Ball-Striking 101: Recognizing The Stigma
Roberto Carlos scored some spectacular goals but was never consistent scorer and his swing doesn’t lend itself to it.
Cristiano Ronaldo is an inspirational player but has been struggling with the same technical problem with his swing for about 15 years. One of the biggest problems is lifting the ball and he hits more than 50% of his free kicks into the wall.
David Beckham was a very good ball striker and some of his swings were top quality, but he had nowhere near the consistency or range of Juninho and Assunção.
The godless quotes above are credited to the techniques of ball striking coach, Bartek Sylwestrzak, in an interview with Training Ground Guru. For a second there when you're reading these quotes you'd think it's just someone on Twitter chasing clout that people would either share and call him a genius or share it to call him an idiot, but no. As we go deeper into this topic, you'll see that it's actually accurate.
Bartek Sylwestrzak is the first-ever specialist in ball striking techniques. Ball striking doesn't necessarily mean shooting, to be clear, it could mean corners, long passes, crosses, and yes, shooting. You might think that this is a rather stupid choice of specialization as kicking the ball is literally the first thing players do. But, if you ever to his official site, you'd actually see that he has "committed 22 years to practice, in-depth analysis and, in the past 12 years, also coaching of ball striking."
Why Don't Players Practice Ball Striking?
In the past few years, a new term surfaced in football called "Marginal gains" and how important those gains are with Student Circuit writing a whole article about the topic titled "The Premier League: data-driven marginal gains key to football success?. If you're wondering what that term means, it literally means actions taken to improve by around 1%. Coaches and managers always of how 1% is what often leads to them winning a title or getting a better overall result.
With marginal gains being hailed for something like corners and how they played a big part in Arsenal's success, or Bayern Munich's crazy fitness transformations during lockdown, and many more changes coming from specialists, ball striking seems to be the least factor paid to which people pay attention. So, why is that?
Well, there are 2 answers, one of which is actually simple. Coaches don't have the time to train each player individually as each coach is in charge of over 20 players at least. If a coach trains players individually, there won't be time for group training, or even time to train all the players individually.
The second answer actually lies within the question and its introduction: Striking the ball is the first and most basic skill in football that a player learns. No player could even imagine the thought that they learned the first basic skill wrong. It's the most important skill in the game, however, it's learnt individually. It's a personal experience as no player shoots a ball at a young age and then goes and breaks down the style he shot the ball with a specialist.
After learning how to shoot alone, you rarely feel the need to improve. Scouts and academy coaches would see that you either have it or you don't, if you do, then you have it and therefore there's no reason to improve it and there's also no reason to watch and learn from other players. So, players don't actually sit and discuss how they shot the ball, and the result that is no one actually knows how the ball is stricken, often even the ones shooting it.
No one asks how a ball is stricken because, well, it's embarrassing and could result in a lot of stigma and bullying. "You don't know how to shoot, little boy? You don't know how to pass? Then how did you become a football player". No one would want to put themselves in such an awkward position. Assuming a player did decide to admit that their ball striking ability needs improving and trained alone to improve those skills, even then they wouldn't be safe from ridicule.
The Unknown Problem
There's no player that would go on an interview and state that they have a problem with shooting. If someone did, they'd be torn into shreds by social media and media as a whole. In a 2019 report done by The Athletic's Stuart James, there's an interesting quote
A senior member at one of the biggest Premier League academies told The Athletic that he estimates as many as 60 per cent of their players are taking part in some form of one-to-one coaching on top of their regular training sessions.
However, none of that 60% is willing to come out that they're doing so. The only player that was open about it is Cyrus Christie, former Fulham and current Hull City player. He said the same thing mentioned above as his teammates ridiculed him for not leaving with him and called what he does "busy bollocks" which means that he cares about nonsense. His teammates also accused him of sucking up to the coach.
The funny part is that even a player with a lacklustre career like Cyrus Christie, someone who you probably never heard of before, was too embarrassed to be open about the topic. This is the first and most important problem, shying away from ignorance. That's a problem affecting both players and even coaches in the world of football.
To relate to this problem imagine that you have been pronouncing the T in "Often" your entire life, your parents pronounce it, your friends pronounce it, and life is good. But, then you suddenly come across a PhD in English holder who points out that the T is actually silent, and your first thought is that what he says is just "busy bollocks", no? I mean, there's no way you, your family, and your friends have been pronouncing it wrong this entire time, right? That's what shying away from ignorance is like.
Shying away from ignorance isn't just bad for us, as insisting to keep saying or doing things the wrong way would often lead to vicious mockery and ridicule of those saying or doing those things correctly, or at least attempting to do or say things correctly. That's because every time someone says "Often" correctly, it's a direct reminder to you that you're wrong. By the way, if you're one of the people who pronounce the T, I am sorry for dropping this bombshell on you.
Football as a science is so far behind most other major sports that it’s unreal. You would have thought that with all money and resources available it’d be miles ahead.
At the same time, I’m always somewhat sceptical of any self styled “guru” within any discipline. I guess the proof will be in the pudding!
Here's a sneak peak from the next post:
But, like I say, it's a 1% marginal gain. There will never be a difference definitive enough.