There is that sense of euphoria when one gets to play soccer. For some, it starts from the tender age of 4 while others start playing the sport much later. At every stage, soccer players are faced with hurdles that help shape or determine to which level they will reach.
During a player’s development, he or she is taught how to position themselves, the right movements and how physicality comes in. It is after all a contact sport. Physical play makes up an important aspect of how coaches select their players.
Even in professional soccer, we have seen coaches who fancy physical play and those players who are physically gifted get the nod over others. Though he never said it outrightly, Jose Mourinho really fancied physical play.
Think of his spell at Chelsea where he had the likes of John Obi Mikel, John Terry, and even the powerful center forwards like Didier Drogba. Let us not forget “Mourinho’s giants at Manchester United (2016-2017) such as Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic just to name a few.
The common thing with all these players is that they could just as easily use their physique to hold off players as well as win aerial duels. In a tussle, such players can easily push their opposition around.
It does not matter at what level one is, no one would feel good getting pushed out when playing soccer. It could be during 50/50 challenges or shoulder to shoulder duels. There is a sense of embarrassment, disappointment, or anger in the aftermath of being pushed around on the field.
Today, we will focus on what can be done to avoid or mitigate a situation where you are being pushed around in soccer.
How to not get pushed around in soccer?
It is not easy mastering the art of playing soccer to the point where you are at your best. Some of the challenges involve dealing with players who are more dominant than we are.
They can easily take the ball from us and muscle their way past us. This can be disheartening and discourage us from playing. Would you like that reputation where opponents can easily take the ball from you at will?
No, I don’t think so. It does not have to be that way always. There are a few things you could do to give yourself a fighting chance of not being pushed around and dispossessed when playing soccer.
Work on the body
One of the best ways to help you avoid being pushed around in soccer is to work on your body. After all, it is the tool that will carry you on the field of play. So, get in shape, build muscles. Do not shy away from putting in the work in training.
Look for core exercises on the upper body as well as leg work as it will help you stay on your feet even when in a tussle with an opposition. You do not have to be big and extremely strong to command the field.
Players like N’Golo Kante are not very physically built but it is very difficult to win the ball from him. Eat a balanced diet to ensure that your body gets the nutrients it deserves to help with energy levels as well as recovery.
Healthy and strong body
A stronger body leads to better performance and endurance which you will face when playing soccer. The nutrients from the food consumed also help keep the energy levels high on the pitch. Additionally, a strong body will make you get into physical battles without being an easy pushover by the opposition.
With a stronger physique, it will not be easy to push off the ball or get dispossessed. Protecting the ball will require you to put your body between the ball and the opponent. Also, you will be better placed to win more 50/50 duels.
There is a risk of fatigue and overexertion when trying to build your physique too quickly and too soon. Ease yourself more intensively and purposely to make you stronger. Come up with a plan that you will execute in training as well as diet to build the body up.
Soccer requires some element of aggression if you are not to be pushed around by the other players. Weak or players deemed soft are easy targets for taunts and basic bullying off the ball by the opposition.
For example, think of the kind of work Fernandinho and Casemiro have done for Manchester City and Real Madrid respectively for several years. They get the tackles in and shield the back four. They are not afraid to put in a challenge or draw a professional foul if need be.
To some extent, teammates may overlook them for passes as they do not trust them with the responsibility of holding the ball.
If you are defending the ball, ensure you put in as much energy to retain it. Make firm decisive tackles. Do not be afraid to show them that you did not come to play.
For attackers, your version of aggression is to attack the ball in the box, contest aerial duels, and be clinical in front of the goal. The opposition will think twice about approaching you to bully you if they see that you are deadly as an attacker or a tactically aggressive player.
Kante is a prime example of smart aggression. He is not considered by many around the world to be a dirty player. However, he will do the dirty so well that you have to admire him. This involves chasing down his target and intercepting with a tackle.
The opposition mentality changes when they see that you are an aggressive player. Some might even avoid you because of your style of play. Aggressive does not mean you play overly physical to the point of attracting fouls and cards. There is smart physical aggression.
When you play aggressively and you see the opposition backing off or not trying to bully you on the field, it can give you a confidence boost.
You may want the ball more or will be more composed even under pressure. When you are confident on the pitch, then you can make better decisions be it in passing, scoring, and even ball distribution.
Communication is always a key aspect of playing soccer. It gives the players direction and they can duly adjust to the opposition. Without communication, we have seen soccer teams make unforced errors and concede goals. How can this help one not be pushed around?
As a player, you need to be heard. Talk firmly to your teammates, advise each other, correct each other. Communicate with the referee and do not be afraid to call out the opposition for the obvious plays. This shows that you are not intimidated.
When you sense that an opposition player is vulnerable, rally your team around that fact while indirectly referring to his or her position. There are a lot of psychological battles that give players an advantage in soccer so use them.
There is better team chemistry when you are actively talking while on the pitch. It boosts the collective confidence within the team. The opposition will not use words to get an edge over you and your team. The focus can then be on trying to win the game using team tactics.
Belief in your skills and ability
If you can talk in the presence of the opposition, then your belief will be even higher. You will be a calmer figure on the ball which in turn feeds into a stronger belief in your abilities as a player.
Can lead to getting carded
How you communicate is very important. It is important to speak your mind as it shows you are not a pushover. However, going overboard is dangerous as it could lead you to be shown a yellow card or sent off depending on the state of words used.
Secondly, it could lead to physical altercations as the opposition will be set off. One might be tempted to bad-mouth a player so as not to be pushed around but this might agitate him or her. Use communication as a tool to show your confidence, not trade insults.
How you position yourself shows your state of mind on the field. Have a proper body stance. Defenders, especially central defenders, should stand upright. They should express themselves with hand signals as well as using their voice to show that they command their zone.
Think about players such as Virgil van Dijk and Kalidou Koulibaly. These are big and powerful centre backs. Their physique alone is enough to intimidate many opponents. However, watch their body language keenly.
They stand with that assured posture and marshal the defensive line. It is no secret that it becomes very difficult to dribble past them. Already, their demeanor exuberates confidence.
Attackers are to play off the shoulder of defenders. This means that they do not shy away from backing into the defender or any physical play. It is a sign of no intimidation felt by the attacking player. Move about your zone and be available to receive a pass.
Body language shows a lot. It could tell when you are confident, intimidated, and even tired. Strong body language displays that you are ready for the match with little fear and the rival players will pick up on this. Only portray strong and confident body language to the opponent.
Establish respect from the go. When you are respected, the opponent will tend to avoid making you the target of soccer bullying. Simple gestures will go a long way. Depending on the health protocols, shake their hand or its equivalent whenever possible.
Help an opponent get up when on the ground after fouling them or when they are injured. If you are fouled lightly, get up and not play-act. This will earn respect from the players with whom you are competing.
A prime example is what Cristiano Ronaldo did during the 2018 FIFA World Cup when Portugal faced Uruguay. Edison Cavani, an opposition striker was injured. Ronaldo decided to help the injured Cavani off the field. This was a good show of sportsmanship.
The opposition will approach with fair play and fewer tendencies of employing the dark arts in soccer such as pushing you around. It will say a lot about your character and what you represent as a sportsperson. This breeds respect amongst teammates and rivals as well.
Even though we are not in control of the intentions of other soccer players, we can take it upon ourselves to prepare well so as not to be pushed around. Building up your physique prepares you for the tough physical battles in soccer.
It is not all about physical play. It is a game of the mind too. Show confidence in the eyes of the opposition by how you stand and position yourselves in front of them. Talk confidently to your teammates.
Gain a psychological edge and respect by incorporating the spirit of being sportsmanlike. Let the opposition not have a reason to bully you or push you around on the field as you can approach the matches with some strategies.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!