About four weeks ago, I was in Killeavy preparing to take our U12 footballers for a coaching session. Just before the session commenced, I was over along the sideline when about five of our U16 footballers walked by. It was obvious that they had been on our 3G pitch having a kickaround so I asked them a question “Have you’s been working on your weaknesses, lads?
One of the young lads, who is an extremely talented young footballer, replied, “I don’t have any weaknesses.” This particular young fella certainly wasn’t being arrogant; confident maybe but not arrogant, which is a good thing to see. I turned to him and said, “So I take it your left foot is just as strong as your right foot.” He responded: “No”. “There you go,” I said. “There’s a weakness in your game that you can improve on.” He’s a forward so I said to him to imagine how difficult it would be for a defender marking him if he wasn’t sure which direction he was going to turn when he gained possession. I could see him thinking about this scenario. Maybe the penny dropped.
Having the ability to kick with both feet can provide a footballer with a serious advantage over their direct opponent. Two-footed footballers are rare in our game. Two-footed footballers can manoeuvre themselves out of tricky situations much easier than a one-footed player and they are obviously less predictable to play against. Diarmuid Connolly is rightly considered as the best and most natural footballer playing our game presently. Look at how at ease he is kicking off either foot and how natural he is with his striking action. It’s obvious that he has put in massive time and effort to master this. Canavan, Cooper, Stephen O’Neill and Oisín McConville were also great two-footed players. How many crucial scores did these guys get for their teams on their so-called weaker side and under extreme pressure? The answer is countless and simply because of the time they also dedicated to being a complete footballer.
You are never too old to master the art of being a two-footed player or indeed improving your weaker side until you become comfortable and confident using it in games. If you were to spend 15 minutes each day on your weaker side, toe-tapping or kicking a ball against a wall, your control will improve no end. That’s over 100 minutes per week but it’s well worth it when it comes to game time and you can adopt faster than others. Brazilians are brought up playing soccer on the streets and beaches using tennis balls. They become so used to controlling and working with a ball that size that when they get a size 5 football, they are the nation that stands above all others when it comes to ball control and producing world-class performers.
A large amount of one-footed players look so uncomfortable when attempting to kick a ball on their weaker side. Why is this the case when the simple fact is that the ball should fall from the hand to the foot in the exact type of movement? I believe it’s to do with the players mindset and doubts that they have about it. I often encourage young players to swing their strong leg as if they are about to strike a ball. I then ask them to do the same on their weaker side. It’s amazing that at this point both swings are fairly similar. The problem arises when a ball is introduced. For whatever reason the swing becomes unnatural. To work and improve on this, both legs should move in a similar way and the ball should be dropped exactly the same way onto the foot. Concentrate on the positive and try to generate a more fluent movement that is as natural as your stronger side. There is no quick fix but with consistent practice there can be an improvement in as short as four weeks.
Thankfully I was part of a generation of kids coached by the great Thomas Mallon, where concentrating on our weaker side was the norm at all training sessions. One way I often practiced as a kid was by going to the pitch to do shooting practice. Wherever I kicked a point with my stronger right foot, I would go straight over to a similar position on the left side and kick until I scored from there also. I did this relentlessly and that is how my confidence grew. I also practiced this by striking from the ground with both feet. Another brilliant way of improving both feet is by doing a simple exercise that is carried out night after night at training sessions thought out the country: get a partner and put 40 yards between them and you. Kick one pass with the right foot and then the next with the left. Continue this process for 10 to 15 minutes. If the ball does not go straight to your partner’s chest, then try to concentrate on one bounce before it reaches them. If you can do this then you are never far off the mark and there are sure signs of improvement.
Remember this: if you were going to learn to play the guitar then it takes time, effort and plenty of practice. The more you do of this, the more natural you will become. The exact same can be said for becoming a more natural footballer and for working on your weaknesses.