Dribbling and stopping the ball

Ages: 8+; Equipment: Cones, balls; Players: 4+


Start with some basic ball-control movements. Do your stretches.

Individual Work

The first step in learning to dribble is learning how to “carry” the ball by dribbling it straight ahead. The technique is very important to get down correctly. Done properly, this technique allows a player to propel the ball forward by “feel”, without needing to look down to see where the ball is. This technique should be practiced constantly.

The key coaching points are as follows:

The knee of the dribbling leg is bent and the toes are pointed downwards and slightly inwards, so that the front of the foot comes into contact with the ball.

Contact with the ball is made with the laces of the shoe, with the big bone of the arch slightly below the top of the ball at about the centre of the ball.

The knee must be over the ball when contact is made, so that the gait itself is very similar to prancing.

As contact is made with the ball, the ball is dragged/pulled along by the dribbling foot, so that it comes to rest beside the dribbling foot when you step down again. Short steps are used, and the ball stays in front of the torso at all times

After illustrating this move, allow the players to have some time to experiment by moving around in free space. When most have learned the correct foot position and are successfully dragging their balls around with them, distribute them on a line (like they were lined up for a race) and get them to dribble to the “finish” line and check the ball (checking should be taught in the practice before this one).

Start using a walking pace, then progress to a slow jog, then to a faster jog. It is doubtful that your players will be able to progress to full running speed using this technique until they have practices for several sessions. So, for your warm-ups for the next few practices, do a jog around the complex or your field to work on straight-ahead dribbling.

Once they have learned to dribble with their dominant foot, switch to the other foot. It is fine to drop back to walking speed (dribbling is tiring) to work on the technique. Your main objective is to get them to learn to dribble with the dominant foot – and at least occasionally be able to take some dribbling steps with the non-dominant foot when they need to do this to shield the ball. Some players will be naturally left-footed and others will have no strong foot preference. However, all players can learn to use both feet, if encouraged and prodded to do so.

How do you encourage them to do so? Ask them to guess whether a race is going to be won by a guy with 1 foot or 2 feet. They know that answer. So, if I am a defender, and I know that you can only turn in one direction, you have made it at least 50% easier to guard you – because you voluntarily have turned yourself into a 1-footed player.

Small Group Work

Divide the group into pairs, based upon size/speed (i.e., put bigger/faster players together). Set up 2 cones per pair, about 8 feet apart and widely spaced. Put one player between the cones, as a defender. Have the other player come directly at him (can come thru in either direction). If the defender put his hand up in a “Stop” gesture, the dribbler must check the ball and stop before the gate. If the defender signals “thumbs up”, then the dribbler can go thru the gate unharmed as long as he keeps the ball in contact with his foot as he goes thru the gate. If dribbler tries to kick it thru, then he loses a point. After 10 attempts, the players switch places.

A contest should be held after both sides have had a turn. Possibilities include: pair with the greatest success wins; player with the most success wins; all players with X put in one group for a contest and all of the ones below X put in another group for their own contest.

Learning to stop the ball

Of course, if you are going to go forward at speed, you are going to need to learn to be able to stop the ball. This is a good time, after some experimentation with speedy straight-ahead dribbling, to introduce the basic check.

This is a very useful move to be able to do in order to keep the ball in bounds, or to do a quick turn when you are in a footrace with another player. In order to be able to learn this move, your players must be developmentally able to skip. Players who are younger than age 8 may not be able to skip – and, if so, will be too young to learn this move yet.

The key coaching points in teaching the check are as follows:

  • With the ball moving forward at a slow roll, put the plant foot (usually the non-dominant foot) beside the ball and do a quick hop on the plant foot as soon as it comes down.
  • While you are airborne with the hop, lightly tap the top of the ball with the opposite foot (which will naturally be coming over the ball in the normal stride). DO NOT put any weight on the tapping foot – a very slight tap on the ball will cause it to stop.
  • Continue forward to land on the tapping foot, then turn back to get the ball. Older players will be able to turn in the air and do a “rooster-tail” type of hockey stop (landing with the foot already turned sideways so that they can immediately push off in the opposite direction).

Teaching the Check

Put each player with a ball, and simply let them dribble around and work on stopping the ball with a check move. This move is not as hard as it sounds – and most players U8 and above can master it without real difficulty. Now, go back over a bit of your small group work – and let them incorporate the check into their work.

Large Group Work

Divide the group into 2-4 teams. Set up a series of cone “gates”, complete with gatekeepers (note: make the number of gates equal to the number of players on a team). Have the players dribble thru the various gates. The gatekeeper is allowed to kick their ball away if it is not in contact with their foot as they come thru the gate. Switch out gatekeepers periodically. Once everyone has run the gates, you can have a race if you like – or a contest to see how many gates can be run successfully. Of course, if your ball is knocked away, you have to re-run the gate, and this slows you down.

Progression: Players may be required to look up to see the number of fingers which the gatekeeper is holding up, and call this number out correctly, as they go through the gate.
Small sided game

Play 2v1 in a mid-sized grid, which is divided into two parts, with a small cone goal at one end. Put 1 defender and 1 attacker in part near goal. Have other attacker at opposite end of the grid. Ball is passed to attacker at end of the grid, who dribbles towards goal end. Defender cannot come out of the defending end. Defender scores if he can kick ball back into no-man’s land. Attackers score by making goal. Ball which goes over end line is a restart. Play to 5 points, and then switch roles. After playing 2v1 for awhile, you might try 4v2 and watch what happens.

Do not interfere or try to teach support decisions. Your team will not work on support roles until much later. For now, let the kids experiment with 2v1 decisions. The main idea at this point is just to get them used to carrying the ball in unopposed, and looking up to find a target player.