In soccer, the modern game demands that that players demonstrate game intelligence. The striker in soccer is a position that requires intelligence and craft. The striker is the player who tends to get all the glory for their efforts and predatory skills in front of the goal. I decided to provide 8 tips for players and coaches that will help to improve all you strikers out there.
What are the 8 tips that make effective strikers?
- Technical Excellence – They have a range of techniques in front of goal for each type of finish
- Tactical Awareness – They are able to take up and find positions that are hard for defenders to anticipate
- Psychological Skills – Strikers have a hunger and need to score goals, they love putting the ball in the back of the net
- Game Intelligence – Strikers know what the goalkeepers and defenders do not like and they exploit it
- Scanning and Anticipation Skills – They are often able to anticipate the defenders actions because they are watching them before the ball gets to them.
- Movement Skills – They use movement to gain the edge, to create space for themselves to shoot, to prepare spaces they want to be in
- Trickery – Strikers find ways to exploit the defenders and goalkeepers, they hide from them until they are ready to make their move
- Timing Skills – Strikers are able to read the game and arrive at the right moment to make their impact
The tips provided above give an insight into what it takes to be an effective striker and some of the knowledge coaches must acquire if they wish to coach players to play in this position effectively. The tips mainly focus on the in possession moment and focus on the striker being in and around the box.
1. Technical Excellence
The best strikers are often great finishers, this position, rightly or wrongly is judged on how many goals you score. Coaches and players must appreciate this and try to develop game-relevant activities which allow the striker to experience a range of opportunities to finish in different ways under different pressures.
Players need to work on a variety of finishes using all parts of the foot, for example finishing with laces, inside of the foot, dinks, rounding the goalkeeper, heading, volleying are some of the examples that players may use. It’s common knowledge that many goals from in the box are scored with first-time finishes. The need to develop this should also be a priority.
To build on the variety of finishes coaches must also consider the angle of the finish and the direction from which the ball comes from, for example, strikers should develop their ability to finish balls that come from behind them, from the sides of them, from crosses or pullbacks as well as solo goals they create for themselves.
The coach can handle much of this by trying to include goals in their practices and set up the spaces correctly to allow for certain scoring opportunities to occur. For example, make sure the pitch is big if you want the striker to practice running onto the ball and in behind defenders.
A second technical skill that strikers possess is an ability to get the ball into the right position to score, so they can effectively manipulate the ball to use their first or last touches to set themselves up to score. This involves scanning before they receive the ball to see the best spaces to exploit to get chances for themselves.
When the player is scanning they are looking to get a picture in their head of what may happen, to get an understanding of their pitch location, the support they have from teammates, and the movements required to get into a position to score. They can also get an idea about the type of finish they may need to execute from this position. These scanning actions are happening so quickly.
Because the speed of the game is happening so quickly, the coach cannot coach all of this detail at the same time so initially, it may be about helping the player work on scanning to get into good positions to score.
Make them aware of what they are looking for then encourage them to take up a position based on this. The use of small-sided games and competitive games around the box can help these players develop the technical skills mentioned. It’s important for the striker that they have to make decisions so games with full and limited pressure with plenty of opportunities to move and score can be really helpful.
2. Tactical Awareness
Good strikers can take up positions that make it difficult for the defenders to mark them or pick them up, for example, the striker can position themselves out of the eye line of the defender, between two players, or even start in an offside position to put doubt into the opponent.
The striker then should be scanning the pitch to identify the best position after they have made it difficult. Anticipation is a very important skill to develop in terms of the striker predicting where the ball may go and trying to place themselves in positions where they may get an opportunity to get on the ball or shoot.
Anticipation takes time and practice to develop so coaches can help by designing decision-based practices that encourage strikers to anticipate the actions of the opponents or their teammates. For example anticipating that a defender likes to dribble, not looking interested then closing the ball down quickly, anticipating that a wide player will cross the ball to the front or back post.
Another tactic coach can help strikers with is their ability to play and use disguise within games, so showing the opponent that they will do one thing then doing something unexpected, maybe shaping up to shoot then dragging the ball past a defender to open up a space, stopping the ball dead to set the defenders feet then moving it quickly to open up a space.
Other ideas include disguised shooting, examples include looking at a certain area of the goal with their eyes so the goalkeeper sees this than shooting in the opposite direction. Looking like they are going to strike the ball with their laces then dinking it over the goalkeeper. Waiting for the goalkeeper to set their feet then shooting through their legs. These are some examples of disguise.
I would encourage coaches to think of others’ ideas and try to communicate these ideas to the players to make them aware of the vast amount of detail they could provide to their players in bitesize chunks so they can build up a range of tools they can use to win their duels.
3. Psychological Skills
The best strikers have a hunger to score goals they are addicted to the ball hitting the back of the net, they love the idea of scoring goals in any way shape, or form. They need to achieve this feeling and they are determined to get it.
Confidence is something that strikers often have in abundance but sometimes it hangs by a thread. The best strikers can put mistakes, errors, and misses to the back of their mind, they are undeterred by these moments and they try their best to go again, a problem-solving mindset is a good trait to impose on players. The coach can play a role in helping to develop this mindset.
To develop confidence, coaches can encourage performers to see their setbacks as problems, every problem has a solution, like math at school there is a formula for success, each mistake and setback does not mean they are not good enough or not capable. It means they have not found the right solution so they need to try something else until something works.
The coach needs to work with the player to help them figure out a range of solutions or ideas to help to change their mindset from a fixed mentality to a growth one. Ideally, the player should be encouraged to engage in the process of solving the problem rather than dwelling on the things that have not worked.
One idea to help develop confidence, problem-solving abilities and give solutions could be to get the strikers to think about what players in positions they are up against do not like? for example, goalkeepers do not like to deal with shots if they have not got their feet set, they do not like dealing with shots that are low or between their legs, it is hard for them to deal passes into the corner of the goals.
The same sort of activity could be done for every position on the field. The coach can get the players together and ask them what they like or what they do not like when playing against different opponents. The players will then get a list of actions they can use against opponents and use this list to help build confidence and help them problem solve.
4. Game Intelligence
The last activity of players understanding what opponents like or do not like can help strikers develop a range of tools that allow them to become more intelligent soccer players. Instead of players trying to force things to happen that just are not working they move onto something else on their list. The coach’s job is to help the player to develop a range of tools they can use to get the job done.
Game intelligence is about recognizing common patterns and pictures which present themselves to players then focusing on the most important information to make the correct choices and decisions under pressure. Some of the information players need to perceive are angles, distances, spaces, opponents, and teammates. Good players are aware of this content and adjust or make decisions based on this information.
The coach can help and support the striker to recognize the common patterns via conversations or even better through the session design and practices they deliver to the players. This way the striker can develop their game intelligence in a safe and repetitive environment. The constraints and conditions that coaches use to develop decision-making can limit strikers to a few choices in practice.
For example, You could constrain a striker to one-touch if they want to play backward but unlimited touches if they progress forwards with the ball, this way the striker can work on their positioning and movement to get into positions to turn. Another idea could be around providing the player with decisions to make and they must make the right choice.
For example, a practice inside the box could have the decision to set up a teammate or score. In this instance the striker would have to recognize the common pictures, patterns, movements, spaces then make the correct choice to set up or score.
Developing game intelligence takes time patience and application, it involves commitment and effort on behalf of the player and the coach. A great habit to help improve players’ game intelligence is to get them to perceive or predict before the ball arrives. This comes back to the two skills of scanning and anticipation.
Anticipation through reading the game, planning, and scanning to identify the best spaces to occupy to be successful. If the coach can help the striker to see the value in preparing and using the before the ball is received moment to gain an edge over their immediate opponent they will begin to develop that quality where it seems they have more time and space on the ball than everyone else.
5. Scanning and Anticipation Skills
To scan effectively and make positive choices the striker needs to get their body position correct, the most favorable body position would be a sideways position which allows the player to see options all around them. This helps with the decision-making process and presents ideas and information that the striker can use to free themselves up.
A second position that is favorable for the strikers is what’s known as blindside positioning which means the striker is out of sight of the player marking them. They stand behind them or on their shoulder, this allows the player to scan the field without the opponent seeing where they are looking which makes it harder for the defender to anticipate the striker’s actions.
The skill of scanning is about preparation, if a player has scanned correctly they can anticipate what might happen next and prepare their bodies for this.
What are the players scanning for?
They are scanning for the ball, their teammates, the spaces, and the opponent, with a view of trying to anticipate the actions of the ball carrier, their teammates, and the opposition then placing themselves into a body position and space that helps to progress the ball.
The space available may mean that a player needs to scan more than once because the picture in tight spaces will change quicker than the picture in a large space so the player may need to adapt their position. If the player is in a large space they will have more time to scan to make their move.
The timing of the scan can become important in larger or tighter spaces because if a player looks once then the picture changes and they failed to look a second time it may mean the opponent has read their intention. If the player looks four seconds before they receive the ball and then doesn’t look again a player could make up lots of ground in that time and intercept the ball.
Scanning is linked closely to anticipation and as previously mentioned anticipation is about thinking ahead and planning the scanning process helps the player to make these plans or come up with ideas to exploit the opposition.
The more coaches can encourage players to scan in the build-up and the moments before they receive the ball the more likely it will be that your players become good decision-makers, tough to mark and read. As coaches it is important to watch if your players are scanning, so looking away from the ball and anticipating who may get it, then checking if the player is scanning.
6. Movement Skills
There are four basic movements that strikers can use to gain an edge over the opponent. The four movements are, blindside runs, opening up to receive, dropping off, and double movements. Strikers use these movements to get time on the ball, deceive the opponent or move the defender out of a space they want to get into.
Blindside runs are movements across the back of the defender, so the striker may start in a position where the defender can see them then as soon as they look away they run across the back of them to get on the ball or move them out of position for a teammate. Blindside runs are useful when there is space behind the defense or between lines to exploit.
Opening up to receive is a movement where the striker starts at the side and almost touch tight to the defender than as the ball carrier lifts their head to pass the ball they open up the space by pushing the defender away and shuffling backward to open up a lane to receive a pass. it is a good way of getting a little extra time and space when the opponent is trying to mark them tight or closely.
Dropping off is a movement where the striker moves off the front of their marker into depth to either get time on the ball so they can receive the ball and turn or encourage the defender to track them deeper thus dragging the defender out of position. This type of movement is good for creating doubt amongst the defensive players because they have to make a decision, leave their position or let the player drop off, receive and turn.
Double movements, this is a movement where the striker moves away from the ball first to drag or attract the opponent out of position to then explosively move into a space created by their first movement. This movement is useful for helping players to gain time on the ball, get an edge in a foot race, and to deceive the defender.
Coaches should try to understand these movements and try to work closely with the player to help them practice and use these movements at the right time. The coach should help the player see that these movements are tools that the player can use to win the duel and create hesitation amongst the defenders. These movements can be taught in any practice so coaches should challenge the players to spot the right time to use them.
Trickery does not always have to be a skill that involves dribbling, it can be a striker’s ability to adapt to the challenge and use another aspect of their arsenal to win a battle, hide their intention or disguise their actions. some ideas behind this would include using physical aspects of performance such as slow to fast movements, changes of directions, stop-start actions.
Changes in body language such as not looking interested then moving quickly, not looking at the passer then showing quickly, use of some of the movements mentioned previously in a well-timed and explosive manner to create space and passing lanes.
When presented with shooting opportunities the use of disguise can be very useful in tricking the goalkeeper so looking like you are going to pass the ball into a corner then dragging it past the goalkeeper or looking like you are going to blast the ball then dinking it over the oncoming goalkeeper.
Using different parts of the foot is also something strikers can consider. This makes it is hard for the goalkeeper to react, examples include the use of toe punts through players or curling the ball with the inside of the foot into corners when a player is blocking the goalies’ view. Striking with the laces can help to produce more power.
As coaches, we have a responsibility to provide players with options and educate them on the range of opportunities they have at their disposal. Give them practices that allow them to experiment with these things and question them following success and failure to see if they realized what they were doing. Praise the player’s effort and commitment towards learning and keep challenging them to problem-solve.
8. Timing Skills
Strikers need to have good timing, without it they can be in the right position but unable to make an impact because they are offside or too late because the ball has already passed them. Being in the right place at the right time is something great soccer strikers are good at.
When it comes to timing the coach has to help the player manage their enthusiasm to score goals and get on the ball. Poor timing can mean that a striker gets in the way of a teammate, fails to get on the end of a cross or through ball, jumps too early, miss times their shot. Based on this detail there are some concepts that coaches can work on with players to improve their timing.
Timing of movement, We have seen in tip 6 the basic movements available to all players that can help them get time and space to be effective with the ball. Ideally, movements need to be timed in a way that it is as late as it can be explosive. This makes it difficult for the opponent to react to this the timing of such movements buys the player time, space, or opportunity on the ball.
Reading the signals, if players are going to anticipate things they need to read the signals, eye contact with the passer, body positions of opponents, hand signals, calls, and teammates send clues to the striker about actions and intentions. The striker must read these signals and execute their actions. If they act too soon the picture may change and therefore their actions must be well-timed.
Understand the triggers to make their move, as the game is being played the striker must read the signals but also have an understanding of the triggers that should set them off on their run, move, or opportunity to shoot. Coaches should also know these triggers help communicate this to the players and help them spot them.
Examples of triggers would be the quality of the pass from the ball carrier (if the pass is too slow it might not get there), the body language of the ball carrier or the receiver (are they ready to release/receive the ball?), body contact with the defender (player knows the space where to move the ball too, because of the position of the defender), the positions of teammates (ready to cross the ball, slide in, pass).
These are all basic concepts and small things but if coaches work with players on these types of skills the players will recognize the small gains and advantages they can achieve all over the field and not always rely on the same skill or technique. They will have a variety of tools at their disposal and if one thing is not working they can try something else.
Can this stuff make a difference? This stuff is great for players to improve their understanding and for coaches to understand the basic details that players require around the core coaching points for your sessions. Attention to detail helps to make the players better problem solvers.
Is there anywhere else I can find out about this information? Yes, much of this work has been carried out by Paul McGuiness from the English FA, he provides a wealth of ideas and constructs around this topic. I have attached a video from YouTube which discusses this topic.
There are additional articles on this website about various positions, these can be found below:
- 8 Tips for Soccer Beginners – Goalkeepers
- 8 Tips For Soccer Beginners – Central Defender
- 8 Tips for Soccer Beginners – Fullbacks
- 8 Tips for Soccer Beginners – Defensive Midfielder
- 8 Tips For Soccer Beginners – Attacking Midfielders