First Touch – Football’s Most Important Skill

Catch me if you Can is a simple and effective warm up drill. The objective is to catch up to your opponent and tag them whilst keeping control of the ball.

Perhaps the most important skill involved with football, is the first touch of the football. The player’s first touch when receiving the ball will have the most significant impact on what they do next.

First touch, by definition is the player’s first impact with the ball. This includes by foot, chest, head, leg, hand (if you are the goalkeeper) or another part of the body. This touch effectively determines whether a player has control of the ball.

How well the ball is controlled, how much space the player has and how far defenders or the goal are away from the player will all contribute to what happens next. The player may choose to:

  • Hold and protect the ball;
  • Strike the ball at the goal;
  • Pass the ball to another team member;
  • Kick the ball out; or
  • Run the ball.

Alternatively, if the first touch is not a controlling first touch, the player may inadvertently kick it out over the side or goal line, or lose the ball to the opposition.

Drills to Improve the First Touch

First Touch – Skill Introduction Taking it Away from the Defender

First Touch - Take it Away from the defender

A simple drill to get started on First Touch is to set up hats along lines 15 metres apart with paired players opposite each other. Two hats are placed 2 metres in front of each player and 2 metres apart. This represents a ‘gate’. The first player passes the ball through their own gate and through the gate to their teammate. The teammate’s first touch is an angled touch with the inside or outside of the foot to the outside of the hats. They then pass the ball back through the opposite gate. The second player similarly takes a first touch, taking the ball outside the gates and passing the ball back through the opposite gate.

Effectively, each player will take 2 touches. One to control, one to pass.

The hats immediately in front of each player effectively represent defenders, albeit static. Hence the first touch is designed to take the ball into space away from the defender, followed by a pass to a team mate.

Have players change which side of the gate they take the ball to and pass with both feet. This is to ensure they maximise their opportunity to find space, depending on from which direction the ball may come from and where the space maybe.

First Touch – Skill Training – 3 v 1

First Touch - 3 v 1

This drill is a favourite for all ages. Set up a square grid, 5 metres x 5 metres. Three players are positioned around the outside of the grid and one player on the inside. The players on the outside of the grid must control the ball and keep it away from the inside player. First touch is paramount in keeping the ball away from the inside player.

The first touch will vary depending on the direction and the speed at which the inside player is coming towards the outside players. Further the quality of the pass from the other outside players will influence the nature of the first touch.

The first touch should be away from the defender or be sufficiently close to retain control and a subsequent pass.

The outside players must remain on their toes and be ready to move to ensure a ball can be passed to minimise the risk of the ball being intercepted by the inside player. They should move around and across the square to create an angle to which the ball can be passed to them or run into space to receive the ball.

First Touch – Skill Game – 2 Touch

First touch Skill Game 2 touch

This is my favourite skill game – 2 Touch. Set a field 30 metres x 30 metres. Have 2 goals at each end of the pitch, each 2 metres inside the corner marker. Each goal should be 1 metre wide. Each team tries to score in either of the 2 goals in the direction they are running.

Players can only take a maximum 2 touches on the ball. This will generally be to control and pass, or control and shoot.

Players, who take more than 2 touches, must surrender the ball.

This game forces players to think ahead. It makes them consider where they can pass the ball before they physically receive it. It therefore influences where they anticipate their first touch will go and how hard the first touch needs to be. It also assists in developing a pass and move mentality.

Advanced First Touch Techniques

First Time Passing

Sometimes the most suitable first touch is a pass. In the time it takes to control the ball with the first touch followed by a pass, an opportunity may be lost. As a result, removing the control touch and making an immediate pass to another player or into space on the field or even over the sideline, may be the best solution.

This option is particular is suitable when opponents are coming at you with speed, creating pressure and anticipating a loose first touch and subsequently stealing the ball. Alternatively, if a team mate is in a better position or is running into a better position, then it could be better to release the ball to them earlier rather than taking the first controlling touch. Clearly, this option is only suitable when it is physically possible and when the risk of losing the ball is lower.

Stopping the Ball Dead

Similarly, stopping the ball dead is an option that maybe required when your opponents are still some distance away. Further, if you have time to control the ball with the first touch and look up for the best option, stopping the ball directly at your feet is a great skill to possess.


Cushioning First Touch

Cushioning the first touch means using your foot to control the ball by moving it backwards as the ball impacts with the foot. The movement backwards, is at a direct correlation with the speed of the ball, allowing the ball to fall at your feet rather than bounce away as it would if the foot was braced for impact. For example, when you catch a cricket ball, baseball or softball, you often cushion the catch by moving the hands backwards to permit the balls transition into your hands, rather than have the ball smash into a rigid surface.


Chesting the Ball up or Down

Using the chest to initiate first touch can be undertaken in a several ways. Once again, the space, proximity of the opponents and speed at which the ball is coming can influence the first touch.

If you have space and time, leaning back to chest the ball slightly into the air, effectively allows the ball to rebound upwards before it falls to the ground where you take control with your feet. This technique may need some work, however when mastered, it is a valuable tool to have in your kit.

Further, when time is of the essence, leaning into the ball can allow you to get the ball down quickly, letting it hit your chest and fall to the ground faster either to your own feet, or as a pass to your teammate. Often, this is used during throw-ins, to return the ball to the thrower.

Mastering First Touch

First touch is the most important skill that a player can possess. Taking the ball away from opponents, into space or towards the goal will allow more options for a team in possession of the ball.

Possessing quality first touch skills, will allow greater attacking and defending opportunities as the transition of the ball from one point to another is accomplished faster.

Players who work at their first touch by undertaking  repetitive first touch drills will improve their skills and their overall game will improve as a result. It will allow them to make better and faster decisions which may include running the ball, shooting for goal or passing to another team member.

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