The False Allure of One Touch Soccer

For years, working with select, college and Olympic Development players, I was always amazed at the eagerness of players, and even coaches, to play the ball away on the first touch.  While we see many examples of one touch play at the professional and international levels, effective one touch soccer among youth players is a rarity.  I do not believe that is because youth players are incapable of making one touch passes. I would suggest, instead, it is because they are not trained to make good decisions about when to play with one touch and when to take two or more touches.  I would also argue that if properly trained, we would see two things happen.  First, the number of balls played first time would sharply decrease.  At the same time, the success of one touch play would sharply increase.  In support of that argument, let’s look at several one touch situations.


The One Touch Pass
Often times, I will hear people talking about a team that really knows how to do one touch passing.  When I go watch them, though, I see a lot of one touch, but very little passing.  Passing is the deliberate act of directing a ball from your feet to the possession of a teammate.  Simply sending a ball away on the first touch is not passing.  Flicking the ball away, poking it away, and blasting it down the field is likewise, not passing.  For youth players, I like to ask them to only play a one touch pass if they are facing their target, hips square to the target and are able to strike through the ball cleanly.  Players who contort their body to hit a ball away first time or sweep their legs across to change the course of the ball are not engaging in one touch passing.  I think that action is more appropriately described as “hopeful redirection.”  The player intends to redirect the ball and hopes that it goes to a teammate who can control it.  More troubling is that I see this done even when the player has time and space to control the ball and play an accurate, technically correct pass on the second or even third touch.  Any player who spent more than a season playing for me can probably repeat one of my mantras verbatim: “Don’t lose the ball with one touch, if you can keep it with two.”  Two touch passing is technically easier to perform than one touch passing.  With sufficient time and space on the field, the risk/reward ratio will usually favor taking an extra touch and assuring you retain possession over hurrying a one touch pass.  This is particularly true in the back and middle third of the field.  As you enter the attacking third, the reward factor rises and more one touch passes may be appropriate.  Still, proper technique is key, as a hopeful redirection is rarely better than a 50/50 ball.
The One Touch Clearance

Clearing the ball is not passing it.  Clearing is essentially changing the area of the field we are playing in by creating a 50/50 opportunity to win the ball.  In other words, when we clear a ball out of the back, we have already accepted a 50% chance of losing it.  To be sure, there are times when a clearance is the best decision.  If you are numbers down defensively and need time to recover, clearing it may be the safest play.  If an attacker is applying high pressure and you have no close support, clearing the ball may make sense.  However, if a defender has time and space, our training should focus on developing the ability to control the ball and build the attack out of the back.  Defenders should learn to play forward to midfielders showing back to the ball, or to change the point of attack by playing to the opposite back, linking through the central defender if necessary.  Yet how often do we hear players told not to pass the ball across the goal?  If we develop confident passers, passing across the goal should never be a concern.  It should also be considered superior to putting the ball up for grabs in the midfield.

The One Touch Flick On

We see this most often when a ball is played to a forward or attacking midfielder who flicks it on to goal in hopes another attacker will run onto the ball.  My completely unscientific observation of this decision tells me that this decision creates well less than a 50/50 chance of retaining possession. I’d put the percentage of successful flick ons at less than 10%. Yet this is a common, even expected, play on the ball.  Moreover, we consistently see it done in the middle third of the field, where the reward is minimal.  We see it done even when the player flicking the ball on has very little defensive pressure.  Again, we need to ask where on the field this is appropriate, and when the outcome will be improved by attempting to possess the ball or play it back for possession.

The One Touch Shot

There is little in the game more thrilling than the attacker who volleys a cross into the upper 90, scoring with a one touch shot.  It is incredibly thrilling because it is rare.  It’s rarity alone should be an indicator that emphasizing one touch shooting is probably not statistically the best way to score more.  Certainly, crosses played into the box, balls slotted back from the end line, and through balls being challenged by closing defenders or goalkeepers may need to be played first time.  However, I have seen players being trained to shoot first time from 30+ yards with no defenders around them.  Again, the decision to shoot first time is a time and space decision. (In fairness, a goalkeeper grossly out of position may also call for a first time shot).  Particularly with youth players who are still mastering shooting technique, our training should focus on giving the attacker the best chance to properly take a shot.  That will often require a second or third touch.  With time and space, we will see greater success if our attackers advance toward the goal, rather than shooting from 30 yards out. From a broader perspective, we will statistically score more by focusing on establishing penetration and numbers forward in hopes of creating close range finishing opportunities.

Practical One Touch Training

As coaches, we should not ban one touch play.  However, particularly with younger players with developing skills, neither should it be our focus.  Instead, we should focus on teaching the situations which call for one touch play.  Teach clearances as what they are: emergency defending.  Teach one touch passing as on option when a second touch is not possible AND the player can face his target and strike a quality ball.  Do not encourage the hopeful redirections or flick ons as passing decisions.  They aren’t; and players should not develop the belief that those are good possession decisions.  Encourage more risk taking in the attacking third, where reward rises and risk stemming from loss of possession is minimal.  Finally, train the right time and place to shoot first time; but couple that training with an attacking philosophy that encourages penetration and transition to positive attacking numbers.

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About admin

Admin is the site editor for stxsoccer.com. He has been active as a trainer, director and administrator in Austin area soccer since 1989. He is a former collegiate head coach and state ODP team coach. A proud father of three average soccer players, he currently is working with a small recreational association to implement a comprehensive player development and coaching education program.

One thought on “The False Allure of One Touch Soccer

  1. We have only been in club soccer for two seasons. And this year our girl being new to a club program that the British coach shouts one touch and if the girls don’t release the ball quick enough. My daughter being new to this team has had her confidence shattered. And has lost her confidence with her ability to attack and keep possession of the ball. Last season she was unstoppable as a forward granted she was only playing 8 on 8 at u10. But she had no problem attacking or distributing the ball. Yet now with this new British coach he has destroyed our kids confidence not only her desire to take a second or third touch. But she tries to get rid of the ball like a hot potatoe. I know it’s only u11 now but how do you reinstall someone’s confidence when a coach who has a one touch philosophy has destroyed your kids desire to even keep the ball for multiple touches, or is hesitant to challenge the defenders anymore because she is afraid of the consequences (getting pulled ) of keeping possession. When like your article suggests higher passing percentage and scoring opertunities by taking additional touches. I played american football and never followed soccer until my children got involved. But how can a non soccer parent help her kid we are committed to finish the season, but to see a striker go for scoring 90 goals in tournaments and league last season to now not even wanting to possess the ball. Because of our coaches philosophy. Do you have any books or articles I can allow my 11 year old to read. I have suggested her to try to take additional touches to allow her to have better control and accuracy of her passes. But it’s so against her coaches teaching or her interpretation of his philosophy that I think reading additional articles from another coach it would help. I feel helpless in helping her because I want her to continue to enjoy the game and I do not ever want to be that dad that every one hates. So I try to stay out of the current mess. But to see my daughters soccer desire slowly diminish due to a coach I think it could help her reading articles ect from someone who actually has coaching experience.