There’s nothing quite as satisfying as effortlessly weaving through opposition players before sending the ball past the goalkeeper to score a brilliant solo goal.
Think of Diego Maradona’s iconic 1986 World Cup goal against England, or Lionel Messi’s brilliant run from his own half to score against Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final back in 2015. All the very best solo goals are characterized by fantastic dribbling skills.
Learning how to dribble effectively with a soccer ball is an important skill to master and will help you to navigate your way through lots of difficult situations in a match.
More specifically, practicing the speed and control of your ability to run with the ball will lead to increased time and space, making it easier to either get a shot off on goal or play a decisive pass to a teammate.
So, what’s the best way of learning how to dribble a soccer ball successfully?
This informative piece will take you through a step-by-step guide with some of the best tips and tricks to help develop and refine your dribbling skills.
Before you think about attempting some of the more difficult and flamboyant moves such as Cruyff turns, stepovers and nutmegs, you’ll need to start with the basics of dribbling to ensure that you’re fully confident with the ball at your feet.
Some of the key points to remember in the early stages of learning to dribble with the ball are to focus on your ball control, focus on your speed and balance, and keep your head up.
Ultimately, dribbling is used to gain yourself more time and space on the ball, or to get beyond an opponent without being dispossessed.
Therefore, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re an attacking forward or a full-back, dribbling is a key component of the game which all players need to master.
Lots of Small Touches on the Ball
One of the best ways of being effective with the ball at your feet is to take lots of small touches. This will give you greater control of the ball, enabling you to quickly change direction or execute a dribbling move that’ll take you past an opposing player.
It also makes it increasingly more difficult for defenders to anticipate what you’re going to do next with the ball, making it harder for them to know when to put in a challenge. This is often when they give away free kicks for mistiming a tackle.
While admittedly it’s not easy to do at the beginner stage, taking frequent touches of the ball at speed will dramatically improve your overall game. This however, usually comes with higher levels of practice and confidence.
Keep the Ball Close
By keeping the ball close to feet, it’s significantly easier to react to any of the challenges that come in from opposing players.
An effective method of retaining this close control is to keep your knees slightly bent as you dribble the ball from one foot to the other. By staying low and having a low centre of gravity, it’ll also be much easier to change direction quickly.
The only time you’ll want to push the ball out in front of you is when you have plenty of space to dribble into without any threat of an opposition challenge coming in.
Use the Outside of Your Foot
The best method of dribbling forwards with the ball at your feet is to have your dominant foot out in front of you each time you pace forwards. This is because it’s the laces of your dominant foot which should regularly tap the ball forwards as you advance down the pitch.
This makes it easier not only to control the ball at high speeds, but also to have better control of your own speed and balance.
Ideally, it should look like the ball is glued to your dominant foot as you push it forward quickly with regular small touches.
Keep Your Head Up
This may sound easy, but believe me, it’s extremely difficult to keep your head up as you learn to dribble. The natural instinct of all beginners is to stare down at the ball as they attempt to keep it under close control.
However, the main problem with this is that they won’t be able to see any of the defenders in their way, so it’s a bad dribbling habit to get into.
Taking frequent looks ahead as you dribble will allow you to keep control of the ball while simultaneously knowing exactly where the opposition players are on the pitch.
This also makes it easier to see the runs of other teammates and potential goal scoring opportunities when they present themselves in front of you.
Use Your Body to Protect the Ball
Using your body to shield and protect the ball is a great way of keeping it from an opponent. It helps to retain possession, as well as drawing fouls in promising attacking positions.
It may sound simple, but for the best results, position your body in a way that keeps the opposition player as far away as possible from the ball.
While doing your best to keep them at arm’s length, you can also look to hold them off with your body strength. This is effective so long as you quickly use your feet to keep moving the ball away from them.
Change of Speed
A useful trick to make your dribbling unpredictable is to try and frequently mix up your running speed with the ball at your feet.
Take Liverpool’s Sadio Mane for example. He often slows his running speed down to a standstill as he approaches a defender to square them up, before exploding into a sprint, leaving them trailing behind. It’s simple, but extremely effective if executed correctly.
If you dribble at the same speed all the time, it’s going to be much easier for defenders to challenge you as they’ll be able to predict your movements.
To make it more difficult for the opposition, it’s good to practice dribbling at different speeds and varying the number of touches you use.
For example, by occasionally hitting the ball further ahead, you can evade a defender’s challenge before picking the ball up on the other side of them.
Maintain Your Balance
All good dribblers of a soccer ball need to have high levels of balance. To achieve this, it’s recommended that you keep your arms out, and your knees slightly bent. Doing so will lower your centre of gravity and ensure you’ll be able to burst away from the reaches of an opponent.
In addition, it’s always beneficial to try and land on the front of your feet, instead of your heels. This will provide you with more explosive power and also improve your balance.
Practice in Open Space
Finding a large open space is useful for practicing the technique of sprinting with the ball. As mentioned earlier, try to take small frequent touches with the outside of your dominant foot to push the ball forwards.
Practice this with your weakest foot too, so that you’re confident dribbling with the ball in any situation.
If you’re looking to practice changing direction whilst dribbling with the ball, cones come in handy. They allow you to replicate the skill of weaving between opponents while keeping the ball close to your feet and under control.
It’s best to start off simple with the cones set up in a straight line with a fair amount of space between them. Once you’ve mastered this, reduce the distance between the cones, as well as trying to dribble through the cones with your weaker foot.
3 Tricks to Master
Sometimes on the pitch you’ll find yourself in a tricky position where dribbling on it’s own may not be enough to get you out of trouble. Therefore, you’ll need an extra little bit of magic to escape the opposition and break free into open space.
I’ll now take a look at three of the most popular dribbling skills that are used by soccer players to get themselves out of these situations.
Perhaps the most humiliating skill to be on the receiving end of. If you want to not only get past your opponent, but also embarrass them in the process, the nutmeg is the skill for you.
It involves slotting the ball between the legs of the defender and then sprinting on to retrieve the ball on the other side, leaving them flat-footed and embarrassed.
If executed correctly, it will help you get around your opponent and also have a physiological impact on their approach for the rest of the game.
For example, they may be apprehensive about committing to a challenge and leaving themselves exposed again next time you come face-to-face.
One of the keys to effective dribbling is to sell your opponent a dummy to throw them off balance. Using a step-over is one of the most popular ways of achieving this.
To successfully perform a step-over, you’ll need to consistently practice the movement. However, when perfected, it will baffle defenders and enhance your dribbling skill-set massively.
The movement itself requires you to throw your foot at the ball in a circular motion to make it look like you’re taking the ball to one side of you, but instead of making contact with the ball, you need to loop your foot over and around the ball.
Then, with the defender already confused, your body movement will sell the feint, as you take the ball in the opposite direction with the outside of your other foot.
Ideally, this will all happen in a split second, with the blur of your legs around the ball making it incredibly difficult for the defender to know exactly when and where they should commit and make a challenge.
Once you’ve perfected the single step-over, you can progress to performing multiple step-overs above the ball. This will only add to the confusion of the defender as they try and anticipate which direction the ball will end up in.
A prime example of a soccer player successfully using multiple step-overs as a way of dribbling past opponents is Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Cruyff Turn
A move made famous by one of the sport’s all-time greats, Johan Cruyff. This is a more technical move than a nutmeg or a step-over, so it takes a little longer to perfect.
To perform the skill correctly, you need to line your body up as if it looks like you’re about to pull the trigger for a shot, before sharply dragging the ball back behind your standing leg.
If you’ve successfully executed the movement, the defender will have attempted to block the shot, and will subsequently be off-balance and out of position.
This gives you the time and space to drive past them towards goal, either taking on a shot or setting up a teammate in a better position.
Specific Dribbling Drills
Now that I’ve taken you through the main technical points of dribbling, as well as some of the skills that can enhance dribbling with the ball in tight areas of the pitch, I’ll look to explain a couple of specific drills that you can use to practice.
Drill 1: Two Gate Dribbling
This drill is extremely simple and allows you to develop your ability to change direction quickly and dribble in both directions.
Set-up and Instructions
To set this drill up you’ll need four cones to create two, four-yard wide gates, at least 10 yards away from each other. Only one ball is needed.
You start the drill between one gate and dribble up to the next completing as many 40-second rounds as you can. Use cuts and turns to change direction quickly before turning around and dribbling in the opposite direction.
Start slow and then look to increase your dribbling speed as changes of direction improve and you become more confident with the drill. Make sure to rest between the 40-second rounds and add in variations to avoid boredom.
- Distance of gates - depending on how easy or difficult you’re finding the drill, you can adjust the distance between the two gates.
- Type of cuts and turns - feel free to use a mixture of inside and outside cuts as well as Cruyff turns to make things a little more interesting.
- Challenging patterns - be creative and test yourself. Try challenging dribbling patterns with complex turns that may be difficult to accomplish on the first few attempts.
- Try to replicate the match setting by encouraging yourself to accelerate after each change of direction as if you’re trying to get away from a defender.
- Remind yourself to keep looking up as you dribble to strengthen good habits.
- Use different cuts and changes of direction when turning around at each gate. The more you practice the better you’ll become. It’s better to become excellent at two or three rather than being average at 10.
- Push yourself to perform the drill at the highest speed possible. This will make dribbling easier when placed in a match setting.
Drill 2: Cone Cluster
This dribbling drill is designed to develop your creativity and your ability to move the ball in a tight space. You must think quickly and freely to move throughout the cone cluster without hitting the cones and losing control of the ball.
Set-up and Instructions
To set this drill up you’ll need to randomly place at least 10 cones (or similar objects) in a circular shape. Vary the distances and angles between the cones so it’s completely random and unpredictable.
Only one soccer ball is required and you’ll need to begin the drill outside the cone cluster.
You’ll complete this dribbling drill in 45-second rounds by maneuvering your way through the cone cluster. Ideally, you’ll try to remain in the group of cones for the duration of the drill, but it’s okay if you veer outside the cone cluster briefly.
To navigate your way through the tight spaces in the cluster, you’ll need to use changes of direction and speed.
Like the previous drill, it’s best to start slow and then increase the intensity of each round as you grow in confidence. You can also add variations and patterns between rounds to mix things up.
- Dribbling patterns - try using only your left foot, only your right, only the insides of your feet, only the outsides, etc. Any variation works if it pushes you out of your comfort zone.
- Challenging patterns - be as creative as you like and test yourself. It’s a good idea to give yourself difficult patterns that you may not be able to accomplish on the first attempt.
- Try to use every part of your foot and work on certain moves and changes of direction that you’ll likely use in matches.
- Focus on taking small, quick touches to get around the cones.
- Remember to dribble with your head up as much as possible to build good habits.
The art of dribbling is one of the most important skills a young soccer player can master. It not only provides you with an advantage over opponents, it’s also a potentially match-winning asset for you and your teammates.
All it takes is one weave between a couple of opponents or a quick change of pace to get beyond a defender to make a difference. To put it simply, skilful pieces of dribbling open up space and create chances.
Hopefully, the information in this piece on the technique and skills of dribbling, as well as a couple of example drills, will provide you with all the tools you need to develop into an effective dribbler. It’s hard work and requires a lot of practice, but it will definitely be worth it in the end!
Frequently Asked Questions
What position in soccer needs to dribble the least?
While all positions in soccer are physically demanding, when it comes to dribbling it’s clear that the goalkeeper is the player who runs the least with the ball.
Aside from goalkeepers, it’s a close one, but usually the central defenders and the center forward are the next two positions who run shorter distances.
Typically, central midfielders and players on either wing will dribble with the ball the most. This is because they operate in condensed areas of the pitch and are often closely marked by opposition players.
They’re also responsible for creating chances for the team so have a duty to move forwards with the ball and take defenders on.
Who has the best dribbling skills in professional soccer?
This question is purely subjective and will depend on your outlook of the game. If you’re looking for the easy answer you won’t have to look too far beyond the sport’s biggest names.
Some of the best players in the world are incredibly skillful at dribbling such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez.
However, there are also some other players, who may not be as good at soccer overall as the previous three names, but have a special talent when it comes to dribbling with the ball at their feet.
Some of the best examples are Eden Hazard, Adama Traore and Hatem Ben Arfa. These players have perfected the art of dribbling at speed against defenders of the highest level, so should be appreciated in terms of their dribbling ability just as much as the likes of Messi and Ronaldo.