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Focus on Crossing


As part of our continuing effort to service and educate our membership, each Thursday U.S. Soccer will provide an informative article from one of its departments. Once a week, we will bring you an article/paper/essay that will hopefully enhance your enjoyment and knowledge of the game of soccer - on and off the field.

This month, with the assistance of U.S. Soccer National Staff Coach Mike Haas, we introduce a variety of exercises that coaches can use to work on one of the most important parts of the game of soccer - crossing.

Focus on Crossing 
by Mike Haas, U.S. Soccer National Staff Coach

Crossing is a part of the game that can be vitally important, but it is one area that I see many youth players struggle with.  While many can dribble the length of the field or juggle a ball in the air for several minutes, I am always surprised by what happens when a player is asked to serve a ball from one of the wings into the penalty area.

By no means is crossing an accurate ball easy, but I believe with practice it is an area where players can greatly improve.  One area of crossing that players need particular work on is crossing on the run while under pressure.  Below I've included four exercises that can be used to help encourage and also practice accurate crossing.  Remember, just like most things in life, through hard work you can always improve.

Fundamental (Warm –Up)
This exercise should be used as a warm-up before training.  It will allow the players to stretch out, and at the same time give them the opportunity to hit a variety of different balls and get them ready for more serious crossing work later in training.

ORGANIZATION

  • Half-field, 16 players, four balls
  • Inter-pass between players, vary service: driven on ground, driven in air, lofted, bending ball
  • Intermittent stretching between service exercises

AREAS TO FOCUS ON WHILE CROSSING

  • Body shape/balance (maintaining athletic posture and keeping balance throughout the motion)
  • Angle of approach (approaching the ball at an angle that allows you to properly strike the ball)
  • Shape of foot on ball (vary depending on the type of cross you are attempting to hit)
  • Preparation touch (with one touch putting the ball in a position to strike it, yet keeping the ball away from defenders)

Match Related Activity #1
This activity will give players plenty of opportunities to work on their crossing, and will put them in different environments (no pressure, light pressure, trailing pressure) and force them to hit different types of balls (driven crosses, bending crosses, balls on the ground, balls to the near post, balls to the far post).

ORGANIZATION

  • Two goals with goalkeepers
  • Flank players crossing balls and players in the 18-yard box making runs and finishing
  • Flank players cross balls, focusing on various services (i.e. driven near post, lofted far post, cutback driven on ground)
  • Pressure added to flank players (i.e. chase, straight up, light pressure from behind)
  • Advance to have defenders marking the runners in box (2 v. 0, 2 v. 1, 3 v. 2)

AREAS TO FOCUS ON WHILE CROSSING

  • Body shape/balance (maintaining athletic posture and keeping balance throughout the motion)
  • Angle of approach (approaching the ball at an angle that allows you to properly strike the ball)
  • Shape of foot on ball (vary depending on the type of cross you are attempting to hit)
  • Preparation touch (with one touch putting the ball in a position to strike it, yet keeping the ball away from defenders)
  • Tactical application (creating space to get a cross off, timing of runs into the area, etc.)

Match Related Activity #2
This second match-related activity brings a little more a game-like atmosphere to the field.  The field is divided in to three sections: two oval shaped flanks and a middle section.  The 4 v. 4 game in the middle is contested with no parameters, and each team has one player in each flank.  The players in the middle can play the ball wide to the players in the flank positions, who play 1 v. 1 with their opponent in the flank and can play the ball back into the middle at any time.  Restrictions on the players in the flank can be changed to allow more time to serve the ball, limit touches on the ball, etc.  You can also add an attacker to the flank and create a 2 v. 1 situation, where the attackers must combine to free up a player to cross the ball.

ORGANIZATION

  • 40-yard x 30-yard field with “oval” shape flanks and a middle channel
  • Two goals with goalkeepers
  • 4 players vs. 4 players in the middle channel
  • 1 v. 1 with two additional players in each flank channel
  • Free game in middle channel; Try and play flank players into game
  • In flank channel, players play 1:1 and try to get off service into the middle channel
  • Vary pressure on service, i.e. passive, chase, 1:1 straight up

AREAS TO FOCUS ON WHILE CROSSING

  • Body shape/balance (maintaining athletic posture and keeping balance throughout the motion)
  • Angle of approach (approaching the ball at an angle that allows you to properly strike the ball)
  • Shape of foot on ball (vary depending on the type of cross you are attempting to hit)
  • Preparation touch (with one touch putting the ball in a position to strike it, yet keeping the ball away from defenders)
  • Tactical application (creating space to get a cross off, timing of runs into the area, etc.)

Game Condition Activity
The final activity is a small-sided game with no restrictions, but coaches should put an emphasis on working in crosses from the flanks.  Forcing a 2-3-1 formation will help, as the wide midfielders should be encouraged to push up and get to the endlines to send in crosses to the lone forward.

ORGANIZATION

  • 45-yard x 55-yard field; two goals with goalkeepers
  • 6 v. 6 (Team form 2:3:1 formation)
  • Free game, no restrictions on touches, etc., but an emphasis on working on crosses

AREAS TO FOCUS ON WHILE CROSSING

  • Body shape/balance (maintaining athletic posture and keeping balance throughout the motion)
  • Angle of approach (approaching the ball at an angle that allows you to properly strike the ball)
  • Shape of foot on ball (vary depending on the type of cross you are attempting to hit)
  • Preparation touch (with one touch putting the ball in a position to strike it, yet keeping the ball away from defenders)
  • Tactical application (creating space to get a cross off, timing of runs into the area, etc.)

Nearly every U.S. Soccer fan remembers the U.S. jumping out to a 3-0 lead over Portugal in the 2002 World Cup.  The game-winning goal turned out to be Brian McBride's diving header, a goal that was made possible by a picture perfect cross from Tony Sanneh.  (McBride's goal was recently voted the Best U.S. Goal in the 2002 U.S. Soccer "Best of ..." awards series.)

Crossing is an element of the game that must be practiced, and unlike dribbling, trapping and shooting, crossing is not a skill that players inherently learn from informal games.  Using the above drills in training sessions and encouraging players to practice crossing will pay dividends for every team and every player.  Coaches can instill the need for crossing in drills in training and scrimmages, and the results from better crosses will soon show up on the scoresheet.

For more information from the U.S. Soccer Coaching Department, please contact Kati Hope at khope@ussoccer.org, or at (312) 528-1231.


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