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A young girl runs forward with the ball during a grassroots football match on a grass pitch.

Running with the ball is when a player travels through (or into) space at speed, with the ball at their feet.

It’s one of the best parts of football, thrilling for players and supporters alike. It’s one of the best modes of attacking too.

It’s a great way of gaining territory or exploiting space opened up by a disorganised defence. It’s an effective way of changing the possibilities of the attack.


There’s no one correct method for running with the ball.

Players are at their best when they move with both speed and control. They know where and why they’re travelling. They balance this with reading and reacting to situations as they unfold.

Is there space available? Big touches let the player on the ball travel quickly. Is space limited? Then dribbling the ball helps the player change speed and direction easily.

If touches are too big, it’s easy to lose control or miss good opportunities to pass. If touches are too small, it’s hard to travel with enough speed to take advantage of the space ahead.

Every situation is unique. A lot of it is down to the player. What they see, the pictures and ideas in their mind, and their instinct in the moment. It all factors in.

You can encourage dribbling and running with the ball from the youngest ages up to adulthood.

It’s an important skill for players in all positions, whether they’re:

  • a full-back using space on the wings to get into a crossing position
  • a centre-back stepping into and through midfield with the ball
  • a forward driving into space on a counter-attack.

Playing games is a great way of helping players figure out how to run with the ball. But there needs to be a culture of skill in your sessions. It’s your job to create an environment where the team feels safe to take risks.

Try player-initiated free play and games more directly influenced by you as the coach.

The video below features Paul McGuinness, former FA national coach developer, working on the skill. In a fairly unstructured game, he tells players to run with the ball when they have the chance.

This is supported by an environment where players aren’t afraid of making mistakes.

Running with the ball in football doesn’t look the same for everyone.

When they’re learning, each player needs the chance to stretch their unique capabilities. They must find their own boundaries and opportunities. They need to explore situations as they naturally unfold.

It won’t always be smooth sailing. Sometimes possession is lost. It’s all part of the learning process.

Your job is to persevere. Then you’ll see capability and confidence develop over time.