When it comes to playing soccer one of the most important skills to have is a good “first touch”. Soccer players can spend whole careers working on improving their first touch because they know it will make them a better player on the soccer field.
But before we get ahead of ourselves it is important to first establish what we mean when we talk about “first touch”.
So, what does first touch in soccer mean?
“First touch” in soccer is a phrase that refers to the moment the ball first makes contact with a player as they receive the ball. It is the initial contact, or touch, between the player and the ball. Each time the player regains possession of the ball during a soccer game they take a new “first touch”.
At a basic level, it may seem obvious that “first touch” would mean this. It’s the “first touch” of something right?! But the truth is that this one phrase actually has a lot more meaning and importance than just that one dimension.
Read on and let’s find out more about why it’s so important and then we’ll look at specific ways you can improve your first touch when playing soccer.
Importance of a Good First Touch
In soccer, touches of the ball are limited so a player needs to make every touch count.
The reason the first touch a player makes is considered to be so important is that the quality of the first touch has such a huge influence over what happens in the moments that immediately follow this touch of the ball.
Maybe the ball will first touch the player and then bounce away where the player can no longer reach it, or maybe the ball will first touch the player and then fall perfectly into their path to set up a shot on goal.
Having a good first touch can be the difference between creating a goal-scoring opportunity for your team or gifting a goal-scoring opportunity to the other team.
The Effect of the First Touch
The first touch determines:
- Where the ball goes next
- how fast the ball moves away from the player
- how fast the player can move away with the ball
- Where the player can pass the ball
- How easy it will be for an opposition player to tackle the player with the ball
- and many more things
Having a good first touch is important as it affects so much of what happens next.
Especially because of the speed that a soccer game is played at players are always under pressure to decide what they want to do with the ball and do it quickly and effectively. Every soccer player needs to maximize every opportunity they have with the ball.
Having a good first touch also increases the chance of your team winning a game. [source]
This comes down to the fact that the quality of the first touch is so influential to the game and a bad first touch will often lead to possession being lost.
If a player can increase the quality of their first touch then they reduce the number of times the possession of the ball is turned over to the opposing team. And more possession of the ball a team has then the greater the team’s chance of winning the game is. [source]
6 Ways to Improve Your First Touch
To be a better soccer player you need to have a great first touch. I’ve put together a list of 6 tips that any player can use to improve their first touch of the ball.
1. Stay on your toes
When a soccer ball is coming towards them too many soccer players stand there flat-footed rather than staying on their toes.
Standing flat-footed is not in an optimal position to receive the ball and it definitely won’t help your first touch of the ball.
When you stand flat-footed both your feet are planted firmly on the ground. In this position, it takes much more effort, and time, to move from that position to a new one and adjust your body as the ball approaches you.
Alternatively, when you are on your toes, constantly moving and adjusting your body and balance, you are in a much better position to adapt your position to the path of the ball as it approaches you.
The ball may come at you at speed or take a deflection on the way stop before it gets to you. Staying light on your toes keeps your body in a state of readiness and expectancy to receive the ball however it comes to you and allows you to adapt your body position almost instantly to ensure that your first touch is the best it can be.
2. Think ahead
There is one of three things a player is looking to do when receiving the ball:
- move with the ball
- shield the ball or hold it up
The best soccer players already know what they want to do with the ball before they take their first touch.
Whether they want to pass the ball, shield the ball, shoot or dribble, the first touch will set them up for the next one.
If a player waits until they have taken their first touch to decide what they want to do next they may find that they have lost their opportunity to do anything.
Standing on the soccer field with the ball deciding what to do is an invitation for an opposition player to step in and attempt to take the ball away from you.
This immediately puts you on the back foot and instead of being able to make an offensive forward move, you will be stuck trying to defend the ball and keep it out of the opposition’s possession in any way you can.
Know what you’re going to do before the ball arrives. Think ahead where’s space? which way should I go? Who am I looking to pass to? Then use your first touch to set yourself up for that move.
This will put you one step ahead of everyone else.
3. Get behind the ball
Another way to improve your first touch is to always have your body behind the ball as you take that touch.
As the ball is traveling towards you, make a judgment on where it will arrive and get your body in its path. Too many players are not thinking about this and as the ball arrives they are stretching one way or the other trying to make up for their poor positioning.
Stretching for the ball often leads to a bad first touch as you have little ability to cushion the ball well to control it or direct it to where you want it to be.
This is another area where staying light on your feet will help as you will be able to respond quickly to the movement of the ball.
4. Focus on the ball
Fully focus on the ball as you make your first touch.
Instead of looking around you or thinking too far ahead, watch the ball and nothing else as it makes contact with you.
Although in the moments immediately before your first touch it’s good to think about what you want to do next, as the touch happens solely focus on the first touch. Keep your eyes on the ball.
In these moments it can be too easy to get distracted by something happening around you or your next move instead of focusing on the ball. But remember, if you are unable to get the ball under control with your first touch you may not be able to achieve what you want to do next anyway.
5. Play the ball into space
This one is key.
Once you have mastered getting the ball under control with your first touch. Focus on using your first touch to push the ball into space around you.
If you allow the ball to stop, or to move closer to a defender nearby who wants to tackle you and regain possession for their team, then you are restricting the time and space you could have had to use the ball as you want.
Instead, notice where space is around you and focus on using your first touch to push the ball into that area.
For example, if the ball is coming to you and there is a defender coming up on your left-hand side use your first touch to push the ball to the right side of where you’re standing, moving the ball away from the reach of the defender.
Or if a defender is coming up behind you, push the ball into space in front of you, moving the ball away from the defender again and giving yourself more time and space to use the ball effectively.
It’s important to always keep the ball moving. Instead of using your first touch to stop the ball to stop dead at your feet, get the ball out of your feet and into space around you.
When the ball is still the opposition players have more chance of getting to it and taking it from you.
Always try and move the ball into space.
6. Practice, Practice, Practice
To improve at anything in life there’s no better way than regularly and consistently doing the same thing time and time again.[source]
And this is no different in soccer. Now you know some specific techniques to improve your first touch the best thing you can do is get out there and practice them.
Find a friend, or a wall, and start receiving the ball over and over again focusing on perfecting the skills we’ve just talked about. As you regularly do this over the next few weeks you should start to see a dramatic improvement in your first touch.
To help you practice let’s look at a few drills that will help you improve your first touch.
3 Soccer Drills to Improve Your First Touch
For each of these drills, you will need cones and a soccer ball. If you need to purchase either I would recommend these training cones on Amazon and this soccer ball. (Both links will take you straight to their specific pages on Amazon.) Both these items are high quality but still available at an affordable price.
1. Box Drill
Using 4 cones, set out a small square box on the ground with the cones roughly 2 feet (60cm) apart.
With another player, stand either side of the box. The first player will pass the ball down one side of the box to the second player.
With their first touch that player will then push the ball across the box and with their second touch pass the ball back to the first player. This time the pass will do down the opposite side of the box from where the first player passed the ball.
The first player will then perform the same action with their first touch and pass the ball back to the second player.
Keep this going for at least 2 minutes.
This video below will show you a good example of how it’s done.
2. Move and Pass Drill
The second drill to do that will improve your first touch of the ball also requires a second person. (Although a wall can work if necessary.)
Using cones set up a box with the cones around 2 yards (2m) apart. Stand in this box.
Ask another player to stand around 5 – 10 yards (4-9m) away from the box and pass the ball to you. As you receive the ball, push it to the left or the right with your first touch.
Take the ball outside of the box, pass the ball back to the other player and return to the center of the box to start again.
This video below will show you how it’s done in more detail.
3. Pass Between the Cones Drill
This drill is really easy to set up and do but can make a world of difference to your first touch.
This time just set up 2 cones approximately 1 yard (1m) apart. Stand just behind and to the side of the cones.
Ask a second player to stand 5 – 10 yards (4-9m) away and pass the ball to you just to the side of the two cones.
As you receive the ball, with your first touch push it into the center of the cones and pass the ball back to the other player. Then take another step or two and position your self to the other side of the cones from where you started. Receive the ball and run through the drill again.
The first half of this video below will show you how it’s done.
Now you know the meaning and importance of first touch in soccer, and you also have the tips and drills to improve your first touch the only thing left is to get out there and start playing!
If you want to increase your skills even further there are a number of things I would recommend.
- Firstly check out my article on the Top 10 Soccer Drills for Beginners by clicking here.
- Consider signing up for an online soccer course such as Epic Soccer Training by clicking on this link. This course is designed to take any soccer player to the next level and not only that but you will be coached by a former pro soccer player who has been there and done it himself.
- Check out my article on the Top 10 Soccer Tricks and Skills to learn by clicking here and impress all your friends!
- Get hold of the best soccer cleats available to make that first touch all the more easier. These cleats on Amazon come highly recommended and would be perfect for someone trying to do all they can to be the best soccer player they can be.
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