6 - Stopping or 'Killing' the Ball
Stopping or 'killing' the ball is the art of receiving it and keeping it 'captured' under your control. Obviously you don't always receive the ball at the same height or at the same speed. It can arrive high, medium height, low, rolling, bouncing, quickly or slowly. You should be able to control it immediately and not let it get away from you. To do this you can use the sole, top, inside or outside of your foot, your heel, shin, thigh, stomach, chest, shoulder and head, whether you are running at the time or stationary. The first secret of a successful killing is to relax the part of your body which is going to stop the ball, moving backwards in the same direction as the ball is traveling. When you are stopping the ball on your foot, keep your weight on your support leg. When the ball reaches your boot, move your foot gently back, thereby absorbing the impact. You must learn to stop the ball with the inside of both your feet. Your toe should be pointing upwards, making the area of impact as large as possible. Your weight should be on your support leg, your arms moving freely to maintain your balance and keep looking at the ball until you've caught it. Point your toe inwards when you are stopping the ball with the outside of your foot.
To stop the ball with your thigh, make sure your support foot is firmly on the ground and the leg is loosely flexed. It depends on the trajectory of the ball, but you usually have to lift your other leg so your thigh is at waist height. If it is a low ball, you should not lift your thigh so high. It is a question of coordination. When you have mastered this, you should be able to make the ball do what you want, when you want. There is a little trick which will help you stop the ball with your chest. Just before the ball hits you, fill your lungs with air and breathe out on impact, at the same time bringing your arms and shoulders forward. This co-coordinated movement makes your body form a sort of shell into which the ball can fall. If the ball descends almost vertically on top of you, lean your body and head right back, keeping your balance by distributing your weight on both feet and the ball will 'stick' to you. If you stop the ball with your shoulder you can also pass it from there to a team-mate or drop it to your own feet and have a quick shot at goal. The opportunity for this particular tactic usually occurs when you are jumping. Whether you are able to stop the ball on your shoulder and then follow through with a pass depends a lot on constant training. As the ball hits your retreating shoulder you have to turn suddenly, thereby propelling the ball to a team-mate.
Get yourself right under the descending ball when you want to stop it with your head. Keep your eyes open all the time. As it hits your forehead, flex your legs, with your feet apart, pushing your hips forward and keeping your body straight and your arms open. Move your head down towards your shoulders as the ball hits it, thereby taking the speed out of the ball. The whole secret is to position yourself right under the ball and let your legs give at the moment of impact. You can begin to learn this skill by practicing alone. When you have begun to master it, ask someone to throw the ball for you to stop. Don't forget that you won't achieve anything without working at it.
When the ball bounces off the ground at you from a little further away, you can kill it with your stomach. You have to place yourself in the path of the oncoming ball with your feet well apart with the weight of your body divided between them and keep your legs flexed. Keep your arms by your side and don't take your eyes off the ball. When the ball hits your stomach, lean back to absorb the force and move one foot well back so your leg in front is almost straight. At the same time bend the upper part of your body forward, thus forming a concave shape into which the ball will fit.
Another very effective way of stopping the ball is killing it with your heel and ankle on the outside of your foot. This maneuver not only puts you in control of the ball, but also enables you to bring the ball round in front of you for a pass, or a shot at goal. The weight of your body should be borne by your flexed support leg. Your body should be bent forward and leaning slightly to the same side as your free leg. To help you maintain your balance keep the arm that is on the side of your support leg forward and hold the other arm lightly back. The foot of your free leg should be parallel to the ground and held so that the outside is facing the oncoming ball. When the ball hits the outside of your foot, lift your leg a little higher and lean a bit further forward. If you flick the ball from there it will curl in a semi-circle and land in front of you. During all these maneuvers you must look fixedly at the ball as if you were hypnotizing it. This way of stopping the ball can be practiced with a ball hanging in a doorway on a piece of string or elastic. If you are practicing on a football pitch, you can hang the ball from the crossbar of a goal. It's a great one to learn because it looks good and is very quick.
Finally I will tell you how to stop the ball with the top of the foot, which resembles a movement in ballet. You can practice this one on your own as well. This 'killer' is a real beauty, but it requires speed, precision and an excellent sense of timing. As usual your support leg should bear your weight. The other leg must be lifted as high as possible, but keep it slightly bent - the higher the better. When your leg is well up in the air, lift yourself up onto the toe of your support foot. The ball lands in the cup formed between the shin and toes of your lifted leg. At that moment bring your leg down, at the same speed as the descending ball at first and then slower and slower, deadening the speed of the ball. When you lift and lower your leg, the center of gravity moves back a little. The fact that your body is leaning forward and your arms are open ensures that your body is correctly balanced. Special attention must be paid to your eyes, which should follow the ball during the entire action. Of course the height you lift your leg depends on the height at which the ball is coming. The higher the ball, the higher the leg must be raised.
All these ways of killing the ball must be practiced while running and standing still. The better you become at controlling the ball, the more it will be your friend. The more ways you learn of getting and controlling the ball, the better the chances of your team.