Soccer is a team sport, so it makes sense that sharing the ball among all your teammates is probably the best way to play. This sharing is called passing, and it's also the best way to move the ball toward the goal. Think of the other options.
You could boot the ball halfway down the field. That would get the ball there faster, but who knows which team would end up with it.
You could bring the ball down the field all by yourself. That would ensure that the ball stays in your possession, but it would take forever. And unless you're really skilled, there's a good chance that someone would steal it away from you.
So your best bet is to use a series of passes. There are several different kinds of passes, but they all have a few things in common:
The first step in the pass, called a plant, is made with your nonkicking foot. This allows you to shift your weight as you are making your pass, which will give the pass more power.
Your planting foot must always be pointed in the direction you want the ball to go.
The pass must be crisp. A lazy slow roller is going to be intercepted in a second.
The pass must be accurate. If you don't get the ball to your teammate, it's likely to go to the opponents.
The pass should lead your teammate. Don't pass it to where she is now. Think of where she'll be in the next two seconds. Pass it a few feet in front of her, so she can keep running at the same pace.
Keep all these ideas in mind as you learn about the different types of passes.
This tiny picture puzzle shows the important first step of any pass. What is it?
WORDS to KNOW
Plant: A step toward the ball that shifts your weight forward and gives you more power for your kick.
Push pass: A short, accurate pass using the inside of the foot.
Follow through: A term used in many sports. It means that the swinging motion doesn't stop with impact. The leg (or baseball bat or tennis racket) continues to move forward in the same direction.
The Short Pass
Many times your passes will be short, about 10 yards or less. For this pass, your best bet is to use the inside of your foot. This is called a push pass. Take a step toward the ball with your nonkicking foot, and plant that foot next to the ball, about 6 inches away. Your weight should be on this foot, which lets your other leg swing freely. As your body moves forward with this plant, turn your kicking foot sideways and lock it in an L-shaped position with your leg. If you think about turning your foot and leg into a hockey stick, it might help you to better picture what the push pass looks like. All the swing comes from your hips, not from your knee joint.
Now hit the ball squarely in the middle. If you hit it on the top of the ball, you'll lose much of your power. If you hit it low on the ball, it will pop up a little and have some backspin, which will cost you some distance.
You should already have your planting foot pointing in the direction you want the ball to go, and now you should follow through with your kicking foot in that same direction. Make sure you kick the ball hard enough to make it move quickly — no lazy little rollers that can be snagged by the defense. However, you also don't want to kick it so hard that it's difficult for your teammate to control. Lots of practice will help you develop the right touch.
The push pass is the most accurate pass. This is mostly because you use such a large part of your shoe to move the ball. It's hard not to hit it exactly where you want it because so much of your foot is involved. As long as you follow through to your target, the ball will go where you want it to go.
The foot is halfway up the soccer ball for a trap
You can also use the outside of your foot to make a pass, but it will likely be no more than a nudge. You won't get much power using this part of the foot, but if your teammate is near enough it might allow you to play a little “keep away” with a defender.
A good game to play using your short ball-passing skills is Hot Potato. You'll probably need at least four players, one ball, and a timer. Set the timer and start passing the ball around your circle. Whoever ends up with the ball when the timer goes off is out. Another way to play is that, instead of being out, she gets a letter in the word POTATO each time she's caught with the ball. In other words, the first time she gets a P, the second time an O, and so on. That way, it takes six turns to be eliminated. This game is great for working on your accuracy and your speed in passing.
The Long Pass
Many times in a soccer game, you'll see a teammate down the field who is wide open. A push pass isn't going to cut it. Now you're going to need the instep pass. You might want to think of it as the shoelace pass, because that's exactly the part of the foot you're going to use to kick it.
The instep pass is key for any soccer player. This is a much more powerful pass than the push pass, and it also lets you loft the ball into the air if you need to. Both of these come in pretty handy if you're trying to get the ball downfield quickly.
Many young players get in the bad habit of using their toe to kick a long ball, because early on that might give them a longer kick. Don't make this mistake. The toe kick will never be as accurate. Always practice proper technique right from the start, and eventually you'll be able to achieve the same distance.
To kick the ball with your instep, you'll want to plant your foot in the same place as the push pass, about 2 or 3 inches out from the ball. In the instep pass, however, you're probably going to plant with more of a hop than a step.
Now, instead of holding your leg rigid, like a hockey stick, get your knee into the action. As you hop forward, your kicking leg swings backward, bending at the knee. Then, as soon as you plant, swing the leg forward, snapping both the knee joint and the hip joint forward. Keep your toe pointed down and whack the ball with your instep. Try to hit the ball in the center; if you hit it a little off to the side, it will spin.
The instep pass
WORDS to KNOW
Instep pass: a powerful pass that lets the player loft the ball into the air by striking it with her instep.
Instep: The arched middle portion of the foot located directly in front of the ankle and under the shoelaces.
The Soccer-Style Kick
Many beginning players use their toes to kick the ball because it gives them more distance than the instep. This is a mistake. If you practice the instep pass, it won't take you long until it's just as powerful as the toe-poke, and it's certainly a whole lot more accurate, as a Hungarian football player named Pete Gogolak showed the NFL. Until he came along, the field goal kickers were kicking with their toes. Coming from Hungary, Pete had played soccer, so his long kicks were all soccer style. He was so successful that now, a soccer-style instep kick is all you see — in both soccer and football.
Use your instep to start the ball driving down the field to a teammate. Continue alternating foot to ball until the path reaches the goal at the other end of the field. You can move up and down, or side to side, but not diagonally. If you hit a player's hand, a foul is called and you have to start again!
Extra skill play: Using just your finger to trace the path, see how long it takes you to do this puzzle. Try again in 10 minutes and see if it takes you just as long. Try again ten minutes after that. What's your best time?
Practice makes perfect, so be sure to practice the different types of passing as much as you can. If you can't find a friend to do it with you, a wall or a backstop makes a great partner.
Keep your knee over the ball, which will keep the ball on the ground.
There are times, however, when you want that ball up in the air. You'll use the instep pass for this — not the toes! — but your approach will be slightly different. Place your plant foot a good distance back from the ball, about 10 inches, rather than next to it. Then, lean back a little when you contact the ball. Remember, if your knee is over the ball, the ball will stay on the ground. If you have your knee back from the ball, the ball will rise into the air. Also, try to contact the ball on its lower half. This will also help lift it.
The pass on the ground is easier for your teammates to control, but there are times when the lofted pass comes in handy. It's used mainly to get over the heads of defenders. If you see a player who is wide open across the field, you can loft the ball over to her, bypassing the defenders. A lofted pass is also used for shots on goal and free kicks — such as corner kicks, goal kicks, direct kicks, and indirect kicks — when defenders set up to block everything on the ground.