The ability to play with confidence with the ball at your feet is the foundation of almost every other soccer skill. Passing, receiving, even shooting rely on a player’s ability with the ball at their feet. Yet, it often seems that no sooner has a player learned how to dribble than we begin trying to coach it out of them! If you look at the coaching curricula being developed across the U.S., the U6 curricula consistently aim to create confident, creative players with the ball at their feet. In some states, the entire U6 curriculum is designed to do nothing more than develop competent dribblers and encouraging players to take risks with the soccer ball.
While other skills are introduced at U8 and basic tactics become part of the curriculum at U10, this does not mean that the training, and encouragement, of dribbling technique should end with U6s! To the contrary, every U8 and U10 coach should spend some time early in the season working on dribbling technique. Every player in every position, from goalkeeper to forward, needs to be able to dribble the ball. As players get older, we often ask our outside defenders to take space and attack with the ball at their feet. If we are going to ask them to do that at U14, we can’t be coaching our U10 defenders out of dribbling! There is an old saying: “a good dribbler will get you out of far more trouble than he will ever get you into.” This is so true, and we as coaches need to recognize those players who are confident enough to dribble and encourage them. We must create an environment where the reluctant dribbler is willing to risk and to try.
Dribbling, particularly against a defender, is the soccer version of standing at home plate in baseball or softball. It is the one time that everyone will have their eyes on you, and you will immediately succeed or fail. Dribbling against a defender takes tremendous courage! The player must be willing to fail and fail publicly. The reaction of the coach will have a lot to do with how a player views dribbling. Consider this:
The decision to dribble and try and beat an opponent is one that is dictated by time and space on the field. It is a risk-reward decision. The correctness of that decision is determined before the dribbling ever begins. A large percentage of correct dribbling decisions will result in loss of possession and failure. As a coach, do we praise the right decision, even if the player is not successful? Or whenever a player loses the ball dribbling do we yell at them that they should have passed? Sometimes the decision to dribble is correct, even when the player loses the ball. In these circumstances, we must be certain not to coach the creativity and courage out of our players.
Will you be one of the coaches who praises dribblers when they are successful, but screams “PASS” whenever they lose the ball? Or will you be a coach that breaks the cycle of over-coaching and over-managing our youth players. Dribbling is fun. Dribbling is exciting. Dribbling is risky! We need more players, at all levels of the game that are willing to take risks. Let’s be sure we aren’t coaching that out of our youngest players, because it is much more difficult to put that attitude back into a player, than it is to teach them how to make good decisions as they get older!