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A group of young children playing football, a young girl runs with the ball at her feet.

It’s important that your sessions replicate the real game as much as possible. On matchday, players need to dribble past opponents who could come at them from any angle. So, instead of creating practices where opponents only approach from the front, try switching things up. 

And don't forget to consider distance. Occasionally, your team will have loads of room to drive into. But other times opponents may press hard and give them little room to manoeuvre. So, your team need to experience this in training. 

Using a variety of different starting positions, and distances, can help players practise different ways to dribble

When faced with an opponent, often a young player’s first thought is to dribble straight at the defender and then try to go around them. But if this was a tag game, wouldn’t they dart off into space to give themselves a better chance of avoiding being tagged? 

Dribbling at an opponent to ‘fix’ them into a position, before quickly changing direction, is a valuable tool. Still, it’s good for players to have a range of strategies. So, to help your team be more effective when moving with the ball, encourage players to scan for space and then use it. This moves their opponent around and opens up more space for either themselves or a teammate to use.

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Give players more time on the ball

Matchday brings a lot of excitement, but also pressure and plenty of decisions. If players are used to the ball, these things become a bit easier to manage – as Matt and Ian explain.

If access is possible, you can also develop your team’s dribbling skills by providing opportunities to play on different surfaces. 

A futsal court, for instance, offers a harder, smoother surface than a grass pitch. Therefore, the ball travels faster. A futsal court is also smaller, which offers more 1v1s in tight areas. This provides players with a different experience on the ball and helps build a toolbox of skills. For example, dribbling using the sole of the foot to keep the ball close or quickly change direction. 

Rather than shouting “get rid” or “pass, pass, pass”, try inspiring your team to stay on the ball for as long as possible. Then, praise them for doing so. We want players to feel confident in possession. And, to do this, we need to encourage them to move with the ball.  

However, this isn’t all about running. Players should explore stopping and starting, different ways to move with the ball, and moving through the gears to accelerate and decelerate in different scenarios.   

Think about your session design

This is the foundation of all the tips we’ve discussed so far.  

There are so many ways to design a session. But however you approach it, always think carefully about the returns and opportunities your team are getting.   

Are players going to get enough time on the ball? Which formats can help ensure they do? How can opposed and unopposed practices help develop their dribbling skills? How can you encourage and reward staying on the ball?