Want to try this with your team? Download the session plan and give it a go.
This session consists of three mini-practices: unopposed dribbling, semi-opposed dribbling and opposed dribbling.
Set up three identical rectangular areas (channels) next to each other – one for each practice. Their size will depend on your players' age and developmental stage, but the length should always be twice the width. As we’re working on dribbling, keep your channels as tight as possible. Calling them 'lanes on a motorway' can help engage younger players.
For the semi-opposed practice, create a zone across the middle of the channel. This is the 'stealing zone'. Also, give each player a 'tail' (a bib they put in the back of their shorts). The unopposed and opposed channels don’t have any extra markings or equipment.
Any number of players can take part in these practices. However, if you have a particularly large number, it may be a good idea to set up two sets of channels (if you have space).
How to play
Start by spending around five minutes on each practice.
Players simply dribble from one end of the channel to the other. When they get to the end, they choose to turn left or right. Then they dribble down the outside of the channel and back to the start.
Encourage players to explore different parts of their feet and focus on their technique. Allow them to put right any mistakes.
Ask one player to be a defender and put them in the 'stealing zone'. Rather than trying to get the ball, their aim is to steal the dribblers’ tail. This creates a 'tag game', which young players love.
Start the dribblers at one end and release them into the channel in intervals (e.g. every two seconds). Players start with five lives but lose one each time the defender steals their tail. However, they can also gain a life by making it to the end of the channel with their ball under control and their tail intact.
When the dribblers get to the end, they choose to turn left or right. Then they dribble down the outside of the channel back to the start. When the defender steals a tail, they add it to their mental tally and throw it to the side so the dribbler can pick it up on their way back.
The dribblers are working on their acceleration and deceleration with the ball – 'starting and stopping' in kids' speak. They'll also begin to learn when to go close to a defender and when to accelerate away from a defender. We want them to identify a path to take by playing with their head up (scanning).
Each round should last 60 to 90 seconds – then swap the defender and start again.
Ask one player to be a defender. In this practice, they're not restricted to a zone and can go anywhere in the channel. Their aim is to win the ball from the dribblers. If they do this and can dribble it to the start line, they swap roles with the dribbler they won the ball from.
Start the dribblers at one end and release them into the channel in intervals (e.g. every two seconds). Their aim is to dribble to the other end. If they make it, they choose to turn left or right. Then they dribble down the outside of the channel and back to the start.
If a dribbler loses the ball, they can try to win it back before the defender gets to the start line. If they do, the game carries on, and the defender remains. This creates an element of transition.
When your team are ready, open all the channels and allow players to pick which one they dribble through. You could also implement a scoring system. For example:
- the unopposed channel is worth one point
- the semi-opposed channel is worth three points
- the opposed channel is worth five points (or more if your players need motivating to go through it)
This incorporates some risk/reward decision-making. Play for two minutes, then ask players for their final score.
If your players master your activity – or find it too hard – try adding a progression.
In the semi-opposed practice, you could put another defender in the 'stealing zone'.
In the opposed practice, you could mark a halfway line and have a defender locked into each half. This gives the dribblers two zones to get through rather than one.
Whatever you do, remember that learning takes time. So don't alter your activity too quickly – or too much. Try using the STEP framework (Youth Sports Trust, 2002). This helps keep things fun, engaging and appropriate.
Once you've put this session into practice, share your experience on the England Football Community.