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Ball mastery and ball control drills in soccer

By Lucas Keating, 8 September 2020

Ability can be split into two sections, natural ability, and learned skill. Both go hand in hand with how you are to progress as a footballer, and it is important that you do your soccer training properly, even if you have a natural ability. Players can even get advanced training at an international football academy or attend a soccer camp to improve their skills faster. 

A way of developing as a footballer, no matter what age, is practice. If you keep persevering with a skill and challenging yourself then you will progress further in the footballing world. So in this article, we will highlight some key soccer drills and skills that could help you improve your game on the field. These football training drills applicable for adults and kids.

It is a complex sport and there are many different aspects of the game that need addressing from shooting to passing to ball control in football. Here are some great football drills you can try and master ball mastery skills to become a better player.

Ball control drills in soccer

Using Cones for dribbling

When it comes to controlling the ball the best way to improve and master your skill is to use cones to train ball mastery drills. There are many different ways to manipulate the cones to fit your skill. However, a basic way to set them up is in a straight line so that you can weave and dodge your way through.

To start off with a basic drill, you can dribble the ball through the cones using one foot caressing the ball with the inside of the foot as you go through the middle of one cone and moving the ball through the next gap with the outside of the foot. Then repeat this process through the number of cones you have set up. Once you have mastered this ball skill you can challenge yourself to go quicker through the cones so that your touch can become more game ready.

Variations can be done with the type of skill you use through the cones in order to have full football ball control. Using the cones to dribble in and out of how you please makes them one of the best tools for ball mastery drills.

Check out below a video showing 10 soccer drills for improving your ball control and dribbling with cones any player can do alone: 

We have separate articles dedicated to soccer dribbling drills and cone drills for improving speed and agility. Check them out if you are interested in more detailed analysis and examples. 

How to run more effectively with the ball

When you have finished and feel more confident with the cone drills you can challenge yourself to move quicker with the ball. Many players wish they were quicker but do nothing about it. If you have that extra half a second start over your opponent, it can make all the difference. When it comes to running quicker, many people just think it is down to weight and your natural ability. Although these play a factor, there is also a technique to master ball control. You might be running the way you think you should be running but you could miss out on some vital yards.

To help improve your explosive technique and improve your fitness along the way you need to know that running is holistic, not just the legs. Speed training should be implemented into players regular soccer practice. It is also important to use all the energy from the standing leg to push forward and explode into the acceleration. When dodging and weaving you need to avoid braking on the outside foot as this slows you down.

This technique is to be used when you have the ball at your feet as well. One of the best ball control drills in soccer which help to improve the speed with the ball are those ones with cones or posts. 

Firstly, set up the exercise where you have to weave and dodge through three cones and then another three cones about 10 yards away on the opposite side. Use the running technique above when you first do the drill without the ball and manipulate it slightly when you have the ball. 

When you have the ball at your feet, make sure the ball is close to your foot and closer to your toe (either inside or outside of your foot). When moving in between the posts or cones, make sure that you are keeping the ball tight into the center and not expanding your body so that the body needs to break more. You will find that braking with the inside foot, closest to the cones or posts, you will move quicker, and the ball dribbling is a lot more efficient. 

Trapping and ball control 

Ball control drills can vary significantly but with the help of a friend or teammate they can throw the ball into you and you have to control the ball and return it back to them. To grasp the basics of this skill and learn the ability to trap the ball first your partner must roll the ball into your feet so you are able to cushion the ball with the inside of your foot and stop the ball dead, then return the ball with a pass.

Once you have accomplished this skill, then your partner can throw the ball in rather than roll it to you. They can throw it in at a low height so that you are still trapping the ball with the inside of your foot and killing the ball on the floor, then pass it back to them.

The next level to this skill is to control the ball in the air and return the ball on the floor to your partner. Your partner can throw the ball in at different heights, for example, knee height, stomach height, chest height, or even head height. The best way to master the skill is to work your way up to control the ball at different heights.

At knee height you can control the ball with the inside of your foot or on your thigh, making sure that you cushion the ball rather than letting the ball just hit your body. 

At stomach height, this can be trickier to master as you will have to take a step back and let the ball drop to control with your foot as the ball is at an awkward height. 

Chest height needs to be taken down on the chest, you need to make your chest as big as you can by sticking it out and meeting the ball, use your arms to make yourself as big as you can, then allow the ball to fall either playing the ball back on the floor or on the side volley. 

Finally, controlling the ball with your head can be difficult but achievable, keep your eye on the ball and cushion the ball with your forehead by opening your body up then allow the ball to drop again.

Wall passing

This is a perfect way to practice and master your first touch and ball mastery without the need for anything more than a ball and a wall. There are many variations you can do but you are best starting off with passing the ball with the inside of your foot against the wall and cushioning the ball with the inside of your foot when it comes back at you. To cushion the ball, make sure your body is open by allowing your hips and shoulders to be ready, this allows you to control the ball direction as to where you want your first touch to go. Then continue doing this at different speeds so you are able to control different ball paces. This technique can help your first touch in-game situations. 

Now you can add movement into the control. Using the same techniques as before, you can set up a few cones in a triangle shape, so you have a marker of where you need to go round. So, pass the ball with your right foot into the wall, open up your body for the return and push the ball just in front of you in the direction you want the ball to go. Now, using your left foot pass the ball to the wall and do the same but controlling with your right foot. Go at a steady pace to start and when you are ready to increase the pace of the pass, the movement and control of the football. 

Find more soccer passing drills to improve your first touch and passing in football. 

Ball Mastery

Toe Touches

To focus on manipulating the ball and getting comfortable with the ball toe touches is a great way of doing this. All you need is a ball for this exercise, and it can make your really focus on the ball. Firstly, place the ball in front of you and, with one leg at a time, touch the ball with your foot. Focus on the toe doing the work on top of the ball and switch legs each time so that you are feeling comfortable with both feet. 

This exercise will help with full skills in a game as you can control the ball with the tip of your toes as opposed to the inside of your foot. The quicker you do this the easier it will be to practice full skills in a game situation. 

Rocking sole

This will be a key exercise to learn for a skill coming up. The rocking sole can really deceive a defender and make him look a fool. So you can make sure that you have this in your arsenal. 

To learn the basics of the skill you have to roll the ball from the inside of your foot onto the outside of your foot. Using the studs to do the movement make sure you are fully rolling the ball on the two areas mentioned on the foot. With your other leg, ensure that you are hopping from side to side to make the movement easier for the football. 

Sole rolls

This is using a similar technique as the rocking sole but this time apart from using just the one foot, move the ball onto the other foot.

Using the sole (the studs), roll your foot over the top of the ball and move the football into the direction of the other foot. When the ball arrives at the other foot, do exactly the same (first time) to move the ball back to the starting foot. Keep doing this over and over, repetition is key with this skill. 

To add another element of challenge to this you can set yourself a certain amount of rolls you want to do and then time yourself. Ensure you do not lose the technique. Sole rolls are fundamental ball control drills in soccer. 

Inside push and pull

With the ball in front of you, you are looking to drag the ball back and control it with the same foot. So using the sole of your foot, near the toe area, you want to drag the ball back and cushion the ball with the inside of the same foot. The first touch with the inside of your boot is very important because you need to have the right amount of power on the touch so that you can drag the ball back with the opposite foot and repeat the process.

The pull-back is an effective way of taking a defender out of the game and if you build up confidence with the pull back then you can create more space on the field.

Laces push and pull

A very similar technique to the one above but one that will help with your dribbling more. As stated about how to run quicker with the ball, you want to be using the laces or the toe area when you are dribbling so that you can move the ball quicker away from the defender.

With the sole of your foot, the toe area, drag the ball back but instead of controlling the ball with the inside of your foot, control the ball with your laces and nudge it forward. Then repeat this over and over. 

Ball control skills to use during a game

The Drag back

The drag back can be one of the most overlooked skills in the game. However, it can create space and give you that extra yard of space that you might need to release a pass or take a shot. We have already seen how to do a drag back from a standing position but how do you do it when you are running and trying to replicate it in a game situation.

Using a cone as your marker, you need to dribble with the ball towards the cone and as you approach the cone then stop the ball with the sole of your foot. However, the stop needs to be followed quickly by the drag back into the direction you want the ball to go.

When you have dragged it back, push the ball away from you using all the dribbling skills you have learned and move off in the direction you want to go. In order to sell the defender with this skill, you need to use your body to sell the skill, make the defender think you are going to continue in the direction you are going by keeping your dribbling stance normal but then shift all your weight into the direction you really want to go.

You can also make this skill more advanced by setting up the drill again, running at the cone, stopping the ball, and dragging the ball back. But instead of turning directly into the direction you are running, use the inside of your foot to push the ball behind your standing leg. This is a much quicker way to create space and confuse the defender.

Step over

The step-over can be an effective way of bamboozling a defender and is a great skill to have in your repertoire. To perform the step over firstly you need to be dribbling using one foot, make sure to be using the outside of the foot, then when you are close to the defender perform one loop with the foot you have been dribbling with over the ball. To beat the player in front of you, you then have to shift all your weight from the side you were going to the other side and use the opposite foot to go in the opposite direction. To sell the stepover, you really have to shift the bodyweight from one side to another. By bending the knee this can really sell the stepover. 

Elastico

A move made famous by the former Barcelona man Ronaldinho and he would love to leave defenders in his wake with the elastico move (also known as the flip flop). To perform the elastico you first need to warm up and perform each step slowly before moving onto the full elastico. So, standing still, shift the ball using the outside of your foot to your inside, just in front of your feet. Keep repeating until you feel comfortable then with your standing leg add a hop. The next step is to add movement by moving your body forward and backward, make sure you keep the ball always on the edge of your foot and on the inside near your big toe. 

Now you are ready to attempt a full elastico by touching the ball with the outside of your foot one direction and quickly touching it back in the opposite direction with the inside of your foot. Keep practicing hard with this one. This skill will show how good your ball mastery is. 

Fake shot sole roll

In order to fully disorientate a defender, especially in a wide position or shooting at the goal, then this move could really help in those situations. 

So firstly you need to roll the ball out of your feet in front of you, open up your body as if you are about to shoot or cross the ball, then roll the ball back across your body onto your other foot and this will give your more space to make your next choice. You can even do the same skill with the other foot to shift it back onto your stronger foot.

In order to master the move, continue rolling the ball onto each foot after each fake shot or cross. This move will mean your feet are sharper and more dynamic when it comes to performing other skills.

The Cruyff turn

If you want to build on your knowledge of the previous skill then the Cruyff turn is the best for advancing your ball control in soccer. A skill made famous by the legendary Dutch player Johann Cruyff when he left Swedish defender Jan Olsson dazed and confused.

To perform the Cruyff turn, like all skills, you need to sell it to the defender in order to quickly create space for yourself. So you need to really convince the defender that you are going to pass or shoot, but you are not going to do this, this is just to make the defender believe this is your intention.

Using the same leg that you intended to shoot or pass with, drag it back in the opposite direction using the inside of your foot and explode with pace away from the defender. 

An incredibly easy skill to learn but it will take time to really master the art of deception, so master this skill against an opponent at football practice.

The Stanley Matthews skill

This is an incredibly effective football ball control skill that can be used easily, if done correctly, in a match situation. Named after the former England and Blackpool winger, Stanley Matthews was one of the best wingers on the planet and this affective skill became his trademark as he managed to carry on playing until he was 50 years old; he even won the Ballon D’Or. 

To perform the skill that brought so much joy for fans across the world you need to convince the defender you are going one way but in fact go the other. The explosive skill is mainly used out in the wide areas of the pitch but can be used in other areas.

So, when you are running at a defender you are going to be dribbling with the ball on the edge of your foot. When you approach the defender, you take a big step with the non-ball carrying foot to convince the defender you are going that way. However, you need to really shift the body weight over to convince the defender. When you have done that then explode with the other foot and take the ball with you into space and past the defender. A real simple ball mastery drill but one that could change your game.

The chop

Another great piece of skill that can frustrate the opposing defender when you are running at pace. This move has become associated with the Portuguese sensation Cristiano Ronaldo and he uses it to create space for himself or allow a teammate to attack the space he has created by dragging the defender away. It is a great move to use as you can change direction but keep the momentum flowing.

Before you start running with the ball, you need to master the full ball control because ball control in football is everything. It is an interesting technique but, for example, if you want to chop the ball to the left then you need to hop in the air and use your right foot to touch the ball right on the edge as if you are slicing off the end of the ball. If you want more power, then you need to use your thighs to hit the ball harder so the ball moves further away from you.

When hitting the ball try to avoid using the ball of your heel and aim for the inside of your foot. This allows you to chop the ball into the area you want and avoid losing the ball. This will take a lot of football practice, but you will have ball mastery when you are able to chop it delicately. 

Once you feel comfortable with the chop motion, incorporate it into a game situation. Try running at different paces and chop the ball into the area you want using different power techniques depending on the scenario. For more of a challenge, add obstacles such as posts or cones to help with the change in direction.

Conclusion 

Not everybody will play in a World Cup final, but everybody will have their own version of a World Cup final in their life if they play at the grassroots level or above. Everybody wants to play to the best of their ability and put what they have done at soccer practice into a game situation. Sure, ball control practice is not so entertaining as training soccer shooting drills, but its value and importance for the player's performance are of no doubt for anyone who really understands how to get to the pro level. 

But whatever the ambitions of the athlete, a man never achieves significant results without repetitive training, often failing and nevertheless trying again. The same rule equally applies to ball control and ball mastery in football. Whether a player does soccer practice alone, with a partner, trains at a local football school or attends high-performance football camps and academies presented on Sportlane, - there is no shortcut to success. We hope this article on ball control drills has been of help to you.