Futsal is characterised by its high tempo and small court dimensions, limiting the amount of time and space available. The only way to excel is to apply strategies and techniques adpated for this demanding environment. One of the resources players use is the toe punt (or toe poke) shot and in this post I will analyse this technique.
Before we go any further let’s take a look at some goals scored using toe punts;
The video features some great goals. If you look closely you will see the goalkeepers are reacting very late to the shots and there are a few that you would expect world class goalkeepers to save. Most goalkeepers will tell you the toe punt is one of the most difficult shots to stop. I have identified the 3 reasons I believe make the toe punt so effective.
Firstly, the action is very quick. The short and sharp back swing and lack of need for a run up means it can be executed in an instant. This is crucial in futsal where the opponents are always in close proximity and fractions of second make the difference. You see it used a lot by players dribbling on the counter attack as there isn’t the time or space to push the ball out in front and slightly to the side to shoot with the instep. The short time to execute significantly reduces the period the goalkeeper has to prepare themselves. It will often catch them off guard whereas normally they see the shot coming and set their body ready to move beforehand.
Secondly, it generates a lot of power. The smaller the contact area between the foot and the ball, the more pressure will be applied to the ball, increasing the speed of the shot. The contact point for a toe punt is less than a shot with the instep. However, this will be offset somewhat by the less force generated due to the fact the toe punt uses a short and sharp leg swing. It would be interesting to test the ball speed from different types of shot and see how they compare.
Thirdly and most importantly in my opinion, I believe the key to the effectiveness of the toe punt is it provides less pre-shot information that goalkeepers rely on so much. This is not related to having time to set themselves like I said in the first point. Rather, it is about the information the goalkeeper obtains from the attacker’s body movements before and during contact with the ball, allowing them to anticipate the direction of the ball before it has even begun its trajectory.
The importance of the milliseconds a goalkeeper’s gains from this cannot be underestimated and are crucial to their chances of saving a shot. It will often be the difference between stopping a goal or not as many shots will be physically impossible to react to in time if the goalkeeper only starts moving once the ball has left the attacker’s foot, as evident in the video.
Knowing how to gain information through reading an attacker’s body movements is one of the key skills of the goalkeeper in stopping shots along with hand-eye co-ordination, positioning, speed and saving technique. I don’t mention reactions because it has been shown that elite athletes such as tennis players have similar reaction times to novices. What appears to be superior reactions is actually a better ability to read the opponent’s body movements to anticipate the shot’s destination. This allows them to begin moving before the ball leaves their foot.
The mechanics of toe punting uses a short back swing of the leg and relatively little other body movement, especially laterally. The difference between shooting left, right, high or low is only a few millimetres of where contact is made with the ball. All this denies the goalkeeper that crucial information they need to anticipate the direction of a shot.
The drawback of the toe punt is that due to the small area where contact is made it is less accurate than other types of shot. However, this can be minimised with practice. It takes repetition to master and use with precision like any skill. Novices often find it painful which indicates that the technique being used is incorrect.
Despite its effectiveness it is, possibly, underutilised and isn’t worked on enough. I don’t recall ever focusing on it in a team training session despite doing frequent shooting drills. Maybe, occasionally, coaches should restrict goals to only being scored with a toe punt, though with the knowledge that this isn’t training the decision on what type of shot is best in each situation.
The captain of Brazil, Rodrigo Hardy, is well known for his toe punts and shows what is possible with practice and repetition. He has mastered the technique and uses it to devastating effect in a variety of situations. Take a look at him in action below.
In futsal your opponent is always close and you must act fast, especially in attacking areas. The toe punt is perfectly suited to these situations as, with practice, it produces a powerful shot very quickly whilst revealing few visual cues of its direction. It is a very useful tool that should be in every futsal player’s arsenal.