Soccer Trainer

Alexis Nischbach

Problem Statement:

There are thirteen million soccer players in the United States. With the exception of a few of the 3,907,000 youth players, most of these athletes want to practice alone of don't have anyone to practice with when they need to put in work. These soccer players don't have anyone to receive or return their pass or chip when they need to practice skills that require a partner.

Justification of Problem:

This is a problem that needs to be solved for many reasons. First, nothing like this has been invented or attempted yet so this is a very relevant problem. Also, players who want to get better and succeed but don't have anyone to practice with or don't have anyone willing to put in the same amount of work as them need something to replace that second person. They need to put in that work and this will help them tremendously.

History of Soccer:

  • One of the most popular sports in the world

  • earliest evidence of the sport being played was from the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC in China

  • was made an official game in 1863 when set rules were made

  • FIFA est. in 1904

  • Leagues were being formed by the 1930's

Expert Validation:

  • Robert Schneider - engineer and club soccer coach - says this is a very relevant problem

  • James Nischbach - collegiate and club soccer coach - believes there to be a lack of training equipment in the soccer world for individuals

  • Emily Eberhart - high school soccer coach - would invest money in something like this

  • Kyle Austin - high school soccer coach - believes this could help coaches and players

Consumer Survey:

Emily Eberhart:

Q - How would you feel about a machine that would receive and pass back a ball to an individual so they could practice alone?

A - “Definitely would be beneficial. It would be able to help a person who wouldn’t have anyone to go practice with.”

Q - Would this be something you would try to get funding for for the school team?

A - “We would definitely try to get money to get this for the school team. Maybe someone with an injury could use it or on the sidelines when someone is just trying to get a few reps in individually.”

Kyle Austin

Q - How would you feel about a machine that would receive and pass back a ball to an individual so they could practice alone?

A - “Significantly help individual training. Could help coaches in the long run so they wouldn’t have to waste time on trivial things in practice.”

Q - Would this be something you would try to get funding for for the school team?

A - “Depending on how effective it would be yes. We would definitely pursue individual training methods so players could get better off season without coaches.”

James Nischbach

Q - How would you feel about a machine that would receive and pass back a ball to an individual so they could practice alone?

A - “I think it would be very beneficial. It would assist in improving a kids accuracy and touch.”

Q - Would you have tried to get funding for this for the Maryville team?

A - “This would absolutely be something we would try to get funding for for our collegiate team. It could help improve a player’s touch at any time without needing to use other coaches or players. It is also something that has never been on the market before so we would be one of the first collegiate teams to use a new technology to step ahead of the competition.”

Prior Solutions and Patents:

  • Tocball

    • Price: $144.99

    • Stationary ball holding device that keeps the ball on the stand every time you kick it

    • Strengths: stays close, helps you train on striking the ball

    • Weaknesses: doesn’t really help you with accuracy, long balls, or receiving the ball

  • Veloce Deluxe Rebounder

    • Price: $39.99

    • Net that rebounds the ball back to you

    • Strengths: somewhat cheap

    • Weaknesses: not accurate with rebound, can’t really do long balls, creates bad habits

  • SKLZ SKLZ Kickback

    • Price: $34.99

    • Ball connected to weight with elastic cord

    • Strengths: can work on long balls, ball stays relatively close

    • Weaknesses: rebound isn’t that accurate

  • SKLZ Starkick Solo Soccer Trainer

    • Price: $11.99 ($19.99 for Barcelona design)

    • Belt with an elastic attached that holds a ball so you can kick a ball and it stays connected to you

    • Strengths: stays close, helps you work on touch, cheap

    • Weaknesses: doesn’t really help you with passing, long balls, or shooting, will still have to always get ball, doesn’t help with accuracy

  • TOCA Touch Trainer

    • Price: Unknown

    • Feeds you balls at many different speeds and angles so you can work on touch and interacting with the ball

    • Strengths: delivers balls at any speed, angle, or place, can hold up to 24 balls, can be controlled with an app

    • Weaknesses: can’t receive passes, not easily portable, not easy to buy

  • Pro Trainer Soccer Machine

    • Price: $1650 (sale)

    • Machine that feeds you balls and can deliver balls at different angles and speeds that you set it to

    • Strengths: Can adjust to different speeds and angles, delivers balls at a very large distance, can hold many balls

    • Weaknesses: can’t receive passes, needs to be adjusted if you want to move around, very expensive

  • US 9272197B2

      • Publication Date: March 1, 2016

      • Pros: deflection wall, portable, improves your interaction with the ball

      • Cons: not completely accurate with returning the ball, ball might not always hit target

  • US 5280922A

      • Publication Date: January 24, 1994

      • Pros: self-stabilized, ball always returns

      • Cons: you can’t work on accuracy, you still might have to retrieve the ball, possibility for injury

  • US 6475108B1

      • Publication Date: November 2, 2002

      • Pros: can work on striking the ball correctly, stable stand, slides to adjust to player height

      • Cons: Doesn’t return the ball to you, may be difficult to kick from a stand

Design Specifications:

  • Needs to receive a ball

  • Needs to be able to pass a ball back to a player up to 40 yards

  • Less than $200

  • Portable

  • Needs to make the process of practicing easier for the player


  • Something like a basketball returner but for soccer balls

  • A soccer ball roomba that follows the ball and brings it back to you

  • Something like a jugs soccer ball machine but it collects and receives the ball and passes back on its own


  • Has the materials and sizes included on the sketch as well

Decision Matrix:

Application of STEM:

  • Technology:

    • uses VEX machines

    • coding the machines used

    • uses technology to contact mentor and for research

  • Engineering:

    • uses the engineering design process

    • uses engineering techniques to come up with and make the project

  • Math:

    • makes calculations so that prototype is proportional

    • uses calculations to find out how big final project needs to be

    • calculates weights, sizes, and speeds of all components to make sure this project works

Design Viability:


The only load acting upon my product is the force and weight of the soccer ball shot. The ball itself is about a pound or 450 g. The force of the ball hitting the machine will vary from player to player and shot to shot. The fastest shot in history was at 114 mph with a 450 g ball so there will most likely not be a shot with more force than that.


  • Elastic Net: lightweight, should be able to withstand all weather for long periods of time, will not be affected by the ball hitting it

  • Wheelbarrow Wheel: not too big, very sturdy, tough, should withstand time and all conditions

  • Steel Pipe: cheap, sturdy, easily replaceable, won't be damaged by ball, may rust in wet conditions

  • Wood: Cheap, easy to use, may erode

  • Motor: fairly inexpensive, should work well, will be covered and protected from outside elements

Mechanical Engineering:

  • Requires a motor to spin the wheels and launch the ball

  • Will need a wheel and axle

  • Load will be put on net but then will go through moving parts

  • wheels will move at max. speed of 10mph


  • the wheels will require a motor to give them and the ball energy to work effectively

Chemical/Bio Engineering:

  • N/A

Electrical Engineering:

  • it will include a motor and control center

  • there will be an on/off switch connected to a battery which will act as my control system

Anticipated Life Cycle:


Testing and Results:

  • Test with foam ball and red flimsy net:

    • ball fell into wells where the net and machine connected

    • ball couldn't make it to wheels

  • Test with foam ball and blue cloth:

    • the wells were eliminated

    • ball got to machine but wasn't actually making it to the propelling wheels

  • Test with small soccer ball and cloth:

    • cloth worked well and got the ball to the wheels

    • cloth was not reaching to the practice net that we were connecting it to

  • Test with small soccer ball and mesh netting:

    • worked perfectly

    • ball made it to machine and netting met the practice net

External Evaluation:

  • Engineers at Ameren:

    • thought it was a good idea

    • thought there was a big market for machines like this

    • maybe there could be fiberglass frame ramps

    • add sensors on the machine and individual that follow your movements to pass the ball directly to you

    • suggested I make a full size make up

    • wanted me to size a portable unit for easy transportation

Entire Process:

  • Step 1: Find a problem

    • Thought of things that I wanted to be better or easier or that needed to be fixed

    • Picked a problem that I felt the most passionate about

  • Step 2: Research

    • Found out if it was an actual problem

    • Talked to people about the problem for justification

    • Researched previous solutions and patents to see what I could do better

  • Step 3: Brainstorm

    • Took into consideration the previous attempts to solve the problem

    • Thought of a basketball like returner that it a large up right net that collects the ball and gives it back

    • Came up with somewhat of a soccer Roomba that would have a sensor on the ball and follow the ball and bring it back to you wherever you are

    • Developed an idea that was a machine that would connect to the actual goal and just funnel the ball into two wheel propellers

  • Step 4: Choose best solution

    • Developed a decision matrix based on 5 factors: price, weight, do-ability, portability, and if it will work or not

    • After tallying up the factors on a scale of 1-5 the third solution had the best score so that's what I chose

  • Step 5: Build

    • Made a small machine with a flimsy red net taped to the bottom

    • Tried to tape the net to the top of the ramps after the first try created wells

    • Put a sturdy cloth net on the machine and taped it to the top of the ramps

    • Up-scaled the ball and wheels

    • Used same sturdy cloth net

    • Upgraded to a mesh net that I connected to a small practice net to simulate a real soccer goal

  • Step 6: Test

    • After every design i tested and if it failed I upgraded it and tried to make it better

    • When I tested the mesh net with the small practice net it worked exactly as I wanted it to

  • Step 7: Present

    • Presented the prototype and process to engineers at Ameren

    • They gave me good feedback and a lot of good ideas for further development


  • Could've gone a lot smoother if I would've used my time more wisely

  • I needed to test the prototype more often

  • Should've asked for better materials

  • Needed to be more proactive

  • Basically everything that went wrong was preventable on my own accord


Thank you to Mentored Pathways and my mentor, Kirsten Riley, of Monsanto. This program really helped me throughout my entire process. Mrs. Riley gave me real life advice that I will use in college and my career. I can't thank this program and my mentor enough for everything they have done for me this year.