7 - Steering the Ball
Which is faster? The ball that is kicked or passed twenty meters, or the ball which covers the same distance being steered by you? Obviously the ball which is kicked or passed travels that distance much faster.
It has been proved that a powerfully kicked ball can travel at 116 kilometers an hour (over 70 miles per hour). So it covers that 20 meters (65 feet) in half a second! In a free kick the ball takes one-fifth of a second to reach the defensive wall and when it has passed the wall, it arrives at the goal in three-tenths of a second!* No athlete, not even an Olympic champion, could possibly achieve this speed. Therefore it is always better to pass than steer the ball unnecessarily. But in football there are times when you must steer the ball. Again I will try to give you a few tips. Steering the ball is, as you know, that action which takes the ball out of one area into another, especially the 'break' which takes the ball right up to the other goal. You should use the top as often as the inside and outside of your foot. When you are running with the ball, turn your steering toe outwards Just before tapping the ball if you want to use the inside of your foot. Your ankle must not be taut. Your body should be leaning forward and your arms relaxed and only slightly bent.
Your eyes should stay on the ball at the moment you tap it. Following the ball with your eyes, lift your head in readiness to take a quick look round the pitch. Between each tap of the ball, look up at the pitch. You should always keep up with the ball when you're steering it, as if you were tied together. By keeping close to the ball and shielding it with your body, you will make it difficult for an opponent to intercept it. When steering the ball with the outside of your foot, the toe of your boot must be pointing inwards. Your ankle needs to be really flexible in order to steer the ball with the outside of your foot, thus utilizing the largest area of contact and making it easier and safer to steer the ball. Guiding the ball with the top of your foot is more difficult. Your toe should be pointing downwards, tapping the ball with the part of your boot above the toe. The knee is therefore slightly higher than usual and in an almost straight line above the toe. The advantage of steering the ball with the top of your foot lies in the fact that your body is in a more natural running position and so you can move faster. But because the area of contact is smaller, guiding the ball is not quite so easy.
The method of steering to use really depends on the position of your opponents. If an opposing defender is running by your side, it's better to use the inside or outside of the foot further away from him. If the opponent is running in front of you, it's advisable to use the outside of your foot because that makes it easier to avoid him or change the direction of your run. It is essential to keep your balance while steering the ball. To help you do this you can stop for a moment and try a dribble if necessary, blocking the tackle with your shoulder, or you can slow down, speed up, pass or shoot. As always, all this depends on intensive training. You can learn a lot by reading about, or watching soccer, but you can only really learn how to do it by practicing.
* These figures were provided by Prof. Julio Mazzei who timed Pele at Santos F.C..