The importance of diversity in soccer skills is evident. There is no chronological order as to what skill should be learned first, which should be second, and so on. However, some skills are a must-have for every player and you, as a soccer mentor, will probably want to coach them first.
- Skills for holding the ball (receiving, shielding);
- Skills for stealing the ball (interception, defense);
- Take-on skills (attacking).
Defensive skills (which won’t be discussed in this post) come as innate to most kids. Even though nobody taught them the same, defenders simply either have this talent or they don't. The other two skill sets call for guidance to accomplish (even with minimum expertise), which means that there is good reason to begin with ball-holding skills. You can then move to take-on skills and then to ball-stealing skills.
Now you are thinking "why ball-holding before take-on? It's simple. Once you're holding the ball in your possession, the other side is going to try to take it back. If you can hang onto the ball, even under pressure, you will have the necessary time to make better decisions (for example; finding an open teammate to pass the ball to). Besides, if you are confident enough that you can hold the ball “for ages”, you are much less likely to blindly try to whack it away and transfer the "burden" to someone else (commonly known as "passing responsibility rather than the ball" or also "the hot-potato phenomenon").
So what are ball-holding soccer skills? Most people in the world of soccer refer to them as receiving and shielding skills. The first segment (receiving) is to bring the ball under control. Then you use your body to get between the opposition and the ball in order to protect (shield) the ball. It is very simple since one must only step over the ball when somebody is coming in. There are also harder "tricks" (but still easy) like rolling/pulling the ball back behind or to your side. This rolling/pulling of the ball requires a bit more work, as you need to ace using both feet – and to switch feet in the process. However, the key ingredient is to learn to bend the knees, get the arms out, and use body weight and strength to push back into the opponent.
Along with ball-holding skills, the introduction of some basic receiving skills is also necessary, so that players can bring the ball under control rapidly.
Now you are surely thinking "how to do this"? Simple as ABC, start with two equal-sized players and a single ball in a grid (about 3-yards square) and make them work on holding the ball by rolling, pulling the ball back and other touches to shield the ball from each other.
If you are about to teach your players SOMETHING, make sure you teach them skills to keep possession. Once competent enough to keep an opponent from stealing the ball, they will gain confidence and lift their heads up spontaneously, and find another player to pass off to.
But before they gain this confidence, be sure to expect poor passing. It is because they will get confused at the first hint of pressure. Until your players can hold the ball 1v1 (in a grid about 10 feet by 10 feet) for an approximate count of 7-8, they won't have enough confidence to do good on the pitch.