Just in case you missed the first two parts to our Rhythm series, you can find Part 1 and 2 here:



I love the old footage of Pele…He is just absolutely the purest blend of raw power and fine skill. It is inhuman what he could do with the ball and how he was able to execute these feats with 4 or 5 players marking him tightly. I could dedicate an entire series to how his ability will never been seen again, however…

…just as Pele changed the soccer world as we know it, another player introduced flare into the game and made it a fantastic show.

Garrincha was the epitome of rhythm and grace. Nobody had ever laid eyes on the game and seen a player that moved like him with the ball. His skill was unmatched by anyone on the dribble. Every touch was with a purpose, not just to score, but to set up another glorious move to make defenders look like idiots. There are stories of Garrincha dribbling past 4 defenders on his way to an open net and, instead of scoring, pulled the ball back and waited for another defender to dribble before finishing the shot. This exploitation of a defense was against Fiorentina in the Italian first division! Experts say that he single handedly won the 1962 World Cup, after Pele was sidelined with an injury.

When you watch highlights of Pele, Garrincha, or any of the other best players in the world, it seems that they are effortlessly guiding the ball wherever they want. Whether it be a trap, pass, or on the dribble, they are only concerned about efficiently creating a touch to set up the what is conjured in their heads 8 moves into the future. I can’t help but notice how the ball sticks at their feet…or the way that, even with massive amounts of pressure from opponents, they play the ball with perfect pace…and the ball is never too far away from their body but always just far enough to get the defender reaching so they can accelerate on their path to goal. The talent for executing this skill is rare and glorious to watch, however if you can coach a player to learn how to technically execute a skill to be on rhythm, they will be much more free to think at least 1 step ahead and create something spectacular.

In part 3 of our rhythm series we are discussing how rhythm relates to the player while having the ball at their feet. If the physical aspect of rhythm was termed “no wasted steps”, this technical piece would be “no wasted touches”.

Wasted touches are all too often seen in the young soccer players’ game, because of a few different reasons:

1) The player is too intent on not making a mistake, instead of making the best decision. Their head is down, the concentration is hard on the ball and they miss opportunities to play because of the slow process of thinking instead of acting.

2) The player is not comfortable dealing with the technical aspect of setting up the decision (first touch) and executing the decision (dribble/pass/shoot). Throughout the development of a player, rarely is it taught how to correctly make a trap, dribble, or shot without wasting time and effort. Instead, coaches tend to teach a player to keep the ball close to their body without giving freedom of experimentation and creativity.

3) The player does not have the foresight and creativity to understand what he/she wants to accomplish. The majority of American sports are systemically dominated. Football and basketball have set plays, baseball pitchers plan for the type of pitch to be made and runners have to stay in fair territory. Soccer is totally different and the possibilities of results can come in a thousand different ways, yet our coaches want it done the way that they see it. Give a player freedom and watch them grow!

Notice that I took out the notion of physical ability as it relates to technical rhythm. I do not believe that you have to have a certain athleticism to create technical rhythm, because even the slowest, most unfit and least athletic players are sometimes the most technically rhythmic. In fact, these players have to be in order to achieve success on the field. I worked with Vasco da Gama in 2006, when Romario was in his last professional years. In one training scrimmage I saw him move a total of 10 yards in 30 minutes, but had 2 goal. Why? Rhythm with the ball is about efficiency and effectiveness…it’s as simple as a 1 touch lay off in the midfield and as complex as a 40 yard run by Maradonna against England.

The key to all of this is to develop the idea from a young age by demanding all technical drills be done in a rhythmic nature. For example, when I work with my players in the most simple 2 touch passing drill that could either focus on trapping or passing, I demand that there be a rhythm associated with it. As we work through the drill I reiterate the need to stay on a rhythm such as “trap, step, play”.  This reiterates the need for no wasted touches and no wasted steps. If this is not accomplished correctly, for instance “trap, step, step, step, play” I can see (and the player can feel) that the touch may have been too far away. Conversely, if the player is executing “trap, touch, touch, play” (or something similar) you can bet that the touch was underneath the hips or in a direction other than where they wanted to pass the ball. This feeling in rhythm allows the experimentation of exactly how to set up decisions.

Simple 2-touch drill with rhythm emphasis (begin with trapping and playing with the same foot, progress to opposite foot plays, and eventually to movement in different directions and patterns)

The same can be worked on with shooting, by expressing how there is no such thing as a perfect scoring opportunity and forcing the rhythm of striking a ball to be made when there is “enough” of an opportunity. Too many young players make too many touches to set up a shot that gets them in trouble, when they should have shot the ball much sooner when the stress was present, but the opportunity was great.

Shooting Rhythm (the rhythm cue is to shoot when you have the width of the ball outside of cone, no more). In the following video, we were working with a young player in the beginning stages of learning to shoot properly. You can see how a simple drill with just a cone and a goal can be worked in a rhythmic nature to have her more dangerous in the attack.

Dribbling takes on it’s own form of rhythm by focusing on an aggressive intent to keep the ball in front of the hips so that any decision to pass, shoot, or dribble can be made. Watch Garrincha and Pele in their dribbling, the ball rarely is caught underneath or too close to the body. The best control is out in front, guiding the ball while being agile and explosive.  Here we work on progressing that ability through a series of dribbles that increase speed and intensity, all the while focusing on our cue of having the ball in front.

Dribble Progression

Finally, I want to relate the coaching of rhythm while changing direction with the ball in a “no wasted touch or steps” manner. The only way for a player to effectively accelerate all the way to the ball and stop to change direction on a dime is by utilizing the outside of the foot. We, at Performance Unlimited, term this the “chop” and use it in all of our drills where changing direction to find the best option, no matter if it is to dribble, pass, or shoot.

All of these example drills are just a spark to provoke your own ideas of progressing rhythm within your technical training. The beauty is that it can not be limited to one aspect, it should be included in all pieces of your training to make a more dangerous individual or team. Take these drills, put them into your training, no matter if you work with a 10 year old or a college team.

How are you adding rhythm into your training? Let us know by commenting below.

Till Next Time,

John Lytton