Many soccer players will develop several aspects of their game but neglect the importance of core strength. In the game of soccer there will be countless 50/50 battles while other times you will have to shield the ball with a man on your back or an opposing player coming at you from the side. Developing good strength is important to becoming a reliable player on the field. You will help your team win and keep ball possession much longer.
Having a bigger body and longer legs can obviously help you in winning battles but do not solely rely on this or think that if you have it that you will have the advantage. Some of the world’s best central midfielders including Xavi Hernandez of FC Barcelona have excellent core strength and balance. His small frame, great ball skills and excellent core strength allow him to shield off bigger players with a longer reach. Having good core strength a balance is the secret to how many smaller players (and bigger players) become experts at winning 50/50 battles.
How do you develop balance? Always try to find your center of gravity. When stretching balance on foot and switch. You can do various balance exercises with a catching and throwing a medicine ball.
Watch video of Manchester United warming-up. Working on balance is part of their routine:
Getting the inside edge when chasing balls down: many players will think that to win a 50/50 battle you have to be stronger in the upper body but this is not the case. Having good upper body strength is important in shielding off players but the secret and most important part of winning those battles is getting your hips between the ball and your opponent. Once your hips are in position between the ball and your opponent you will have the advantage. Bend your knees and then use your leg strength to hold ground and arms to shield off the opponent. Even the fastest players focus on getting proper body positioning. Now with your head up, body constantly moving and good control of the ball it will be very difficult for the opposition to get the ball off of you without double teaming or fouling you. If you’ve reached that point then you will have already made a pass and the play will have moved on.
So how do you develop core strength? Strengthening your core come from building abdominal muscles and lower back muscles. You can strengthen your stomach by doing various crunches and abdominal exercises. You can strengthen your lower back through weight exercises called “dead lifts.” Having good balance is important to go along with good core strength.
Shielding the ball exercise: a simple exercise which you can do while in training is while on the spot shield the ball from your opponent. You can move in different but remain on the spot. Use body feints and head fakes to shake your defender. Try shielding the ball for as long as possible. The objective for the defender should be to steal the ball from you and then you try to take it back from him. Do not run away while dribbling the ball. Remember to stay on the spot and practice getting proper body positioning so you can shield. Once you have the proper positioning shielding the ball becomes easy yet very difficult for your opponent to get the ball off of you.
Staying on your feet: watch this goal by Diego Maradona in the 1986 World Cup vs Belgium. Look how his good core strength helped him stay on his feet despite being knocked hard by several Belgian defenders.
Look to exploit those that have poor balance: the first time you come in contact with your opposition notice how strong they are on the ball. If you notice they don’t have good core strength then you will be able to easily push them off the ball, despite the upper body strength they may have. If they don’t have good core strength then they won’t have good balance and this all works against them. Be smart and use this against them. Sometimes too upper body strength but poor core balance can work against them.
Remember: keep your head up, knees bent, get your hips between the ball and your man and then use your leg strength to hold position. Once you have the right body position you will have the upper hand and always win those 50/50 battles.