INTRODUCTION TO JUGGLING
Beginning juggling is the skill of one player with a soccer ball repeatedly striking the ball in order to keep it in the air. This is usually done while generally standing in place. Juggling, in and of itself, is a practice skill which is often the best way for players to develop a soft, deft “touch” to the ball. A soft touch is the ability to contact the ball with the minimum amount of force needed to maintain the maximum degree of control. The ability to control the ball – in order to make it go where you want it to go, when you want it to go, and the way you want it to go – is the single most important objective for an individual soccer player to achieve when working on skills. Accordingly, juggling should be introduced as early as possible and be made a part of a good practice routine. A higher success rate for the introduction to juggling is achieved if players have already been instructed in the instep drive and heading.
The keys to first learning effective juggling are:
1. At the time the ball is struck, the surface of the body part used to strike the ball should be parallel with the ground, i.e., horizontal.
2. The ball should be struck in such a way that the ball goes straight up into the air, i.e., perpendicular to the ground, approximately 18 inches.
The following parts of the body are most commonly used to strike the ball while juggling and should be introduced first:
– Top of the thigh of both the right and the left leg
– Instep of both the right and the left foot
For both youth and adults first being introduced to juggling, it is easiest to learn the thigh juggle. For the thigh juggle, the ball should first be held with both hands, approximately chest high, with the arms slightly outstretched in front of the right (or dominant) leg. Next, while balancing properly on the left foot on the ground, the right thigh is raised and kept parallel to the ground and the ball is dropped onto the thigh so that it bounces straight back up and is caught. After this is mastered, the ball should be dropped simultaneously with raising the thigh (by flexing at the hip) so that the ball is actually struck straight up into the air and caught. At this point, players who do not raise their thigh high enough will have sent the ball out in front of themselves. The coach should make it clear by demonstration that the position of the thigh at the time the ball is struck is critical. This can even be exaggerated by bringing the thigh higher than horizontal so that the ball actually comes back into the chest. After the simultaneous dropping of the ball and raising the thigh to strike it is mastered, the player should be requested to attempt to strike the ball a second, third, and fourth time with the same thigh, without catching the ball in between. This same progression is then used with the left thigh.
After some success with the thigh juggle has been achieved, the instep juggle may be introduced. For the instep juggle, the ball should first be held with both hands, just below waist high, with the arms slightly outstretched in front of the right leg. Next, the ball should be dropped simultaneously with a slight upward kick of the right instep (by bending the knee), so that the ball is struck straight up to be caught. Like the introduction to the thigh juggle, the player should start by properly balancing on the left foot on the ground and raising the right foot into the air. The action is similar to the instep drive or a goalkeeper’s punt, but with the ball going straight up instead of outward: the ankle should be down and locked and the upward kick should come from the knee. After this is mastered, the player should attempt to strike the ball a second, third, and fourth time with the same instep, without catching the ball in between. This same progression is then used with the left instep.
After some success has been achieved with the instep juggle, the head juggle may be introduced. Unlike normal heading, in order to properly strike the ball for the head juggle the head must be tilted backward and the force to strike the ball comes from straightening the legs at the knees. Accordingly, starting with the knees slightly flexed, the player should toss the ball no more than 18 inches directly overhead and then strike the ball with the forehead at the natural hairline, pushing the head and the ball directly upward by straightening the legs. The ball should be sent into the air no more than 18 inches and then caught. After tossing, heading, and catching is mastered, the player should attempt to strike the ball with the head a second, third, and fourth time without catching the ball in between.
The next step in the introduction to juggling progression is the elimination of the use of the hands to get the ball started. This is usually done with the “sole of the foot pick-up.” To do this, starting with the dominant leg, the sole of the foot is first placed on the top of the ball out in front of the player. Then, in one fluid motion, the foot and the ball are pulled backward such that the toes are sent under the ball and the ball runs up on top of the instep. As the ball centers on top of the instep, the leg is flexed at the knee and hip so that the ball is propelled upward sufficiently to begin an instep or thigh juggle. At this point, juggling may continue buy using any combination of the thighs, insteps and head in order to keep the ball up in the air as long as possible. Once the pick-up is mastered with the dominant leg, the other leg should be used so that the player is equally comfortable with both.
If the sole of the foot pick-up proves too difficult at first, some younger players find it easier to begin with the “kangaroo-hop” pick-up. With the ball held in place by the insides of both feet, the player bends at the knees and hops into the air with the ball. As the ball moves upward, the player releases it from the feet as high in the air as possible and then performs an instep touch to begin juggling.
After some proficiency has been gained with juggling, players may be encouraged to count the number of times that they hit the ball back into the air before it falls to the ground or they catch it. The world’s record for juggling is measured not in the number of hits, but in hours. (Young players who experience difficulty in learning to juggle with a traditional soccer ball may first find success by using a sturdy, soccer-ball-sized balloon, or by using a playball. A playball is the soft-feel, air-filled ball, approximately the diameter of a standard Size 5 soccer ball, made of pliable plastic, which is usually sold from big bins in grocery, drug, and toy stores during the summer – see photo.)
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