The skill of receiving is the individual act of obtaining the ball from a pass or an interception, getting it under control, and then setting it up in a proper position for performance of the next skill. A distinction is now made between “receiving” (meeting the ball and directing it into open space in a fluid motion, generally with ground balls on the run) and the older term “trapping” (essentially stopping the ball dead, generally because of its strong pace or angle of flight, and then re-directing it). Trapping the ball to a dead stop is not considered to be an effective skill and, therefore, the term is discouraged. The process has also included references to “collecting” the ball. For purposes of this presentation, “receiving” is used to cover everything. Receiving is one of soccer’s most fundamental individual skills and requires great concentration and practice because of the countless ways in which a ball may arrive. Mastery of receiving sets up everything that a player and the whole team wish to accomplish during a match, including maintaining possession of the ball, passing, and shooting.
An analogy which may be used to describe the skill of receiving is that it is like catching an uncooked egg without it breaking. You almost naturally will extend your arms out in front to try to meet the egg with your hands and “give” with the egg as you catch it so that it doesn’t just hit a hard surface and splatter all over you. Similarly, to receive a soccer ball you want to be out in front with the body part and then relax the body part to take the pace or momentum off of the ball (egg) as you “catch” it so that it doesn’t bounce away. The same would be true using a water balloon. (For youth, with parental permission, egg or water balloon toss make for great warm weather fun. Be prepared to clean up properly!)
The keys to successful receiving are to have the body positioned properly on the line of flight of the ball, to have the body part out to meet the ball, and then to relax or withdraw the body part as contact with the ball is made in order to kill the ball’s momentum or pace.
The progression involved in trapping the ball is:
- Deciding which receive to use
- Deciding where to place the ball after receiving it
- Positioning the body and body part properly to meet the ball
- Taking the pace off the ball as it is contacted
- Directing the ball to the desired location in order to make the next move
Deciding which receive to use – This comes with practice and match experience and ultimately becomes second-nature. It is mostly determined by the height, trajectory, speed, and spin on the ball as it arrives. It is often also determined by the proximity of the receiving player to opponents and to the touch line or goal line. It is sometimes determined by field conditions. Of all the factors, the height of the ball is probably the greatest determiner. For example, an “inside of the foot” receive is best used for a ball arriving on the ground where a “head” receive on a ground ball is not likely to serve the purpose very well.
Deciding where to place the ball after receiving it – This also comes with practice and match experience. Before the ball arrives, the recipient must be fully aware of all of the action going on around him. Where to place the ball is mostly determined by the time and space available for the performance of the skill as dictated by the actions (pressure) of opponents. It is also determined by what options are being made available by the actions of teammates. For example, if a defender is coming in from the left, one is more likely to be successful with the ball ending up in space to the right, rather than taking the ball directly into the opponent. Similarly, if one sees a spot appropriate to set up a successful pass or shot, one is likely to desire to end up with the ball in that spot.
Positioning the body and body part properly to meet the ball – Before a player can successfully receive the ball, he must first get to the location where the trap is to be made. This is of no small consequence. Failure to recognize how and when to intersect the ball means an opportunity is lost. Fast recognition and then a fast response to reach the point of intersection are paramount. Once at the point of intersection, the receiving player must be on the balls of their feet (“on their toes”), with their hips generally squared to the incoming path of the ball, and properly balanced for the receiving body part to absorb the pace of the ball. The body part used to receive the ball must be placed out toward the incoming path of the ball.
Taking the pace off the ball as it is contacted – Timing is everything. The body part used to receive the ball must actually start being relaxed and withdrawn split seconds before the ball arrives in order to ensure that a hard surface is not presented. As the contact is made, the relaxation and withdrawal of the body part must absorb the force of the incoming ball.
Directing the ball to the desired location in order to make the next move – Just as the motion of taking the pace off the ball is ending, the body part is turned to re-direct the path of the ball to that part of the ground where the player desires to make his next contact.
There are many different types of receiving. The following are generally recognized, working with the incoming height of the ball from the ground, up:
- Sole of the foot
- Inside of the foot
- Outside of the foot
- Thigh; inside, outside and front (top)
- Chest; standard and concave
Sole of the Foot
Although rarely used in match play, the sole of the foot receive is an excellent introduction for youth to control slowly-arriving ground balls. The player faces into the path of the ball (the hips at a 90-degree angle to the direction of the ball) and balance is established on the non-receiving foot. The receiving leg is then lifted with the toes pointed at the ball. The heel of the foot is not raised above the height of the ball, and the front of the foot is drawn up toward the shin. The ball then arrives under the foot and is captured. The sole of the foot receive is a very effective way to introduce trapping to young beginners. For a slowly moving ground ball coming directly at him, all the player has to do is lift his foot and step on the ball to stop it. For youth, balls which are delivered too fast will generally result in the player lifting up their foot and the ball going right under it, so slow serves are important. After receiving the ball, beginners should be shown how to promptly push it out in front of them to continue playing the ball, instead of having the tendency to back up and then take a running start.
Inside of the Foot
The inside of the foot receive is one of the simplest and most effective ways to control a ground ball. This is because the curvature of the inside of the foot matches the outer curve of the ball. The player faces into the path of the ball and balance is established on the non-receiving foot. The receiving leg is lifted slightly and turned at the hip 90-degrees to the path of the ball, creating a look to the leg and foot similar to that of the shaft and head of a golf club. The foot needs to be off of the ground such that the ball will be contacted dead center and the front of the foot is drawn up toward the shin. For balls arriving from the side which are being intersected on the run, the hips will not be squared to the ball as much as for a ball arriving from straight ahead. In these cases, the receiving leg is placed more in front of the body. If the ball is coming from the player’s left, the inside of the right foot should be used, and vice versa. For beginners, it should be demonstrated that the foot must not be lifted so high that the ball can pass under it. The use of the inside of the foot is also very effective for trapping certain balls arriving in the air, generally below the level of the knee.
Outside of the Foot
The outside of the foot receive is also very useful for ground balls coming from the side. If the ball is coming from the player’s right, the outside of the right foot should be used, and vice versa. This skill is particularly helpful in that it allows the player to “sweep” the ball back into the direction from which it came in order to avoid an oncoming opponent. The player is generally moving forward into the path of the ball, with the hips parallel to the path of the ball. Balance is established on the non-receiving foot and the receiving leg is raised so that the foot will contact the ball slightly below the ball’s midline. The receiving foot is slightly rotated to the outside at the ankle so that as much of the instep of the foot contacts the ball as possible.
The instep receive is mostly used for balls arriving in the air from a high angle. The body is positioned facing into the path of the oncoming ball (the hips at a 90-degree angle to the flight of the ball). Balance is established on the non-receiving foot. The leg of the receiving foot is raised from the hip with the foot outstretched by extending both the foot at the ankle and the leg at the knee, toes pointed in the direction of the ball. As the ball arrives, it is to be “caught” on the top of the foot (the instep or part of the foot covered by the shoelaces) by relaxing the entire leg at the ankle, knee and hip. When performed properly, the ball should be easily lowered and then placed on the ground by pulling the foot out from underneath.
The thigh is a very effective body part for receiving balls in the air because the fleshiness of the upper leg helps absorb some of the pace of the ball as it is being contacted. There are three types of thigh receives, the inside, the outside, and the front (or top). The inside and outside of the thigh are used almost exclusively for balls arriving in the air parallel to the ground around waist level (or slightly below) and are less common in match play. A ball arriving from the player’s left may be controlled with the outside of the left thigh, but is usually controlled with the inside of the right thigh, and vice versa. For both the inside and the outside of the thigh, the hips are parallel to the flight of the ball, balance is established on the non-receiving foot and the leg is raised at the hip so that the receiving thigh is at a 90-degree angle to the path of the ball and sufficiently high to intersect its flight. The knee is flexed. The leg is rotated at the hip as the ball arrives. The front of the thigh is the most commonly used in match play for many types of balls arriving in the air. For the front of the thigh, the player faces the ball (hips at a 90-degree angle to the path of the ball) and balance is established on the non-receiving foot. The leg is raised at the hip so that the plane of the thigh is at a 90-degree angle to the arc of the flight of the ball. The knee is flexed. The leg is lowered at the hip as the ball arrives.
There are two types of chest receives, the standard chest receive and the concave chest receive. Both are used to control balls coming in the air. The standard chest receive is used mostly for balls arriving with various arcs at levels above the waist. By far, the standard chest receive is the most common in match play. For the standard chest receive, the body is positioned facing into the path of the oncoming ball (the hips at a 90-degree angle to the flight of the ball) and balance is established equally on the balls of both feet with the knees slightly flexed. Players often prefer to have one foot slightly ahead of the other. The back is arched, the chin is withdrawn and a big breath is taken to fill the lungs with air. The arms are slightly outstretched and the shoulders are back. The ball is met at the center of the chest closer to the top of the breastbone. As the ball is contacted, the back is straightened, the chin is moved forward, air is exhaled from the lungs, and the shoulders and arms are moved forward. All of this is intended to take the pace off the ball and “capture” it so that it will drop to the thigh or instep or to the ground. A player must be careful if the pace of the ball is not sufficiently killed, or if the angle of the chest is not at 90-degrees, because the ball can rebound into an arm. If this is the case, the arm must be withdrawn quickly or there is the risk of the player being called for handling. For balls that are slightly high, it may be necessary to jump to get a successful chest receive.
The concave chest receive may be used for balls arriving in the air slightly above waist height or lower. These balls are generally coming in hard and with very little arc. For the concave chest receive, the body is positioned facing into the path of the oncoming ball (the hips at a 90-degree angle to the flight of the ball) and balance is established equally on the balls of both feet with the knees slightly flexed. Players often prefer to have one foot slightly ahead of the other. Unlike the standard chest receive, the body is bent forward at the waist in order to create as close to a 45-degree angle from vertical as possible. This is to redirect the ball directly down to the ground. Like the standard chest receive, a big breath is taken to fill the lungs with air, the arms are slightly outstretched and the shoulders are back. The ball is met more at the center of the chest, air is exhaled from the lungs, and the shoulders and arms are moved forward, all to take as much pace off the ball as possible.
The head receive is essentially the opposite of heading. Like basic heading, the body is positioned facing into the path of the oncoming ball (the hips at a 90-degree angle to the flight of the ball) and balance is established equally on the balls of both feet with the knees slightly flexed. Players often prefer to have one foot slightly ahead of the other. Unlike heading, the head is forward with the chin out, the elbows are back and the torso is bent slightly forward at the base. The center of the ball is contacted on the forehead at the base of the natural hairline. As contact is made, the head is pulled back, the torso is straightened and the arms are brought forward. The ball may be allowed to fall to the ground or the head may be turned as contact is made to redirect the path of the ball toward the right or left thigh or foot.
NOTES: All skills in soccer need constant attention to detail and repetition of proper technique. This is especially true for receiving and controlling. The angles, pace, and circumstances under which a ball arrives are virtually limitless. Receiving and controlling is best practiced with a competent “server,” a teammate, coach or parent, who can roll, pass, throw or kick the ball to the recipient in such a way that all skills are executed properly. For receiving involving the legs, it is essential that both the left and right legs and feet are trained equally.
If no server is available, an individual player may use a large brick wall to great effect. With permission, the player can kick or throw a ball into the wall in order to receive and control the rebound. The wall needs to be sufficiently tall and wide, WITH NO WINDOWS, and next to a large-enough grass surface to permit the rebounds to arrive like those that would have been provided by a server.
Beginning coaches may mistakenly think that players need to learn to “one-touch” the ball first. This is not the case. “One-touch” of the ball is an advanced skill used in urgent situations. Beginning players must learn to receive and control the ball first. Beginning players also seem to want to run up to the ball and kick it hard the first chance they get. This needs to be overcome through proper instruction, teaching the players how to properly receive and control an oncoming ball and then enforcing that they do so.
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