Just like basketball has its slam dunks and alley oops, baseball its home runs or boxing its knockouts, soccer has several key elements that make it a highly entertaining game: goals, passes, tackles and dribbling.
It's the last one that I value most, since I believe that a good dribble is not only spectacular, but it can be extremely efficient in a game, so I'm going to dedicate the following article to explaining how soccer dribbling works, how you can train it, focus on a couple of special dribbling moves and see what soccer abilities affect your dribbling skill.
Soccer Dribbling - Introduction to the World of Ankle Breakers
By definition, soccer dribbling is a method used by the ball carrier to pass the ball past a direct opponent, without conceding possession. This may be a tight dictionary-like statement, but in truth soccer dribbling is as simple in concept as that: do anything you can (in the boundaries of the soccer laws) to get past your opponent and keep possession of the ball. But "getting past your opponent" needs a little explaining.
At a first glance, that might seem restricted to vertically surpassing your opponent on the pitch, when in truth dribbling can be done sideways, or even back towards your own half (when you want to avoid a tackle for example) and in many cases it's just a means of clearing up the space to get a pass or shot in. This doesn't necessarily get the ball on the other side of your opponent, but it does avoid him, allowing you to continue the play to your teammates.
Soccer Dribbling - Types of Dribbles
There are several types of dribbles that have different purposes in the game and by types of dribbles I don't mean specific moves, or specific tricks, but rather game mechanics involving dribbles that have a certain end-goal.
Pressure Avoiding Dribbles - This is probably the most common type of dribble in the game and as a central midfielder almost every touch of the ball you get will have to be followed by a pressure avoiding dribble. This involves a quick flick of the ball in an area with some empty space when being under pressure from an opponent and its goal is to give you a few seconds to execute a pass, or in some cases a shot.
The most important aspect of pressure avoiding dribbles is knowing where you're going to move the ball even before you actually get to it. Take into consideration that you will probably only have a couple of seconds to pass or shoot the ball after such a dribble, since the defender will be quick to position himself in front of the ball again, or try to tackle you decisively.
Great examples of players who use this kind of dribble effectively include Ronaldinho, Clarence Seedorf or Michael Ballack.
Speed Dribbles - Speed dribbles are mostly popular with wing backs, since the wings are usually more open and free and they allow a fast player to virtually throw the ball forward and run for it again, smoking one or two opponents in the process.
Speed dribbles aren't very fancy in terms of ball control, however the dribbler needs to focus on pushing the ball forward just right so that he doesn't loses possession to an opposing defender or throw the ball out of the playing bonds. A few examples of great speed dribblers include Arjen Robben, Cristiano Ronaldo, Marc Overmars or Dani Alves.
Receiving Dribbles - This is probably one of the most effective ways to dribble, but it can also be the hardest: going around your opponent straight from receiving the ball. It can throw an entire defense off balance and create havoc for the opposing team, but you truly have to be a skilled player to produce great receiving dribbles.
First of all, you need to have impressive vision on the pitch, knowing exactly where your opponents are and where you can find some open space on the field, even before the ball gets to your foot.
Secondly, you need to be in perfect control of the ball receiving technique, since pushing it too soft or too hard will ruin the dribble. Last but not least, you need to use your body to trick your direct opponent off balance, allowing you to turn and push the ball into open space unhindered.
Soccer Dribbling - Skill Factors Involved in Dribbles
You're probably tempted to say that ball control is the only skill involved in dribbling, but in truth there are a lot more factors that need to be added up for a successful dribble. Let's take'em step by step:
Ball Control - Indeed, ball control is a general principle that is required for almost all types of dribbles. Ball control is the ability to move with the ball, without losing possession, so it basically requires you to know how hard to hit the ball when moving forward with it, as well as organizing your body movement in such a way that allows you to follow up and get the ball to your feet again.
Ball control also refers to being able to trap or receive a ball without pushing it too further away from your body, which, in our case, is extremely useful in receiving dribbles. Ball control is important for all types of players when dribbling, regardless of their position on the pitch.
Strength - Strength is a major factor in receiving dribbles and positional ones, since it allows you to use your body as a wall between the ball and your opponent, repositioning him or her so you create an advantage towards the enemy goal.
If you look at some of the players that are considered the best dribbles out there nowadays, such as Ronaldinho or Zinedine Zidane, you'll notice that they very often use their body in dribbles, in order to surpass an opponent or relieve themselves of pressure and find a pass or a shot.
In what regards soccer dribbling, strength is mostly important for central midfielders, who are under constant pressure from the opposing team and for attackers who will have to use their bodies to shield the ball before they can unleash a dribble in the box.
Speed - Being faster than your opponent is one thing, but knowing how to get the ball past him AND gain back possession is the key to a successful speed dribble. If the speed difference is greatly in the favor of the attacker, he can simply push the ball forward along the pitch in an empty area and run for it.
If the space is limited, or if the speed difference is not so great between the ball carrier and the defender, the moment you start the dribble is extremely important.
You need to start upping the pace when the defender is off balance (possibly after you throw him off-balance with a movement from your body) and make sure you have enough space to maneuver around him.
Weaker Foot Ability - Dribbles often involve using both feet and various parts of the foot (the sole, the instep, the backheel, the front, the outside or the inside) in order to work properly and your weaker foot can often cause you problems.
Being unsure of your weaker foot will leave you very vulnerable in front of an intelligent defender, since he'll know there's only one direction you can dribble towards using your strong foot.
Soccer Dribbling - Training Your Dribbling Skill
You can train dribbling individually, with a teammate or in a group. Individually, you can set up an obstacle course, then wave your way through the obstacles like a skier would through flags. Make sure you use both feet, so you learn how to dribble in each direction and using your weaker foot as well.
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