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Section 3: Dribbling

This series, Coaching Fundamentals, is designed to introduce volunteer and youth coaches to the basics of coaching soccer. 

Introduction to Dribbling

There are six basic skills, or techniques, of soccer. Different skills are emphasized at different stages of a player’s development. The six skills are:

1. Dribbling – The ability to maneuver the ball with the feet to beat or dodge an opponent.
2. Receiving – Refers to a player’s first touch as they control the ball, using any part of their body except the hands and arms.
3. Passing – Involves kicking the ball to a teammate.
4. Shooting – This skill is allied to passing; some people actually refer to it as passing into the goal.
5. Heading – This skill is specific to soccer, as it is the only way of contacting the ball when it is above the shoulders. It is a skill that requires special instruction.
6. Tackling – Though sometimes neglected, it is important for players to learn to tackle properly to avoid hurting themselves or the opponent or committing a foul.

Mastering the Ball

Players need to master the ball at an early age. Just as basketball players learn to play basketball by constantly playing in school yards and playgrounds, soccer players need constant repetition to acquire the skills of soccer. This segment looks at the different skills in soccer and illustrates how players can improve these skills with good coaching.

The first skill, dribbling, involves using all parts of the foot, combined with body swerves, to maneuver the ball to beat an opponent. It is an important skill for developing flair and creativity as well as confidence on the ball.

This session is devoted entirely to the skill of dribbling, since players must be comfortable and confident with the ball from an early age. Younger players need plenty of dribbling and ball mastery activities. Our goal is to introduce young players to activities that combine multiple touches of the ball and fast footwork with ballistic movement, which requires coordination.

Encourage Repetition

Repetition is the mother of learning. Soccer skill learning comes from repetition, which becomes gradually more complicated and demanding.

One attribute of a good coach is the development of a series of activities that repeat and emphasize the same physical movements without creating boredom. Dribbling, ball mastery and fast footwork should be emphasized from the first moment a child touches the ball. A young player must be provided with an environment of encouragement and acceptance.

Coaching Points to Consider

  • Use activities that give the player many touches on the ball.
  • Use activities involving swerving movements, dodges and fast footwork to avoid obstacles and opponents.
  • Develop drills in which each player has a ball and avoid standing in lines.
  • Coaches should avoid too much talking or lecturing.
  • Practices should be dynamic and full of action to maximize limited time and keep the interest of the players.

Keys to Successful Dribbling Instruction

  • Use fast footwork activities that encourage the player to make contact with the ball using all parts of the foot (including the inside, outside, heel and bottom).
  • Key elements in dribbling include changes in speed, changes in direction and fast feet.
  • Exercises should include activities in which the dribbling player must turn away from, accelerate past or unbalance in any way an opponent.
  • The proper dribbling activities vary depending on the player's stage of development.

Dribbling to Beat an Opponent

This normally involves an attacker facing up against an immediate opponent, dribbling toward them with the ball and beating the opponent with a body swerve, change of direction or acceleration past them. This dribbling involves fast footwork and the use of swerving body movements to unbalance the defender and/or movements in which changes of speed defeat the opponent.

Speed Dribbling

Dribbling for speed involves moving with the ball quickly into open space by pushing the ball forward and running after it. The player is encouraged to look up immediately upon touching the ball to assess the position of defenders and teammates. This skill combines contacting the ball with the shoelaces to push the ball into space, sprinting into space and developing vision.

Dribbling to Keep Possession

Also known as shielding, this skill involves keeping the body between the ball and a pressuring opponent. It requires a low center of gravity and a knowledge of where the opponent is, which frequently involves getting sideways-on to the opponent. It involves the use of all parts of the foot. This is a skill that players playing in forward positions need to master, as they frequently must receive a ball with their back to an opponent. Shielding sometimes involves a movement before receiving the ball to unbalance the defender.


These three types of dribbling involve many hours of practice. Some coaches encourage players to master two or three "moves" to beat an opponent. Certain dribbling moves are most usefully applied in certain parts of the field, but it is an obligation of all coaches to encourage ball mastery by their players if they are to become proficient with the ball and develop a style of soccer that is fun to play and entertaining to watch. Practicing dribbling moves at home, in the yard or at the local park is easily done, since it does not require teammates or opponents.