One skill that young players often don’t work on as much as they should is their dribbling. It’s one of those skills that, in a perfect world, young players would hone by practicing moves on their court or in pick-up games away from a trainer or drill. Unfortunately, this does not happen as much in the United States as it does in other countries.
To counter this, it is important that youth coaches incorporate a variety of dribbling drills into their sessions. Dribbling players through the cones has its place for particularly young players, but that can’t be all that’s done. Various exercises using changes of pace, quick cuts and touches of the ball with both feet are much better options.
Here are some exercises you can try during your next session:
The magic box
Lay four box-shaped cones where they are spaced five to eight meters apart. Make an outer box with four cones so that the inner box is a good 15-20 yards away (unless the players are very young). Place your players at each of the four outer cones. The first player in each row must have a soccer ball at their feet.
Variant 1: Have each player dribble over the “magic box” in the middle at a comfortable speed. They must dribble around one of the four cones except for the cone closest to their line before dribbling to their starting point. After going around the cone, each player must dribble as fast as possible to get back to the line. It is important that each player looks up when entering the box as there will be three other players doing the same. This allows players to use their vision and prevents them from watching the ball while dribbling.
Variant 2: Each player must enter through one of the four sides of the box and exit through one of the sides that is not directly aligned with him. For example, if a player is dribbling through the bottom side of the box, they should not exit through the top of the box, but rather cut to the right or left and exit through one of the sides. After leaving the penalty area, players must dribble towards the line closest to them.
Variant 3: Have each player make at least two “moves” inside the box. It’s better to point out that simple feints to one side and a cut to the opposite side are a great option rather than endless moves or something only a player like Ronaldinho could try in a match. Once the movements have been executed, the players must dribble to the line directly in front of them.
This drill is not only great for players to practice dribbling, but it also involves the goalkeeper(s) and some passing.
To start, place four cones in a box spaced 25 to 35 yards apart. Have your outfield players split into four equal groups at each cone, with the goalkeeper or goalkeepers standing in the middle of the box wearing gloves.
To start the drill, have the first player in one of the lines at the bottom of the box hit a hard ground pass/shot to the goalkeeper – a pass that can be managed. When the goalkeeper plays the ball, the player must follow his pass. Once the goalkeeper collects the ball, he must roll it to his left into the path of the running player, who then dribble the ball towards the player in the line diagonally in front of him. That receiver then dribbled the ball in a straight line to the line directly in front of him at the back of the box.
As soon as the goalkeeper has returned a ball to the original passer, the first player in line at the other cone at the bottom of the box must pass to the goalkeeper and follow the same instructions.
You will now have the two lines at the bottom of the box alternating between playing balls into the goalie and following their pass to dribble to the opposite side of the box. Players at the top of the box simply wait to receive balls to dribble quickly to the lines at the bottom of the box.
Some variations of this drill include players hitting driven balls and chip shots at the goalie. If you have multiple goalkeepers, have them stand together and alternate with each ball to get the drill going as quickly as possible.
In a 20-25 yard grid, have each player dribble a ball across the conical area. Provide a specific command for each stanza so players can work on a different skill. For example, for one minute ask them to dribble only with their weak foot or only with the outside of their foot. While this is happening, whistle or call “switch” every 30 seconds or so. When you do this, each player must drop their ball and run towards a teammate’s ball. Once a new ball is found, each player must continue to dribble in the area.
By having players change so often, it forces them to keep the ball close while dribbling and be aware enough to listen for commands and keep their teammates in sight in the grid.
Variations of this drill are to have each player execute a move on a takeover, such as a Cruyff takedown, step forward, or takedown and cut to the left or right while running on each ball.