Running with the ball may seem like something you don’t have to teach.
But it is a skill just like shooting or tackling. While all children may make an effort to shoot, tackle or run with the ball, your job as coach is to show them the best way to do it. And knowing when to run with the ball and when to pass doesn’t come naturally to young players, it requires practice and encouragement.
Tip: you can tell which player doesn’t have the confidence to carry the ball. They are the ones who often just kick the ball away when it comes to them or make a pass that is clearly not the best one available.
At U6 – U9 age groups it’s common to see a player standing in the way of a team-mate who has acres of space to run into.
So we need to coach how and when to run with the ball and, at the same time, help our players see the best way to support the player on the ball (and that’s not by standing in front of him!).
Key coaching point: running with the ball is not to be confused with dribbling. Dribbling requires close control and relatively small steps. Running with the ball involves taking bigger touches and taking longer strides.
How to coach running with the ball
Start by making sure the basics are understood. You can do this in a fun, competitive way by dividing your players into small groups and playing a few relay races.
Set up pairs of cones (a starting cone and a target cone) about 20 yards apart. Each team stands by a cone facing their target cone. One ball per team.
Player 1 from each team carries the ball to the target cone, turns and brings the ball back. Have your players stop the ball by the starting cone for the next player.
First team to get all their players round the cone and back is the winner.
Ask your players what is the quickest way to get the ball to the turning cone and back – should they kick it long or keep it close? The answer you’re looking for is to kick the ball long, but not so long so that it goes past the turning cone or past the starting cone on the way back.
Once the basic technique is understood, play a small sided game and watch for the players who run with the ball at the right time and congratulate them.
Also watch for the following:
Basic: players who run with the ball with their head down – they can’t run into space they can’t see! They need to look up regularly, perhaps every stride or two.
Advanced: players making a good decision regarding when to run with the ball and when to pass. If your players are old enough, stop the play when you see a good or bad decision and ask your players what they think – was the decision correct?
Basic: is the ball carrier starting his run with a big first touch to get the ball out from under his feet?
Advanced: if a defender is making the run, are other players dropping in behind him to cover?
Advanced: is the ball being played with the foot furthest from any pressure? The ball carrier should be shielding the ball while running.
Basic: is there an end product? Is the player ending their run with a shot or pass or is he running out of space before he can decide what he wants to do with the ball?
Note: the ‘basic’ coaching points should be understood by all players. The ‘advanced’ points will only be understood by players who are sufficiently mature, probably at least nine/ten years old.