It’s said that among the must-learn skills in soccer, learning to volley is the hardest to master. That seems counter-intuitive as the action seems simple; kick a ball while it is flying through the air.
As long as you can get a foot on it, you should be okay, right? No.
Like many foot skills in soccer, to be able to volley a soccer ball successfully, you need to learn the proper technique. You also need to be able to employ that technique on a moment’s notice, because often, the opportunity to volley comes at you fast.
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When to Volley a Soccer Ball and Why
The volley skill can be employed with great versatility. We know about the spectacular volleys and half-volleys that fly into the goal. However, volleying can be used by attackers to create chances.
Defenders, or players in defensive situations, can clear a dangerous ball away from the offense when under pressure. You can surprise your opponent when they are expecting you to let the ball drop and you strike it while it’s flying. Sometimes doing so will require you to leap in the air or put your body on the line, resulting in one of the most remarkable kicks in soccer, the bicycle kick.
Offensive Volleys in Soccer
On offense, the opportunity to volley the ball can be the result of quick-thinking from the player or a reaction to a developing situation.
- Player 1 in the box sees a lofted ball coming from out wide. He or she recognizes that the keeper is paying more attention to other things and may not be ready for a shot. Player 1 sets up for a volley on goal.
- Player 2 on the right wing receives a ball in the air from the middle of the pitch. Player 2 sizes up the situation and thinks he can catch the defense flat-footed if he volleys into the box rather than letting the ball drop and attempting take-ons.
- Player 3 is “poaching,” waiting around the 6-yard box for an opportunity to score. Player 4 heads the ball towards the corner thinking he might score but the ball is going wide. Player 3 attempts a volley on goal as the ball approaches.
In these situations, the players use their situational awareness and knowledge of the game to make the appropriate reactions or judgements in deciding whether to attempt a volley.
Defensive Volleys in Soccer
On defense, players have to make similar decisions about when you use the volley. The biggest difference is that an error in the back can be catastrophic. The player should be certain about using the technique.
- Player 1 sees the cross coming in. A side-footed volley seems to be the best way to clear the ball from danger.
- Player 2 is facing his own goal. A lofted ball comes in overhead. He uses a “backwards” volley to clear.
- Player 3 is under pressure in his own half. He has no choice but to hit the ball while it is airborne and volley it out of danger.
With proper technique, a volley can create danger on offense and stop danger on defense. What is the best technique for volleying a soccer ball?
The Soccer Volley Technique
Volleys require a combination of timing and foot-eye coordination to be successfully executed. You’ll decide how much power you need to apply, but in most cases it will be substantial. As with many skills in soccer, the more power applied, the more precise you must be, so be careful.
- Keep your eye on the flight of the ball. Being able to estimate where the ball will end up is important to putting a solid strike on the ball.
- Get into position. When you know where the ball is going to go, you can set up your plant foot and prepare to strike the ball. Remember that a good ready position includes being on the balls of your feet and ready to adjust yourself quickly if necessary.
- Plant your standing foot. If you are not trying a high-level volley like adding spin to the kick, you can point your plant foot in the general direction you’re trying to strike. Stay balanced.
- Open up your body as if you are receiving the ball. Stay upright, don’t lean backwards or forwards. Since your body will be a little open, you will slightly swing your leg at the ball.
- Get the striking leg/foot into a ready position as if you’re about to hit the ball. Lock your ankle.
- Let the ball drop. Strike the ball as it drops just below the knee. Hit the ball in the middle with your instep, preferably on the bony part of the instep.
- Use your hips and legs to add power if necessary.
If you’ve hit it right, the follow through should have you facing the direction you hit the ball with your strike leg just across your body.
A half-volley is simply letting the ball bounce before volleying it. The skill gives a player an extra moment to make a decision about what to do next on the pitch. Also, a half-volley can serve to confuse a defender expecting a full volley. It may be safer to hit a half-volley in situations where you need to better prepare yourself for a strike.
Other Types of Volleys
Sometimes you may want to execute different types of volleys. The general principles for striking the ball are the same, with slight changes you’ll have to make.
Inside of the foot volley
You may want to “side foot” the ball when volleying to have more control over where the ball goes. You may try to finesse the ball past the goalkeeper or guide it into a striker’s path. You strike the ball along the middle using the area between your ankle and the ball of your foot. The leg swing will be shorter but most everything else will be the same.
Outside of the foot volley
When you want to put some opposite spin on the ball, either to deliver a good cross or fool the keeper, you can try to hit the volley with the outside of the foot. You’ll follow the same steps for an instep hit, except that you swing your foot across the front of the ball and hit it with the outside of the foot. On follow through, the strike foot should be across the front of your body.
Back overhead volley
You may see defenders under pressure boot the ball backwards. They use their body position to achieve the effect. The defender may lean backwards slightly and strike the ball below the mid-point. The ankle should be locked and bent slightly upward. The leg should be a little above knee height on follow through.
The spectacular form of the volley. It’s actually more similar to the defensive back volley than the offensive instep volley as it is also known as the overhead volley. Aside from a high level of skill and physical ability, pulling off a kick like this requires a little courage. Your entire body will be in midair as you leap and lay out to meet the ball. You will have to position yourself so that you can hit the ball when it is just below your knee. Imagine if it were a regular volley but done on your back in the air!
Anyone who wants to be a top soccer player should have the ability to execute a few types of volleys very well. This requires practice on this particular skill. Getting together with a friend is the best way. However, if you have a rebounder net or a wall in a quiet corner, you can hit volleys to yourself. Work hard and show your skill.