During a ball control coaching session you are sure to notice some of your players having difficulty getting their body in line with the ball, choosing the wrong part of their body to receive it or allowing the ball to bounce off before they can get it under control.
Problem 1 – Your player misreads the path of the ball and misses it.
This is a really common problem for young players. When they begin to play football, almost all children see a pass coming and just stick out a leg and hope that the ball hits them.
How to fix it: pass a ball at your players from varying distances and at different speeds. Encourage them to keep their eyes on the ball and talk them through what they have to do: “move left”, “move right”, “turn to face me” etc.
Problem 2 – Your player chooses the wrong part of their body to receive the ball or has trouble deciding which surface to use.
How to fix it: working in pairs, one player shouts out the part of their body they want to receive the ball with and the other serves a ball towards that body part.
Problem 3 – The ball bounces off the player and they lose possession.
How to fix it: working in pairs again, encourage the receiving player to exaggerate the correct cushioning movement so a ball served in the air drops down at their feet and a ground pass “sticks” to the foot.
You could also try using a futsal instead of a regular ball. The slightly increased weight and much reduced bounce of a futsal makes it far easier to control.
Once you have worked on correcting these common faults, it’s time to let your players practise their ball control skills in the more pressured environment of a small-sided game.
One of my favourites for children aged 10 and up is based on Paul Cooper’s Xavi Game, named after Barcelona’s Xavi Hernandez who is, perhaps, one of the most skilful players in the game today.
This is a 5v5 game with the condition that players in their own half of the pitch may only touch the ball three times but when they are in the opposition’s half they can have unlimited touches. Goalkeepers must roll the ball out.
This game is great for encouraging quick, decisive passing and, at the same time, allowing players to express their individuality when going towards goal.
Younger children can practise their ball control skills in a less structured 4v4 where the coach awards extra “goals” for good examples of getting into line with a pass or a nice, soft first touch.