Often times pure skill is not the sole key ingredient to success for your soccer team at any level of the sport. Sure, the major professional clubs like Manchester United and Barcelona do typically have the most talented players and win most the games, but many games are also won and lost because of the sheer determination and willpower of the players to always fight for the ball. Ever wonder how Stoke City and Levante produce dramatic upsets against top opposition?
A soccer game will often have dozens of 50-50 balls. These are loose balls that could be won by either team; it just depends on who works the hardest to get there. This can involve headers, deflected passes, or even rebounds off of a goalpost.
If you can instill a hard working effort into your players, they will win more of the 50-50 balls and the team will have more possessions, chances, and wins. Therefore, what are some training techniques that elevate the level of this skill in your players?
First is conditioning. Your players need to be able to have the energy to sprint after those loose balls. Especially late in a game, when everyone is getting fatigued, having that extra burst of energy can be the difference between winning and losing, so take care to make your players run a bit at practice.
Also, you have to establish an endless fight in the players. Communicate with them the importance of winning the ball and praise the effort when they produce. A good training exercise to use is to break the team into small groups of three or four players. Then, have the goalie or other players kick punts or long balls to an area where they will all have to chase the ball. The player who successfully wins the ball and returns it is the winner. You can repeat this drill for as long as you like and can even create a mini tournament feel by having the winners of each group compete with each other and so on to determine the best at this skill.
Having the ball in your possession is the only way to score goals and win games. If your team is successful at winning 50-50 balls, they will have more chances and will ultimately be the better team. No matter how skilled your team may be they need to have some aggression and fight to win possession and attack the ball.