In many sports, when you know how to protect yourself, you easily avoid knocks, bruises, and worst of all, serious injuries. In soccer it is no different. When you know how to defend yourself in every situation of the game, you will not only decrease the chance of getting hurt, but you will increase the difficulty for players to get close to you and get the ball from you. Moreover, in the air, you will become almost impossible to hit and knock over.
In soccer, the way you use your hands and legs can lead to fouls, or can create a buffer zone around your body where opponents find it very difficult to interfere. The modern soccer player is very focused on dribbling, speed and tricks, but the best soccer players in the world – going back as far as you would like – were masters at shielding their bodies and the ball. Watch here as one of those masters, former Manchester United great Roy Keane, gives a few tips:
Holding off an opponent
When you have the ball at your feet, the idea is to create the greatest distance possible between you and the opponent (put picture of player shielding ball). In order to do this effectively, you must make your body as big as it can possibly be. To do so, you need to use your body, arms and legs.
When holding the ball, it is the first and most fundamental rule that you do not hold your back directly to the opponent. Stand at and angle with one arm always accessible to feel where the opponent is if your eyes cannot see him/her. This not only creates initial separation, but it provides you with a better position to take off with the ball.
Now, with your sideways stance and the ball at your feet, push the ball away from your body as far as you can while still being able to reach it with your foot. With your body, lean backward against the opponent and put out your forearm out.
Stand up right now and try it – notice the difference. To compare, first take a ball at your feet and just put your arm out as if you are holding off a defender – observe the separation between the imaginary opponent and the ball. Now, as I explained, extend your forearm, lean back and extend the ball away from your foot too…see the difference now?
Going for a head-ball
When going for a head ball, there are many factors we could talk about, i.e. where to hit on your head, keep your eyes open and etc, but we will talk about protecting yourself for the purpose of this blog.
Before even jumping, create a wide stance with your legs, lift you elbows so that they are even with the height of your shoulders and stand on an angle. Do not jump with your chest parallel to the ball. These steps do two things:
1. They tell you if someone is near by as you feel them, and
2. They marks your territory and prepare you for contact
For someone to come into your territory, it will involve meeting your elbows. This is not an attempt to injure or hit the opponent, this is an attempt to protect you and win the ball.
As you jump, maintain your elbows in the air, hold your wide stance and, again, jump with your body on an angle. When I say angle I am suggesting that your body should be positioned in such a way that it almost appear as if you are going to use your shoulder rather than your head. Holding a sideways stance only increases the protection of your body.
Many players have what I call the fish-header. This is the header you used in house league when you did not know any better. You put your arms at the side of your body, closed your eyes, jumped straight up and hit the ball with the top of your head: you looked like a fish. In higher levels of soccer, this will not only result in the ball giving you a headache after hitting the top of your head, but can result in an experienced player hurting you because you are not protecting yourself.
Learn to use your body both on the ground and in the air. It is not just about using your arms to create separation; it’s using your body, your legs and your arms. Protect the ball – protect yourself.