Curing the Toe Poke in Youth Players


So how do we start to teach this "unnatural" movement?

We created Blast The Ball video and research program because much of this is hard to describe in writing. But we will give it our best shot:

  • Have patience. This unnatural movement or change takes time. You will practice it and it will look good. Then, come game time, the child will revert back to the movement that is instinctive. Eventually the new kick will become a muscle memory or instinctive.

  • Start by having the child step closer to the ball. Most youth players step their plant foot well behind the ball. This causes the ball to be struck on the "upward swing" and naturally kicked by the toe. Having them step next to or even slightly past the ball forces the ball to be further back in the swing circle.

  • Practice loading the leg. We have an entire section devoted to the "soccer hop" on Blast The Ball. It is the slight hop or large stride just before kicking a soccer ball. Just as in any sport such as baseball, golf, tennis, etc., when you are going to come forward to hit a ball you must first load or have a backswing. The entire leg will come back and with "power shooters" you will notice the load or backswing is so large that the sole of the foot almost touches their behind. Now instead of a push, we are preparing to release and kick.

  • Shorten the kicking leg. No, not by surgery, but by maintaining the "V" position of the leg all the way through the swing. When our leg is in the backswing and just starting to come forward, there is a strong "V" position. We want players to maintain this "V" all the way through the shot. Stand up with both feet close together. Raise the kicking hip slightly, and then bend the knee slightly. You must do both. You will notice that if you hold this position you can point your toe down and swing your leg back and forth. Your toe will not hit the ground. While the shape and size of the "V" will change through the kick, it should never totally disappear. (No locking straight leg.)

  • Start with an angle approach. We teach the many different styles of correct kicking. One is the straight kick which has no angle approach or "wrap around" leg swing. With the straight kick, the ball IS struck with the laces. However, the angle kick has an angled approach and the leg will slightly swing across and around to our front. This angle arch also allows the toe to be pointed slightly "outward" requiring less "shorting" of the leg and less chance or the dreaded "toe stub". When working with young players, the angle kick is taught first.

  • Learn the part of the foot. When we use the angle kick, we really are NOT kicking with the laces. We are kicking the ball with the first metatarsal. In simple terms that is the bone just above the "knuckle" of the big toe. This is the largest bone in the foot and when the ankle is locked, creates a huge amount of impact force.

  • Learn to strike the ball just left of center (for right-footed kickers). This applies to the angle kick because we are approaching the ball from an angle. Striking the ball in the center will cause the impact to be more of a glancing blow and create a huge amount of side spin.

One of the most important points of working with young players is to start them off in slow motion. A child only wants to do one thing, kick a ball hard. Forcing them to kick slowly and gently is extremely hard.

I recommend you start this exercise against a wall. If you put them six feet away from a wall, they will have a fear of the ball bouncing back and hitting them. This will force them to kick softer. Also, if they kick too hard they have to go chase the ball. DO NOT start this process 18 yards out from a soccer goal. Their overpowering instinct to kick it hard into the net will force them to focus on power.

Plan on this process taking 6-12 months, depending on the child's age. Have them practice the movements several times a week. Eventually it will become the instinct rather than the unnatural. Have patience and keep practicing.

Coach V is the founder and developer of the Blast The Ball soccer training system and the SoccerU training series. He currently works with all levels of players including youth, collegiate and professionals.
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