Football is a huge industry, with lots of money to be made and all kinds of products on offer. In this blog, we look at some of the ideas out there for those with a few notes to spend. There are some fun ideas, and some bizarre ideas, but what is actually needed in order to learn?
In terms of deliberate practice, rebound surfaces products offer instant feedback on performance. And it looks great fun too. I'd love to give it a try, and I think it would enthuse the kids I work with.
Some of them make promises like "the fastest way to learn ball skills" - which for me is a bit daft seeing as there are no decisions involved and therefore no skill development at all (see Skill v Technique info for more detail). Rebound products seperate technique from real-game decisions (skills!). Added to this, if you have 15 kids in your session, then each child's time using the product will be limited. You could buy more than one of course, but that's an extra cost and more of your limited playing space taken up with activities for just 1 child at a time. And of course you'll need to get to your session an extra hour early in order to set it up - and stay longer after to pack it away again.
Cost: Up to £500
The SoccerWave is described as "much more effective than simply kicking a ball against a wall". Perhaps, but a wall doesn't cost nearly £200. The other thing about a wall of course, is that it's much harder to miss. If - like me - you believe that repetition is key to learning, then a wall provides a surface which will always return the ball. The SoccerWave is less than 1m wide, and I reckon a big chunk of practice time will be spent retrieving the ball when you miss the target.
But for those rich enough to afford it, and who live near a wall they can place it in front of, this could be a but of fun and may just enthuse a child enough to get that extra practice that matters
The idea of playing football in a cage has always seemed a bit odd to me. And odder still is the idea that someone will buy and put together a cage just for two kids to play football in.
I'm a big fan of 1v1 football, and I know many of the children I coach would be inspired to play cage 1v1. But does the learning and enjoyment of caged 1v1 really justify the cost and effort? I don't think so. At school, we used to play a game of nutmegs with a tennis ball in the playground. If we didn't have a tennis ball, we'd use a coke can. It cost nothing, we played for hours. Do we really need cages that costs thousands?
The 1v1 Cage
The idea of the Skorrpi is quite straightforward: Put your support foot in the foot hole and the ball in the ball hole, and kick. This will teach you to "shoot, kick and pass like the Pros". Only it won't. Because the Pros shoot, kick and pass in a fast game and in tight spaces, where their support foot isn't always nicely planted next to the ball and their toes aren't always pointing at the target.
Yes, support foot positioning is a problem for some children. But in my experience one of the main causes of the problem is children playing on pitches that are too big for them and thus needing to boot the ball far too far. Passing and shooting for children shouldn't be a struggle to get the ball far enough. Team-mates, goals etc should all be at realistic distances during games. At very young ages, just let the kids dribble instead - passing and shooting can come later.
There are a variety of these: Goals with holes cut out to make targets to shoot at. To be fair the TP Super Goal with Trainer is one of the better ones - with netted targets for easy ball retrieval if you score. But it still suffers from the same miserable disease of all these products: Skill development requires some decision-making! How about a goalie in the goal instead?
There are an abundance of products on the market which all teach the child how to get rid of the ball: Passing, shooting, kicking. Why this obsession with getting rid of the ball? How about we keep it instead of kick it away! Say what you like about ball-on-a-stick or ball-on-a-string products, but at least you can't boot them away!
TP Super Goal
In the battle of the various ball-on-a-string products, the Jimmy Ball proudly claims to be "the best training ball in the world". It's tied to the body at the shoulders, and it "can be used in the home" too apparently.
A bit like the Speedball, my main concern with the ball-on-a-string is that real footballs in real games aren't on strings, and that footballs are much more fun when they're not on a string.
I remember having a ball-on-a-string when I was a kid. That was back in the days when footballs were scarcer and not everyone had one all the time. It wasn't long before the string got pulled off, cos you know we wanted to play a game - and you can't play a game with a string in the way.
Bizarrely, the Skills King Club is a ball-on-a-string dangling from a giant apparatus that looks a bit like the top of a helicopter. It's like a massive 20 foot high swingball.
"For years Europe's top trainers have used pendulum training for heading and volley technique training" the website tells us. Is this true? Who are these trainers? When I coached in New Zealand, we had something similar to this. It was never long before it got knocked over, or the ropes became tangled, or a naughty child had tried to hang on the ball. There's no need for this kind of stress. Just throw a ball in the air instead.
The Skills King Club
The Mule wins the prize for 'Product I'd Most Like to Try'. It is a football server, that pings perfect corner kicks into the exact same spot over and over again - like a tennis ball machine. Unfortunately though I do not have £££'s to spend on a corner kick machine, so I'll have to give this one a miss.
As a learning tool, I have big reservations. A vital skill in finishing from crosses is to predict where the ball will arrive given the spaces and movements around you, and the body position/eyes etc of the crosser. Crosses are rarely perfect, and good finishers need to learn how to successfully react to the imperfections.
The Kwik Kik Speedball is a ball on a wobbly stick. It makes feet quicker, apparently. And - according to SoccerWorkout.co.uk - it also improves peripheral vision: "You learn to be very familiar with the feel of the soccer ball at your feet. You are able to look over the field of play. You can be aware of what is going on around you while still controlling the ball." Can't argue with that, after all it's very difficult to lose control of a ball when it's stuck on a stick.
"Just a few minutes a day will greatly increase eye-foot coordination, allowing a player to dribble with the left or right foot". Hmmmm. So will actually dribbling a football, surely?
Kwik Kik Speedball
It is quite impressive to invent a product that removes almost all the joy and spontaniety from football.
The idea of the Futbal Maestro is to match the coloured part of a special Boot Glove with the same colour on the ball, in order to learn how to spin the ball using the outside of the foot for example.
Not only is the Futbal Maestro painfully unnecessary, but it fails to appreciate that football techniques change with time. For example, in the past few years, Ronaldo has shown us a new way to take free-kicks. I'm sure he learnt that through experimentation rather than following a colour-coded instruction booklet.
Football is a simple game really, and generations of great players have enjoyed and learned it using very minimal equipment. Some of the greatest footballers ever learnt the game without electronic rebound walls or cages to play in.
You can play football anywhere and everywhere. When we were kids, my brother and I had some of the best games ever in the corridor of our house. His goal was the front door, and mine was the bottom of the staircase. It doesn't need to get any more complicated than that. Don't spend a fortune on flashy, unnecessary kit. Just find a friend and play. Jumpers for goalposts, and all that.
The football is the only essential item for learning football. Find one that is not attached to a string or a stick. And if you're a good person, who gives a monkeys, then make it a fairtrade one.