The first touch is one of the most important skills to master in soccer. Developing a close first touch allows a player to always maintain control of the ball and therefore help the team keep possession. When a player receives the ball close to the body, they are granted enough decision-making time to make a smart play.
First Touch Tips: The first step to a great first touch is judging the speed and weight of a pass. Understanding how fast the ball is approaching will allow a player to properly adjust how much cushion to put behind the ball. When receiving the ball, draw back your foot as the ball approaches so that it slows down with the instep of your foot – not against it. If the foot is too rigid and placed in front of the body instead of underneath the shoulders, the ball will ricochet too far and be impossible to control. This same technique is used for flighted balls, although they are normally struck harder and more difficult to judge and control.
Match Situations: In matches, players are usually in motion when receiving a pass – adding another element of difficulty to the first touch. To compensate for this, try to focus on making a "positive" first touch into space. Make sure to pick your head up before you receive the pass to check your surroundings. Try to direct your first touch into open space away from the opposition. At this point you have two options: continue to dribble through the open space or play to an open player and then make a run off the ball to create options for your teammates.
A useful tip is to be mindful of your body positioning. For example, if you are playing on the wing, you want to receive the ball from a defender with your back to the line and your hips open to the field. This will allow you to immediately push the ball in any direction. If you receive the ball facing the defender, your only options are to pass back or try making a blind turn.
How To Practice: Developing the first touch takes time and practice with repetition. As you progress through training, you'll become more adept at judging passes and adjusting your foot to receive the ball under control. Practice hitting and receiving a variety of balls back and forth with a partner or against a wall. Try to keep your first touch within an eight inch radius.
Image & media courtesy of The Nike Academy.