Play with and against experienced players

To become a better player, you should play with and against players that are more experienced than you. By playing at a higher level of competition, you can educate yourself on your strengths, and more importantly, your weaknesses. This is the best way to build upon mental, physical, technical, and tactical skills.

When I was younger, I always played an age group higher. For example, when I was Under 14, I was actually playing Under 16. When I was Under 16, I was actually playing Under 18. This was a real challenge but I truly believe it helped me advance my skills by playing against players who were bigger, stronger, and more experienced.

Things to watch closely when playing with and against experienced players are:

First Touch
Inexperienced players tend to turn over possession of the ball due to such things as a lack of control or a bad decision in which direction to progress the ball. Experienced players will make his/her first touch in a direction that provides advantage. For example, knowing that an opponent is right on his/her back, an experienced player receiving a pass will touch the ball away from danger and remain in control.

Inexperienced players tend to make a pass directly to the feet of a teammate. Experienced players will make a pass that leads the teammate in a favorable direction. For example, seeing that a teammate is running forward towards goal, an experienced player will pass the ball in front of the teammate so he/she can run onto it.

Inexperienced players tend to shoot at the wrong time. Experienced players know when to shoot based on the play at hand. Just because the net is in front of you, it may not be the right time to shoot! There could be an opponent in front of you or running along side you. The angle you’re approaching the net may not allow for an accurate shot. Instead, there may be a teammate who has a better opportunity at shooting if you make a pass.

Inexperienced players tend to run after the ball, which eventually leads to fatigue. Experienced players let the ball do the running. Instead of playing kick and run, meaning you kick the ball forward and then try and run after it, it is better to remain in control of the ball by making smart passes and making runs only when the play calls for it.

Inexperienced players tend to try too much to get by an opponent and end up losing possession. Soccer is a simple game and players tend to forget that simple plays work just as well as “cool” looking ones. Experienced players know when to use a move or take on an opponent one on one. It’s better to know when to perform a move and not so much how to.

Reading the play is very important in the game of soccer. Inexperienced players tend to make bad decisions under pressure or at crucial times in the game because they forget to think. Experienced players already have the next play in mind or anticipate the next play before ever receiving the ball. For example, kicking the ball out of bounds when being pressured is better than trying to turn toward an opponent and providing them an opportunity to gain possession of the ball.

    If you have any advice for players looking to strengthen their games, please feel free to leave a comment!