What Young Players Learn from Keeping the Ball in the Air

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Young soccer players have likely seen dozens of YouTube videos of pros juggling the ball. Yet, when they try to replicate the touches and tricks they struggle. Encourage perseverance practicing this skill by helping them understand the importance of keeping the ball in the air.

While jugging may not be something we practice in our development academy training[1]  sessions, don’t think that means we don’t value this important skill. We expect our players to be practicing this technical skill on their own or in small groups. After all, it’s a great way for soccer players to get more comfortable with the ball.

The Houston Dynamo’s George Cameron says he spent a lot of his childhood practicing juggling. Juggling offers you the confidence that you can do anything with the ball at your feet. ”It gives you touches," Cameron said. "You're always touching the ball. You can learn to juggle in so many different ways. You can do it with spin, inside of the foot, sole of the foot, top of the foot.

The best soccer players in the world can keep the ball in the air for hundreds of touches. Those just starting out may only be able to reach ten or twenty touches, but they’ll find continued practice pays off.

Increases Ball Control

We don’t often see players juggling on the field, yet this skill is a foundational one aligning your mind, body, and ball. Learning to control the ball on the ground is something we do every day. But controlling it when it comes to you in the air is more difficult. With juggling practice, you can prepare to have a stronger first touch when the ball does come to you in the air — whether on the field or the futsal court.

"If you can control the ball in the air," said Jenny Hammond, a defender for Sky Blue FC of Women's Professional Soccer, "you can control the ball on the ground, which is where the ball is normally.”

Improves Mental Focus

Practicing juggling requires patience. The continued effort to stick with it can foster determination and concentration. Plus, being able to roll with the aggravation of not immediately succeeding, or getting within two touches of a goal and seeing the ball fall, will serve young athletes ride the rollercoaster of emotions in intense games too.

Teaches You to Practice

You can’t be a better juggler without practice, and lots of it. But it’s practice that pays off in obvious individual results. This can make it clear to the player that their hard work will pay off in the end. Practicing juggling for just a few minutes daily will have greater value than doing so for an hour one day that week, according to Daniel Coyle, author of The Little Book of Talent. Maximize the benefits of daily practice by making sure you practice with complete concentration and effort.

Tips for Juggling Practice

  • Juggling requires continued effort, but the player’s hard work will pay off. The following suggestions, offered by Hammond, can also help success rates:
  • Try to hit the ball with your laces, with toe down and ankle locked.
  • Drop the ball from your hand to your dominant foot and hit it back to your hands. Repeat, adding a second hit from your foot before returning the ball to your hands. Progress, adding a hit each time you are successful.
  • Once you’re comfortable using your dominate foot, move on to alternating the feet you use.
  • Set reasonable goals — don’t start out aiming for 100. Try five, before moving on to 10 as your objective.
chris williams