What is the difference between shooting and finishing? Let’s look at it this way - a player can shoot the ball well but may not necessarily be a good finisher. I was fortunate during my playing career to have played with some great finishers. I also played with some players who were hard shooters but not necessarily good finishers.
The first great finisher who springs to mind is Joey Harper. I first came across Joe when he was a 15-year-old playing for the Scottish U18 team in the UEFA youth championships in the Netherlands. Joe was the youngest on our squad, but because of his uncanny ability to put the ball in the net, he found his way onto the team.
Later, I was lucky enough to team up with Joe when we were with Aberdeen, and in his time there, the 5-foot, 6-inch (168 cm) striker managed to score in excess of 200 goals. He scored goals at every level and in every club from his beginnings with Morton to his work for Aberdeen, Hibernian, and Everton. He had a wonderful ability to score goals.
The other player from my playing days now manages Liverpool and possibly is better known on the world stage. Yes, most soccer people are aware of Kenny Dalglish. I had the misfortune of playing against him during his Celtic days and the good fortune of playing and practicing with him in his Scotland days. Like Joe Harper, Kenny was not the fastest player, but he was very quick, and most of all, he was quick thinking. He always knew where the goal was, and in the penalty box when everything was busy and frantic, he had the calmest of temperaments. It almost looked as if the game came to a stop as he calmly slotted the ball into the back of the net.
I used the word slot. Sometimes Joe or Kenny would slot the ball into the net, but they could also hammer the ball home. Other times it was a pass, a curling shot, or a dipping volley. They both had a great repertoire of shots and seemed to have the ability to use the right weapon at the right time. This is the difference between shooting and finishing, and it is crucial that players learn finishing rather than just learning to shoot the ball hard. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time for learning the proper techniques to shoot, bend, and dip the ball, but the most important thing is for players to experience gamelike situations where they learn the art of finishing.
I also have been fortunate enough to coach some terrific finishers here in the United States. Vladi Stanojevic still holds the Dartmouth career points record for the program, and Joseph Lapira scored 21 goals in his junior year at Notre Dame on his way to winning the 2006 Hermann Trophy. In fact, Notre Dame’s strikers have led the Big East Conference players in scoring in 2006 (Joe Lapira), 2008 (Bright Dike), 2009 (Bright Dike), 2010 (Steven Perry), and 2012 (Ryan Finley). That’s 5 out of 7 years.
We do few line drills, and most of the finishing drills we do are in gamelike situations. I do, however, strongly encourage players to spend time after practice hitting a bag of balls. I always have a bag of balls handy so the players can take 10 minutes after practice or come down when they have some spare time and hit a bag of balls.
During this time they can work on their technique and build confidence, but to score goals they also need to play the game and understand how to make space for their shot. Although good finishers are usually a little greedy, they do need to know how to combine with their teammates. They need to know how to find space, time runs, and get into good spots to get their shot off.
Having been a goalkeeper, I was always around finishing practices, trying to find out what makes strikers tick. I was studying their art while trying to thwart them. I had to understand their thinking, and this was possibly the best lesson I could have learned when I became a coach.
Every coaching session needs a beginning; an introduction. It is important for the coach to set the scene. You may discuss the aim of a session in the locker room, but the technical part of the warm-up is crucial. The session described in this chapter is one of my favorites and I use it a lot, especially in the winter and spring semesters, when I am teaching. I was first given the basic seeds of this session when I was coaching at Stanford. Tommy Wilson, who was one of the Scottish full-time staff coaches, brought the practice with him when he came to work at our summer camp. Tommy is now the reserve team coach with the Glasgow Rangers and was also the Scottish U20 coach when they participated in the U20 World Cup in Canada.
The session is split into the technical warm-up, the finishing phase, and the game phase, which puts the players in a game situation. Following the first three phases are various developments. Do not progress to the development phases until the players have a good feeling for the initial stage. Festina lente - "Hurry slowly" - is a good guide phrase!
Combination play is the quick exchange of passes to gain a tactical advantage. Near the goal the defensive team limits space and time to play. Defenders are drawn to the ball. Passing the ball quickly creates space and gaps in the opponent’s defense.
Preparing players technically and tactically
Set up a 44- × 40-yard (40 × 37 m.) area (a double penalty area). There are four groups of three players, with one ball per group. The coach is positioned outside the grid with a supply of extra balls.
The groups of three move freely around the space, making passes and using the entire space. The coach determines the combination pattern to be trained, as follows.
- Players should practice checking in to receive the ball (player A to player B).
- After player B has received the ball, he picks his head up and connects with player C.
- Player C then connects with player A so that all the groups of three are moving freely around the area, playing passes.