The objective of passing is to move the ball quickly among teammates in order to keep it away from opponents and, ultimately, in order to put the ball into a position for a shot on goal. The “inside of the foot” or “push” pass represents the most basic pass in soccer. The youngest players are usually introduced to the inside of the foot pass first because it is the easiest to learn, it is effective over short distances, and it does not require much leg strength. Although it is a little awkward at first for young beginners, the push pass provides the highest level of control because the shape of the inside of the foot conforms to the shape of the ball. Once the inside of the foot pass has been mastered, coaches may progress to passing involving player movement and then to the “instep drive” kick, which allows for passing at greater distances. The push pass, however, still represents more than half the passes used in games, even at the highest levels.
Because the ball is kicked with the inside of the foot, the foot must be turned at the ankle and the leg rotated at the hip so that the toes are pointed 90 degrees to the outside from the way the body is facing. Balance is established on the non-kicking, or “plant” foot, so that the kicking leg can swing freely at the hip. The toes and foot of the non-kicking leg should point in the direction the player wants the pass to go. The whole of the kicking foot should be slightly flexed by bringing the front of the foot slightly toward the shin and then the ankle must be “locked” in place by the muscles of the lower leg in order to ensure that the foot does not flop around. The foot is then brought off of the ground to the height of the center of the ball by raising the leg at the hip. The whole of the leg is then brought backward at the hip and the kick performed with an appropriate “follow-through.”
An analogy for the inside of the foot pass can be made with the use of a putter in golf. The head of the putter is pointed to the outside so that the surface of the putter can strike the ball perpendicular to the intended path of the ball. The putter is locked in place by the wrists so that the head does not turn. The putter is brought back to obtain force, it is freely swung, and a follow-through is used. The putter is not allowed to contact the ground as the ball is struck. An actual putter may be used in a demonstration, utilizing a golf ball, a tennis ball or a small soccer ball.
The following learning progression is recommended for coaches teaching the inside of the foot pass:
(When teaching very young players, the help of the parents is extremely beneficial. If possible, it is suggested that coaches run through this entire progression with the parents to teach them first, before providing instruction to the children.)
Demonstration of the ultimate result: Announce that the name of the skill is the “Inside of the Foot Pass” also known as the “Push Pass.” Show a proper kick of a ball to partners, in slow motion, from three directions, front, side and back, as seen by the observers. It should then be clearly shown that the ankle is locked and not being allowed to flop around. Show the ankle flopping and explain that this is “what not to do.” It should further be shown that proper balance will allow the kicking foot to swing freely “through the ball” by kicking the ball, following-through, and not putting the kicking foot back on the ground immediately. Demonstrate the golf putter analogy, if desired. The ball is to be kicked in a nice straight line along the ground.
Identify the inside of the foot: Show the inside of the foot to the players by physically touching the inside of the foot. Show how it conforms to the shape of the ball. Have the players physically touch the insides of their shoes, first on the right foot and then on the left foot. (It is not recommended that coaches refer to the “instep” kick during this stage. It is highly likely that this will create confusion among young players. When the time comes, coaches have had success by referring to the instep as the “top” of the foot and the instep drive as the “laces kick.” As soon as the players age out of this confusion, however, the proper term should be used.)
Foot to the outside and ankle locked position: Show the foot pointed outward, with slight flexion (“toes toward the shin”) and the ankle locked, from the front, side, and back. Clearly demonstrate swinging the leg in the kicking motion that the ankle stays locked during the entire swing. Demonstrate what not to do by not locking the ankle and flopping the foot around. Ask that the players hold one foot off of the ground, extend the foot and lock the ankle.
Balance on one foot: Explain that the inside of the foot pass requires the weight of the body to be balanced over the “non-kicking” foot. Clearly state that the non-kicking foot is also called the “plant” foot and that the coach will be using both terms. Demonstrate balancing on one foot and that putting the arms out to the side allows you to maintain your balance. State that the direction in which the plant foot is pointing is generally where the ball will go when kicked. The body is to be facing forward with the hips perpendicular to the desired path the of the ball. The knee of the non-kicking foot is to be slightly bent. Have the players balance on one foot and then the other. (One can make a game of seeing which player can balance on one foot the longest.)
Leg swing: Demonstrate how the upper leg is flexed at the hip and then swung in a fluid kicking motion. Have the players practice this by alternately balancing on one foot and freely swinging their free leg as if kicking an imaginary ball. Remind the players to keep the foot raised and the ankle locked. Beginning players tend to allow their foot to flop at this stage and will need to be corrected. The leg should not come across the ody, but should follow a straight line. (Beginning players may also need to support themselves at this stage by placing a hand on the shoulder of a parent who is down on their knees. Parents can further help by gently working with the player to achieve proper balance as they get the player to reduce any pressure on their shoulder by leaning away.)
Placement of the non-kicking foot: The last step before attempting a true inside of the foot pass is to demonstrate and practice the proper placement of the “plant” or non-kicking foot. To eventually contact the ball, the non-kicking foot is placed “level” or “even” to the side (not touching) the ball, but far enough away from the ball to allow for the outside extension of the kicking leg and foot. This should be demonstrated by the coach, using a ball, while facing away from the players. The non-kicking foot should point directly ahead and the extended kicking foot should be placed out to the side and held directly behind the ball. This placement of the plant foot allows the ball to be kicked along the ground.
Inside of the foot contacting the ball: Add the ball, held by the parent, so that it can be struck with the inside of the foot, first with one foot and then switching to the other. Parents need to observe and ensure that the player is properly striking the ball with the inside of the foot at the “center,” “middle,” or “fattest part” of the ball.
Kicking the ball: Coaches should demonstrate the final full kick again from the back and side, this time at regular speed, to a partner: The plant foot is pointed at the receiver. The upper part of the kicking leg is rotated outward, flexed slightly at the knee, and pulled back at the hip. The upper leg of the kicking foot is then brought forward and the inside of the foot contacts the center of the ball. A follow-through is then very important. Players are to be reminded to look at the ball as they kick it. From straight on, the following introductory kicking sequence is then recommended for the players, passing to their parents:
As with the instruction of all skills, the coach should move among the players and gently offer corrections at each stage. Some young players may “stab” at the ball and then transfer their weight to land on their kicking foot. This can be demonstrated as “what not to do.” Similarly, if the plant foot is placed forward of the ball, the kick will tend to push the ball into the ground. If the plant foot is placed behind the ball, the kick will tend to loft the ball. Proper placement of the plant foot beside the ball will be rewarded with a kick that sends the ball running along the ground.
Extremely important note: To achieve success in teaching the inside of the foot pass, the size of the ball is critical to the age group involved. Little feet require a small soccer ball. Nothing larger than a “Size 3” is recommended for young beginners, pre-kindergarten to approximately six years of age.
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