Fitness, For Coaches, For Parents, Science

Coaches – Don’t Make This Mistake When Teaching Kicking Technique

By: Abdullah Zafar

Picture this: your team has won a free kick on the edge of the box and your dead ball specialist lines up the perfect shot. You expect the ball in the back of the net but instead it ends up flying high over the crossbar.

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?

If your answer was “they didn’t keep their body over the ball” then you’re on the right track BUT what you observed was just a side effect and not the root cause of the poor technique.

In fact, not only does leaning back not necessarily mean the ball will launch high into the air, numerous studies have also shown that maximum power is generated in this way.  Leaning back when striking the ball maximizes the range of motion and muscle recruitment of the kicking leg.

Think about it, in which scenario would you feel more powerful when striking: when you plant your foot directly under your body or slightly in front?  The fact is, planting your foot in front of your body creates a bigger distance for the kicking foot to travel and build speed, resulting in a more powerful strike.

Leaning to produce more power is definitely a plus, but a powerful shot is useless if there is no accuracy, so how does lean affect accuracy?  As a matter of fact, there are only three factors which contribute to the flight path of the ball:

  • foot orientation during ball contact
  • foot speed during ball contact
  • area of foot-to-ball contact.

Notice the common theme here? All three factors depend solely on the instant of foot-to-ball contact (not whether you lean back or not).

To explore further, foot orientation means how the foot is positioned when striking (e.g. ankle locked, toes pointed down) and determines how much energy is transferred from the foot to the ball.  Foot speed is simply how fast the foot is moving and determines the resulting speed of the ball.

Finally, and most importantly for accuracy, the area of foot-to-ball contact refers to the area on the ball that the foot strikes (e.g. dead center, above/below center, right/left side of ball).

It may seem obvious, but think about playing a ground pass straight ahead versus to the left or right. The only consideration when playing that pass is that the ball is hit dead center for it to move straight forward or hit on the left/right to pass it sideways.  The same idea would apply when talking about the ball in the vertical direction: hitting the ball below center lifts it into the air while hitting the ball dead center keeps it level.


So, what is the best way for coaches to take all of this information and correct their players’ kicking technique?

Instead of saying “body over the ball”, it would be more effective to say “plant your foot beside the ball”.  What then happens is that the arc of the kicking foot naturally contacts the ball closer to its center.  If the foot was planted behind the ball, the kicking foot would “reach” forward, contacting the ball below its center causing it to lift into the air.

Coincidentally, reaching forward with the leg means leaning back more with the body, which is where the concept of “body over the ball” originally came from.  While this concept was a certainly a good start, a more thorough analysis would indicate that leaning back wasn’t the main issue but misplacing the plant foot was.

Ultimately as coaches, this example should encourage us to examine the information we are giving our players and ensure it is as accurate as possible.

I hope you enjoyed this article.  Please feel free to leave your comments and feedback!

Abdullah Zafar is currently studying mathematics and physics at the University of Toronto, as well as working at Soccer Fitness Inc. as a strength & conditioning coach and research associate in biomechanics. For more from Abdullah, you can follow his soccer & physics content on Instagram @abdul.zaf, or check out his research work at:


For Coaches, For Parents, Matches

3 Reasons Why Italy Failed to Qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup; And What We Can Learn From Their Mistakes – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #61: 11/26/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss the Italian Men’s National Team’s recent failure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, following their 1-0 defeat in a 2-leg Play-Off with Sweden.

All three of the reasons I’ve provided as to why I feel Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup are centred around coaching, so I have also provided some suggestions for possible improvements which may be made to the coaching methodology of the Italian team, as well as some take-home messages that all soccer coaches – including those of us who are working here in Canada – can learn from Italy’s recent failure.

I hope you like the video and as always, please feel free to post your thoughts and comments!

For Coaches, For Parents, Science

Why you May Want to Think Twice Before Hiring a “Mindset Coach” – Perspective from a Practising Sport Psychologist

“The composition of sermons is not very difficult.  Invent first and then embellish..set down diligently your thoughts as they rise in the first words that occur…I have begun a sermon after dinner and sent it off by the post that night.”

  • Samuel Johnson (1709-1784),

Famous English writer/poet/literary critic

“Mindset Coaching.”

“Mental Resiliency Training”.

“Performance Longevity.”

What do these terms mean to you?  Could it be that they are simply the latest reincarnations of the “sermons” that Samuel Johnson wrote about over 300 years ago, manifesting themselves in the form of unregulated, jargon-laden social-media posts, articles, and services provided by questionably qualified “professionals” looking to take advantage of vulnerable consumers?

The field of sport psychology – almost 100 years old – has very well-established standards and regulations for individuals wishing to become practitioners.  Of primary importance is the standard that someone dispensing – and charging a fee for – advice about the psychology or mental aspect of sports performance must have actually studied the subject and earned a degree from a recognized academic institution.

In fact, the Association of Applied Sport Psychology (AAPS, founded in 1985) has required that individuals practicing under the term “sport psychologist” have, at a minimum, undergraduate degrees in both psychology and sport science, and preferably, a Master’s degree and/or PhD in psychology or sport psychology from a recognized academic institution.

Thus, an unqualified individual who lacks these academic credentials yet still wishes to provide services that fall under the category of “sport psychology” must come up with jargon like “mental resiliency training” as a term for their services.

Consumers face a host of potential problems when hiring and paying someone for “mental resiliency training” or any other bastardized form of sport psychology, not the least of which is the fact that there can be no guarantee of the competence of the person providing the service, or that the person has any background, education or experience in any legitimate form of actual sport psychology.

Even more concerning for consumers hiring “mental resiliency trainers” should be the fact that they cannot be sure ofthe truthfulness, helpfulness, or even the safety of the information and services they are being sold.

How do actual sport psychologists feel about this issue?  Recently, I had the opportunity to conduct a brief interview with Mahsa S. Durbano, who happens to have a Master’s degree in Clinical psychology with a specialisation in Performance from York University, to get her thoughts on the subject.  Below is a summary of our conversation.

Q: How did you get started studying sport psychology?
A: It was a journey to say the least! I began my undergraduate studies in the field of English literature and creative writing simply because that is what I was most passionate about at that particular time in my life.  Upon completion I began working as a writer within the Ministry of TCU (Training, Colleges and Universities) under Minister John Milloy where I analysed and summarised Bills, prepared speeches, and drafted legislature.  While working there I began pursuing a night class called ‘Meeting the inner child’ with some friends at an institution called Transformational Arts College.  What began as a light-hearted night class pursued in the name of fun, quickly turned into a passion.  Shortly thereafter I enrolled in the full Psychotherapy program and dedicated my time to becoming a full-time student.  Upon the completion of my studies I had come to recognise that my endeavours would not be complete unless I had developed a thorough background in both Psychotherapy and Clinical psychology.  Shortly after I was able gain acceptance to pursue a Master in Clinical psychology at York University which eventually transitioned into a focus on sports through a specialisation in Performance, which extended my Master’s by a year.

Q: What interested / interests you most about the subject?
A: I have always been a very athletic individual.  I came to recognise that my perception of life and my views of the world had transformed while engaged in my studies on the clinical realm.  While the perspective shift was on all life levels, it was very keenly focused on personal performance within my athletic endeavours and friends/teammates around me.  At the time I lived near a golf and country club where my partner and I golfed at every day. 

Q: Tell us about the work you have been doing since you earned your degree?
A: While my background has allowed for me to operate under any sport, I have primarily focused my attention in areas that interest me the most such as Golf, hockey, soccer, and basketball.  In the short period that I have been practising I have guest lectured at colleges and universities, have written published articles, participated as a researcher in Neurofeedback training, and have worked  with professional individuals on the pro tour and at the NHL level. I have also been working with professional teams such as the Humber Hawks, the Sun Devils (Arizona State University) and Hamilton BullDogs.  During this period I also opened and now operate my own practice with multiple offices in the GTA and surrounding areas, called Limitless Performance.

Q How important is it to you that practitioners of sport psychology are held to high academic and professional standards?
A: Having standards add to the credibility and legitimacy of your profession as well as ensures a safer environment for both the clients and the organisations that use our services.  Being a certified psychologist ensures that the professional has completed adequate training, has hands-on experience and has access to the tools necessary for the maximal benefit of the client.

Q: How do you feel about “mental resiliency trainers” or “mindset performance coaches”?  Do you think they have a role to play in high performance sports environments?
A: Coaches and trainers that are not certified lack the oversight of a governing body. Therefore they may not make referrals, may not be held accountable to losing their licence, may not have proper insurance and the other benefits afforded to a certified professional. In addition there may be a lack of accurate diagnosis and experience as professionals are required to undergo placement in coop, internships, vigorous research clinics and countless hours of personal training to ensure the safety of the client.

A professor once stated that the human mind is a museum that is organised like a maze, and the opportunity to walk through this arena is a complex privilege where we apply only our knowledge and expertise while withholding our own personal projections.  It’s tough to imagine that a “mindset performance coach” is truly capable of separating themselves from their own personal experiences as the nature of their therapy is simply based on experience rather than education.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the consumer of any good or service – including services related to youth soccer – to do their homework, educate themselves and demand a high standard from the providers they hire.  Hopefully, as consumer education about sport psychologists and the work they do improves, the prevalence of charlatans peddling false and/or misleading information will concurrently decrease.  Here’s to hoping that the day will come when all practitioners working with athletes are held to the highest possible standards – sooner rather than later.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started!



Mahsa S. Durbano is a Performance Psych Consultant who specialises in the mental side of performance. Her education entails of an undergrad in English literature and creative writing, a degree in Psychotherapy, and a Masters in Clinical Psychology with a specialisation in Sport and Performance. Mahsa works closely with high tier athletes of all ages and abilities in helping them perform to their full potential, while understanding the importance of supporting the dynamics between the athlete and coaches in reaching their goals and navigating the world of competitive performance. She is especially keen on assisting athletes who aspire to achieve the competitive edge required to compete at the National and the Pro-Touring professional level.