Dribbling is an essential skill for anyone who’s interested in playing soccer. Even if your goalie is amazing and your offense has incredible shooting abilities, poor dribbling skills can mean the difference between winning and losing a match. Pros make it look easy, weaving in and out between players on the other team, defending against attempts to steal the ball, and speeding across the field.
But how do you dribble a soccer ball? You dribble by tapping the ball with your feet as you run down the field. You use the four parts of your foot – laces, instep, outside, and sole – to control the ball and keep it away from the opposing team. It’s a key skill to any player’s game, no matter their position.
Just reading the basics makes it sound simple, but it’s easy to do incorrectly.
Why Is Good Dribbling Technique Essential?
If you’ve ever watched a soccer game, you know just how often players dribble. If they want to get from point A to point B or close enough to the goal to shoot, they have to do it well. But dribbling is about more than just going from place to place.
Good dribbling technique is essential to:
- Getting down the field
- Retaining the ball for your team
- Getting into a favorable position
Let’s go more into detail about why dribbling well is important for each of these instances.
Getting Down the Field
This one is somewhat obvious, but necessary to talk about regardless. If you can’t get down the field, you won’t score. The opposing players will just take the ball from you, and no one wants that.
Being able to maneuver the ball quickly through the other players and across the field is essential to score and defend.
Retaining the Ball for Your Team
A good dribbler is also someone who can keep the ball in their team’s possession. They can rapidly change directions, see where to go to avoid opponents, and prevent attacks.
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, all the shooting ability in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t maintain control of the ball while you dribble.
Getting Into a Favorable Position
Players who dribble well can easily find positions where they can pass or shoot by knowing how to keep their eyes up while dribbling and changing direction efficiently. If you dribble while looking down at your feet, as many beginners do, you might miss your teammates in great positions to score or worse, someone trying to steal the ball.
Dribbling is about more than just the ability to move the ball with your feet – it’s also about being able to think ahead and be strategic.
A Step By Step Guide to Dribbling
Now that you know just how important good dribbling technique is, you’re probably asking how to actually dribble. It looks straightforward – after all, it’s basically just kicking the ball – but there are a lot of nuances that even more seasoned players overlook.
Make sure you use a good ball to get the most out of your dribbling. I like to use this Select Numero 10 Soccer Ball (link to Amazon). It’s a size 5 (professional size) soccer ball that can take a beating and last a long time.
Step One: Get Your Feet and Body in the Correct Position
You can kick a ball with your instep, the outside of your foot, your laces (or the top of the foot), or even the sole. Knowing what part of the foot to use at what time requires practice, but to start, focus on using the laces to push the ball forward.
Point your toe of the foot you’re using down and tap the ball with the top of your foot. This position will allow you to run while dribbling and maintaining control. Even if you take shots with your instep, trying to run while tapping the ball with that part of your foot will make your feet drag behind you, slowing you down.
- It’s also important to have a good athletic posture to keep your balance
- Keep your knees slightly bent
- Maintain a good center of gravity
- Stand up straight or lean forward slightly
- This way, you’ll be able to quickly shift your body weight to change directions.
Don’t forget about your arms either. Even though you can’t touch the ball with your hands, your arms are key to helping you maintain your balance and can help you brush past players who try to take the ball from you. Keep your arms out and move them as you naturally do when you run.
Step Two: Tap The Ball Frequently With Just Enough Force
Although it might be tempting to kick the ball far and chase it, tapping the ball frequently as you run forward helps you stay agile and maintain control, especially if defenders are rapidly approaching you.
For instance, if you kick the ball several feet in front of you, someone on the opposing team might swoop in and steal it from you. You might also kick it in a direction that will lead you to a bad position on the field.
If you keep the ball close, you can change directions fast and won’t give away where you’re going to your opponents.
To gauge how frequently to tap the ball, think about your running stride. The ball should touch your dominant foot every time you step forward in most situations you might find yourself in as a beginner.
Once you have a better sense of the game, you can practice with longer range dribbling. Longer range dribbling is dribbling that takes the ball farther from you if you have space or the range to do so. This kind of dribbling helps if you’re trying to cover a large distance or have the speed to break away from opponents.
However, if you’re just starting out, focus on keeping the ball close. It’s a good skill to fall back on and gives you a foundation to build on as you get more advanced.
Step Three: Keep Your Head Up
If you’re always looking at your feet, you’ll probably end up missing important passes, shots, or opportunities to get closer to the goal. You don’t have to keep your eyes up all the time, but keep them up for the most part. Dribbling means constantly looking up and down.
This part takes practice, and you might accidentally trip over the ball when you first start. But once you get a feel for dribbling, it’ll become second nature.
Step Four: Learn How to Change Directions
Learning how to effectively change directions with the ball is incredibly important in dribbling. As mentioned before, being able to get around your opponents is key to playing well.
Using the outer top part of your foot or the inside of your foot, you can tap the ball to one side or the other.
This video shows what this looks like, including a few drills to practice this skill.
A key to successfully changing directions to get around an opponent or get into a better position is understanding how much space you need to make your move. Practice going around opponents or cones during drills to get a better sense of how much space you need to get away with certain moves.
Step Five: Add in Some More Advanced Dribbling Moves
This is a natural progression from learning how to change directions. Once you have a good feel for dribbling the ball without looking down, you can learn how to maneuver the ball in a way when other players pressure you.
For instance, the v-pullback can help you get the ball out of the reach of your opponent’s feet. This move, involves using the bottom of your foot to pull the ball back in a V-shape and changing direction, pulling it away from your opponent and allowing you to get away.
This video shows the V-pull back in action and when to use the move.
There are loads of advanced moves, so many that it’s impossible to cover them all briefly. Here are a few popular ones to incorporate into your game:
- The nutmeg: this move exploits your opponent’s wide stance. You kick the ball between their feet and run around them, kicking the ball forward before they have the chance to turn around.
- The inside touch, scissor: To perform this move, you sweep one foot over the ball in a “scissor” motion to fake out your opponent, then use your other foot to tap the ball.
- The step-over: similar to the inside touch, scissor, a step-over can fake-out your opponent, so they don’t know where you’re going.
Here’s a video explaining the inside scissor so you can see how this move works.
As you can probably tell already, these moves are simple to learn, but hard to master. But practice makes perfect, so keep at it.
This video does a great job of breaking down the step-over move, and how you can practice it.
This is the last step since you should get comfortable with the other basics before trying to do anything too advanced. Fundamentals are always necessary, and will always help you play well.
What to Practice When Dribbling
Just as you wouldn’t read an article on how to drive a car and assume that you’re an expert, just knowing the steps of dribbling won’t make you an effective player. You have to practice, but what should you focus on?
Practice Using Both Feet
Everyone has a dominant foot, just as we have dominant hands, but your opponents won’t be nice and pick your good side. Being able to move the ball with both of your feet is incredibly important to be a versatile player.
By being just as good using both feet, you’ll be able to move all over the field with ease. Practice moving the ball in different directions with each foot and, when you incorporate more advanced moves, make sure you can do them equally well with both feet.
Vary Your Speed
Soccer is a fast-paced game, but you won’t be in a full sprint the entire game. Learning how to move the ball faster, as well as vary how quickly your feet tap the ball as you dribble, is integral to being effective.
- Practice dribbling down the field at a jog and a sprint
- This will not only help your conditioning
- But it will train you to get used to dribbling at different speeds.
Varying how much you tap the ball is important too. Just like you can guess when beats in a repetitive song will fall, your opponents can guess repetitive dribbling styles. Mix in fast taps with slower ones, as well as your direction.
The more you can make your opponents guess, the more unstoppable you become.
Vary Your Dribbling Distance
As mentioned above, sometimes keeping the ball close to your feet will slow you down, especially if you’re trying to break away and score. A good drill to practice this on your own is to go down an empty field, switching between dribbling close to your body and putting a little more space between you and the ball.
To make sure you aren’t going too far with the ball, practice with a friend who’s good at taking it away. Practice running down the field with the ball at various distances so you can learn when to keep the ball close and when you can take advantage of an opening.
Drills to Improve Your Dribbling
Drills are a great way to practice the various facets of dribbling and to improve your conditioning for games and your health overall. You’ve probably done drills during practices with your team if you’re on one, but you can also set them up to do on your own.
Invest in a simple set of cones like these Sports Cones from Amazon to start – they’ll help you in so many ways, and they’re easy to throw into your soccer bag. Let’s get into a few key drills that’ll make dribbling second nature.
Weaving Between Cones
This drill helps you practice moving the ball side to side. Line up cones with your desired distance between them to start. You can set them about a foot and a half apart or a little farther.
From there, weave in and out of the cones as you dribble, making sure you don’t run over any of them or stray too far. Vary your speeds and which feet you use. You can use one foot going one direction and the other going the other direction.
This drill is great for beginners – here’s a video with thirty variations using cones in a straight line for inspiration.
This is another way to improve your footwork and foot dexterity. Set up a bunch of cones in a random cluster, as the name of this drill suggests. Start from the outside and weave through the cones for a set amount of time – up to a minute.
This drill can be tailored to players of various levels, which makes it a great one to incorporate into your practice.
Just as you would with cones in a straight line, you can practice weaving around these clusters using one foot or the other, change up your speed, or make the cones into a challenging pattern.
Set up two parallel lines of cones, with a few feet between cones within each line. Start on one end and zig-zag between the two lines, just like a skier going down a mountain. This drill hones your ability to turn sharply and keep the ball in control.
The zig-zag is another drill where you can switch it up to make sure you’re equally skilled with both feet and in all directions. This video details what this looks like in action.
Fast Feet Drills
These drills are a great way to improve your foot dexterity and, by extension, your dribbling. They get you comfortable with moving the ball between your feet fast or lifting your legs to make more advanced moves like the scissor move mentioned above.
Some simple, fast feet drills are:
- Triangles: Dribble the ball in a triangle shape between your feet and a spot in front of you, starting slow and speeding up
- Toe taps: tap the top of the ball with the bottom of your feet, keeping your knees up
- V-pulls in place: Practice rolling the ball back using the bottom of your foot, alternating feet.
This video is easy to follow and explains how to do all of the above foot drills.
In some ways, practicing with another player one-on-one is the best way to simulate dribbling in a real game. You can make it even more challenging by adding in parameters, like requiring the person on offense to use a stepover or nutmeg to get past someone on defense. You can also incorporate shooting into this as well.
This is a great drill to take up with a friend. You can trade-off being on offense and defense; making it a game instead of just a drill in the traditional sense can make practicing dribbling not feel like a chore at all.
For more soccer practice drill ideas, check out my 26 At Home Soccer Training Drills article.
Like any sport, dribbling takes practice to get the hang of. Once you have the basics down and you put in the time, dribbling can feel as natural as walking and will make soccer even more fun.