By Rodrigo Verney, June 16 2022—
The Athlete Tip of the Week is a column to help amateur and professional players toward their ultimate goal. After all, there is no sport without sacrifices. Without having to push through painful breaths. Without losing sleep to study that one play. A great player will always be the one whose motivation always surpasses their hardships in sports. That is why Montana Leonard is giving this column’s first tip.
There is one simple word to describe Leonard as an athlete — outstanding. She is a walking scoring machine. You can’t let her reach the right side and she can’t be left open on the left. The only thing she has to do is get to the penalty arc and she is within her range. Her powerful leg is able to score with precision off of transition with relative ease. Needless to say, she is a defensive nightmare. That is why Leonard’s tip is on what helps her score in such an efficient and powerful way.
Leonard focuses on repetition when she trains power and accuracy. Training at game speed can help you to better process actual game situations better. Leonard believes that this can be both a good warm-up and exercise.
“[Repetition] is huge, just doing as much of it as you can to build good habits,” said Leonard.
She even complimented those that want to go the extra mile and said that working on scoring in “uncomfortable positions” can help you make the most out of the few looks you do get during a match. This is a versatile training style and it can be combined with a defensive player on your tail to better tailor your shot.
Leonard was quick to answer when it came to a specific drill she would recommend. Her advice was the sweatbox. The exercise consists of fast-paced condensed training that focuses on your explosiveness and ball control. All that it takes is four walls relatively close to each other, position yourself in the middle of the walls and take a shot at one of them. Rebound the ricocheting ball with your off leg and aim at a different wall. Repeat the process until you can’t control the ball or your accuracy. This is a very intelligent and cheap exercise to do. It can help you have more control and power at the same time, making it a valuable drill for any soccer player.
There are ways to improve this activity. Substituting one of the walls for three friends can help you train your feet-to-eyes coordination as well as your passing accuracy. This time around, try passing the ball to each member. They will return it faster than a normal pass and force you to get out of your comfort stance, to which you will have to catch and shoot it in one of the walls. After rebounding the shot pass to a different person, repeat the process. This is a variation that greatly improves this simple drill. Training much more than just your explosion and accuracy.
Leonard’s shot-making wasn’t made out of a single drill. Her hours of dedication on the field saw many training drills. She quickly made a repertoire of curated offensive exercises. One of her favourites was a version of the Boston drills in basketball. It consisted of two offensive players and two defensive players positioned right outside the penalty arc. The number of players can increase to as many as six on each team. The goal is to score in a fixed amount of time. If the offensive team scores, then they have another chance at doing so. However, if the defensive team holds the position, they become the offensive ones. This is a great drill because it gives you a strict amount of time to score and to keep your position, creating competitiveness and urgency.
When it comes to the training intensity, Leonard preaches moderation. A slow, high repetition training focusing on accuracy with no pressure to score is great to calibrate your shots. On the other hand, fast-paced training with intensity to understand the efficiency of your skill set is crucial to any player. However, Leonard also agrees that it has a lot to do with your level at the game. She recommends starting slow. Understanding your shot is necessary for any beginner, but intense training with friends to play defense can help you comb the weaknesses of your shot.
“Just working on my accuracy and power was really big for me, I think it’s important to do those things in more low pressure environments when you’re having fun,” said Leonard. “But I also would say that those pressure environments to combine with your skill set are also really important because you know that in a game, you are going to have that pressure and you don’t get as many chances.”
Leonard’s tip for those who are starting their improvement journey is an exercise to help them develop a killer shot from any range. Aiming at a target hanging from the top corners will help to develop a consistent shooting. After hitting them for a while, you can concentrate on the bottom corners. Having those detailed shots will greatly diminish the difficulty of the harder shots.
“It’s always fun if you have a teammate willing to go and do that with you or a parent to just pass you the ball, take a touch, and then try to hit the target. Then slowly like doing that from further out. I think that would probably be a good starting point. Just to work on accuracy,” said Leonard
The most important aspect for Leonard would be the mental state you find yourself in. It doesn’t matter what your level of play is, if you are in the right mindset to face the competition that’s ahead of you and are willing to adapt and change you will be successful.
“Once you find your perfect, calm, confident mental state, you’re going to play your best and perform your best,” said Leonard.