Article / Technique or Skill?

One from the vault! This article was published on our Keep the Ball blog in March 2010. It still carries so much relevance.....enjoy!


by John Cartwright  

Once Association Football became a game to be learned, the methods for acquiring the ability to play the game well became the centre of  a heated discussion that has continued ever since. With the demise of Street Football and its casual approach to learning, organized coaching methods were introduced to replace it. The learning of the game moved very quickly from realistic, unfettered involvement in the streets, to a more structured process designed along educational lines. 

The definition of the words; technique and skill, is indeed difficult to describe and all forms of work and play can employ some aspect of either. My own definition of these terms in relation to Association Football revolves around the interference of others in the performance of an action. Therefore, I believe technique is an action performed without the interference of opposition, whilst skill is an action performed with the interference of opposition. The involvement of opposition affects the time and space decisions made by a player and correct   judgement of these forms the basis of a successful completion of an action. 

Conflicting arguments have produced a series of beliefs as to the way the games skills should be taught. 

  • Techniques through unopposed drill practices.
  • Small-sided games with limited information provided.
  • A technique practiced followed by the gradual inclusion of opposition.
  • A practice-play method suitable for the very young to senior levels that includes opposition in various forms along with area size adjustments from the beginning to provide players with realistic decisions on space and time throughout the whole of the development period——and beyond.     

You don’t play against opposition with technique, you play with skill! The game of Association Football is a competitive sport and therefore, it demands the need for a realistic, skill-centred approach to the teaching of the game. To practice a technique without the examination of challenge is to have spent wasted hours in producing a talent that does not satisfy the real needs of the game.  A rebound surface is useful when practice partners are unavailable, but is best used with ‘opponents’ so that alongside contacts of the ball, space and time decisions can also be made. The infatuation with ball juggling for hours on end that supposedly improves a player’s touch, produces just that ball “jugglers “ not talented footballers for the game. 

The game of football has ‘exploded’ as a viewed, as well as a played, sport over the past half century. Money has poured in and with it has come numerous opportunities for entrepreneurs to cash-in. Coaching is one of the areas of the game that has experienced a host of commercial initiatives; some good, most not so good. The confused situation between technique and skill is obvious in the number of variations and methods on sale in coaching courses, books, videos and DVD’s.  

I’m a strong believer in the ‘practice-play’ method of development. I should do, I produced it! The Practice-play development model incorporates the teaching of skills, tactics and understanding of the game in a realistic and progressive way — in a nutshell, Practice-Play is a modernized version of street football. 

Playing the game is what we all love to do. Even when age becomes a debilitating influence on our performance we still like to think we can play, even for a brief amount of time. The playing of the game is the fun part of the game, therefore, the practising of the game should impose the same enjoyment and practice should emulate playing as much as possible. Within a playing atmosphere the different attributes between the technically gifted and those skilled for the game can be easily seen. The former has difficulty to readjust to quick-changing situations, whereas the skilled player is able to anticipate change and adapt more readily. 

Until coaching produces players with more ‘natural’ ability the game will continue to suffer from a lack of individualistic quality it relies on to make it exciting to play and watch. There should be no compromise over the issue of technique versus skill, football is a skilful game, so develop the skills it needs by practising the way it is played!