By Matt Settles
Coach Settles recently completely his 11th season as a high school coach in Indiana. The former collegiate player at the University of Southern Indiana is also a regular contributor to the Soccer Toolbox
Soccer is no different than a lot of other sports in that the more touches a player gets, the more they will improve their skills. Similar to a basketball player shooting hundreds of shots, a soccer player can do the same by juggling a ball. It does not require another player, teammate, or friend to be around and can be done just about anywhere at any time. If you watch warm ups at the club, high school, college, and professional levels, there are always players either juggling individually or in small groups.
Juggling a soccer ball is critical for younger players to improve their skills. It not only gives a player a lot of practice with the ball, it helps improve the touch, eye and foot coordination, and other technical skills with different parts of the body such as the thigh, chest, and head. Kids can not start young enough with juggling and learning how to properly juggle a soccer ball. Also, one of the best parts of juggling is that is can be used for coaches to have a few minutes if trying to set up the next drill, need to talk a player(s), or just need a quick drill for players to get a lot of touches on the ball. There are several keys to juggling in order for your players to improve:
- Keep track of high numbers
- Focus on touches with the feet, but use all parts of the body
- Make it competitive and fun
Juggling can be boring and repetitive for a lot of players. Challenge each player to keep track of consecutive touches or juggles before the ball hits the ground. This highest number should be the goal for each individual player to beat every time they practice juggling. Your best players should be challenged to try and beat this number and will hopefully keep practicing until they do just that. Without a high number or target number, juggling will normally not be taken too seriously by a lot of players.
The emphasis on juggling should be using both feet, but too many players end up using other parts of their body more than their feet. This is ok as long as the majority of touches are with the feet. Encourage each player to use their thigh, chest, and head as needed. If the ball gets too high or up to a part of their body they can’t control, then use that to get the ball back down to the feet to continue juggling.
Develop your own games and contests for players to juggle against other. Start with each player juggling, then move to groups of two juggling together, then groups of three and so on. Challenge groups to juggle together where each player takes one more touch than the previous player before passing the ball to someone else. The first player takes one touch, the second player takes two touches, the third player takes three touches, etc. Make it a contest and see which group can get the highest number.