Redefining 1st touch in Soccer: Definitions matter because Communication Matters

Redefining 1st touch in soccer: Definitions matter because communication matters

Why have a definition with a list of exceptions to the rule when you could have a definition that includes the exceptions?

The definition of 1st touch in soccer is currently similar to the time before Copernicus and Galileo when scientists said that the planets moved in circles. The problem was that they had to put in an increasing numbers of epicycles (mini circles) to account for the differences between theory and observed data. In particular epicycles explained the retrograde motion of the five planets known at the time. Secondarily, it also explained changes in the apparent distances of the planets from Earth. Instead of continuing to explain things in an increasingly complicated manner two scientists came up with a new definition that actually fit the observed data. Planets move in elliptical paths, finally, a definition that fit reality and revolutionized creative and scientific thought.

First touch needs to be redefined to revolutionize thinking in soccer. First to force the receiver into ball retention thought processes rather than mere ball control. Secondly, to explicitly transition some responsibility to the passer for the receivers 1st touch and, thirdly, to open up tactical options from the passer.  The current definitions limit imagination and imagination is what is needed to break down increasingly organized defenses.

Old Definition of 1st touch

Trap/Control the ball near the receiver

This is additionally defined by many coaches as the ball being within two steps of the receiver as an enhanced definition of what is expected as a good first touch. Coaches often go on to explain (adding layers of unnecessary complexity – like epicycles) that it does not mean players have to kill the ball, but that a 4 yard touch could be good in certain situations. Why make it confusing when one simple definition with no unnecessary extra explanations is possible. And more valuable because it allows for simplicity of thought rather than a list of exceptions based on recognizing situations.

In addition to coming up with a cleaner more straight forward definition of 1st touch for the receiver we need a new definition for first touch because we need to explicitly move some of the responsibility for a successful 1st touch to the passer. As coaches we already say that the quality of the service determines the ability of the receiver, but that has not been part of the traditional definition of 1st touch. With 1st touch being a term commonly used on the practice ground and in games we should make it relevant to both players directly involved in the passing equation.

Thirdly, we need to open the tactical imagination of the game. It is difficult to think imaginatively when definitions are limiting (see: Orwell, George, 1984).The new definition of 1st touch not only creates impetus for the passer to be thoughtful when passing, but also for the receiver positioning their body to receive a ball and where to make runs. By forcing receivers to consider space when receiving a pass it requires them to look outward and be aware of other players. The old definition only requires them to look inward paying attention to the ball to measure the outcome.

What if, for example, the open space in the defense is four feet off the ground in between two defenders? A toe flick hanging chest high between two defenders is usually going to be undefended space and is a ball played by Messi on a number of occasions. Quite difficult to control in one touch (therefore a bad pass according to traditional definitions), but with the new definition the receiver can take that pass off the chest and push it into space behind the two defenders and control it on the second touch. Now it becomes a good 1st touch and therefore a good pass, which now opens a myriad of tactical options using third dimensional space (the first dimension is vertical behind the defense, the second dimension is width, and the third dimension is aerial) that were not previously easy to consider because those options led to a high percentage of ‘bad’ 1st touches. By providing a new way to think about ‘acceptable’ 1st touch we are now allowing passers to utilize previously unused space to unlock defenses.

New Definition of 1st touch

To move the ball away from pressure or opponents to open space allowing time for the 2nd touch to be able to play a pass to oneself or a teammate.

This definition no longer requires a ball passed on the ground, which is essentially a requirement to trap/control the ball on first touch for the majority of players under the old definition. Now possibilities open up for individual success and tactical creativity.

Additionally, the responsibility is put on the passer to play the ball away from pressure in the very definition of 1st touch for the receiver. If a defender is on the right hip, the proper pass will be to the left foot so the receiver can move the ball away from the defender with the first touch. The new definition now provides reinforcement to the passer every time the coach discusses first touch in practice or a game.

The 2nd touch needs to be included in the definition and is about controlling the ball to oneself (dribbling) or to a teammate (passing) with the extra time/space created by the 1st touch. I would move much of the old 1st touch definition to the 2nd touch with a slight change in the language to keep more possibilities open.

This redefinition of first and second touch also makes it easier to explain teammates helping each other to control a ball. A punt that is chested or headed down to a teammate (away from pressure) and the teammate controls the ball (ball control on second touch) now fits into the new definition in way that the old definition never allowed and provides for more creative combinations.

One of the problem areas under the old definition is heading the ball. It is acknowledged that players cannot trap or control a ball with their heads, which means that ‘good’ headers can be difficult to explain especially in the middle third. Under the old definition headers are often negative events (except for scoring and desperation clearances) because they ‘can’t’ be controlled next to the original player. They are irksome because they do not fit the traditional definitions of first touch and require additional explanations, akin to epicycles, to make sense of the options. With the new definition a player redirects a ball into space and controls the ball on their own with the second touch to themselves or to a teammate. Additionally, one player could redirect the ball and a teammate controls it on the 2nd touch. Both of these options fit the new definition, which makes successful completion a positive event rather than an exception to the rule.

The new definition of 1st and 2nd touch fits observed reality. And has the potential to revolutionize creative tactical thought. Finally, we move out of the dark ages!

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 7th, 2012 at 14:37 and is filed under Coaching. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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