Do you remember that free kick from the Brazilian full back, Roberto Carlos? Yes, that free kick. If not, take a look.
It really is the most magnificent of shots.
Note the care with which the full back places the ball. He wants the slightly harder material around the valve to be facing him. This means, when he strikes through the ball at this point, additional and less predictable swerve will be added.
Note the straight run up: Carlos knows that to score from this distance he needs power behind the shot. An angled run up may well instil strong swerve, but at the cost of power. Fine if the free kick is just twenty yards from goal, but not if (as in this case) the ball is thirty five yards out.
And the scariest thing about this astonishing goal? It was scored more than twenty years ago, in 1977. It seems like yesterday.
Dead ball situations, which include penalties and corners, as well as free kicks, result in about a third of all goals scored; although penalty kicks have (unsurprisingly) the highest conversion rate they are also by far the rarest to be awarded. Corners have about a two to three per cent chance of leading to a goal, so we can conclude that free kicks have the potential to be a major source of goals for our team.
Naturally, success is all about delivery. That is true whether the free kick is a direct shot on goal (with about a five per cent success rate) or a cross or pass.
Soccer Shooting Drill One – Striking the ball – shots on goal
Place balls in various positions around the attacking half of the pitch, no more than forty yards from goal.
Focus clearly on where he ball is going to end up. This visualisation is extremely important as it helps to maintain concentration.
Have a run up of four to five steps, putting acceleration into the approach. Of course, the super long run up such as Roberto Carlos demonstrated can be used, but the faster we are travelling, the harder it is to maintain accuracy in the point of contact. Also, Carlos was probably a slightly better player than most of us!
Plant the non-striking foot firmly beside the ball, and strike through the ball.
Use the inside of the foot and strike the ball low down. This will impart spin making the ball swerve and dip. Sometimes, this is known as a ‘knuckleball’ shot.
The drill can be developed with the addition of a goalkeeper and then a wall. Mannequins can be used for the wall.
Soccer Shooting Drill Two – Striking the ball – crossing
Much of the drill here is as above. However, a shorter run up is usually sufficient since less power is needed.
Lean back slightly on striking the ball to allow height to be imparted, since dip is less important if the free kick is to be a cross. Have an angled run up to encourage swerve.
Once again, the point of contact with the ball, and the focus on where the cross should end up are the key techniques to stress.
The drill can begin with just the free kick taker (s), since it is where the ball ends up that is important, more than other players getting on the end. Then a keeper, wall and other players can be added to make the drill closer to the real game situation.
Soccer Shooting Drill Three – Obscuring the Keeper
Place balls around twenty five yards from goal, centrally – fitting in the width of the D on the penalty area.
The drill requires the free kick takers, a three or four man wall (mannequins work just as well) and a keeper. Then, there are two additional attackers who position themselves on the outside of the wall. They peel off as the free kick is struck, and the ball is aimed through the space they have just vacated.
The view of the goalkeeper is then obscured, increasing the chances of success.
Soccer Shooting Drill Four – The Far Post Kick
This is an excellent tactic for wide free kicks, often resulting in a goal. The cross is hit with spin as in drill one, aiming for it to swerve and dip at the far post.
Attackers run across the penalty area. This means that the goalkeeper cannot react until late. If he or she attempts to dive too soon, then any contact from the attackers can result in a goal. If there is no contact, then by the time the keeper commits to saving the ball, it is often too late.
As with the drills above, it is the delivery that is most important. Therefore, the drill can begin with just the free kick taker. Then, a two man wall can be added, before attacking and defensive players.
Soccer Shooting Drill Five – The Element of Surprise
Here is a free kick which has a unexpectedly high degree of success. As with the first three drills, the aim is to score directly, although here deflections are overtly sought.
When a free kick is taken, the wall will usually jump in order to gain as much height as possible. This free kick seeks to drive the ball low, beneath the jumping wall. This has an element of surprise which can fool a keeper.
Added to the general confusion, the chance of a deflection off of either defensive player or offensive is high, and this may well divert the ball past the keeper.
Certainly, a spectacular, thirty yard, dipping swerving shot is aesthetically more pleasing, but at the end of the day, a goal is a goal.
The drill needs to be practised with plenty of players to make it like a match situation.
Drills for free kicks are good fun for those taking the shots; less so for others. Having the duty, for half an hour, of being peppered with balls as we stand in the wall is not especially thrilling. However, free kicks are a significant source of goals, and teams neglect them during practice at their peril.
Article by Abiprod, a soccer coaching brand. If you liked this article, you can check out Abiprod’s blog here.