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The Most Important Skill in Youth Soccer!

Learning to dribble with every step is the most important skill in youth soccer.


I am Neil Crawford; Dad, Coach, Blogger, and Founder of Triangle Soccer. Occasionally, I will share a few tips that I have learned over the many years of watching youth soccer.

Key Takeaways

  1. 1) Strong players can dribble with every step.
  2. 2) Longer strides and light touches allow players to maintain speed while dribbling with every step.
  3. 3) This technique is not intuitive, so you must practice almost every day.
  4. 4) The ability to dribble with every step lays the foundation for all offensive moves.
  5. 5) The inability to dribble with every step is a primary reason youth players lose the ball

Major Breakthrough – While watching Real Madrid destroy my favorite team Manchester United in a 2017 international friendly, it dawned on me that strong soccer players intentionally dribble the soccer ball with every step the vast majority of the time.  The only time they did not control the ball with every step was when no defenders were close. The added breakthrough came when I viewed the below youtube video which demonstrated how a player can both dribble with every step and move with significant pace.

Soccer and Basketball Analogy – In many ways, soccer dribbling is like basketball dribbling. The main difference, of course, is that one sport uses the feet while the other uses the hands.  Another important difference is that the rules of basketball require the player to dribble the ball with each step.  Therefore coaches do not have to teach this technique.

Analogy Continued (Dealing With Defenders) – As mentioned, in basketball, it is illegal to dribble the ball one-time and chase it. Therefore, when confronted by defenders, young players are forced to dribble the ball lower to the ground and closer to their bodies. If this rule was not in place, I am 100% sure, young basketball players would try to dribble one time and chase the ball like they do in soccer.

Parents and coaches should implement training sessions with a rule that forces players to dribble with every step. When confronted by defenders, you want the player to instinctively use light touches keeping (and shielding) the ball close to his/her body.

In open space, the player can still move with pace (without chasing the ball) and dribble with every step. This requires a combination of longer strides, pushing the ball further and light touches. Setting up drills instructing players to travel as quickly as they can while also dribbling with every step is much more effective than simply telling a player “not to chase the ball”.

Chasing the Ball – A Great Move – Kicking and chasing the ball is a move not dribbling.  It is best utilized in the open field when the player can use sheer speed to blow by a defender.  So yes, there is a time to kick and chase the ball, but a strong dribbler uses this technique as a move, not because they don’t know how to dribble.

Try this Demonstration at Home – Try the following demonstration with your child. Have them close their eyes and rest one hand on the back of your back shoulder. Then tell them to follow you in the yard while keeping their hand on the back of your shoulder. You should begin walking in random zigzags and direction. They should have no problem keeping up with you.

Next, ask them to continuously tap your shoulder pretty fast and keep following you. The still should have no problem keeping up with you.

Finally, ask them to tap your shoulder slowly (every few seconds) They will see that it is difficult for them to follow you. In this example, you are the ball. If a player is unable to touch the ball quickly, they will lose control. When I do technical training with my son, he is required to dribble with every step.

Five Essential Dribbling Drills – I found this video while searching for a resource that teaches the basics of proper dribbling. Having watched countless soccer practices and games, I am convinced that 99.9999999% of the youth players have not actually learned how to dribble correctly.

I think this is because learning how to dribble correctly requires focused instruction with attention to detail and a lot of repetitive practice.  This is not conducive to large group practices.  For parents, it is essential that you work with your child to master the skill of dribbling with every step.

Watch this video with your child and practice at least twice per week at a minimum. Encourage your child to also watch this video on the way to practice. The presenter does a great job also explaining how to dribble with speed while maintaining ball control.

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