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I have recently joined a soccer (football) team at work playing as a right-back.

I have very low experience in playing although I am an avid fan of watching.

With limited time to practice, What skills could I work on to improve my ability in a short space of time?

In summary - which basic football skills have the greatest payback in the shortest amount of time?

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Which basic football skills have the greatest payback in the shortest amount of time?

Let me offer my advice about what you can improve quickly in addition to the existing answers and working on fitness and ball control:

Positioning

You already watch football. Start watching the players' positions in various scenarios, especially the right-back in your case.

You give yourself a much better chance at everything in the game if your positioning is correct. Some things to consider as a newbie right-back:

  • Move up and down the pitch in line with the other defensive back line players. This means that you are working together to catch attackers offside. If you are sitting deeper than your teammates, you risk it being you that plays an attacker onside.
  • Show the attacker down the outside. The safest option as a right-back is to force the winger down the outside of the pitch. Shape your body so that it almost looks like you are inviting the player to run past you on that side. Ostensibly you are! Trickier players love to come inside and have the fullbacks twisting and turning. Keeping yourself between the player and the goal vastly improves your chance of tackling.
  • When defending corners always make sure that you are closer to the goal than the player that you are marking. It seems like common sense but you'll be surprised by the number of players who don't do it!

Communication

You've been talking most of your life so don't stop it on the football pitch. Advise your teammates of attackers that are posing a risk, tell the right winger when you need cover. Hopefully you've also got a goalkeeper who talks a lot. In that case... LISTEN! As a defender it's great having someone who is keeping the defence well organized.

Play the easy game

You're not David Beckham. So don't try 45-yard diagonal passes across the pitch! Look for the short 5-10 yard passes. Play the way you are facing and give it back to the teammate who gave you it if you want to. You're more likely to complete these short passes and your confidence on the ball will increase with the success that you have. Also, don't be afraid to turn around and pass backwards or sideways. It's better to do that and keep possession than to try a difficult forward ball and gift it to the opposition.

"If in doubt, hoof it out!"

Your primary job as a defender is to prevent goals. If this means that you need to kick it a mile off the pitch to foil an attack then do it. If you're under pressure it's better to kick it out for a throw-in rather than make a mistake that adds to the attacking danger.

I'd start with the above. Working on stamina and ball-control is very important but, if you're looking for quick-wins, go for the advice above for now.

  • Some very good advice. However I really really disagree with a newbie passing backwards in a game. As a goalie I would cringe to see this and have had more than a few teammates score on me in rec leagues. If playing with really good players this is spot on though. – Coach-D Nov 27 '14 at 2:54
  • I hear you @Coach-D - but I think I caveated it with "if in doubt, hoof it out". :) – Ste Nov 27 '14 at 10:57
  • I would also add dribbling skills to this: the greater your personal ball-handling skills, the greater your ability to look up and see the field of play, because you won't have to be attending as much to what your feet and the ball are doing because it is second nature. That is probably a given for experienced players, but for a newer player, they're going to be watching their feet a lot more. – PoloHoleSet Feb 7 '17 at 22:20
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I agree a lot with what was already said.

As I have been coaching these past years, I do however also was to put a lot of importance on the subject of juggling the ball.

When it comes to getting touches on the ball there is nothing better than juggling. I have my players each have to at least 40 consistently. The improvement I see in this is unreal and way too underappreciated.

I also feel as though form is not expressed enough in soccer. With minimum effort you can achieve more than anything else by having the right forms. I recommend really analyzing other people's form and practicing it until it is second nature.

Then, I really recommend you look at off the ball movement rather than being on the ball. When people are learning soccer they practice everything while having the ball. If you think of soccer in a slightly different way you will see what I mean by this. There are 22 people on the field. Statistically, this means you will only have the ball less than 5% of the game!

You need to learn what to do in the 95% of the game rather than that 5%, figure out how to pass and move and what movement you can do to put your teammates in better situations.

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Three things:

  1. Stamina! Endurance! Not sure what your work league looks like, but you need to be able to play a full match. This can especially help late match.
  2. As a defender, you must learn never to get beat. Training with a skilled offensive player is essential so you can learn to watch for subtle cues in direction changes. Never getting beat also encompasses correctly pressing up the field to draw the offense off-sides. This requires a team effort though.
  3. Learn ball control in tight spaces. While you are learning to defend against a skilled offensive player, ask them to show you different techniques for protecting the ball and beating your opponent with your dribble. Practice these moves the most to help with muscle memory.

Hope this helps, Former soccer player

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I agree with a lot of what Chrismas has in his answer. I will add that on the stamina part is being able to sprint again and again. As a defender you might have less lengthy runs but if you are on a mediocre team you could have a lot of runs. Nothing is worse than watching an out of shape defender stand with their hands on their hips while getting beat.

Strategy involved for a newbie would be to drop back and limit taking chances for steals. I am not saying hold the goalie's hand but if you are deciding to go for a slide tackle or drop back, drop back.

Have a strategy for advancing the ball - as a new defender you should never have more than a few dribbles than pass/kick. Maybe even talk to your teammates about expectations. This will depend on your ball skills and how big of a foot you have. Unless you are very very confident in your kicking do not ever play the ball backwards or to the goalie. Until you get to pretty competitive soccer, often clearing the ball is just as effective as anything else. A really good forward will understand that you are new and eventually sucker you in to a short pass to the outside. He will then pounce on this and take off the other way...

And lastly find your place. Nothing better than a new player that understands they are new and uses their skills to help the team. If you are really fast than you may have to chase the ball a lot. If you are big you may need to stay in the middle and be more aggressive. On the same note if you are really poor at something, try not to do it. If you are pretty good at everything except dribbling/ball control (lots of newbies fit here) than don't dribble the ball. If you lose it as a defender could lead to an easy goal.

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