I should probably start by saying I'm not a particularly sporty person, I did as little as possible whilst growing up, but in the last 7 years or so (and in my past two jobs) I've been playing 5-a-side football a couple of times a week. I started off terribly, and yes, I'm still pretty terrible.

The people I play with are supportive, but I feel like I need to take a step back and entirely re-think the way I play. My biggest problem is a complete lack of composure on the ball, if I'm under any sort of pressure in defence I usually lose it, if I'm under pressure in attack I either lose it or just blast it towards the goal

One other thing I struggle with is that regardless of whether I'm shooting or passing, I either do a toe-punt or a Quaresma-esque hit of the ball with the outside of my boot. I really struggle to get any sort of control or power using the inside of my foot.

What's frustrating is when I'm watching football a lot of people have commented on how good my understanding of it is, often seeing things that other people don't - but when I'm thrown into a situation where I'm actually on the pitch my footballing intelligence is precisely zero as I constantly panic and give away the ball.

Any tips on how to improve my game would be much appreciated.

  • 1
    Like you said, the main thing probably is to remove the panic factor. That should go a long way in improving your play on the pitch. Keep calm and pass/shoot the ball. That being said, would leave it to the more experienced footballers out here to give a proper and more valuable suggestion. Jan 8, 2013 at 12:53
  • I liked the honesty in this post. As it's been already more than 4 years since you asked for help, I'm wondering if the provided answers helped you and whether you improved your play or not.
    – gdrt
    Apr 21, 2017 at 16:19
  • Thank you! Sorry for the late reply but yes absolutely the replies have been very helpful :) It can be difficult to monitor your own progress I guess (in my head, I haven't really improved) but others are always saying the opposite. I try to be more confident which was a big thing for me. My technique is bad, partly down to a dodgy knee, but I've learnt to sort of just embrace that now :)
    – Nick
    Jun 2, 2017 at 11:25

3 Answers 3


Wow, where do I begin...? :)

First off, I would recommend anyone to identify in which facets of the game you are lacking (which you have done more or less). I think the biggest factor in improving yourself (no matter if it's football or public speaking or anything else) is to be objectively critical of yourself.

You have pointed out two important aspects of the game, namely technique and mental composure in the game (lets put aside the physical composure for a second). These are two very different aspects, which require different approaches to improve. What's common between them is practice. The more you play the more accustomed to playing you will get. This doesn't mean that you will automatically get better at playing, but you will undoubtedly feel more comfortable on the pitch. That aside, let's take a look at it one thing at a time:

The technique: this is obviously the hard bit. Shooting, dribbling, heading, accurate passing/crossing are all very dependent on good technique. Technique on the other hand is built on being proficient in the fundamentals, like which side of the foot you should use in order to send the ball to different directions.

Another good example is how you control the ball when it comes at you rolling or flying. You might have seen some players get really high/fast balls without a bounce, that for instance requires good skill and control, typically sign of a player who's got the fundamentals down. As @gbianchi has pointed out, this type of fundamental skills are much easier to learn at younger age, then it'll just sit in the backbone.

That said, how can you improve? I cannot give you an exhaustive list but here are a couple tips:

  • A good shot always starts with a good composure, if you are off-balance or haven't placed your support leg at the right position, your shot will ultimately be a wasted effort.

  • practice with using different parts of your shooting foot (inside, tip, outside, heel...) in front of a wall. Just to see how the ball reacts to your shot/pass. Likewise the point of contact with the ball is also very important. You need to get a feel for how the ball will react to different kinds of contact with your foot.

  • to increase your composure on the ball, ask a friend to help you out with the following drill: put one foot on the ball (the one you feel most comfortable with). Then ask your friend to try to get to the ball, while you just move the ball away from him, using your own body between the ball and your "opponent" (check this video out)

The mental composure: This bit could be easier than improving your technique, since it's entirely in your head and have almost nothing to do with your body.

First off, as I said the more you play the more comfortable you will be with the ball. Most important thing you need to learn/figure out is to not be afraid of the ball. I cannot stress this enough. Even professionals end up being afraid of the ball at times, avoiding the ball and responsibility that comes with it.

Avoiding the ball is a terrible thing in two ways; 1) it will seriously hinder your improvement 2) it will leave your teammates in tough spots at times. There is no such thing as keeping a low profile in this type of team sports (especially in 5-a-side), you should always be available to take a pass from a teammate.

Once you have established that getting the ball is not a thing to be scared off, you should concentrate on reminding yourself that making a mistake is not the end of the world. This is very crucial to understand that mistakes are part of the game, and as it happens there is only one thing you should focus on, making amends. You lost the ball by a bad pass/unnecessary dribble? Win it back! Cleared the ball towards an attacker? Cover the shot! Team sports are all about taking responsibility, once you take responsibility for your mistakes your self-confidence will improve as well as your teammates opinion of you.

All that said, here are a couple of tips to reduce your stress while playing defense:

  • Last man in defense? Don't go dribbling; last man plays safe: ALWAYS!

  • Unless you are extremely fast in your reaction times, don't rush the incoming attacker. Back up slowly covering the zone and the shot. Attackers (especially those who are skilled in dribbling) will almost always try and trick you into committing to a false move, and go the other way.

  • When outnumbered your action kinda depends on how good your goalie is. If the goalie is confident against long shots (i.e. has good reflexes), cover the run and the pass. Otherwise cover the shot.

Game intelligence: probably the hardest thing to improve. It's easy to "read" the game, sitting in a sofa at home, seeing the tele-cam cover half of the field from above. It takes much practice and honestly a bit of talent to be able to read the game properly while playing (please note that I do not claim to have the talent myself :))

I almost exclusively play defense in futsal (indoor 5-aside) and I think it definitely helps with game intelligence. You learn to observe how others play. Paying attention to tendencies in different players' game is a great asset for a defender/midfielder. Oh, and don't just watch the ball, as a defender you should always know where your opponent is. "Is he still where he was last I checked, or is he taking a diagonal run?"

When playing as a more attacking role; keep in mind that you don't need to do something elaborate to be effective. I personally never felt particularly comfortable with dribbling, instead I prefer short quick passes, 1-2 plays as well as through passes to a teammate, or taking a deep run to outflank the defense.


Practice is king! Play more: practice what you are bad at before/after a game, stick to what you are good at during the game. Take initiative, talk to your teammates/friends on your progress. Most of all, make sure you have fun when you play. If you treat it very seriously you'll probably get too nervous. It's supposed to be fun, right? ;)

  • This is fantastic, thank you so much! I'm certainly going to start taking more responsibility and try to fix my mistakes (people always comment on how I unnecessarily apologise a lot) and try not to shy away from the ball in future - to ensure I give my team mates an option like you said. I'll continue to practice and generally just try to stay more switched on, more alert, and more open to improving my game and learning from others. Thanks again :)
    – Nick
    Jan 16, 2013 at 16:51

Well.. Any answer here could be a little subjetive about this.

I would start saying that even if you understand the game, that doesn't mean that your body will do what your head wants to do. The other factor is practice. When you are a young boy, your body learns movements a lot better that when you are growing. that's why players usually are young people. It's very hard to learn how to move your body while you are growing up. The best you can do at this point, is do a lot of drills on passing, movements and shots. You will not learn in the course of a game, at least not without help. The other thing you need is a coach (any type, even a friend that do the things in a right way), it can help you pointing out flaws he see, or at least showing you how to do particular things.

But even if you do all that things, there is a chance that your play never gets better. There are a lot of cases where coach where not great players, and great players are horrible coach (just see maradona coaching).

also, besides 5 a side soccer can make you go attacking and defending, start playing only one position until you get a better aproach on it.

  • Many thanks - I've spoke with the people I play with and they pretty much all agree the thing I need to work on most is the sidefoot so I'll focus on that :) Also asked if I should focus on attacking/defending and they said because I don't tire as much as others, I should continue to do what I'm doing... but I may try sitting back/staying forward for a couple of games and seeing how it goes :)
    – Nick
    Jan 12, 2013 at 13:09

I'm a good player with fantastic dribbling,the one thing that helps me is being happy and having fun while I play in other word being relaxed, if you think too much during a game you become nervous and make terrible mistakes, I once played in a match where I dribbled past 5 defenders with ease before setting up a goal that same me also played in another match where a pass was played to me and I kicked the ball to the opposition instead of trapping it, the key in soccer is to always try to be happy and relaxed, when you are relaxed you have more time to think and make proper descisions that could lead to goals heck. You can even decide to dribble a few people along the way. Hope this helped.

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