During my twenty-three year career with the U.S. National Team, I was competing all year round. When I wasn’t competing, eating or resting, I performed what I liked to call “maintenance work” – drills that helped me maintain a good feel for the ball.
Maintenance work was all about getting back to basics. In fact, I still do these basic drills with my instructional soccer camp, the Kristine Lilly Soccer Academy, during the summer months. It’s my belief that a player who practices basic skills will eventually become a great technical player. One of my teammates on the U.S. National Team was Michele Akers, the most technically sound player I have ever seen. Her technique kicking a soccer ball was so precise, powerful, and consistent that she was deadly from anywhere on the field.
One of my favorite drills at the Kristine Lilly Soccer Academy is the Pele series – a series of drills named after Pele, the legendary Brazilian soccer player and former star of the New York Cosmos. Here’s how it works: You and a partner stand about three feet apart. Your partner tosses you the ball and you use your instep to kick the ball back. You repeat this ten times and then switch. After both partners have used their insteps to return the ball, you start again, this time returning the ball with the inside of your foot. Next, you return the ball with your thigh, head, and so on. There are many variations to this but the repetition works wonders for comfort and confidence. Doing this two or three times a week in ten to fifteen minute intervals – before practice or at home with a friend – can help you maintain a good feel for the ball. Some other maintenance work you can do: dribble the ball in and out of cones; pass the ball with a teammate; strike a ball against a wall and trap it; and one that is so easy to do on your own, juggling. All of these things will keep you “in touch” with the ball.
The great thing about maintenance work is that it isn’t strenuous, which is a good thing when you’re conserving energy for important games. And remember, maintenance work is more fun with a friend!