Introduction to Dribbling



In soccer, dribbling is the skill of moving the ball around the field by use of the feet, unassisted by other players. It has been said that the great dribblers are “born and not made,” and that dribbling is “an art and not a science,” but dribbling can and must be taught, up to and including the most advanced moves. The beginning techniques of dribbling can be divided into three categories:

Basic Concepts

Turning and Screening the Ball

Beating a Defender

The basic concepts of dribbling include keeping the ball as close to the feet as possible in order to maintain control of the ball, using the correct part of the feet to contact the ball in order to maintain balance of the body, and trying to maximize the use of the lower part of peripheral vision to see the ball in order to keep as much of the field in sight as possible during performance of the skill.

Basic dribbling for very young players often is more natural using the lower instep, but not the toe.

#5 – Low Instep

The next contact points are the left and right front, leading edges of the foot.

#2 – Left Front Upper Toe

#4 – Right Front Upper Toe

Keeping the ball close to the feet during dribbling is essential in order to keep the ball from being intercepted by a defender, to be able to change direction quickly and to take advantage of the opportunity to pass or shoot at the moment the opportunity arises. The key to keeping the ball close is to contact the ball gently, using the minimum amount of force necessary to keep the ball moving in the desired direction. This clearly represents a significant challenge when running at top speed, but it can be done. When dribbling the ball while running fast, the ball should be contacted by the instep slightly to the top and behind the main joint of either the big or the little toe.

By using only the leading edges of the foot to dribble while running, the player will be able to keep up speed and maintain proper balance. If some other part of the foot were to be used in this instance, either the player would have to slow considerably or risk falling down. Any part of either foot may be used in dribbling, however, as long as it is appropriate to the purpose at hand and allows the player to be properly balanced for the next move. The insides and outsides of the foot may be used to move the ball straight ahead or obliquely forward. The sole of the foot may be used to stop the ball, push it forward, pull it backward or roll it to either side. The instep may be used, by turning the leg and ankle, to “chop” the ball obliquely backward. The instep and toe may also be used to move the ball forward or to flick it up. The heel may even be used to hit the ball backward.

While dribbling, the natural tendency is to look directly at the ball. By doing so, the field of vision if severely reduced, often to as little as ten yards around the ball. This reduction in the field of vision doesn’t allow the dribbler to see either the opportunities being created by his teammates or the problems being created by his opponents. Accordingly, while dribbling, the player with the ball should strive to use the lower edge of his peripheral vision to see the ball and to focus his direct line of sight some thirty or more yards upfield. This is very difficult for beginners, both conceptually and in practice. With youth, coaches need to introduce and reinforce this idea, but not at the expense of players experimenting and having fun dribbling. By using this technique, the dribbler can see as much as sixty yards of the field. For example:

Dribbler Eyes Down Results in Reduced Field of Vision.

Dribbling with the head and eyes focused “down” significantly reduces the Field of Vision.

Eyes Up results in Increased Field of Vision

Dribbling with the head and eyes focused “up” significantly increases the Field of Vision.

One of the two major objectives of good dribbling is to promote passing. Upon advancing the ball, the dribbler will eventually draw a defender. When the defender comes to meet the dribbler, space is created beside and behind the defender. A teammate should run toward this free space and receive a pass from the dribbler. If the dribbler does not have an opportunity to pass, but still has drawn the defender, one of the dribbler’s first options is to turn and screen the ball with his body so that defender can’t get to the ball.

To turn and screen, the dribbler must move and manipulate the ball in such a way that he interposes his side or back between the ball and the defender. The dribbler must continue to play the ball in order to avoid being penalized for impeding an opponent. Teammates should now run to any free space to receive a pass. This includes providing the dribbler with a back-pass option, where the dribbler passes to a teammate positioned nearer to his own goal line. The teammate should be far enough away from the dribbler to ensure that the dribbler’s defender can’t just run forward and intercept the ball when it is passed.

As a last resort, if no passing options are available to the dribbler, he may try to beat the defender. Traditionally, beating a defender is usually interpreted to be the act of getting behind or beyond the opponent in order to continue dribbling. This is usually done with either sheer speed, by kicking the ball past the defender and then sprinting past to collect it, or with feinting. With feinting, the dribbler fakes going in one direction and then, when the opponent shifts his weight toward the direction of the feint, goes in the other direction.

One can beat a defender, however, without having to get all the way past him. This is most important near the offensive goal, because the second major objective of good dribbling is to promote shooting. In this case, the dribbler only needs to feint and move the ball in such a way that there is space enough beside the defender for a shot to go past without the ball being blocked or deflected.

In summary, good dribbling is a means to an end, not an end unto itself. Dribbling should be used to advance the ball, to promote passing, and to promote shooting. Too many good dribblers get caught up in the act of dribbling and forget about the needs of the team. For them, there is:

The Dribbler’s Rule of Three:™

– While dribbling, if you beat the first defender, you’re good, so pass or shoot the ball.

– If you beat the second defender, you’re lucky, so pass or shoot the ball.

– The third defender will get you every time.

Soccer Coaching Tips:

Please see The “Sideline-to-Sideline Drills” Series article for excellent dribbling exercises.

Please see the Instructional Dribbling article as a lead-in to this presentation.

Please see Intermediate Dribbling – Fakes and Feints, and Speed Dribbling as follow-on articles.

Slower, methodical dribbling at young ages is referred to by Coerver Coaching as “Turtle” dribbling and speed dribbling as “Cheetah” dribbling.

© Copyright, John C. Harves