Along with the drag-back, infinitely less useful than you might think, proper shooting technique is the first thing emphasized at youth football programs. Coaches feel it is their prerogative to ignore time-honored techniques and beat into their players the importance of shooting with the laces, and the laces alone.
Sometimes, the first years of a player’s footballing eductation are spent eliminating the toe ball. At football summer camps, men in shiny new gear, smiles gleaming tote around carts full of “sweet spot straps” – wide rings of plastic that are strapped around a player’s kicking foot several inches above the toe. Not only do such devices cut off circulation, but they also tend to snap in half after making contact with the ball.
Pretentious teenagers in pink boots and Messi jerseys love to mock the toe ball, a technique they consider primitive and childlike. When the fat centre back whose mom organizes the team party takes his first swipe at the ball (inevitably, with his toe) the derisive shout of “TOOOEEE BAALLL” echoes across the pitch. In youth football, the toe ball provokes a sort of comic snobbishness and an automatic admonishment for any unfortunate abuser. Sadly, but such is the culture of youth sport, mocking teammates and a snarling coach are deterrents too powerful to overcome.
Coaches think that kicking the ball with the toe causes bruising. What they don’t understand is that, in the compact spaces football players are required to operate in, taking a full swing leaves bruises too. Those whacks tend to land slightly below the navel.
Injuries aside, many say that the toe ball’s fault lies in its inefficiency: that it generates power, but can’t be relied upon to send the ball flying towards its intended target. While Ronaldinho is certainly an above average footballer, his magical prod at Stamford Bridge surely closes that particular argument. And given that most amateur players, no matter how many reminders they strap to their feet, can’t strike a ball “sweetly,” it seems strange that football’s simplest technique should be so universally condemned.
Perhaps in an era when television and the Internet focus unceasing attention on every intricacy of the top players’ technique, making refined Barcelona-esque passing is the standard against which all are measured, the toe ball is just too mundane to find a niche. Maybe, despite the toe-ball’s obvious usefulness, football is just too sophisticated for such nonsense. With every passing week, the game takes itself more seriously. The toe ball is just one on a never-ending list of casualties.