What Skills Do You Need To Play Soccer?

Want to become as good as Christiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi? 

It takes a lot of time and hard work to master your soccer player skills. But the harder you practice, the better player you’ll become. 

There are approximately nine critical skills needed to become an accomplished soccer player. In this guide, we’ll walk you through why each is vitally important to master and how they relate to each position on the field. 

We’ll also be delving into what physical abilities and mental attributes you’ll want to develop before you step onto the pitch. 

Without further ado, let’s start with the basics of mastering your first touch. 

First Touch And Ball Control

The best players in the world can control a soccer ball on a dime. 

And not only can they control the ball on the ground, but they can control the ball in the air and with every single part of their body. 

If you’ve ever watched Ronaldinho practice keepy-uppys, the Brazilian skillster can work magic with the ball simply because he has worked on perfecting his first touch and ball control so much. 

Ball control is a universal skill that applies to all aspects of your game. From passing to tackling, if you want to develop an elite set of soccer skills, you need to have astute ball control. The best way to develop your first touch is by doing keepy-uppys, and practice passing the ball against a wall. Check out our guide on the 14 best soccer training drills for inspiration on how you can get better at developing your first touch.

Passing - Long And Short

Like ball control, passing is an integral part of any soccer player’s skill set. Particularly if you’re playing in midfield, passing is one of the most important skills needed for any creative, ball-playing soccer player. 

But it’s not just your short passing you’ll need to work on. Long passing is also a vital part of any 11-aside soccer players’ skill set, and the ability to see and pick off a teammate on the other side of the pitch is a skill you need to work on to improve.

Accuracy is key here, and you’ll need to take into account the shape of your body over the ball, what part of the ball you’re striking with your foot for each pass, and your follow-through after you’ve struck the football. 

These factors are all made a lot harder to master as you look to distribute the ball longer distances while also trying to fend off defenders looking to steal the ball from under your feet. 

On that basis, passing drills should be run when you have more than one defender running at you to simulate the pressure you would feel in a match. 

Dribbling

Another key skill needed for soccer is dribbling. 

Lionel Messi is perhaps the best dribbler the world has ever seen, and when he plays, it’s like the soccer ball is stuck to his foot. He is literally impossible to tackle. 

Dribbling is one of the hardest skills needed for soccer because it requires players to have great vision and trust in their abilities to move at speed with the ball at their feet, nudging the ball along with your feet while trying to avoid getting tackled. 

The best way to get better at dribbling is to grab your soccer ball and dribble it around as you carry out your daily activities. That may seem a little funny, but it’s the best way to get you comfortable with the ball at your feet. You’ll learn not to have to keep looking down to know where the ball is. Instead, you’ll get acquainted with the ball at your feet and will be better able to tell where the ball is. 

After you’ve mastered that, you can take the ball outside and start running at pace with the ball at your feet. Make sure to try slalom drills and changing directions when running!

Shooting

Everyone loves scoring screamers, right? One of my favorite things to do is to try to replicate some of the great Champions League goals over the past ten years with my friends.  

Shooting is a skill needed by most strikers and attacking midfielders. It’s something you need to religiously work on as in a match, you’ll only be presented with a small number of scoring opportunities, and to help your side win the match, you’ll need to take advantage of those opportunities. 

Shooting is all about accuracy and beating the keeper. If you’ve ever watched Sergio Aguero play for Manchester City, he never really scores wonder goals that burst the back of the net. He is pinpoint and clinical when he has his chance, and that’s how most good strikers score goals. Also, don’t forget to work on your heading. Many strikers also forget that most of their chances in a match can come through headed goals. So don’t forget to work on heading the ball.

Positioning

If you’re looking to play 11-aside soccer, you’ll want to start developing your positional play. Whether you’re a forward, midfielder, or defender, to help your team win, you’ll need to practice your positional play to know when to track your man and when to break forward. 

Positioning is not typically considered a skill needed for soccer, but in my view, it’s imperative. All good players need to know how to transition up and down the field. It’s particularly important if you’re a striker as many goal-scorers don’t know where to stand and when to break forward to get into threatening goal-scoring positions. 

My top tip for any player when it comes to positioning is to follow in every shot and gamble as much as possible. Even if you’re not a pacey striker, some of the best goal scorers in the world like Luis Suarez, Diego Costa, and Thierry Henry were all poachers who would gamble on any rebound that came their way. Don’t miss out on those opportunities!

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Defending

Perhaps one of the hardest skills to master is defending

Defenders are the most scrutinized outfield players on the pitch because a lapse in concentration or putting one foot wrong or even just losing their man for a second can be costly for your side. 

As soccer player skills go, defending entails a whole range of skills and techniques, which again is why it’s a challenging skill to master. From positional play to ball control, defenders are perhaps the most well-rounded and skillful players on the pitch.   

When it comes to improving your defensive play, my top tip is to make sure you do the simple things right. Don’t start trying to do step-overs and skill ten yards out from your penalty area; that is reckless! Instead, find the easy pass, or clear the ball high up the field and relieve the pressure. Always stay on your feet, and make sure to stay goal-side of the attacker in your marking.  

Goalkeeping

Having a good goalkeeper in net is one of the most reassuring things for any outfield player. 

At its heart, goalkeeping is all about having good hands and fast reactions. But it’s also about courage. Like Manuel Neuer, Gianluigi Buffon, or Petr Cech, the best goalkeepers in the world are all not afraid to put their bodies on the line to stop a shot. That’s very important, and courage perhaps has saved more goals in the past than technical skill. 

But technical skills should not be discounted, and most importantly, keepers should look to improve their reactions as much as possible, ducking diving and saving golf balls coming towards them at pace. For that reason, check out our guide on the best soccer rebounder nets you can pick up and use to help you save unpredictable shots coming your way.

Physical Abilities

Now, as much as having great skill can help you run rings around your opposition, having a good set of physical attributes can set you apart from your opposite number. Here are four of the best physical skills needed to become a great soccer player. 

Power

Power is everything in soccer. When shooting, when accelerating from your marker, or when trying to outjump a center back at a corner, you need elite power coming through your legs to one-up your opponent. 

To train power, you need to eat right and start working in the gym. Lifting weights, working on your acceleration by running sprints, and practicing jumping from a standstill are all ways you can enhance your physical strength. 

Defenders and strikers are the two positions that need this attribute the most, with defenders, in particular, having to manage and nullify bulky strikers coming into the box at pace. 

Speed

Speed is a crucial skill needed to become a good soccer player. It is a fast game, and at the top level, the tempo is so high that all players need to be light on their feet and able to break through at pace when given their chance. 

That’s why, whatever position you play, you need to have good speed when running both with and without the ball. Defenders need to keep up with quick strikers, and that’s why you’ll see some of the fastest soccer players in the Premier League play at the back. Take a look at Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin or Everton’s Ben Godfrey as an example. 

Agility

This is perhaps a skill more attributable to attacking players, especially those playing on the wing. Wingers need to be fast, light-footed, and agile to step around their opposition defenders to break into threatening positions upfield. 

Attacking players also need to change direction quickly and turn on the spot to receive passes and capitalize on the balls being played behind defenders. Take a look at players like Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, who tantalizes defenders with his ability to change direction and get into space quickly. 

Athleticism

Most professional soccer players are thoroughbred athletes. That means they have a comprehensive set of physical attributes that allow them to run at high speeds, push other players off the ball, and beat players at contests in the air. But athleticism also encompasses a player’s ability to continue to run and function for extended periods. The best players all have elite stamina levels as they need to keep up with the pace of the game for a full 80 minutes. 

Soccer is one of the most intense aerobic exercises you can play with players running up to 13km over the course of 80 minutes. That’s not just jogging either; that is sprinting for extended periods, often without a break! That means to master the game of soccer, you need to be able to out-run the other team over 80 minutes without fatiguing. 

Mental Abilities

Many often overlook the mental side of soccer.

As with most sports, soccer is played in the mind as much as it is with your feet. The best teams in the world stay calm when under pressure or are resilient enough to keep pushing until the final whistle. 

That is perhaps the toughest and most difficult skill to develop, as the only way to develop mental resilience and strength when under pressure is by playing games and never giving up. Whatever the score, whether you’re 3-0 up or 3-0 down, you need to play to the end.

A huge number of matches are won every year thanks to last-minute goals. Look at Manchester City’s last-minute goal against QPR won them the 2012 Premier League title. That goal won them the League Title, but it was their mental resilience and never say die attitude that scored them the goal. 

The Conclusion

Soccer is a very technical game to play. When it comes to soccer player skills, to be the best in the world, you need to have a very well-rounded repertoire of skills. No matter where you play on the pitch, if you’re a striker or a center-back, you need to be astute in each skill.

That takes a lot of time and practice playing to master. Once you master these techniques, you’ll become one of the best players in your team, and if you continue to work on them, then there’s no reason you can’t become one of the best players in the world. 

One important point to note is that no matter how much you train and work on your playing skills, soccer is all about having fun and enjoying playing the beautiful game. Sometimes players can train too much or too hard and lose sight of why they fell in love with playing soccer. For that reason, I always recommend you balance your training workload to ensure you don’t lose sight of playing the beautiful game.

For more information on soccer tips, coaching guides, and equipment reviews, head over to the Champlair’s.

Ed Carruthers
Ed Carruthers
Ed is a writer from London. He loves traveling and is a bit of a sports fanatic. When he’s not at his desk, he’s either kicking a footy around with his mates, watching his beloved football team Everton or is hacking around the golf course.