Every sport requires its players to excel in unique ways. In fact, that’s probably what draws someone to a sport to begin with. NBA fans might lean toward high-flying athletics, while a golf fan might, instead, be zeroed in on skill and form when swinging. For soccer players and fans, the emphasis is on playmaking, vision, and creativity—along with goal-scoring, of course.
A Look at Two Special Skills Which Soccer Players Develop
But those last two elements can be a bit hard to quantify. Soccer players have one of the largest playing fields in professional sports, which means that what they’re doing off the ball is just as important as what they do when they have it. And that means that soccer involves a lot more mental dexterity than players are credited for.
After all, there are no pauses in soccer. There’s no time to recoup and reform. Players have to read the field, move as a ten-person unit, and work off the ball if they want to score. So, what type of skills do top soccer athletes have that others might find a bit surprising? Let’s explore some of the oddest skills in the sport.
Reading the Future
Every sport requires a bit of clairvoyance. Being able to forecast what’s going to happen is something that all athletes rely on to do things like intercept the ball or string together a combination play. But soccer players are probably thinking two or three steps ahead, linking passes while moving off the ball, reading where it will go next, then adjusting their trajectory to be right where they need to be when that next pass comes.
And that’s quite a bit of mental work. In fact, similar skills are easier to find in a card game like poker than in a sport like hockey or basketball, thanks to the field size. For example, if you’re familiar with the rules of poker, then you know that the point of the game is to build a winning hand… or bluff your way to the top.
But what differentiates top poker players from true masters like Phil Hellmuth or Phil Ivey is the ability to read where the game is going. A poker player reads other players sitting around them, forecasting what cards they might have and how they’ll try to play their hand. It’s about keeping an eye on things even if it’s not their turn yet.
A soccer player is doing something similar with their own teammates and the other team, forecasting who will move and how that will affect their run. Being able to read the space is a vital skill for players, but forecasting how the play will unravel into that space is even more important.
Developing a Unique Approach
Another highly interesting fact about soccer is that the big dog doesn’t always win. In fact, every player has their own special skillset which could easily see them become captain. This doesn’t even have to translate to goal-scoring—it just needs to give them the upper hand when the time comes.
Above, we likened the sport to poker because players need to forecast and read minds like a WSOP pro. Here, we can instead liken soccer to something like MMA. In MMA, fighters are classed according to weight—but differences in wrestling versus Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu highlight how two similar athletes can take a totally specialized approach.
For example, two fighters with separate backgrounds in BJJ and wrestling are highly compelling to watch. That’s because the fighters will use different holds and grappling methods to subdue their opponent. In other words, viewers get to see two totally different approaches to the sport—and it’s highly compelling.
This same spirit carries over into soccer. It doesn’t necessarily matter how large one player is if the other has a highly developed set of foot skills. And the same goes for vice versa—no level of technical training will help a player win a foot race to a loose ball. This means every soccer player is a master in their own right, of their very own specialty.