Playing the ball to yourself

Dribbling skills are one of the most valuable tools that children can have. It requires them to develop not only their motor skills, the moves, but also a reliance on themselves to influence the game. Therefore, coaches and parents do not want to insist that they "Learn how to pass" too early. This usually results in "Passing the responsibility," not the ball. At the u-young ages dribbling skills are learned through trial and error and there will be lot’s of errors. Patience, on the part of the coach and parents is a must.

The Basic Elements of Dribbling

Dribbling requires a mastery and understanding of four components. These are learned in the context of specific moments.

  1. Close control. "Close" is relative. Close in midfield on a breakaway is different then close in a packed penalty area.
  2. Change of direction. Being able to move to the right, left, backwards and then switch at will. (At just the right moment.)
  3. Change of pace. Speed up or slow down. You can lose a defender by stopping as easily as accelerating.
  4. Disguise. Hiding your real intentions. Without the first three elements disguise is irrelevant. (Isolated practice drills lacking defenders, direction and purpose might be useful as an introduction. As soon as possible players should be facing real opponents in small games.)

The Objectives of Dribbling

One of the common mistakes for a youth soccer coach and parents is too preach that dribbling is all about beating an opponent and going to goal. That it’s about conquering geography. This usually results in the US Grant’s ’Cold Harbour attack.’ Heads down, fix bayonets, out of the trenches and charge. The manic "Go! Go! Go!" from the sidelines actually hinders the children’s learning the game. They can’t learn how to make the decision nor how to find the right moment. It’s done for them and that’s wrong. They are not robots and should not be treated as such.

There are four objectives in dribbling. Each one centers on the creation and utilization of space. Children should become familiar with which one to choose, when to switch from one to another and how to achieve each one. Dribbling should be taught in the larger context of it’s contribution to the game.

  1. Moving into space. Sometimes you just want to move into an open space to change an angle or get closer to your target. (Don’t hold the ball so long that you dribble into trouble, if you don’t have any ideas give the ball to a teammate, they might.)
  2. Moving defenders. Dribbling can draw defenders out of good positions into poor ones. Use the ball like a remote control to get them where you want them. (First dribble away from where you want to go. Then cut or pass back into the free space.)
  3. Freezing defenders. You can force defenders to act where and when they don’t want to. You choose the place and moment for conflict and they have to react to your decision. (Dribble directly at the defender. This usually commits them. Make it all or nothing.) Pele at RFK Stadium, 1968, freezes defenders. Takes you to YouTube.
  4. Protecting the ball. Dribbling can help insure ball possession. As long as you have the ball the opponents cannot score. (Keep your body between the defender and the ball, make sure you can see the defender and the ball at the same time, if in doubt where the defender is, move into the space where you know they’re not.)

Watch the video and see how even great players, in this case Johan Cruyff, follow these simple guidelines. It’s all in knowing when, finding the moment, to make the move. Not too early, not too late.

 Here are some links with short video clips of different moves.

  1. Strong Soccer.
  2. North Alabama Soccer League.
  3. Indiana Youth Soccer.
  4. Change of direction. - 1 Takes you to YouTube.
  5. Change of direction. - 2 Takes you to YouTube.
  6. Change of direction. - 3 Takes you to YouTube.
  7. Change of Direction. - 4 Takes you to YouTube. 
  8. 1v1 with neutral players as targets. Takes you to YouTube.

Don’t spend too much team practice time on these. A few quick demostrations will do. Let the kids work on them on their own at home. Assign up to three, and check on them periodically. Use some as part of a warm up before a game or between small sided games at practice.

(#8 is an example of a good game to master dribbling skills. Make it 2v2 in the middle and you add passing/teamwork.)