BY Hubert Vogelsinger
Most people think of charging as something done in hockey, basketball and department stores. A costly habit.
In soccer, charging is neither illegal nor costly but is an essential defensive tactic, one that lets you meet strength with strength and gain quick physical dominance over an opponent.
That charging is legal does not mean you can go out and blast the first opponent you see. Strict rules govern use of the charge and knowing the rules is as important as mastering the technique.
You are allowed to use your shoulder or any part of your upper arm against an opponent. You may also charge an opponent from behind if his is obstructing (i.e. shielding) the ball. In this case contact must be shoulder against shoulder blade. Any other contact, for example chest to spine or hip to hip, is illegal.
Any charge must also be made within playing distance of the ball - that is, against an opponent who has or is about to gain possession or when two of you are fighting for possession. The charge must not be violent or dangerous and you cannot charge an opponent whose feet are off the ground as he tries to head the ball.
I think the real key, in the eyes of the referee, is that both you and your opponent are truly playing the ball and not simply teeing off on each other.
The best charge is not a big hit but a nudging or riding action in which you use your body weight to throw your opponent off balance an force him to lose control of the ball. The shoulder charge is usually used to ride an opponent off the play when you are running alongside him chasing a loose ball. Timing, not force, is crucial. Sometimes a well-timed brush is all you need to knock him off balance.
The first thing you want to do is try to adjust your rhythm to his so that your charge will be a legal charge and not a öpushä. Make your final thrust - the charge itself - when your weight is over your outside foot. Pushing off a well-bent outside leg will add power to your charge and will also lower your center of gravity, giving you better balance.
Pushing off the outside leg also offers a fail-safe mechanism since, if your charge misses, you can quickly recover by transferring weight to your inside foot. And don't overlook the fake charge. By faking a charge and withholding it at the last second you may force your opponent to brace himself or flinch and stumble off balance.
One other tip: The goalkeeper is fair game for a charge if he is obstructing or outside the penalty area. There are several obvious ways to practice charging, most of which are easily arranged two-man contests in which you and a teammate fight for possession with one of you as ball carrier and the other challenging for the ball via charges.
But my favorite practice for timing and technique is the rooster fight. You and a partner hop on one foot, arms folded in front. They try to knock each other off balance by shoulder to shoulder charges or fake charges. No elbows. Change from one foot to the other at agreed upon intervals.
BY Hubert Vogelsinger
Your passing may be a thing of beauty and your positioning a joy forever. No matter. Sooner or later you will come face to face with an opponent standing between you and where you want to go with the ball.
You're going to have to take him on and pass him through clever dribbling and feinting, usually in limited space.
Beating a man one-on-one has great advantages. It can pop open a tough defense, give your club a decisive though brief numerical advantage, and loosen a previously tight situation. But it can also drive coaches and players crazy because passing an opponent is so intensely individual as to be almost uncoachable.
Most soccer skills are learned with a kind of Arthur Murray rote simplicity. You do A then B then thus and so. One, two, cha-cha-cha. Beating a defender is more like disco dancing. If it isn't natural it isn't going to work.
So I caution coaches against overcoaching in this area. And to players, I will suggest certain principles with the understanding that, in the end, what is best is what works for you.
We begin with sound dribbling. This is the basis for all feinting. You want your trunk slightly crouched and forward, weight on the balls of your feet. Hips, knees and ankles loose. This puts your center of gravity low and over the ball, permits protection of the ball, and gives you the needed balance for shiftiness and acceleration.
Also work on peripheral or split vision. Don't be a ball watcher. You have to look at the ball as you contact it but even then keep the field in view peripherally. After contact, raise your head to look over the situation while viewing the ball peripherally.
You also need raw speed and a good change of pace. Without speed off the mark you can bet your man only to have him recover and overtake you. As for changing pace, there are many ways of passing opponents but all are predicated on changing direction and or speed sharply or subtly, or feinting the defender off balance then quickly accelerating. And your feints must be convincing. If you can't sell don't expect your opponent to buy.
A classic example: Sir Stanley Matthews, the English international, could repeatedly beat fullbacks with the same Matthew's dribble.ä Slowly, almost at a walk, he'd dribble along the touchline, right up to the fullback. The defender, it seemed, had Matthews where he wanted him, trapped on the touchline and forced to go inside. But as Matthews dribbled closer to the fullback he would also be working his way farther from the touchline. Sure enough, he would make the expected inside move which the fullback would go for. then he would slide off the ball, check it and push it with the outside of his foot, accelerating into the open inside area his skill and patience had created.
It worked because Matthews played to his strengths - patience, timing, maturity and great acceleration. What works for you is what plays to your strengths. And in that, you know best.
BY Hubert Vogelsinger
Fools rush in - true in love, war and tackling. Tackling, while an important technical and tactical weapon, is still a gamble. Like any good gambler you want to put the odds as heavily as possible in your favor.
And I'm not just talking to the defenders and midfielders. You forwards should pay attention, too, because today's game puts new emphasis on the interchanging of positions. Anyone on the field can end up tackling. The big questions are how and when.
How - that is, how to executive a good tackle - is a technical matter. We'll talk about that in the next two columns. When, and more important, when not to tackle are tactical matters. If you don't know when, knowing how isn't going to help.
First, you want to study your opponent's strengths and weaknesses. Is he right or left-footed? What are his favorite moves. These are clues as to how he will try to beat you.
The tackle must follow a fail-safe philosophy. That is, your challenge should take place in an area and a time when there is least danger should your tackle fail. Timing is the key. You must be alert to the flow of the game and have speed off the mark to be in the right position at the right moment. Ideally, this is just when your opponent is playing or receiving the ball.
The genius of a good tackler is that he strikes in that eyeblink of time after the ball carrier commits himself to his move but before he has full control. It is then that a good tackle is devastating.
But the ball carrier isn't your only concern. You must know where your teammates are and hold off on the tackle if necessary until there is cover behind you (the exception is a last-ditch situation).
If your opponent has control, if there is danger of leaving your teammates exposed, then you must be cautious. To rush in is foolish. A nimble ballcarrier could leave you stranded.
Wait. Stalk your opponents' every move and try to pressure him into an error of control. You must be aggressive. Don't let the attacker dictate the situation or the area into which he moves. Shepherd him away from the goal and toward the touchline. The closer you get him to the touchline the less room he has to work.
Keep him moving and be ready to pounce on any mistake. If it's your teammate who's preparing for the challenge, give him cover and call to let him know you're there to support him.
One last word. Try to make your first tackle a good one. This is psychologically important. Show the player you are making with absolute determination and the strongest possible resistance. Such strength (within the limits of the rules) can have your opponent looking for you instead of the ball when he should be trying to control it. This makes it easier for you to dispossess him of the ball and clear the danger.
BY Hubert Vogelsinger
In football you tackle the ball carrier. In soccer you tackle the ball. This is consistent with the philosophy of soccer that says the game should be a contact sport but one placing skill ahead of violence.
Tackling is deceptively difficult. Yet great tacklers generally go unapplauded. The skill itself gets short shrift in instructional books and practice sessions. The excuse given is that tackling can only be learned in genuine game situations, and not in practices. Don't believe it.
Tackling is a technique. It can be practiced just like any other. Take, for example, the sole-of-the-foot tackle.
This tackle is almost identical to a good trap with the sole of the foot. Timing is crucial. You move in close enough to be within easy reach of the ball, well balanced on your support foot with that knee and hip bent and your trunk crouched forward. Just as your opponent is about to kick the ball you put the sole of your foot up against it, toes up and heel down. On impact - and it might be quite a jolt - give gently. Let your knee act as a shock absorber.
After preventing the shot or pass you have a choice. Either force the ball through your opponent or take possession right away. If the ball gets smothered between your sole and the turf, pull it back with the sole of your foot and immediately screen it with your body.
The sole tackle is one of the simplest and safest because the force of the kick is directed against the bottom of your foot and the foot is further cushioned by the well-bent knee. The key is to be close enough to be able to reach out and put your sole on the ball.
Since coming in with a straight knee is illegal, you can't just stick out your leg. You have to put the weight of your body behind your foot and your tackle. But there are drawbacks. The sole-of-the-foot tackle can only be used effectively in face-to-face confrontations and only when the opponent is committed to go through with his kick.
But the real drawback is that it can be dangerous to the man whose kick you are trying to block. Here you must walk the tightrope between violence and skill. Be absolutely certain not to come in with a straight knee. And, though you must keep your toes up, be sure your foot doesn't go over the ball into your opponent's shin. And of course the move must be executed with finesse - you can't barrel in like you're trying to break your opponent's leg.
But you can practice it. Make sure you're wearing shin guards. Then have a friend wedge the ball between the sole and ground while you strike at the ball with full instep. When you've both got the idea be more forceful and start moving toward each other. Because timing is crucial you might synchronize on a set rhythm - one, two, three, go.ä One sole-tackles while the other strikes the ball. Then try it in regular play.
BY Hubert Vogelsinger
Few defensive moves take the starch out of your opponent like a successful tackle. In a flash you force him from offense to defense without even getting a shot.
One of the best bread and butter tackles is the basic front block tackle. It's like a defensive version of the push pass. That is, your tackling foot is turned outward, toes pointing up and sideways and ankle locked. The idea is to make the tackle with the largest blocking surface - the full inside of your foot.
You must show yourself quickly on the ball, putting immediate pressure on the ball carrier. Force his attention to the ball, block his direct path to the goal, and cut off his passing angles. If you set him up right, even though your tackle might fail, you will cost the ball carrier valuable time by forcing him to go around you.
You prepare for the tackle by getting into a position from which you can pounce on the ball like a tiger, explosively and without warning. Be in a crouched position, legs comfortably apart and well bent, weight on the balls of your feet. Keep your feet moving. If you get too heavy on your feet or get caught upright, you can be put off balance and left stranded. Even if you're lucky enough to make contact with the ball you can be easily brushed aside.
Always stay within striking distance, because strike you must at the slightest opportunity. The tackle itself must be fast and smooth. Get your non-tackling foot beside and as close to the ball as possible. Then, almost simultaneously, come through with the tackling foot.
Put your weight behind the tackle, driving the inside of your foot through the center of the ball, brushing aside you opponent's foot and stealing the ball. There's nothing like combining this with a good shoulder charge to knock your opponent off balances as you follow through with your tackle.
Position and support become critical when the ball gets wedged between you and the ball carrier. Good body balance on your supporting foot will allow you to keep firm pressure on the ball while exerting a second effort to drag the ball over the opponent's foot or pull it out sideways.
Good tacklers don't pussy-foot around. Go whole-heartedly or don't go. The most common tackling error is a tendency to stick out a foot tentatively, either to avoid injury or to sort of hedge your bet. This is the worst way to tackle and best way to get hurt. A leg dangling without good support is easily brushed aside. You're more likely to come away with an injured ankle than with the ball.
The best way to practice the front block tackle is in a situation like a hockey face-off. Put a ball between you and a friend. On a signal both of you try to win the ball. Later you can both stalk the ball, with each trying to beat the other to the punch.