Seeing a player dribble and attack defenders, feinting one way and then the next, or performing a series of stops and starts are among the most exciting parts about watching soccer, and developing great dribbling skills is mandatory for anyone that is learning how to play soccer.
Basically, dribbling is just running with the ball, although there are a few fundamental things that you need to know.
Using the outer part of your foot
The best technique when dribbling is to use the outside of the foot where ever possible. This enables you to run normally, and so more efficiently and faster. Of course, if you change direction or make a feint, then you will use the inside of your foot or the instep (the top of your foot), but practicing running and dribbling with the outside of your foot is the way to go!
Keeping the ball close to you
You need to keep the ball as close to you as possible so that the opposition cannot get the ball. How close is that? Well, it depends on where the opposition is and how fast they are.
If they area is congested and there are lots of defenders, then you will need to keep the ball within touching distance at all times, that is about a foot or so away. If there is a lot of space, and you want to get forward very quickly, then keeping the ball about 5 yards away whilst running fast, allows you to run faster.
There are times when you are not really dribbling but running with the ball, and there will be times when it is to you advantage to “knock” the ball past the defender and chase it, especially if you are confronted with the last defender and there is a lot of space behind the defender.
The knock and run turns the challenge into a foot race, so if you are faster, then you will probably have a chance to shoot. If the defender gets there first, you still have an advantage because he is facing the wrong direction and you will get the chance to put pressure on him while he is facing the wrong direction, and may get a throw in or even better, a corner.
When dribbling, particularly when close control is needed, it is far better to keep as low as possible, by bending the knees a little. By doing this it is easier to deceive your opponents and change direction. Being lower to the ground will give you more agility with your legs, and you will be more flexible.
How should you practice?
If you are by yourself, then there is little option but to dribble around stationary objects like cones, but try and make it game like, and ensure that there is enough intensity in what you are doing to put pressure on yourself. Deliberate practice is the key here. Simply going through the motions just won’t cut it!
If there are two of you, then try a game of 1v1 where there are two goals set 20 yards apart and you can score in either goal. You start by both of you having your back to the goals and one player tossing the ball over their head into the playing area and the other player saying “GO”. Having two goals that either player can score in will encourage turning and faking, a much needed skill in dribbling.
If you have a whole team at training, then using the “dribbling square” is a fantastic dribbling drill
Here’s how to set the drill up –
Mark out a square of 20 by 20 yards and have equal numbers of players on each side, with all players facing inwards to the other side of the square, and each player has a ball. On the coaches command the players dribble across the square to the other side and then back again.
The traffic and sheer number of players in the square forces players to look up to avoid collisions and to look for space to explode into, much like a game. This drill is so much better than dribbling through cones.
Practising juggling and controlling the ball, quick feet to ball movements, and even just dribbling the ball while running can be some of the best training a soccer player can have. The saying goes “Practice makes perfect”, but essentially, it’s more along the lines that “Practice make permanent”. Repetition and control over the soccer ball without even having to think about it is what will make anyone a better soccer player.