You got it:
Knowing what comes next during a soccer match is HARD to predict.
Well, you can get much better at it by practicing just a few simple drills…
…that will make it stand out from the other players (or coaches) immensely.
In this post (and video), I’ll be explaining what those drills are… and how they can turn you into a real threat on the playing field.
The game of soccer is chalked full of great players with unbelievable skill.
But only for the most elite athletes are avenues available to the very top without having the most important skill in the game:
Anticipating what is about to happen next, or reading the game, is an invaluable skill that can take a sub-par athlete and make them into a real threat equal to the very best players.
Just knowing what to do can be half the battle and that is precisely what we are going to be looking at today!
What Does Anticipation in Soccer Mean?
Anticipation can mean a lot of different things to a lot of people but, over the whole of it, is about knowing what to do next in the game of association football.
Whether this is moving on or off the ball, in attack or defense, this is a crucial part of the game.
Anticipating what is happening is the difference between high school and college players and the difference between college and pro players; it’s a clear contrast.
Anticipating is basically the art of predicting what will happen next. It’s about acting and thinking quickly.
Moving quickly is also great, but without the mental speed to go along with it, you will only go so far.
Soccer Anticipation Drills
Okay, without further ado… here are a few drills to help you become better at this invaluable skill.
Drill 1: Spinning Ball
This is one of the easiest drills ever.
- Simply take the ball and throw it into the air.
- Have your players then predict how it is going to spin when it hits the ground.
This may seem like a complete waste of time to some, but this is a good starter to judge where your players are if you are new to a team and want to find out which of them have more experience and/or insight.
A player that knows how the ball will spin is much more likely to be able to win the ball, even if their opponent is taller or faster.
Drill 2: Possession Skills
To practice how you and your team keep possession, here is a great drill.
What you need: To begin, divide your squad into two teams of no more than five players.
- Have a coach throw the ball quickly to one of the teams.
- Instruct them that they must pass or shoot within the first two times they touch the ball.
This will cause them to think quicker and your team’s play will eventually get better and much faster.
Plus, it’s a good way for both teams to get involved as there will be a lot of turnovers to begin with.
Drill 3: Transition
Moving from attack to defense is a huge tool in modern football and those that do it quickest have a decisive advantage over others.
That was one the best weapons Leicester City’s squad had when they surprised the World by winning the English Premier League in 2014-15.
What you need: In this drill, you want to take a few players and line them up on a set of cones.
- Much like the above drill, you want to see them think quickly.
- Instruct them to work as a team to take the ball from a single player.
- They then must pass the ball to a teammate, who is not beyond the single player, in order to get a point.
The more teammates the easier, but it teaches them to keep their head up and their minds open for various options.
Drill 4: Two Ball Battle
What you need: For this drill, you will need two balls and a 15×15 yard (roughly the same in meters) space.
- Two groups of players will be on either side and they may rotate anyway they see fit to pass.
- The offensive team will try to keep both of their balls alive for as long as possible, trying to communicate and anticipate so that the balls don’t hit each other.
- The defense also has to anticipate where each one will go and how far and how long to chase a certain ball as it could mean they leave a ball wide open.
Drill 5: Defensive Shifting
No one likes to lose possession of the ball, but it happens. And how you react to the counterattack is absolutely crucial to your team’s performance.
In this drill, you are going to be working on having an imperfect defensive posture, or formation. This happens all the time in youth league.
- Simply et up a situation where the attacking team has more players than the defense.
This forces your defensive players to think quickly to try and compensate for their lack of players.
A fun addition to this is to put additional defensive players on the other side of the field. If their teammates can hold up the attack for long enough, they will be able to come to the rescue and help them.
You can also add extra attackers as well!
Drill 6: Striker Anticipation and Reaction Speeds Boost
If you’re a striker, there’s a very fun drill you can do to better your anticipation skills and reaction speed.
What you need: Set up two lines of cones (2 yards/meters apart from each other) and placed perpendicularly in front of the goal. You’ll also need a coach (or a teammate) and a goalkeeper.
- Place yourself facing the goal and behind the two lines of cones.
- Keep moving from left to right and vice versa while paying attention to your surroundings.
- In your back, your coach or teammate should wait for the right moment to kick, throw or pass the soccer ball to one of the sides or the middle of the cone lines.
- When you notice the ball coming, run to control the football and quickly dribble past two cones.
- After dribbling, immediately shoot to score a goal.
This particular exercise here not only will allow you, as a striker, to boost your anticipation and reaction speeds, but it will also improve your control, dribbling and accuracy skills.
To better understand how this drill is done, check the following short video:
For Goalkeepers and Pure Speed
It’d be a big mistake to leave out our goalkeepers from this article entirely.
Goalkeepers should and can be included in most of these activities above, but there are other things they can do.
They need to always be ready and moving constantly so as to be in the right spot. These need to be your brightest players.
But this drill is just to work on reaction speeds. This can also be done by field players as well to improve their actual speed.
A good idea is to get a reaction ball.
These balls are made by rounded edges all throughout so as to create a random bounce when thrown into a surface or into the ground.
This is great for goalkeepers as it trains them to be ready at all times, and it can also help field players.
Many teams and players skip over the mental work.
It takes a lot of time, focus, and even talent to get good — and great — at knowing what is coming next.
Being able to discern the path of the ball, where an opposition player is going, and where the pass is likely to end up is just as important as being able to dribble the ball at breakneck speed.
In fact, it is more important because you may never get the chance to dribble said football if you and your team aren’t able to recognize what is happening to you.
Watching soccer, playing as much as possible, paying attention to each opponent’s moves and, of course, doing the soccer anticipation drills described above, is vital to building a database to draw upon.
Coaches, this is a great time to find out which players can be a good leader as well!
What are you waiting for? Get out there and start practicing!