The single most important kicking skill in soccer is the instep drive, also known as the instep kick. The instep drive uses the quadriceps muscles of the thigh to provide the most powerful kick available in the game, forcing the top of the foot (instep) to propel (drive) the soccer ball forward. Further, mastery of the instep drive forms the basis for any number of other kicks, including shooting, goal kicks, corner kicks, chips, long passes, clearances, volleys, half-volleys and more. Accordingly, the basic concepts of the instep drive must be well understood by coaches and taught properly to beginning players.
Soccer players do not “toe” the ball for this main kick of soccer, but use the top part of the foot covered by the shoelaces. This part of the foot is called the “instep.” As the soccer ball is struck at the instep, the foot becomes an extension of the leg, pulled down by the calf muscle, causing the ankle to be “locked.” (This is similar to tennis, where the racket becomes an extension of the arm, with the wrist locked at the moment the ball is contacted.) At the same time, the toes are curled under. Power is derived for the kick from the flexion and then the rapid extension of the upper leg at the hip and the lower leg at the knee. Proper balance, a solid base to the non-kicking foot, and follow-through are essential. (This is the same kick used by “place kickers” in American football.)
The following learning progression is recommended for coaches teaching the instep drive:
(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 “Instep Drive” or the “Instep Kick.” Show a proper kick of a ball, in slow motion, from three directions, front, side and back, as seen by the observers. It should then be clearly shown that the ball is not being kicked with the tip of the shoe, or being “toed,” by actually demonstrating toe-kicking the ball from the side and explaining 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. The path of the ball should be a nice straight line.
Identify the instep: Show the instep to the players by physically touching the top of the foot. Indicate that it is the part of the foot “covered by the shoelaces.” State specifically that the name for this part of the foot is the “instep.” Have the players physically touch their own insteps, first on the right foot and then on the left foot. (Some coaches have found that there may be confusion among young players between the “inside” of the foot and the “instep.” They 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 needs to be used.)
Foot down and locked, toes curled, position: Show the foot extended, with 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, and curl their toes inside their shoe. (You may demonstrate the toe curl by simply clenching the last two digits of your hand.) Have the players get on their hands and knees and extend their feet with the tips of the shoes pointed straight back behind them, such that their insteps are in contact with the ground. Ask the players to tighten their calf muscles to lock the ankle (and curl their toes) and then alternately raise and lower their legs at the knee to tap the ground gently with each instep. (You may find that some players do not have the flexibility to fully extend their feet. They should be instructed to gently sit back on their heels to stretch the tendons beside the shin. For these players, this is likely to have to be performed repeatedly over time until the feet can be fully extended. As with all stretching, this should never be done to the point of pain.)
Balance on one foot: Explain that the instep drive 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. 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 the lower leg is simultaneously flexed at the knee and then they are both extended 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 extended and the ankle locked. Beginning players tend to allow their foot to flop at this stage and will need to be corrected. (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.)
Instep contacting the ball: There are at least three proven ways to have beginners learn to contact the ball with the instep so that they don’t “toe” the ball and so that that do obtain the correct “feel.” First, on their hands and knees, players, with the help of parents, should point their toes straight behind. One leg is then to be lifted so that the ball can be placed directly underneath the instep. The player then repeatedly taps the ball so that it is struck with the instep, first with one foot and then switching to the other. (This position is a progression from the activity used in the “foot down and locked…” step identified above.) Second, players can sit with arms out and back, hands to the ground for balance, so that one leg and then the other can be brought up freely. Add the ball, held by the parent, so that it can be struck with the instep, first with one foot and then switching to the other. Third, a simple, low “punt” to the parent may also be tried by the player to get the ball onto the instep, but this is usually too difficult for very young children.
Placement of the non-kicking foot: The last step before attempting a true instep drive kick 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 of (not directly beside) the ball, and far enough away from the ball to allow for the extension of the kicking leg and foot without the toes of the kicking foot stubbing the ground. 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. The coach can then demonstrate how, if the non-kicking foot is placed directly beside the ball, the toes of the extended kicking foot will drag the ground when the kick is attempted.*
Kicking the ball: Coaches should demonstrate the final full kick again from the back and side, this time at regular speed and with some power: The upper part of the kicking leg is pulled back at the hip while the knee of the kicking leg is flexed. The upper leg of the kicking foot is then brought forward while the lower leg is forcefully extended so as to drive the instep into the ball. A follow-through is then very important. Players are to be reminded to hit the ball directly in the middle with their instep and to be looking at the ball as they do so. From straight on, the following introductory kicking sequence is then recommended for the players:
- Standing instep drive, right then left, using proper form and not for power or distance.
- Same as above with a simple walk up to the ball and kick.
- Run up to the ball and kick.
- Run up to the ball and kick for power and distance.
- Dribble and then kick.
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.”)
Extremely important note: To achieve success in teaching the instep drive, 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.
*Some coaches have tried to quantify the distance in inches that the plant foot should be placed to the side of the ball. This is not recommended. The distance is totally dependent upon the individual player and their personal leg extension. (Young players don’t know how to estimate inches, anyway!)
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