The attacking midfielder position in soccer is one of the most fun positions to play, but the job also comes with a lot of responsibilities. If you want to be a great attacking midfielder, then you need to take the time to learn what it takes to develop in that position.
There are 8 tips coaches could share with soccer players to help improve their ability to play as attacking midfielders?
- Development of receiving skills
- Improve pass appreciation
- Development of movement skills
- Improve awareness to find and exploit space
- Improve long range shooting
- Awareness of others
- Be willing to defend and make recovery runs
- Improve a players ability to think ahead
These tips can help both players and coaches understand what to coach or what skills and abilities are required to perform consistently in this position. Coaches could assess their players in some of the areas identified and support them to make better decisions around these moments.
Develop Great Receiving skills
Attacking players are often going to be under pressure from opponents, mainly because they receive the ball mostly in the opponent’s half. Having a good first touch with both feet will allow these players to deal with the ball in tight areas and execute the next phase of an attack such as a dribble, pass, cross, or shot.
Coaches should therefore develop practices that allow the first touch to be practiced. A poor or predictable first touch will slow down the attack and make it easier for the defense to regain the ball.
A player with a good first touch will have more time on the ball, they will make quicker decisions to progress the attack and be able to attract pressure from the opponents.
The main receiving technique to develop is the ability to receive and face forwards in one smooth motion. This will often require the player to scan before receiving the ball to know if this is possible.
Another receiving technique would be recognizing the time to use a no-touch turn which means a player would be able to turn without touch by letting the ball run across their body. This will require the player to scan before they receive the ball and if successful the player will be facing forwards in space to attack.
The final receiving technique attacking midfielders should aim to master is protecting and shielding the ball and using their first touch to buy themselves time on the ball. This type of receiving often means the first touch goes backward or is stopped dead between their feet so the player can set themselves for the defender’s pressure.
Improve Pass Appreciation
Having a good pass appreciation is key to getting the right amount of power on your passes. Coaching players to pass with different parts of the foot such as the inside for accuracy, the laces for power and pace, or the outside for disguise, developing practices that allow players to practice this are important. The coach must help the player pass the ball to understand,
Where do they want the pass to go? the player must take into account many factors.
- Where the team mate wants to receive the ball – This would be in relation to the receivers body position. So an open body position would indicate a pacey pass to the receivers back foot so they can turn quickly, whereas a player who is facing the passer with their back to play will want the ball passed in front of them so they can go to meet the ball.
- Where the space is – If a player is marked tight then rather than passing into feet it may be a good idea to pass into space for the run of the attacking player thus picking a space a few meters ahead of the attacker and pass towards it so the attacker can step onto the ball.
- Where the opponent is – The passer should observe where the opponent is positioned then make a decision to where they should play the pass. Based on the information provided in previous bullet points attackers should be anticipating where the defenders are going to be. The weight of pass can be important, especially when the ball is being played between two defensive players. If this type of pass is under hit then the opponent can regain it and attack quickly.
Development of Movement Skills
The movement to lose a marker is an essential skill for attacking midfielders. They need to be constantly moving and showing their feet, ideally between or behind opponents.
Using double movements can help to deceive defenders and help midfielders prepare the space they want to receive the ball by firstly moving the defender out of it with their first movement before moving back into it to receive the ball.
Defenders will try to mark midfielders tight, it’s important that attacking midfielders try to move into spaces between players rather than be marked by a player.
Some other key ideas around coaching movement would be trying to encourage players to move off the back of players who are marking them so they are harder to pick up and also encouraging players to move off defenders at angles so it becomes easier for the receiver to deal with the ball and know what options are available, once the ball is received.
Improve Awareness to Find and Exploit Space
This involves lots of anticipation and scanning away from the ball to try to read what the opponent is going to do and also what teammates are going to do when they have the ball.
The coach should encourage the attacking midfielder to look for space to exploit and recognize where it is on the field, this space may be in front of an opponent, behind an opponent, at the sides of opponents, or between them.
If space is in front of the opponent then chances are the attacking midfielder will make a run in the sight of the defender to draw them out of position, which should create options and opportunities for others if the run is tracked or for themselves to turn if the defender holds their position.
If the space is behind an opponent then the coach can encourage the attacking midfielder to utilize the double movement. The first movement can be used to draw the defender out of position and the second movement can be into the space behind the defender.
If the space is at the sides of an opponent the coach can encourage the attacking midfielder to drag the defender into that wider space which will either open up a passing lane for the ball carrier to play through or give the attacking midfielder time on the ball if the defender decides to hold their position.
If the space is between players the coach must encourage the ball carrier to fire their pass through the gap between the players to take them out of the game and the attacking midfielder must take up the correct sideways body position to take advantage of the pass they have received.
Awareness of space is about giving the opposition problems, should the opposition go with the attacker ? or should they hold their position? These moments of hesitation allow attacking midfielders time to exploit and create for their team.
Improve Long Range Shooting
Encourage players to get a balance between trying to set up teammates and shooting. So rather than attacking midfielders always trying to set others up, they should be encouraged to look for opportunities to shoot, especially when they can get faced up behind the opponent’s midfielders.
If attacking midfielders are faced up they should be encouraged to drive at opponents with the ball to get into a position to get a shot away.
The running with the ball at defenders will often get the defender to commit to regaining the ball, therefore a pass may also be an option here or the defender will keep dropping off and these are the times attacking midfielders should be taking a shooting chance, especially when they are in the range of the goal.
A benefit of being a good passer means opponents will often expect the pass and will keep dropping off thus opening up the space for the attacking midfielder to attack and shoot. When opponents start stepping out to deal with the shot then coaches should encourage the attacking midfielder to think about passing again.
This game of cat and mouse will keep the opposition guessing, the best-attacking midfielders can feed on the hesitation of the opponent and exploit the opposite decision that the defender makes.
Develop an Awareness of Others
Coaches should encourage attacking midfielders to develop their awareness of the movements and actions of other players in the team. Practice is a great time for attacking midfielders to develop an awareness of their teammates’ instincts on the field. Coaches should expect it to take time to improve relationships between different players in and around the attacking midfielders but it is necessary to build into a successful soccer team.
Once attacking midfielders get a feel for what their teammates are likely to do in various attacking situations it will start to become much easier for the attacking midfielders to create the best scoring opportunities for the team whilst not losing the ball because of a lack of communication or understanding of team mate’s movements.
The coach will play a role here as they will have to provide the attacking midfielders with the triggers to look for once they receive the ball in an area to attack. Triggers could be a defender jumping out of position so a pass could be played into that area or a team playing with a high defensive line may encourage passes into space behind the defenders for a runner to chase.
The coach just needs to encourage the attacking midfielders to make the correct choice.
Be Willing to Defend and Make Recovery Runs
Coaches need to get their attacking midfielders to develop a willingness to run back into position to help out with defensive responsibilities. Attacking midfielders will often attempt passes that are at a higher risk of losing the ball so they need to be encouraged to react quickly and help their teammates defend upon any losses of possession.
One of the main jobs of the attacking midfielders upon any loss of possession is to make play predictable and prevent attacks through the middle of the field or slow down any counterattacks the opponent tries to make following any regains. This will either be sprinting towards the ball at an angle to force it towards the sides of the pitch or sprint back into a position to help reduce the space the opponent has to attack.
The main concept to coach the player is to encourage a positive reaction from any loss of possession which encourages other players in the team to do the same.
Improve a Players Ability to Think Ahead
Attacking midfielders need to be coached to think ahead, these players are seen as the creative element to most teams and therefore these players need to be encouraged to think one to two steps ahead of the opponents.
The coach should encourage the player to think about those extra actions ahead of time. The main action to achieve this is scanning their surrounding before the ball is even received so when they get the ball they can make the correct decision to either set up a teammate, shoot or retain the ball.
The key to success in this position is to see the action occurring then anticipate the opponent’s reactions, this way the attacking midfielder can exploit their movements to create chances for others.
Coaches can help improve this ability by reminding the attacker about their awareness of other players’ movements thus scanning what they are doing ahead of time to help them make a quicker decision when the ball is played to them. This skill will take time to master but with persistence, it will help develop creativity in attacking midfielders.
What type of practices will help players to develop these attributes? Directional small-sided practices where players have to attack, small goals, zones, or gates will be really useful. For Younger players, 1 v 1, 2 v 2, or 3 v 3 practices where the players must receive the ball with their back to play are also excellent practice setups to support the development of these attributes.
Should I try to coach all of these things in one practice? No, I would suggest picking maybe two at a time and spending time during the practice helping the attacking midfielders make good decisions when applying some of the coaching advice
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