Decision making when the ball is in the air

I had one of those moments over the weekend where I saw something happening in games that I had seen many times before but this time it made me think differently .

A player I have coached many times was what set me off. About two minutes apart he was in an almost identical situation regarding how much space he had and what was probably the best option to take. The only difference being one time the ball came to him on the ground and the other it came to him bouncing about thigh high. On the ground he clearly scanned before the ball came then took a touch and played the ball to the centre forward’s feet and supported the pass. Two minutes later when the ball was bouncing towards him he simply hooked the ball forwards over his shoulder.

This was what set me thinking. Why did he behave so differently in two such similar situations?

After that I started to watch players in all the games to see how the same players behaved when the ball was off the ground compared to on the ground. This is only one day’s viewing but I saw many players play plenty of 1st time passes in the air but only rarely saw a 1st time pass when the ball was on the ground. I can surmise that many of those aerial 1st time passes would not have been made if the ball came to them on the ground.

It seemed players required a lot more space to attempt to control the ball when the ball was even slightly off the ground unless they were close to their opponent’s goal. The player who I mentioned earlier was quite prepared to control a far more difficult aerial ball when it meant he could set up a shot at goal later in the game.

The question I started to ponder was why is the decision making noticeably different when the ball is off the ground compared what I assume the same player would do if the ball was on the ground in the same situation.

Is it that much more difficult to take an aerial 1st Touch than one along the ground?

Is my assumption that a player who assesses the football situation before their 1st touch when the ball is on the ground will also do it before their 1st touch when the ball is in the air actually correct?

Do I need to add conditions to my small sided games to encourage the ball being in the air more to allow players to practice assessing the football situation and decision making when the ball is off the ground?

I have not come to any conclusions yet but I certainly have plenty to ponder and discuss with other Coaches to see if I have change how I conduct my sessions to better prepare the players for the game they play in.

As always please leave a comment or email me

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Till next time


3 thoughts on “Decision making when the ball is in the air

  1. I have just recently done a couple of sessions on Ball Control out of the air with my youngsters. I have worked on technical work in twos using the 4 A’s principle
    1.) Awareness of space around prior to receiving (Questions = Where is the space in which to receive? Where am I going next?)
    2.) Assessing the pace and flight of the ball (Questions = do I need to back off or move towards the ball?)
    3.) Adjusting our feet / body to get in line with the ball (avoid overstretching)
    4.) Apply the necessary touch. (What part of body to control with ? Chest, thigh, foot, trap etc)
    After technical practice we moved on to a simple skill game in pairs, throwing and drop kicking (for younger ones) and their partners receiving with maximum of 2 touches to have the ball under control within different squares. They compete in pairs against others and get points for each successful technique they use to have the ball under close control from the air.
    It will be difficult for youngers ones to remember the 4 A’s but the queues and triggers and questions they need to ask themselves are the same learning points? Does this make any sense?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not a big fan of doing isolated work like this. I prefer a games based approach were there is an element of perception of your surroundings and decision making in each attempt to control the ball.
      I did a whole group of sessions this year were we played various small sided games but in each one every pass had to leave the ground at some point. The players then got lots of practice controlling all sorts of aerial passes.
      The first one wasn’t the best but the players were fine by the 3rd one.
      My blog was referring to should I incorporate the ball being off the ground into sessions which aren’t specifically about controlling the ball in the air. Basically should I force it to happen more regularly.
      Thanks for your reply.

      Liked by 1 person

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