Juggling may be a circus trick, but in soccer, it’s fundamental
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One of the best ways for a young player to build confidence with the ball and “do what the pros do” is by juggling. Soccer players at every level juggle to warm up before a game, stay sharp at practice and have fun in their spare time. And once a player learns how to juggle a soccer ball, they can take their love of the game anywhere. All they need is a ball and a little bit of space.
Juggling helps a player learn how the ball feels when it bounces off their foot, thigh, head or even their back. As they grow more comfortable with juggling, they can control where the ball goes with any part of their body.
The easiest place to start juggling is with the legs: they’re close to the hands and are more forgiving than the feet.
Players should start by dropping the ball from chest high as they bring their thigh up. They can even start with their leg already up, and pop the ball back into their hands. Let them get a feel for the ball bouncing off each leg.
When they’re comfortable playing catch between their thigh and their hands, they can try bouncing it from their right leg to their left leg. Then left to right. Then two on the left, two on the right, or left-right-left-right.
You can introduce a phrase like “Popcorn!” or “Step on a tack!” so they stay light on their feet and can meet the ball with the thigh flat as a board.
The rest of the world calls this sport football, so let’s get the feet involved!
We’ll start like we did before: by dropping the ball, but this time from waist high. Just like with the legs, you want to make contact with the biggest surface possible. On the foot, that’s the laces. Players should have their leg almost straight so they can flick the ball back up to their hands with the top of their foot.
Juggling with the feet is more difficult than with the legs. The feet are smaller and the hands are further away to catch any balls pinging off to the side. Start with the dominant foot to make it a bit easier. Then alternate feet. Remember: less is more. Juggling is about feel, not force.
Players over age 11 can start learning how to use their head to play soccer. Like many other ball skills, juggling is a great way to do it.
Just like with the legs and feet, juggling with the head is about being smooth and in control, not powerful.
Think of a seal bouncing a beach ball. It gets its head below the ball, applies a gentle tap and the ball does the rest. The players should do the same: get under the ball, keep their eyes on it and use their whole body – not the neck – to meet the ball at the top of the forehead.
Players can practice juggling skills by themselves, with a friend or with a small group. The idea is always the same: keep the ball off the ground.
Encourage beginners to juggle their age. Then challenge them to juggle their age on each body part: for example, seven on each foot, seven on each thigh.
If a few players want to juggle together, they can do a “mirror.” If one player juggles right foot, left foot, right foot, the other does the same. They can also share a ball, and each player’s last touch is a pass to another player – with the ball in the air, of course! – and that player keeps the action alive.
Don’t be surprised if some pretty intense games of “keepy-uppy” break out. And be ready to hear “Not until I beat my record!” when it’s time for a juggler to wrap it up.
Once a soccer player learns how to juggle, they’ll never be bored again.