, if not all of the choices are excellent with the ball in some way. Maybe they’re great dribblers, or fantastic passers, or dominant in heading or maybe they make fantastic saves, perhaps even a combination of one of more of these. The best players are able to execute difficult and creative techniques, under pressure, at speed and they do it consistently. The ability to do this is usually the result of many different attributes coming together, developed and refined over a long period.
Every sport and martial art has a technical element to it. This article provides an introductory overview on ball mastery with the ideas below to be explored in more detail in future articles.
We can broadly break down elements of sports and martial arts into 4 areas: technical, tactical, physical and psychological/social. The technical element in football is more commonly known as ball mastery, being proficient in it is critical for players to reach top levels, but it is a fundamental component at any level. It’s easy to understate the relevance of technical competence, but as Paul McGuiness, former Man Utd u18s coach, said again recently “what is tactically feasible must be technically possible”, or to put it another way – coaches can only employ tactics that their players can technically undertake.
To express this in more stark terms, the great developer of players Arsene Wenger famously said “The basis of the player is the technique, and you get that between seven and 14 years of age. If you have no technical skill at 14, you will never be a football player.” If technical competence is fundamental to being a top level player are there optimal ways to develop it and are there specific criteria which would constitute it? Unsurprisingly there are differences of opinion and therefore differences of approach to how it’s instituted. Approaches tend to revolve around whether practices should be opposed, unopposed or game based, but within these there are even more differences – should games be structured or free, should they be amongst the same or different age groups, or even played with similar sized players. The variety of thought reflects different ideas on how and when development takes place, but not whether technical development is important.
What about criteria of what constitutes technical excellence? Consider two players, maybe from your list of favourites, one is brilliant dribbler but concedes possession more easily than his team mates. The second player completes a high proportion of all his passes including difficult ones, but isn’t very good at going past opponents. Dribbling and passing are very different skills and yet both these players would be able to find a position in a football team that suits their abilities and hence we need to consider the types of players the game needs and in turn what skills those players need. We tend to favour players that create and score goals, but teams need players with skills other than these, so what we include in technical detail is also important. A player that plays centre back who is very good at dribbling but poor at heading is probably playing in the wrong position, heading might not be a glamorous technique but remains vital.
We should also consider that technical competence, or even technically exceptionality, is not a guarantee of becoming a top level player, there’s no guarantee of this because neither human development or football can be blueprinted. What good technical development affords is one of the fundamental bases on the journey to being a great player and to maybe becoming someone’s favourite.
In the upcoming articles, these will be explored further and hopefully more light shed on how we as coaches can create technical excellent, be it by design or freedom within the design.